Janet Nathan



Not on display

Janet Nathan 1938 – 2020
Wood and board, canvas, fabric, oil paint, resin, sand
Object: 1990 × 1350 × 70 mm
Presented by the artist 2013


Zeloso 1979 is typical of Nathan’s early constructions in mixed media, a number of which explore the format of a cross. It takes its colour predominantly from the muted tones of wood and metal juxtaposed against sections of red painted board. The materials were sourced from skips or found as driftwood on the shoreline and are left in their natural and weathered state. The work’s asymmetrical arrangement of stark fragments emanates what historian Mary Rose Beaumont has described as ‘a fragile air of spirituality’, its cross-shape formation leading her to see it as a kind of altarpiece (Beaumont 1988, p.3). She goes on to note, ‘The cruciform shape has been part of the form consciousness of Western civilisation for at least the last 2,000 years, carrying with it a heavy load of associations. In some of [Nathan’s] constructions the shape of the cross is unmistakable; always there is a poignancy and an inescapably haunting presence’ (Beaumont 1988, p.3).

Nathan’s constructions are made from a diverse range of materials including found objects and driftwood. For Nathan the coastline is an important source, both of materials and of subject matter. Her work draws in the main from her personal experience of landscape, in particular seascapes or river views, most often of the River Thames, but also extending to the Nile and the Amazon. As the works’ titles suggest, there is often an implied sense of the pictorial in these apparently abstract painted constructions, a representation of things seen and remembered. However, they are never simply descriptive, but rather work through reference and allusion.

In the 1980s, Nathan moved away from a reliance on the found object towards constructions that are a composite of found, made and painted shapes with which she creates precise, formal constructions (see, for example, the later construction Near Paros 1985, Tate T13888, which takes as its starting point the Mediterranean landscape of the Greek islands). Nathan’s sensibilities are affected by her direct experience of the natural world. As historian Mel Gooding has noted: ‘The capacity to integrate elements of a particular landscape, of a place remembered, and sometimes associated with particular journeys or events, into an over-all design that is evocative without being in any way purely descriptive, is what makes Nathan’s later work continuously surprising and exciting.’ (Gooding 1997, p.10.)

Further reading
Mary Rose Beaumont, Janet Nathan: Coloured Constructions 1978–1988, exhibition catalogue, Warwick Arts Trust, Warwick 1988, p.3.
Bryan Robertson, Janet Nathan: Painted Constructions, exhibition catalogue, Reed’s Wharf Gallery, London 1995.
Mel Gooding, Janet Nathan: Constructions 1979–1997, exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, London 1997.

Andrew Wilson
March 2013

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