Jane Murdoch Adams: 'Life Boats' at the Propeller Centre
by Brenda Clews
I went to see the Jane Murdoch Adams art show, 'Life Boats' at the Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts on Queen W. in Toronto tonight. It was a lovely show.
Here are two of her boat paintings.
'Life Boat, Toronto Harbour 2, MR Kane,' Jane Murdoch Adams, 2012
'1 Skyboat,' Jane Murdoch Adams, 2012
Jane Murdoch Adams is a woman who, "on the sea-crashing Malin Head, County Donegal, on the most northern tip of Ireland in 2001" discovered she had to paint, and has been painting ever since. Her work is vibrant and bright and bordering-on the almost-fully abstract. She works with pure colour, striking yet simple forms, and symbolic subject matter.
In Jane's paintings, the abstract qualities express the symbolic meanings of her work, in personal and universal ways, while also freeing themselves from these subjective associations to become Zen-like moments on the canvas. How she achieves this simultaneous 'personal'/'freed of the personal' expression is part of the magic of her art, what draws us to her vision.
Her work contains biographical-that-become-universal references while simultaneously expressing an art freed of these constraints, something that hits you straight on when you are standing before one of her canvases.
At the Propeller is a show of paintings of boats. On the wall is an old photograph of Jane's father standing in a canoe, a number of people around him, and on the wall we learn that his team represented Canada in the Commonwealth games in the 1920s, and you know that boating was very important to her family, and is full of rich memories for her. But she takes this part of her growing-up, of her memories of her father, of the paddle, of the slap and dip into the water (in the show you will find the real paddles her father used hanging on the wall), and expands her sense of 'boat' to hand-made small renditions of canoes in twigs and branches that line a wall, to abstract paintings of tug boats in the Toronto Harbour that are also a personal memento of her not-for-profit union work, and to all of Celtic Ireland. Her vision is intimate and expansive; in a word, breathtaking.
The show at Propeller is quite amazing, and well worth visiting if you are in Toronto. Listen to Jane speak in this short video of her boat series:
direct link: Jane Murdoch Adams Introduces Exhibition of LIFE BOATS Paintings, November 2012
One of the most memorable aspects of Jane's show was not just the use of colour, a palette of pale cream yellow, shiny golds, pure life-force reds, charcoal blacks and vivid greens that ran through most of the paintings and prints on the walls, unifying them as a cohesive series, but the boat imprinted in the Celtic series.
"The Broighter Gold or more correctly, the Broighter Hoard, is a hoard of gold artefacts from the Iron Age of the 1st century BC that were found in 1896 by Tom Nicholl on farmland near Limavady, Northern Ireland. The hoard includes a 7-inch-long (18 cm) gold boat..." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broighter_Gold. This priceless gold boat became a talisman, a symbol imprinted in her Broighter Boats series.
This screen capture from the webpage on this series at Jane's website gives you an idea of what spans the walls at Propeller, and of that spectacular gold Iron Age boat which appears in each of the paintings of this series and which are all named after Irish women that she and her partner know in Ireland, as in the Celtic tradition of naming boats after women.
'Broighter Boats Series,' by Jane Murdoch Adams, a screen-capture of a webpage at her website - the paintings are 4' wide by 3' high.
That boat, abstracted, a symbol in paint, appears as a simple yet historical boat with oars, the eye of God as it is imaged in Medieval texts, and a fish with long gills in the ocean. When you learn that it is a representation of the exquisite Broighter Boat, which echoes and connects in deep personal ways to Jane's Irish heritage, the layering of the personal and universal, of the explicit and the abstract, that she does so adeptly in her work comes flooding in.
'The Broighter Boat: Finnoula,' acrylic/mixed media on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2012. Jane Murdoch Adams.
The charcoal blacks are rich and tactile, formed as they are (in this particular piece) from manoeuvred washes of acrylic paints on the canvas lying on the floor. We see the Broighter Boat like a divine gold stamp in the middle of what is an abstract boat in charcoal blacks and vivid pinks. The sun is drawn as a child would draw it. Such is the child-like simplicity and sophistication of Jane's work. Not just in this work, but everywhere you see confidence, a mastery of line, of shape and colour. There is no hesitancy, or nervous re-working; rather, bold, bright, confident, warm, joyful and enlightened. Her paintings are as delightful and warm as Jane herself is in person.