An Interview with Janna Watson

As a child growing up in Flesherton, a small town in Ontario of 700 people, Janna Watson loved spending time with her grandfather. Arthur Bonnett owned a flower shop in Toronto and taught Industrial Design at a local college. He was also a passionate painter and took up rug hooking when he retired. His sense of colour was “otherworldly,” says Watson. She was fascinated to watch him paint and delighted when he offered her lessons.  

“One summer, he gave me a mission to go into the forest and make an abstract drawing of a tree,” recalls Watson. “When I came back to show him, he criticized my work by telling me it was okay, but I needed to become more wild with my drawing. I have never forgotten the artistic freedom he passed onto me in that moment even though I was about 10 years old.”

Now, as an emerging artist, Janna Watson has made a profound impact on the Canadian art scene. Renowned for her compelling compositions of colour and abstract form, her paintings evoke an emotional resonance with the viewer through expressive brushstrokes and carefully balanced architectural line work. Her work creates a dialogue between the body and material of which is both seen and unseen. Space can be differentiated between the aggressive and the ethereal and both equally supported by the subject and the palette.

Her contemporary pieces are featured in several high-profile collections, including TD Bank Financial Group, CIBC, the Ritz Carlton Hotel, and AURA – Canada’s largest condominium project. Based in Toronto, Canada, her work has been exhibited across North America and internationally.

A portrait of Janna Watson

Your art style follows a theme of erratic lines and small flamboyant bursts of colour, set over a general backdrop of one or two colours. Using this formula, how do you manage to create completely different atmospheres and depict different messages throughout your art?

I like to play with negative space in my paintings. The background and foreground have a relationship and so does the empty space with the composition. This is how I create a dynamic with colour. I feel my line work creates and dissipates the tension between the spaces.

How do you find the time to create art despite the hustle and bustle of life?

Painting is my full-time job. I have 4 galleries and I do a solo show with each of them every year. So the hustle and bustle of my life is my art.

What inspires your work?

Everyone has a need for escapism. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t drink, or watch movies, or have someone to flirt with, or follow a religion: I’m sure you dream at night. My abstractions are intentional escapes into non-reality.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading this book called “Letting Go” by David R Hawkins. It’s a self help book about surrendering.

Janna Watson, Dying Must Be A Mute Internal Explosion

I’m kind of shy and I find solo exhibits difficult. I tend to try and hide in the corner and drink as much wine as possible.

What is your favourite or most memorable solo exhibit?

Honestly, I’m kind of shy and I find solo exhibits difficult. I tend to try and hide in the corner and drink as much wine as possible. I’ve had 19 solo shows so far and the most memorable would be my very first at Bau-Xi Toronto. I was 25, I wore a tight black dress that was way too short for business and the only people who showed up were my friends and a teacher from OCAD who failed me in my professional practise class. He failed me because I missed more than 4 classes btw.

Do you have a favourite piece? Which and why?

When I discover a new technique I get very excited. I have no favourites though.

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Janna Watson, Talking To Orchids

There are some scuzy galleries out there. I know that because I have experienced my peers suffering, not getting paid, and having their work stolen.

What is your fondest memory of working in the Toronto art industry so far?

Bau-Xi is an incredible gallery.   There are some scuzy galleries out there. I know that because I have experienced my peers suffering, not getting paid, and having their work stolen. I have always felt that Bau-Xi puts my best interests first and I love and respect the business we do together so much. 

If you could turn your artistry into a movie, what would the title be?

Light is not Heavy

What are you working on now?

I have 2 art fairs coming up this autumn: the Toronto International art Fair and Art Miami.

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Janna Watson, Closed Loops

What is your favourite part about being an artist in Toronto?

My studio is in 401 Richmond in Toronto. It is a subsidized, beautiful, historical building and the owners of the building (Zeigler) are incredible art supporters.

Where is your special place?

Bed.

What was the goal you first envisioned when you started out as an artist?

I wanted to make money doing something I love.

What’s next?

I’m having my first solo show in the US: the Foster White gallery at the beginning of August.

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Janna Watson, Self Portrait

The garbage men of the world will always make more money than you if you get trapped into thinking you are more prestigious than them.

What advice would you give to beginning painters?

Being an artist doesn’t mean you are special. If someone told you that you’re special, they are wrong. The garbage men of the world will always make more money than you if you get trapped into thinking you are more prestigious than them. Everyone needs to work and get paid. If you believe you are good at painting and it is your passion you need to expose your work anywhere possible. You need to make money.

People need to see your work and you need to listen to the public’s feedback. Don’t let it affect you- just listen, create a shell for your soul. Don’t be soft. Be medium. Your work won’t be everyone’s taste but don’t be afraid of criticism. Understand your weaknesses and find other people to offset them. Probably a gallery.

Paint when you feel like it and when you don’t. When you paint when you don’t feel like it, that’s when your true colours as an artist will come out. Be committed to your practise and prove it’s not a hobby. Make a sleek website to send out and when it comes to business pretend you aren’t as introverted as you actually are.

How can our readers find you?

www.jannawatson.com

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The centrepiece at www.jannawatson.com

Everyone has a need for escapism. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t drink, or watch movies, or have someone to flirt with, or follow a religion: I’m sure you dream at night.

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Janna Watson, Moments I Couldn’t Get Past

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