Delighting in the detail: Jan Juc artist’s work always tells a story
Forging a successful career in art was arguably a birthright for Jan Juc’s Jenny Laidlaw.
The daughter of prolific watercolour painter Keith Smith, Jenny remembers days spent sitting on her grandmother’s lap as she learnt how to draw flowers.
But it was the crisp alpine air that filled every groove of her young lungs at Mount Beauty that invited her imagination to climb higher than her childhood home’s most famous peaks.
“My family moved from Melbourne to Mount Beauty back in 1981 and that’s where my love of the bush and the mountains came from,” she said.
“We moved down here in 2001 with my husband Andy and three kids (Matthew, 22, Ally 20, Sierra, 11) and that’s when I developed a love of the ocean. It’s the best of both worlds, really.”
When Jenny graduated from school in 1987, she studied a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Canberra Institute of the Arts.
In 1992, she was accepted into a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Fine Art at the La Trobe University College of Northern Victoria.
While it was part of the curriculum to experiment with a range of versatile mediums, Jenny said she found herself gravitating towards the very tool she’s spent her lifetime finessing.
“We tried everything; acrylics, oils, but I always seemed to come back to pen, ink and watercolour.
“I don’t know whether it’s just something I’m comfortable with. I’ve branched off every now and then and done things that are full of colour, but I always end up bringing back that intricate detail into them.
“Even if I try to do a really free watercolour painting, I always bring in detail. It’s always been my choice.”
The award-winning artist said using a 0.0mm black fineliner allowed her to incorporate streams of wispy lines in each of her artworks, most of which prompt the viewer to enter a maze of curiosity.
“Every single piece of my work tells a story,” she said.
“It has always been based around paper. I’ve done quite a few book sculptures and they’ve always been very detailed, very intricate pieces of work that always tell a story, where people have to look more closely to see the work that they haven’t really seen before.
“There’s always hidden things that I put in.”
Jenny said her two biggest inspirations in the art world were Maurits Cornelis Escher and Leon Pericles, but Pericles’ use of “found objects” encouraged her to consider how this could take shape in her style.
“With Escher, it’s the play on the mind, but Leon’s whimsical style influenced me to start beachcombing down here.
“A lot of my earlier work back 10 years ago plus was inspired by a lot of Surf Coast areas like Pt Addis, Southside (Beach), the Ironbark Basin, but now I’m using my imagination more.
“Every now and then I’ll pop in things that are relevant to my past; I’ll put in high country cattlemen huts because of my strong tie to Mount Beauty, and that’s my personal input into my artworks. A lot of people look at it and think ‘Why has she put that in there?’ but that’s why I do art – it’s for me as well as for the viewer.”
Jenny has won the People’s Choice Award in the Mission to Seafarers Victoria’s (MtSV) annual ANL Maritime Art Prize three times, with the most recent having been presented last year.
She has also had her work showcased across various exhibitions across the wider region, including Eagles Nest Fine Art Gallery, Tigerfish Art Gallery, Epworth Geelong’s public art gallery and Metropolis Gallery where her work was displayed in a shared exhibition with her father.
She’s also completed a series of murals for the City of Greater Geelong as part of its Christmas in Geelong initiative.
“I also do quite a few commissions for people but I’m quite selective who I do them for. I don’t want to be restricted to somebody else’s expectations,” she said.
“I’m also really lucky in that I can do an original piece of artwork and it can be produced as a limited edition print, I can then get onto a greeting card, I can also sell it as jigsaw puzzles, which have gone gangbusters the past couple of months, and then bookmarks, and a calendar. So one piece of artwork can keep on selling for years and years.”
Jenny said her fascination with lighthouses was yet another enduring inspiration for her artworks but confessed it was almost impossible to explain where her ideas come from.
She said sometimes the epiphanies creep in as late as 2am, forcing her to spring out of bed and into her home studio before the stroke of genius checks out for the evening.
“I love the fact that most lighthouses are set in remote, isolated areas, and that’s what I love, the remoteness, the isolation, which is why I love the mountains as well, so I think that’s where that’s coming from. It’s nearly like a sub conscious-y type thing, I think.
“I find it hard to verbalise and articulate where everything comes from for my work, I just let my imagination go.
“Rather than using words, I’m using a pen and paintbrush.”
One of her most recent artworks – which is titled “Isolated and Separate, Yet Together and United” – was inspired by the coronavirus pandemic and features toilet paper rolls, hand sanitiser, face masks and teddy bears.
In her artist statement, Jenny explained the artwork was a visual representation of the world we’re living in.
“Even though we are all isolated in our homes, we are still together and united in our fight to beat this virus,” it read.
“We can still connect with one another during these frightening and challenging times, through a wave and a smile from a window.”
To learn more about Jenny Laidlaw, head to jennylaidlaw.com.au or follow @jennylaidlawartist on Instagram.