We had the good fortune of connecting with Janell James and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Janell, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Since I always wanted to be an artist, there was no other way to go about it than to jump in feet first. In order for me to have my first studio sale I had to have a state business license. This was the reality check that helped me realize I was now in business for myself. I exhibited my first solo show in my studio space a few months after getting my business license in 2009, after three years of focused study and a year of creating work good enough to show and sell. Having had a successful studio sale it furthered my confidence that I was moving in the right direction and could have a profitable career as an artist. Of course, being an artist is not all about creating art, it is entirely aligned with being a small business owner. I had to learn to manage a budget, track my expenses as well as an inventory of my paintings and sales, keep receipts for write-offs when taxes were due each year, work with outside vendors to get the materials I would need to create art, present and sell my work to galleries and manage these relationships, create my own marketing, branding and selling objectives, be resilient and accept the failings with the successes. As it turns out, I am grateful for the opportunity to wear this many hats and more, it is what has kept me interested in being a professional artist these past 14 years. My mind needs to stay busy to stay creative and this is always what has helped me to create outside my own box, creating work that is unique to my process and different from what other artists are doing.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Being an artist is not easy but it is not hard either, let me explain. I’m sure you have heard someone say at least once in your life, ‘if you love doing it, it will never feel like work’. My dad said this to me throughout my life as I searched for a career that would give meaning and satisfaction to a life well lived while hopefully also, paying the bills. It took me until my late twenties to find the courage to pursue an art career and it took every bit of will, determination, resilience, patience, faith and strength I could muster to stay the course. I had always heard that after 10,000 hours of concerted effort in a field one could be considered a master and perhaps this is true when it comes to my own current style and technique of creating. However, a wise teacher once told me that the experimental process is at least 20% of the job of an artist which means, the job is never done. Success does not end at 10,000 hours but it does lead to a ‘freedom’ to create. This freedom opened a door to my own individuality as an artist. It took about ten years for my confidence to grow into my work and with it came a style of painting that I would call uniquely my own, free from the expectations of others, independent from any conscious, preconceived ideas of what art was except, what art was for me. For ten years I painted traditionally in oil on canvas, in multiple layers of paint and glazes like the old masters. For ten years I also worked to undo this learning, to deconstruct these layers in a way that was more modern than traditional. With a passion to create work that had a resemblance of the old but was something entirely new, I decided to use a modern surface as my tool. Taking five panes of clear acrylic glass, I began to break down the layers of paint and glazes that I had so carefully constructed in my traditional oil paintings, painting each layer separately on the front and back of five panes of acrylic glass, there were again ten layers of paint. Now each layer was physically separated and then stacked on top of the other creating an image that was all at once structural, kinetic and 3D. The literal use of space that happens through these layers led to a dimensional painting of nature, typically the portrait of a tree, in a way that I had never before seen accomplished. Having created something uniquely my own was an empowering moment in my career. I have since realized endless possibilities in the creation of art through this process, including a blending of processes that has unearthed a wellspring of ideas and opened the floodgates to creative work waiting to be manifested. This was an exciting turning point in my art career, the ‘aha’ moment when everything I had strived for all of these years suddenly made sense and started happening with more ease and authenticity. All the years of hard work were paying off! Almost four years into this discovery, now is no time to rest on my laurels, there is so much more work to be done!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We could spend an afternoon downtown first, stopping in at one of my favorite mid-century modern refurbished furniture establishments, The Green Ant. From there, I would recommend lunch at Current Fish and Oyster, just a block up the street, for the perfect opportunity to catch up while enjoying some amazing seafood. After which, we could check out some local art culture, visiting my friends at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. UMOCA’s exhibitions would be certain to get us talking about important and relevant real world issues we face today through the medium of contemporary art. I would also like to stop in and see the artists on exhibit at Modern West Fine Art, always wonderfully curated and filled with art topics of worth. Heading back home, I would stop in at One Modern Art, a gallery I own with my partner and artist John Bell. It is a pleasure to be able to show my friends what John and I have been up to in our creative time. After a full day, some wine in the comforts of home followed by dinner at Mazza Café, just around the corner from my house, for a taste of wonderful and authentic Middle Eastern Cuisine. The following day, we would head south on a road trip to spend the remainder of the week in Southern Utah. Nothing quite beats time in the desert, taking in the varied and sometimes surprising land formations at Arches National Park, Goblin Valley State Park and surrounding Moab area. Hiking in these areas one is bound to catch a glimpse of lizards and snakes along with the delicate and most resilient of all wild flowers. Then, there are always those moments of silent reflection that accompany any desert trip and in these moments you come to the realization of the truly wild place where you are visiting for a moment. It is the opportunity of this silence to feel the sun wash over your body, notice the exfoliation and foot pedicure caused by the sand in your shoes and between your toes, hear the sound of wind approaching as it travels up a winding canyon all of a sudden blowing your hair across your brow and drying the sweat from your lip, the refreshment of thirst quenching water after a long hike, and even the unexpected but planned for rain storm that pours down for twenty strong minutes and clears to a beautiful blue sky, mineral smells evaporating from the raw earth, steam rising up. It all sounds so romantic because it is. It is raw living at its finest. Utah is a pretty remarkable place. Being immersed in nature is for me one of the ways I feel most alive and this is the pleasure I wish to share with my friends. Enjoying nature, good food, gritty adventure and the company of friendship built on decades, is the nectar of life. By the end of the week I would not want to go home but would be filled to the brim with a renewed taste for this life and friendship, ready to get into the studio and throw all of this palpable zest for life into my paintings of nature.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Of course there are many people and institutions that I am grateful to in my lifelong pursuit as a career artist. During Covid-time I have had a great deal more time to reflect on what is truly important to my ability to survive as an artist and it is with huge thanks to all the collectors who love my work and choose to make it a part of their collection. It is also with great thanks to the galleries and museums who have kept their doors open in support of the arts, more so now in these more difficult times but, always. This support is paramount to the ability of any artist to flourish. Going back to the beginning, I owe much gratitude to my parents for all of their tireless support and the many ways in which they exposed my creative mind to the arts from music to the theater, dance and all visual arts to, the most important, their encouragement of my imagination. High school was my next step in finding my artistic self in a more serious way. After completing the AP Art program in High School, I continued to study in college under Connie Borrup, my high school AP art teacher, a well-known and successful Utah artist. Many other Utah teachers since college continued show me the skills to become a successful artist including Paul Davis, David Dornan, Doug Braithwaite, Susan Gallacher, and the list goes on. They each taught differently, instructing in their own paint techniques and approach. They also taught invaluable life skills including the business side of managing an art career. I am indelibly grateful to each of them! In addition, I was fortunate to study art in way of the old masters learning at an Atelier in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Paris, France from 2006-2009. These intensive programs taught me the classical and traditional techniques of being a good draftsman and painter. The Ateliers taught me how to see light, shape and how to turn an object so it has dimension on a two-dimensional surface. All of these skills are like learning to play classical piano and it happens over an accrued period of time. This ability to perform so tightly, to present a skill set so precisely, resulted in the compilation of the tools necessary to break this knowledge down again into simple parts in order to rebuild an art form uniquely my own, using my own voice. These are lessons that many talented, skilled and generous people passed down to me over time that helped me become the artist I am today. Every support system, creative person, experimental medium, technique, museum and institution has helped me become successful. To all those who stood beside me, believed in me, encouraged me, lit a fire within me, and helped instill the value of being an artist and being true to myself, I am grateful!
Photos of me were taken by John Bell