Janet Boulton

A Seeming Diversity: Paintings & Reliefs

“Among the fine arts, certain genres are notoriously overlooked, and certain media too. Janet Boulton can be said to run a double gauntlet, for still life and watercolour are both on the endangered list. She compounds these twin prejudices by an obstinate, unfashionable commitment to observational drawing. Her art, slow in the making, is slow to appreciate, too. But stay with it, for the time demanded is as surely rewarded.”
—David Cohen, 1997

ISBN 978 1 910010 90 7
88pp, 225 x 230mm
Sewn paperback
Distributed by Uniformbooks
Price £15.00

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Janet Boulton was born in September 1936 in Blunsdon, Wiltshire, into a farming family. During the war she attended St Andrew’s Church School and in 1945 became a weekly boarder at St Catherine’s School for Girls in Old Town, Swindon. After two years at the Swindon School of Art & Crafts studying for the Intermediate Examination she entered the Painting School at Camberwell School of Art, London in 1955. In 1958 she was awarded the David Murray Landscape Painting Scholarship, which she spent painting the stone circles at Avebury under the supervision of the late Peter Greenham RA. After a period of working in industry and advertising a chance meeting with the then Head of Education for Swindon persuaded her to begin as an assistant in the Art Department of Commonweal Grammar School in November 1959. Thus began forty fulfilling years as a part-time art teacher, retiring in 1999.

From 1962 Janet Boulton lived in London where she married the poet and translator Keith Baines. Their daughter Jessica was born in 1964. It was here that she held the first of the many solo exhibitions that have characterised her life as an artist. The first of which was Monoprints of Connemara at Everyman Theatre Gallery, Hampstead in 1965 and in 1967 she exhibited at the Architectural Association, London.

On returning to Wiltshire in the autumn of 1969 they moved to Ridgeway Farm Cottage, Foxhill, near Upper Wanborough, and she resumed teaching in Swindon. Here she made a new series of paintings based on the views from the windows looking over the fields towards Liddington Hill. Her teaching posts at Hreod Burna School and the Swindon School of Art inspired more works based on windows. These pictures eventually formed a substantial Arts Council-sponsored exhibition, Windows and Reflections, at the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery in September 1977.

Moving to Oxfordshire and finally settling in Abingdon-on-Thames in 1979 marked a turning point in Janet Boulton’s life. The decision to change her main medium from oil and acrylic to watercolour came out of an increasing interest in glass; windows, mirrors, commonplace glass objects and their reflections. Along with a feeling that it was the medium most suited to her purpose she had developed a strong interest in modern watercolour as a material misrepresented in professional circles—either as the most difficult of all media or contrarily, the province of the amateur. Janet Boulton discusses the technical and expressive qualities of watercolour in her work, in the recent film A Seeming Diversity: Working with Watercolour, filmed and directed by Zuleika Kingdon of Distant Object Productions.

At the same time, being now relatively free of family obligations she began gardening as a hobby and travelling to paint in gardens. From about 1982 until 2013, starting with Anne Dexter’s plantsperson’s garden in North Oxford she was able to make long-term detailed studies of a succession of gardens; Barnsley House in Gloucestershire, Boboli Gardens and Villa La Pietra, NYU Florence, Little Sparta in Scotland and most recently, the Cow Mead Allotments in Oxford. Each of these places influenced the design of her small plot in Spring Road, Abingdon. However, it was an interest in concrete poetry and the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay in Scotland that inspired JB to begin in 1996 placing inscriptions and installations which has largely led to her garden now being celebrated as a unique contribution to small garden design. A full account of her excursion into the garden world is contained in the 2013 publication Foreground/Background: About Making a Garden (Uniformbooks) and the film of the same title (2014), which has been shown at the Garden Museum along with an exhibition of JB’s pictures (2015). Much of the work made at Villa La Pietra is now held in the Sir Harold Acton Archive in Florence, and was exhibited there in 2016.

From 1984 Janet Boulton became a regular exhibitor in Cork Street, Mayfair. She had four solo exhibitions at the Mercury Gallery where the director Gillian Raffles was noted for her commitment to the promotion of watercolour. Subsequently, when the gallery closed she joined the Redfern Gallery, also in Cork Street, where the increasing diversity of her interests was shown by featuring firstly the garden paintings, Two Gardens (2001), followed by Paper Relief Works (2004) and Variations on a Still Life (2007). From this time onwards her solo exhibitions have been in public galleries, the most extensive of which was at Edinburgh School of Art, Edinburgh Festival (2009), Said Business School, Oxford (2009), Abingdon County Hall Museum (2013 & 2014), Milton Gallery, St Paul’s School, London (2003 & 2014), Keble College Music Department, Oxford, (2014), Garden Museum, London (2015), Magdalen College Old Library, Oxford (2017).

Over the years, her work has reached a wider audience through mixed shows amongst which were: Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions, Chichester, Guildford and Pittenweem Arts Festivals, Belfast Open, Cairn Gallery, Air Gallery, Scunthorpe Art Gallery, Bohan Gallery (Henley), Flying Colours Gallery (Edinburgh), Royal Watercolour Society Open, Palm Beach Contemporary, New York Studio School Gallery, Salon de Mars (Geneva).

Published on the occasion of the exhibition A Seeming Diversity: Working with Watercolour, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, 29th November 2017–20th January 2018.