Consumed by Her Canvas: Jane Clatworthy

Story and photos by Dan O’Connor

 Jane Clatworthy would say she was “born with a crayon in hand.” Through school, that crayon and an assortment of paints would colour canvases inspired by her Zimbabwe surroundings, and the people who brightened her days. After graduating school, though, her life “took a turn,” she said, and her passion for art took a back seat. As a new mother, her creative devotions transferred to her husband and her children, she said, but her desire to paint lived on. For years, after moving to South Africa and then Tortola in 2009, she collected paintbrushes with the hopes of one day rekindling her love for art. It wasn’t until last year, when she dipped her brush in oil paint and stroked an almost forgotten canvas, that she awoke a raw talent from hibernation.

“It was an incredible experience,” she said of her brush-to-canvas reunion. “It was overwhelming; like a cork had been taken out of the bottle, and everything poured out like woosh. I’d paint every day if I could.”

Jane has since focused largely on realistic portraits, which stand out in vivid likeness to the photographs she uses as her guides. Many of her paintings currently hang on the walls of The Gallery off Main Street in Road Town. Her realistic oil paintings remarkably capture details revealed from sharpened photographs—like the crease of a bare-skinned fold, or the twinkle in a toddler’s eye. However, the artist with an undeniable knack for detail admits that her work needs guidance—that her skills still need to be developed to bring her personalized touch to the painting.

See some of Jane’s artwork here:

“With portraits, it’s about that human factor,” she said during an interview from her quaint home studio. “But I struggle sometimes with a voice—a feeling—that hinders me from letting loose. I just want to lose these habits and really be able to let it all out.

“I’m also struggling with technicalities of paint itself; OK, you can have a raw talent, but that’s not enough,” she continued. “You can’t be a carpenter just because you have a load of wood—you have to develop and work with your skill set.”

Jane admittedly wants a mentor to help her develop her own personal skill sets. As a realistic painter, though, she has had a hard time finding a partner versed in her genre. Many gifted local painters use watercolours, or paint historical interpretative scenes. Jane, however, would like to be inspired to develop her realistic portraits with more personality—not just a mirrored version of a photograph.

Recently, she attended a workshop in Puerto Rico led by renowned artist Caroline Jasper. It was this stimulating encounter that helped motivate Jane to create in her studio on almost a daily basis. She delved into a batch of Carnival photographs that depicted the bright colours and animated gestures of youthful revelers.

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“These kids were just so interesting,” she said, admiring the doe-eyed children in their festive garb. “I love to catch that moment—especially this one with the girl and the hoop. You’ve got all of this hubbub, and there she stands—like nothing is happening. I saw this photo and I thought, ‘I have to paint her.’”

During a recent showing, the mother of two of the girls in Jane’s series came up to the artist and acknowledged her work. “She said, ‘But why didn’t you catch my [third] child?’” Jane recalled.

Jane said she’s going to push forward with he passion to paint. She wants to move away from photographic realism and instead work to “capture the likeness” in her subjects. With her two children now busy with school and time to devote her energy to art, she said she can now be consumed by her canvas.

“When you become a mother, your creativity goes entirely into that,” she said. “You’ve got little left over. And when I paint, I’m giving so much of me into that painting that it’s tiring. Living in the BVI, being able to relax, it’s just much easier for me to let loose and give it all back.”

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