‘Do it now!’ It is not uncommon when reaching middle-age to take up a much-desired hobby. It is rare when that decision leads to international fame and you find yourself, aged 54, feted as one of the best contemporary portrait artists in the world. Janne Kearney is one such artist. Her oil painting, titled ’86 (Australian rhyming slang for ‘worth nix’) has been shortlisted for the prestigious 2017 BP Portrait Award held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Selected from 2,580 entries from artists representing 87 countries, the BP Award is judged by revered art critics and considered ‘the Oscars of portraiture’. Janne’s work will be viewed by hundreds of thousands when the exhibition tours the UK. The selected top three artists will share the prize money of (almost) $105,000 AUD.
Remarkably, Geelong artist, Janne, a photorealist painter, is self-taught. She doesn’t hold a formal arts degree and began studying portrait painting eleven years ago, at the age of 43. An ‘underprivileged’ Norlane girl, with a flair for drawing but few options to explore her talent, Janne drew on butcher’s paper carefully hoarded by her mother. When she was nine her mother died. At 16, while still at Corio Tech, she left an ‘abrasive’ home life to live with her future husband, Mick. Janne applied to Ford Motors for an apprenticeship in painting and decorating. Initially she didn’t warrant an interview but after excelling in the entry exam she was grudgingly accepted.
In the 1970s, few women were employed in male-dominated occupations and workplace equality was a rare concept. Janne was the only female apprentice in a workplace of two thousand men. Sexual harassment and bullying were not only commonplace, but encouraged. Eighteen, harrowing months followed. Undaunted, Janne sought support from the Apprenticeship Commission and Equal Opportunity Board with varying degrees of success. It was when she received death threats that she decided to leave. Janne is an incredibly strong woman. This experience would have had devastating consequences for many. Instead it nurtured resilience and fearlessness. These are characteristics which support Janne today when she explores the abandoned factories and deserted urban landscapes that are depicted in her work.
At the age of 43, Janne had an epiphany; to become a serious artist she must start today, there was no time to lose. The next day, encouraged by her husband, she handed in her notice at the retail paint outlet where she was employed, this being the best job she could find that offered an opportunity to work with paint. Janne began to teach herself portraiture using Internet tutorials. Experimenting with varying genres she eventually hit upon photorealism as her platform, believing, ‘It is better to strengthen one’s strengths rather than strengthen one’s weaknesses’. A workshop with renowned Australian artist Robin Eley cemented her resolve and today Janne is recognised worldwide as a celebrated artist. Check out Janne Kearney’s page: http://www.jannekearney.com.au/
She is inspired by Geelong’s industrial and urban decay; where the plight of lost industries and lost employment impact on society, especially those living in the margins; homeless youth, mental health sufferers and the elderly. Her work has been described as profound, evocative and occasionally, humorous. Janne’s advice to aspiring artists: ‘Do it now! Don’t wait for validation or permission. Follow your dream.’
Written by Jacqui Connor. Photo shows Janne with ’86 on the right.