Jane James on Recording Equality


“Art has always served as a record of our cultural lives,” says artist Jane James when explaining the larger ideals behind her work. “That’s what it has done since the beginning of time.” Throughout her practice, James has understood her art to be part of a larger cultural conversation. Now, in her latest exhibition, Affirmation at Jan Manton Art, she’s extending this idea by responding to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia.

In November last year 60% of Australians voted ‘yes’ for legalising same-sex marriage in a nation-wide plebiscite. After hearing the news, James knew she wanted to mark the occasion. “I really wanted to celebrate the positive result of the plebiscite,” explained the artist. “I was really unsure about what the result would be and I was very worried for everyone concerned.”

Building on previous works that examined sexual identity and language, the artist decided to craft a series of paintings that considered the idea of equality.

Producing strong and theatrically lit compositions, James created eight paintings in which each piece references one letter in the word ‘equality’.

Taking a poetic route, the artist depicted the concept of equality by painting a thread of fluid rope, which weaves a path around various sticks. “There is a visual tension between the rigidity of the sticks and the fluidity of the rope,” says James. “But there’s also a balance between them which I find really pleasing. It’s the juxtaposition of the sensuous, flexible and fluid rope, and the contrasting colour, alongside the sticks, which creates a beautiful form.”

These works of visual and linguistic choreography also have personal resonances for the artist. “My postgraduate study was in furniture design and that gives me an affinity for wood,” she says. “I have an affinity for rope because I grew up at sea, so both of them are intensely personal to me. They’re things I understand and I suppose that’s what makes them useful as devices and motifs.”

Considering that James sees her work as part of a conversation, not as a person working in isolation, she believes this exhibition leans towards the joyous and uplifting: “It’s a pause in our lives to say we’ve done this, and it’s pretty momentous.”

Jane James
Jan Manton Art
30 May – 23 June

Preview Words by Tiarney Miekus