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A story of achievement: from nursing to success as an artist - The Open College of the Arts
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A story of achievement: from nursing to success as an artist

The creative urge just won’t go away….. that’s what brings many people in mid life to OCA. Here Jane Perkins tells the story of her mid life conversion to achieve her creative dreams.
‘As a young child, I always enjoyed being creative; drawing, embroidery and ‘making things’. From school, I trained as a nurse and worked for 17 years, leaving in 1993 to bring up two children.’ However, Jane wanted a change of direction to develop her creative potential. Though she originally set her sights on a degree in Textiles at Somerset College of Arts and Technology she hadn’t completed an Art Foundation course and needed to prepare a portfolio of work by another means. In those days OCA didn’t offer a textiles degree path, and OCA courses often helped students gain places at traditional HE institutions. Jane tells us about the steps she took: ‘While my second child was a baby, I took a day class in drawing (mainly pastels) and A’ level Art History as an evening class. I then joined OCA for the ‘Textiles 1’ course. The course proved invaluable, especially the inspirational tutor sessions, which really opened my mind to how much I had to learn and how much I wanted to develop as a person. What most impressed the tutors and got me a place on a degree programme was the fact that I had completed the OCA course on my own at home showing my level of commitment!’
Textiles had always been Jane’s passion and she imagined she would finish her degree working with stitch. However, she developed a focus on a ‘recycling theme’ concentrating on found materials, especially beach debris and driftwood, as well as making brooches from old jewellery, plastic toys, coins, shells and other found objects, hand-stitched onto antique Indian braid, backed with felt. She wrote her thesis on recycled materials in art and design and graduated with a First in 2006.
Jane enjoys using materials which have a history and love art with an element of fun and the unexpected. While making brooches, Jane had amassed materials which were too big for them. So the idea of making a portrait from found materials came into her head. She experimented by copying a famous Matisse portrait of his wife (Portrait with Green Stripe) which she had always liked. Jane says:
‘I liked the result and then tried making one of a friend to see if I could capture the likeness of a real person. It was OK but too small in scale at A3, so I decided to make a larger work of someone whom everyone would recognize.’
The result was Made in China; The Queen, which won the ‘People’s Choice Award’ at the Focus on Great Britain exhibition, Art Works Galleries, Newcastle (August 2009) and subsequently sold to a director at Burberry HQ in London.
Jane describes her working process: ‘I use any materials of the right size, shape and colour: toys, shells, buttons, plastic cutlery, beads, jewellery, curtain hooks, springs etc. No colour is added – everything is used ‘as found’. My work needs to be viewed in two ways – from a distance to make sense of the whole image, and close up to identify the materials used.’ Jane continues making portraits of iconic figures and in July 2009, her Portrait of Nelson Mandela won the ‘People’s Choice Award’ at an Open Exhibition in Devon. It later sold to a buyer in Exeter.
For her current work, Plastic Classics, (from 2010) Old Masters are given a contemporary twist. Jane describes her choice of a Van Gogh portrait, ‘The 3D nature of Van Gogh’s thickly applied paint which he squirted straight from the tube, lends itself to interpretation using found materials. I have made several versions of some famous paintings such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers – each one is unique, according to the materials found at the time’.
In the same year, Jane appeared on BBC’s Spotlight SW, and received coverage in the local and national press. In October, she appeared on the Alan Titchmarsh chat show. Jane then took the bold step of visiting the Affordable Art Fair to look for a London gallery where my work might fit in. She approached a gallery (Will’s Art Warehouse, Putney), who agreed to represent her. Since then, they have been selling Jane’s work at the Affordable Art Fair in London, New York and Singapore. Jane will be exhibiting in 2011 in Devon Open Studios (Aug 29th – Sept 17th), then at AAF Hampstead Heath in October and AAF Singapore in November this year. More details about Jane Perkins and her work can be found at www.bluebowerbird.co.uk

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Posted by author: Jane Parry

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