For abstract artist and rug designer, Janna Watson, living by others’ rules has never been on her to-do list. As a woman in the art industry she sets an example for other women to step into their creative natures, one painting and one weave at a time. Who is Janna Watson and what makes her unique in the art world?
Janna Watson Weaving the Canvas
Watson (37), born in Canada, currently lives and works in Toronto where she operates her rug studio, Studio Watson, and paints abstract compositions. Growing up in a religious environment, and as a member of the LGBT community, she faced many struggles around expressing her truth as a woman. Despite the beliefs from significant people in her life, she decided to tell her parents she was gay at the age of 20, and to Janna this was inherently tied to how her artist’s spirit came alive. She says, ‘some people might see being gay as ‘being wild’, but the chase for the wildness for me is true nature. It can feel wild and even exotic and foreign after being so influenced by society to just be yourself’.
It’s this wild nature that is so evident in Watson’s abstract compositions, filling her canvases in a rich array of geometric and fluid shapes all created by colourful strokes of paint. Viewers are swayed from one curving line, wide and white, to the next square stroke, blue and beyond the busy world of pigments. Evident too is Janna’s close adoration of other abstract women painters like Joan Mitchell, an American female abstract painter from the early 1950s, and Wanda Koop, an interdisciplinary female artist currently based in Canada.
Studio Watson works alongside a female-owned weaving mill in India, operated by Ifrah Ansari, who inherited the mill from her grandfather. What attracted Janna to collaborate with Ansari was the brave display of female leadership in India. Ansari explained to Watson about the difficulty of owning a business in India, stating, ‘a lot of people at first think I am a man, because here in Bhadohi being this is a male dominating society, women here aren’t as privileged as a man to work alongside them in business. A lot of male here in Bhadohi also do not like listening and agreeing to a female’.
Similar to Ifrah Ansari’s journey, Janna was richly influenced by her grandfather, Arthur Bonnett, who was an abstract and landscape painter, as well as a rug designer. He taught her how to paint and find the wild nature in portraying objects, including how to use different colours in unique manners, she explains, ‘he put the most unusual colours together and his own sense of wildness and uniqueness is something I am inspired by’.
Beyond Janna’s collaboration with women weavers in India, she believes in her roots as a Canadian woman and draws inspiration from Inuit female artists like Shuvinai Ashoona, Annie Pootoogook, and Ningiukulu Teevee. She believes the narratives around Canadian art, rooted in a sense of patriarchy from the forefathers, the Group of Seven, needs to shift to narratives exposing indigenous artists. Janna was scheduled to do rug-tufting with Inuit artists at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative at Cape Dorset in Nunavut in autumn 2020, but due to the current pandemic it was cancelled.
Janna bridges a ‘painterly’ gap between her canvas and rug designs by mixing the two media; her textiles are reflections of her abstract art. And as a woman expressing her truth, not only limited to the world of art, she is only prepping the canvas for other women to realize what they can do and create when they allow their wild nature to express itself, even for just a moment in time.
Janna Watson has a current solo exhibition showing at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver, called ‘Finding Joy’, which is inspired by her niece, Joy, and her wild and spontaneous spirit. Her current commissions include an art piece for home developers, Aspac, also based in Vancouver. To view her past and current works, Janna is available on Instagram, @jannawww, Facebook, and through her website.