A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Bellingham artist Jane Burns to a private showing of some of her works at Pepper Sisters, 1055 N. State St., for which she created paintings, menus and designed signage years ago.
She reminded me that she also has works at Bellingham’s PeaceHealth St. Joseph Hospital, not a new thing for her, as she’s been involved with the “Healing Through Art,” series, organized by Linda Gardner, for several years, where many of the region’s major artistic talents have shown their work in the hallways, cafes, waiting rooms and entryways of PeaceHealth.
What’s on display (and for sale) at Pepper Sisters’ lounge and back hallway through Nov. 4 are some of the original paintings she did for the hospital on commission.
I wanted to know more about what she’s been up to for the last few years, and to introduce her art to people who may not know her.
Here’s what she told me:
I am a self-taught artist and have been making art in one form or another for close to 40 years. My partner describes my art as circles, squares, and triangles. Spot on. Just add a bird maybe two, a toy, a circumstance, an invisible game of Cat’s Cradle, and there you have it: JB in a nutshell.
Things that inspire me; birds, games, kids, numbers, string, shadows, patterns, imaginary twins trying to outsmart themselves, and the ever-evolving balance and/or tension of cooperation and communication among these things. Oh and I mustn’t forget colors, I do love the colors.
After many years of painting, I found that I had worn out my wrist to the point where I had to give it a rest. So I taught myself graphic design using the computer. I’ve designed logos, illustrations, and playing cards (my card game BOLD MAID was a successful Kickstarter project), and done some illustration.
Just exactly when I was itching to remove myself from the computer and get messy again, Linda Gardner, the art curator for St. Joseph’s Hospital, asked me to do a proposal for art on the fourth floor of the hospital. I submitted my ideas, they accepted them, and I was off and running, waggling those brushes like there were a million tomorrows (I’ve never been known for my speediness). I merrily created 30 prints and paintings, all done with hospital visitors, patients, and staff in mind. St. Joseph’s made many of these paintings into prints on canvas for display in the hospital, so I now have some of the originals for sale as well as the computer generated limited edition prints. The themes are healing, strength, spirituality, protection, and luck (my personal favorite). Basically I aimed for colorful rectangles of uplifting distraction.
Best of all, I procured the rights from Harvard University Press to greet visitors with one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems.
I talked to some of the nurses and created a nine-square portrait of the fourth floor staff. Fr’instance, in the center of the painting there is a tree with exactly one hundred leaves, with each leaf representing one staff member of the 100 that work on the fourth floor.
I also did a series of prints titled “Best of Luck and Beyond” which are a merry mix of images for luck, protection, and spirituality across many cultures.
The abstract triptych, “Hills and Valleys” in the Solarium is meant to honor the ups and downs of life in a hospital setting. “Endurance,” “Balance,” and “Protection” are the titles of the paintings that now flank the nurses’ station. They are meant to be beacons of hope and strength. Or they could be seen as simple distractions, momentary uplifts for hospital visitors and staff alike.
Across from the nurses’ station is “Parallel’s Progress,” a series of six paintings following (give or take an abstraction or two) a rabbit named Parallel who experiences a health crisis and comes out, with the help of others, still hopping. On the undersides of the canvasses I painted a secret series of ladybugs that count the progression with their spots. Only a child, gurney rider, or person in a wheelchair will actually see those. Or maybe no one will see them. These are the chances I take.
The hospital commission was a hearty re-emergence into the art world for me. With some boundaries and goals, I got my wheels turning again and now I’m ready to break into song. No, not song. I can’t sing worth a bean. But you get the idea.
While I was on the hiatus from painting both my Bellingham and Seattle galleries closed their doors. What to do what to do?? So I tapped my ruby sneakers three times and had the idea (duh) to show my hospital paintings at Pepper Sisters Restaurant. I feel at home there for many reasons, one of which is that I had a hand in most all of the design that went into the restaurant, from the paintings right down to the menus. So I have the originals of the hospital paintings hanging in the lounge and the back hallway until Nov. 4.
Showing there to sell for the first time was relatively seamless, especially with the help of the new owners, Chelan Bressers and Kelsey Andrews. And my work naturally fit in like I had planned it. Maybe I don’t need a gallery after all; these young ‘uns put a pep in my step with all their enthusiasm. Maybe I’ll follow my very favorite path, that of least resistance, and keep showing my prints and sometimes new paintings in their hallowed halls. Win win. Time will tell.
Or for those who’d rather clickety click than eat an incredibly delicious Southwestern dinner you’ll never forget, you can see my work online at www.janeaburns.com.
In the future, I’m going to experiment with cold wax and oil paint. If the oils don’t give me a headache. Last time I tried them they did, but that was 30 years ago. All my molecules have changed a few times over so I’m counting on a clear head this time.
I also want to get my card games and kids’ books finished and out there in the world. I have almost finished illustrating some Emily Dickinson poems (been working on that for eons) and I’ve finished a counting book featuring Mister Bingo. My problem (one of them) is that I like to create games and books, but then fall short on getting those projects out beyond my little shadow because I just want to get going on the next one…