juli Jana chats about Stratagems, her latest exhibition of paintings and graphics

I am not going to talk about the poetical, metaphysical, spiritual aspect of the work although as a poet I would have somewhat to say.

You create because you are and you are because you create.

Every person creates, we are all creative. We create by the way we see, observe, relate, and respond to the world around us.

I  invite you to co-create with me. The artist and the observer both have a part to play.

As a visual artist I have responded to the world around me by painting on canvas, etching onto paper and I have hung the works on walls. Without the observer’s response adding his or her own interpretation, layer or strata, there is something missing, i.e. the works will be incomplete. A painting needs to be looked at, observed and absorbed in the same way a poem needs to be read, listened to and thought about. I invite you each to add your own layer, your own strata to the experience and to find gems.

In looking at the work, some of the words that come to mind are earth, space, movement, colour.

A number of the works relate to the natural world – the land, sky, trees, undergrowth.

In other works the elements of nature, the gems of colour, line or scratching are singled out or abstracted.

Movement, shape, repetition, variations are elements of nature and become signifiers in the exhibition.

Awash by juli Jana, mixed media on canvas

Awash by juli Jana, mixed media on canvas

The painting, Awash, with all its texture gives us an inkling of the  various strata of the earth. In this work made up of mixed media the colour blue becomes an element washing over the soil to reveal stones, sand and gems  – and yes, in the mixed media I used literal sand and stones.  Here ‘BLUE’ is the abstraction, the gem and the protagonist.

So much depends on the way we look at things. I recall standing in a gallery in Berlin looking at the straight rows Richard Long packed with stones. One row was big stones, the other small, the next mixed. He packed them the length of the gallery. Were they out of place in the gallery I wondered.

I have seen where he packed them in nature but here in the modern spacious gallery it gave me the opportunity to reconsider the way I perceive stones. In following the natural rhythm of stones he superimposed his own pattern and rhythm causing the observer to see their beauty more clearly.

This is what makes an exhibition exciting for both the artist and the observer.

I respond to the earth.  See the earth as red, charcoal, black, darkly accented, awash, pitched, patched, cut, emotional, freed, glowing in light, (morning landscape and evening landscape), textured, disappearing into the distance.

Dark accent after rain by juli Jana, mixed media

Dark accent after rain by juli Jana, mixed media

I see the winter trees as bare facts, birthing, the green of the earth as undergrowth and full growth.


The patches of the landscape, the thread of the road, the farmlands sharply defined or cut, become a LANGUAGE, a list of words and images that are stringed together, abstracted to thought. They form a puzzle that we each assemble  differently.


There is the Earth and there is the Sky.

The sky is filled with light and clouds. Without light the red of earth will not be red, without clouds the shadowed earth can only be black and not shaded.

I explore  clouds, trace clouds, follow clouds. There is the single cloud, the transparent cloud , running clouds, strung clouds. The earth is under cloud or not.

I refer to the following paintings here amongst others: single cloud, under cloud, running cloud, to cloud.

Under cloud by juli Jana, oil

Under cloud by juli Jana, oil


The depth of colour of earth seems to get  its strength when there is the juxtaposition of blue, in the same way the land is juxtaposed with the sky.


The sky is clothed in light, light is reflected from the earth in colour – the warmth of ochre and reds, contrasts of green and various stages of plant growth, depths of blue and purples. Because of the element of light colours get the added dimension of tones.

There is a further layer or strata in our observation of the work we are viewing, namely the reference it has to the natural world and that is not the hills or trees but the light of the sky that pervades the scene. This element of nature becomes a protagonist in the two paintings titled Morning landscape with trees and Evening landscape red etched, giving the viewer back the visual aspect of the landscape with the added element of the light in the sky.

It was interesting that in the hanging we found that these works looked best when they were hung where there was more natural light than electric light. I noted they had painted them where there was lots of natural light.

For me colour in itself is a protagonist. Colour in itself is a painting. It  creates excitement. Without colour the world would be rather dull. Mark Rothko explored colour for the sake of colour, red against red, cadmium red against maroon.

All artists relate to other artists. For me there is amongst others Cezanne for colour and composition,  Mark Rothko for colour and emotion. Kandinsky for composition and abstraction.  My painting inside out is a response to the dizziness of Kandinsky’s work.

Inside out by juli Jana, acrylic on canvas

Inside out by juli Jana, acrylic on canvas


I recall sitting for hours looking at a row of Rothko’s red paintings.

I also recall walking up and down in front of Kandinsky’s large works in Tate Modern in London being overcome by the vibrancy of movement and shifting colour.

In the paintings Morning landscape with trees and Evening landscape red etched I also used grit mixed with paint giving it a relief quality. I enjoy working in different mediums. The colours are separated into squares. These squared intervals of colour are in contrast or follow a tonal range of primary and secondary colours creating an abstraction in much the same way Paul Klee uses colour for abstraction. They also allow the viewer to travel through one spatial field after another in the way they are strung in alternative browns and greens and would recall landscapes by Cezanne such as Mountains of Provence.  The sharp red squares dropped into the composition jolt the viewer back to abstraction.

Morning landscape with trees by juli Jana, mixed media

Morning landscape with trees by juli Jana, mixed media


Then there is the density of the earth that only the Dutch Masters captured in their etchings, the ‘earthy’ emotion of Van Gogh as he viewed landscapes, birds, farmers and workers. It is often in my etchings that I relate to the Dutch Masters.

In honor of Van Gogh herewith a short poem I wrote:

everybody needs a lunatic
standing in a yellow cornfield
letting words rise like raucous crows
above a lifescape
till a cut off ear
deadens the noise

everybody needs a lunatic
painting words that circle
like black birds on smooth wing
drifting over yellow corn fields
patterning a thousand ellipses
that stars try to follow

Was Van Gogh slightly mad? Perhaps we all are a little mad sometimes.

Van Gogh could say, I am not mad, I am an artist.

In my 3-D work, everybody needs a lunatic, I explored this idea of the lunacy of the artist. Most of the monoprints, such as extravagant rave, flotsam, blue concertina, concertina lunacy relate to this concept. In the last two works I also transformed the flat surface of paper to a 3-D concept. There are also the paintings, scratchings 1 & 2, now and then and the lithos, symphony and feathering.

Everybody needs a lunatic by juli Jana, monotype

Everybody needs a lunatic by juli Jana, monotype


We need some lunacy to see shooting stars and the brilliance of colours, the scratchings and marks in our lives.  We give meaning to this.

My use of the word ‘lunacy’ could equate an openness to perceive – and we don’t need drugs for this, all we need is to be aware. So much depends on the way we look at things.

This leads to abstraction which adds another layer or strata to our experience.

Here I refer to the works scent of a woman, cape rouge, V and being physical.

Scent of a woman by juli Jana, monotype

Scent of a woman by juli Jana, monotype


Picasso said: There is no abstract art, you must start with something. Afterwards you can remove all traces of reality

The artist uses the shapes, markings and colour of the natural world to create and then moves into a different realm using his own signifiers. Colours become extravagant blotches, lines contradictory, composition suspended. In the monoprints I revert to the abstract building up signifiers.

What is a signifier, what is an object, how does the artist choose one or more. The poet William Carlos Williams wrote about a wheelbarrow, a red wheelbarrow. Why did he choose this topic, why does the artist choose cloud, an indigo blue, a worn out brush to work with – Can it be that just for a moment  something caught his attention, his imagination and he made a choice to follow it through. It is like a piece of string, no one knows its length to start off with, follow it and you will find out, there in lies the excitement.

To view the full exhibition of work online, visit www.capegallery.co.za/juli_jana

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