Read is a painter with an unusual mastery of colour relationships whose non-figurative canvases express a profound, complex, and yet natural connection between the sensible world and the world only invented through contemplative exercise. Her work is also informed by a mature philosophical understanding and an acute social conscience, but not in any overt polemical way; she prefers the meaning of her experience and thought to rise naturally from an intuitive base in colour and form rather than from explicit image or symbol.
Janet Read’s painting is a voyage without territorial illusions into a huge world enclosing a vast solitude. Her journey is active with invention, motivated by metaphor, impelled by imagination, and centred in meditation. To borrow a phrase, she is “contemplativa in actione,”a paradoxical consequence of the sort of painting she practices. In her work, she navigates the world, but is not held to it.
As Wallace Stevens would say, “The real is only the base. But it is the base…Reality is a cliché from which we escape by metaphor. It is only au pays de la metaphore qu’on est poete.” Thus the ocean is, quite naturally, a vessel, a vessel for the sky. The realization of such an image, and its truth, is an outcome of Read’s meditative excursions. But the expression of such a reality takes place in the world, on a flat canvas, with paint and colour and line and shape, giving voice to that which tends to elude and wants to vanish.
Making such discoveries concrete, as she has both in paintings and poetry, is to travel without a passport, with no guarantee of satisfying return to home. But Read has accomplished the trip many times and knows the habits of travel well, even though the accumulated experience cannot tell her where the next voyage out will go or what will come of it. And its solitariness is necessary, although we may join the voyage through our engagement with the paintings in re-creative action, another paradox of this artist’s particular enterprise.
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa