About

JANE MAITLAND

Jane Maitland (legal name June Mitchell) has spent almost all of her long life in Wandsworth and most of it within a mile or so of where she was born (York Road, Clapham). She is maybe the only contemporary abstract painter in South London who actually lives in a Council flat (though you never know).

Jane Maitland worked for MGM for a while as a typist and then for the Midland Bank (now HSBC). As a young woman she wasn’t interested in art at all ─ “driving at high speed, clothes, Elvis Presley, horse-riding ─ that was my life” ─ and she only started painting well into her retirement. “My parents and elder brother (all dead I’m afraid) would be completely amazed to hear I’d even set foot inside an Art Gallery let alone taken up abstract painting myself!”

Q. How was it you did get into painting?

A. By chance really. It sounds incredible now but when I saw Robert (Sebastian Hayes) making pastel sketches of trees I thought to myself “What on earth does he get out of doing that?” Then I did some sequin art to pass the time, the sort of thing where the pattern is already laid out for you and you just push the sequins into the spots. Then I thought of making up my own patterns using these cheap cork ‘notice boards’ you see in hardware stores. I did one or two of those, then suddenly said, “Why not paint?”

Q. What were your first paintings like?

A. Pretty awful on the whole but there were one or two which had something, a waterfall in particular.

Q. How did you start doing abstract?

A. For a very strange reason. I did such a terrible painting of a little bird that I covered it up with black paint as well as I could. But then I thought to myself, looking at the result, “I quite like that!” So I did a whole series of abstracts on these cheap cork boards. And all the people who saw them said they liked them, and they weren’t being polite. One thing led to another and there was no question of going back to representational (though I’ve nothing against it, it’s just not me). In a year I’ve been through all sorts of styles where a particular shape dominated. I had my ‘cubist’ period, then there was a time when there were ‘tadpole-like’ shapes in my pictures, then snakes, crossing lines, but always abstract. The shapes are really like nothing one sees in everyday life though some may have been influenced by DVDs I’ve seen about microbes and bacteria. A. For a very strange reason. I did such a terrible painting of a little bird that I covered it up with black paint as well as I could. But then I thought to myself, looking at the result, “I quite like that!” So I did a whole series of abstracts on these cheap cork boards. And all the people who saw them said they liked them, and they weren’t being polite. One thing led to another and there was no question of going back to representational (though I’ve nothing against it, it’s just not me). In a year I’ve been through all sorts of styles where a particular shape dominated. I had my ‘cubist’ period, then there was a time when there were ‘tadpole-like’ shapes in my pictures, then snakes, crossing lines, but always abstract. The shapes are really like nothing one sees in everyday life though some may have been influenced by DVDs I’ve seen about microbes and bacteria.

Q. What sort of painters do you admire?

A. Not many. Monet. Someone said something I did reminded him of Matisse but, at the time, I’d never even heard of Matisse! With Robert we sometimes come across very good paintings selling for a few pounds by unknown artists in second-hand shops. I have a very good abstract one, one of the first paintings that showed me there was something in abstract art after all. But generally I’m more interested in sculptures. The Greeks, the Egyptians. My favourite sculpture is “The Dying Gladiator”, there is a life-size plaster copy in Courtaulds. As soon as I saw it I was struck dumb, I couldn’t understand why anyone had eyes for anything else.

Q. When did you start painting?

A. Around April last year (2012). That’s less than a year and a half ago.

Q. How often do you paint?

A. Unless I feel unwell, every day, for two or three hours. Unless it’s a very big painting, I like to finish it in one go, I don’t like to leave it unfinished.

Q. What sort of paints do you use?

A. Gouache or designer’s gouache. I started with water colour (gouache is a kind of water colour but more vivid). I can’t get on with acrylic. Recently I’ve taken to charcoal drawing.

Q. Where do you get your ideas for a painting from?

A. Something I’ve seen maybe, the sky, moving water, or just by staring into space. I have recently found a book that’s useful but it’s not an art book, it’s about form in Nature, Li by David Wade (Wooden Books). I don’t copy but I sometimes get the germ of an idea from one of his diagrams or photographs, and once I’ve started it’s as if the hand carries on moving by itself.

Q. Would you say painting has changed your life?

A. Well, yes, it has in a way. It’s something that wasn’t there before but it seems it should be there, almost it’s got to be there. If I suddenly lost interest it would be very upsetting but I’m pretty sure it will go on. I feel that I’m getting help, I’m being directed if you like. I sort of know what the next step ought to be. For example, until recently I never bothered with drawing, just painted directly. But something (or someone) told me I needed to do drawing and for some weeks I did nothing but drawing with charcoal and for a while I liked the drawings better than the paintings. Now I feel it’s OK for me to go back to using colour again.

SEBASTIAN HAYES

(legal name Robert Mules) went to Oxford but for most of his life earned his living as a gardener, interior decorator and handyman (“At least it kept me in touch with material reality”). As a child he enjoyed sketching in pen and ink but didn’t keep this up as a man. He never showed much interest in art for most of his life and hated ‘modern’ art, he used to say “abstract artists ought to be wallpaper designers but the trouble is no decent firm would want to employ them”. In his late fifties he started doing pastels of trees and flowers while out walking and he only produced one or two ‘abstracts’ to ‘fill up space’ for an exhibition he arranged for his partner, Jane Maitland.

Q. Have you changed your attitude to abstract art?

A. Not entirely. I still hate Cubism and Picasso(but see Note 1). Most abstract art is terrible and, since there is no ‘story’ or ‘scene’ to fall back on, this makes it even worse. But I can now see why painters went in that direction. There is, in a sense, no point in just imitating Nature, even less point in being a photographer in paint now that we have photography. Art should deal above all with what is not in Nature (or at any rate not in evidence in Nature at a first glance). At bottom I believe reality is abstract and painters should try to uncover what is in these hidden depths. I think one needs to believe in the non-physical to create memorable abstract art : the Aboriginees obviously did and so did Kandinsky, probably the best modern abstract painter ─ he wrote a book on the ‘spiritual in art’.

Q. What would you say if someone said your ‘abstracts’ were a waste of space and anyone could do them?

A. I would probably understand why they said this. But there really is a difference between some patterns and others. I tear up (literally) most of what I produce – what’s left means something, at least to me. But I certainly couldn’t say why exactly one particular pattern is ‘better’ than another. But that’s true of tunes.

Q. What painters have influenced you?

A. None really. I like the Zen idea of the ‘spontaneous painting which captures the moment’ but their brush paintings, of which few survive, haven’t had any direct influence. Curiously, I discovered the Italian Futurists only after I’d done most of my (small) non-representational output. Balla, Boccioni, Russolo & co. these are the great painters of the 20th century. They did what no one ever did before or since, that is, they conveyed dynamism, turmoil, cataclysm with colours on a flat surface. You could say they spurred me on to continue where I was heading but a good job I never came across them earlier or I would never have dared to do anything at all.

Q. How do you paint?

A. I don’t! I only use pastel sticks, never a brush. I need to feel something in my hand, an object. The hand is mightier than the brush or even the palette knife. I discovered entirely by accident – accident is a great teacher -- a useful trick : I flake off bits of oil pastel with a sharp knife into a dish and then rub this straight into the paper with my fingers. This produces some interesting effects because you can’t do this entirely regularly and so there is a random element, but it’s not entirely random, you’re still in control of the direction of motion. All my ‘cosmological’ pastels are done like this.

Q. How long do you spend on a pastel?

A. Not long. One must be very rapid to catch a fleeting impression whether from the outside world or the inside one. My favourite ‘tree’ pastel, Spring Awakening, was done so rapidly that Jane thought I had just gone down to the shed to pick up something and had come straight back up again. I had to catch the almond tree in blossom at precisely that moment in time.

Q. Has painting (or pastel art) changed your life?

A. Definitely. I notice things I never noticed before, chance patterns of light in a piece of cloth hanging over the back of a chair, blades of grass waving in the wind, wispy clouds. All painters worth their salt notice things like this but in my case it’s all part of a big change that came over me some two or three years ago, sort of end-of-life transition I guess. I more or less lost interest in things where human beings are in the forefront (novels, current affairs, psychology and so on) and got fascinated by completely non-human things, like modern theoretical physics and, yes, abstract painting.

Q. Why are you calling this website and the September exhibition ‘Ixtlan’ Art? What is Ixtlan?

A. ‘Ixtlan’ is a word invented by the writer Carlos Castaneda ─ one of his books is called Journey to Ixtlan. Ixtlan is the place you know in the depths of your being, your ‘real home’, and that you spend your life trying to reach. ‘Journeying to Ixtlan’ is a sort of parable in the book and I personally find it very evocative and moving. The Yaqui Indian, Don Genaro, tells the LA anthropology student, Carlos Castaneda, about a dream he has had of ‘travelling to Ixtlan’. On the way he meets various people who are interesting, friendly, invite him to their homes and so on, but he realizes with sadness “they are all just phantoms”. He keeps going on alone trying to find the way to Ixtlan. He stops talking. Carlos Castaneda asks, “Well, did you ever reach Ixtlan? Did you finally meet someone who showed you the way to it?” Castaneda’s ‘mentor’, another Indian, Don Juan, says “You don’t understand, Carlos. Don Genaro is still travelling towards Ixtlan. But everyone he meets is a phantom. And that includes you.” But then Don Genaro points to his friend Don Juan and with a nod of his head says emphatically, “This is the only one who is real. This world is real only when I am with this one.”

Q. What exactly has all that to do with art and painting?

A. I am interested in a certain quality some paintings have, sort of unreal/real, here and yet there. I find this quality, for example, in the remarkable painting Enigma by Rivka Sinclair (on show in the September Exhibition) which is why I have a print of it in my bedroom. And I find this quality in some of Jane Maitland’s abstract shapes — as she said “They are something and yet nothing”. There can, of course, be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Ixtlan painting, and it doesn’t have to be abstract. Claude Lorraine, the 17th century French landscapist, is probably the most ‘Ixtlan’ Western painter and he’s not abstract. Oddly in a way, Ixtlan paintings are more likely to be ‘classical’ or ‘neo-classical’ than Romantic. Ixtlan paintings must be still, completely still, while even if they are picturing movement, Romantic paintings are never still.

Q. What about yourself?

I’m not an Ixtlan painter! Not at all! I once defined Ixtlan as “the quiet at the heart of turmoil” but I depict the turmoil at the heart of turmoil. That’s why I don’t want to make too much of the term otherwise I’d have to exclude myself from the website and the Exhibition! (In fact, I nearly did.) Maybe one needs to paint (or write or act or whatever) not so much to show the world your everyday self as your ‘shadow self’. My pastels are exactly the opposite of Jane’s paintings— we thought of staging a joint exhibition entitled “War and Peace”.

Note 1- Picasso did, however, produce one great painting La Famille des Saltimbanques and this painting is thoroughly ‘Ixtlan’ ! The family group of ‘saltimbanques’, sort of travelling circus acrobats, stares out at us from a ‘space’ that is not of the world, is a no-space, and yet they are quite realistically portrayed. They are androids, human and yet not quite human, and certainly they do not inhabit physical reality. Although seemingly aware of being observed, this does not bother them — they simply stare back as if they consider us to be not quite real. The fact that they are a ‘family’ adds to the strangeness — and also to the normality !