Janet Ayliffe  
The ArtistPaintingsEtchingsWood Engravings
Painter and Printmaker      

Adele Boag Gallery Opening

Exhibition of Paintings and Etchings
Address by Jonathan Wells QC
3 November - 1 December 2006
Janet's Exhibition
First, I acknowledge the Kaurna People and the Ramindjeri people, on whose lands we stand. I pay respect to their ancestors.
Can I thank you, Janet, for the privilege of opening this exhibition of your work - such wondrous works.
Can I also thank Adele [Boag] for making available this lovely place in which to present Janet's Art.
I want to speak briefly of what Janet's art means to me. It must be brief because art is to behold, not to be prescribed. But because brief, I must select. I am glad to do this, because the most profound works of art cannot be pinned down - and no attempt should be made to do so. I am happy to leave lots of loose ends.
Art is to be seen or heard or felt, even smelt; often all of these. It is a unique form of communication in which the artist is both prophet and mediator. Prophet - because she is one in whom the spirit moves, mysteriously, wonderfully, imagining our future. Mediator - because she brokers a meeting between the beholder and the unseen. Through her we enter into a relationship, not only with the shape and material substance and smell of a painting or etching, but with Truths to which our eyes are opened - Truths about our world, Truths about ourselves, Truths about relationship. As my friend Philip Carter puts it - profound artists are like the canary down the mine - truth-telling, life-saving, the frontier people.
Adele Boag Opening Invitation
Here are but FOUR Truths that meet me in Janet's work - that strike me - that stir me - ultimately, that bespeak, with quiet resilience and assurance, Hope, Joy, Love, Freedom and Justice.
  • First, We Belong;
  • Second, We are Connected;
  • Third, We are Blessed;
  • Fourth, We need not be Afraid.
There is much more besides; but these are some of the Treasures. And they are present in Janet's paintings and etchings in a way that Niall Williams described in the novel "As it is in Heaven". The passage is a treasured one for me, because it so appealed to my dear wife, Jane (who was a student of Janet's, and friend), that she wrote out the passage in her distinctive, open-hearted handwriting.
"We shall be there because we believe in that finer world where the things of the heart endure and matter and are 'the secret magic which can entangle the varied and ingenious knots of life like the fingers of an ancient mariner'".
We Belong
Those who have made the cliff-hanging journey to Janet and Glen's home - up the track dug out of the hillside, past nonchalant sheep, past those two philosopher donkeys, [DonQuixote and Gandhi] past their abundant vegie and herb garden, past their lovingly constructed fish-pond with each goldfish individually named and befriended - who are met at the door by Millie and Albert (dogs) and escorted to the place of honour alongside the wood-fired stove, or even into the Holy-of-Holies, Janet's studio, dominated by the venerated, hand-turned Press - Such of you who have done that will need no persuading of the importance to Janet, and to her work, of the sense of belonging - celebrated in her cherished childhood on Kangaroo Island, in the treasures of memory and re-membering, giving honour to parents and family and community in whom we have our roots and our being.
"Living is dailiness [says Judith Wright], a simple bread that's worth the eating".
And importantly, she speaks for those who have been separated from their roots and deprived of their belonging; she gives honour to them, and to their cherished memories.
Which brings me to the next of my chosen Truths.
We are connected
Here, we find Janet's deep attachment to this ancient land; her sense of its connection with the First Australians, and their indissoluble connection with us who have intruded upon this holy relationship; her wonder at the generosity and forgiveness of both; her sense that we are all precious and we all matter; and that we, too, are connected, one with another, and with the land we live in. Here, again, family and friends - our daily bread - are life and love and hope.
And thus,
We are Blessed
This is no Pollyanna view of life - for reasons I shall come to. But here is her prophetic work: her resolute declaration - delicately washed onto the paper, and intricately pressed into colour - that joy and love and hope are all around us, if only we would see. This is Grace.
Janet is fond of William Blake's blazing statement from Auguries of Innocence:
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand"
Which explains, I think, the breath-taking detail that she works into her observations of the natural world - little magnifying glasses of rich detail that take us into a beautiful world that thrives, literally, under our noses - always connecting. But hear how Blake completes the stanza:
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour."
Emboldened by cherished memories of Janie, I turn also to her beloved Wordsworth, and her favourite lines from Intimations of Immortality:
"Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears".
Do not be Afraid
Janet's is no fair-weather view. She knows about sorrow and travail.
But here lies the rub.
Ultimately, Janet's Art is subversive. In celebrating these Truths, she quietly, gently - but resolutely, defiantly - subverts the destructive forces of fear, exclusion, oppression and dishonour. The very medium throws down the gauntlet. It is why she is so committed to print-making; there must be nothing exclusive or inaccessible about her art. It - she - reaches out to embrace.
And to every one of us she says: Do not be afraid: be steadfast; here is how things can be.
And so back to Judith Wright:
"Maybe there was once a word for it. Call it grace.
I have seen it, once or twice, through a human face".
I am thrilled and delighted to declare open this exhibition of Janet's Art.
Welcome to the Feast.
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