While Janel Houton has been an art donor since 2015, her artwork has been an extremely popular choice recently. Since the beginning of 2018, she’s had thirteen works join the permanent collections of FriendshipWorks, Health Resources in Action, and Charles River Community Health Center. During the artwork selection process the most common remarks associated with her work include an admiration for their vibrancy, tranquility, and joyful renditions of nature.
CT: What has been the most challenging or satisfying work you’ve made to date?
JH: I paint and draw mostly acrylics. I start with an idea of a location, or subject, and I sit with it a day or two to be sure. I prefer to photograph my subject matter initially. Then I work from that to sketch. Sometimes I do composite work from different studies and photographs, altering as I choose. I rarely have a set idea of what I’m working towards. What starts one way can change a lot in the process. I always need some spontaneity, flexibility and freedom.
When I first established myself with painting I did a few series. I found creating a series back to back was difficult because that went against my natural working state, which I learned is one of constant evolution and flux. Over time I let myself jump around more and return to themes intermittently. Initially it would take at least a few months to do a single painting, as I was meticulous with realism, so I don’t tend to work like anymore. Some of my animal artworks have been really satisfying. The experience of painting can feel like I’m a vehicle for the energy of the being that comes into artistic expression. It gets to a point where doing it requires no effort or thinking and the painting seems to just flow right onto the canvas. I’ve had some trees I’ve painted that have had the same channeling feeling. A standout for me was a tree I painted that is sacred to Native Americans in Western MA.
CT: What has led you to donate to The Art Connection?
JH: I was so excited when I learned about The Art Connection because I had been searching for art opportunities to work with non-profits. I think art is so important for so many reasons, and especially in places that serve economically or socially marginalized sectors of society. The presence of original art can provide comfort, inspiration, and dignity to the environment. We are bombarded with reproduced imagery everywhere, so seeing something handmade that took someone a lot of conscientious time and focus to create can be refreshing to people.
CT: Have there been any memorable connections with recipient agencies you’d like to highlight?
JH: I went to a renovated residence in Roxbury run by the Pine Street Inn, where they provide permanent housing for people who had been living long term in shelters. The staff showed me around the different communal areas where my art and pieces from other artists were hanging. Hearing some of the stories about the residents was very moving. There were so many people who are very vulnerable and without family or networks to support them in this location. It means a lot to me to share my art in places like this. One of my largest paintings went there (“Bodhi Tree”) based on the tree where the Buddha meditated for decades and reached enlightenment. It was the perfect place for my painting.
Other locations that have my art are the Jeremiah Endicott Foundation in Boston, which helps single moms further their education, and FriendshipWorks, who are trying to reduce elder isolation. These places are doing such critical social work, so any way I can participate makes me very happy!
CT: What do you hope viewers gain from engaging with your work?JH: My main interest is the earth, nature, and our spiritual connection to nature. I want to remind people of their place in, and connection to, the natural world, even those who may be ill or socially and economically marginalized. I want to bring attention to our relationship to all of life’s diversity, in depicting, celebrating, and respecting the dignity of all beings. We are all living beings that part of the cycle of life, outside of technology, politics, wealth or poverty, society, social status. The earth and nature work on their own clock, and we all fit into this, no matter what we do. Climate change reminds us of that. Through my work, I want people to be reminded of nature, and to share in its reverence.
CT: Can you describe a place to find art that you consider a hidden gem?
JH: The Cape Ann Museum has some fantastic historic and contemporary art in downtown Gloucester, which I would say is a hidden gem. Honestly, I am impressed with a lot of the contemporary work I see in Art Associations in the Greater Boston Area. There are a lot of talented contemporary artists working in New England.
You can check out more of Janel’s artwork online at http://janelhouton.com and in person this fall at the following venues:
Cutter Gallery, Arlington MA from October 1st – November 30th for solo exhibitions of art inspired by her residency in Italy
11R Gallery, NYC from October 6-18th as a part of a group show with the National Association of Women Artists