Welcome to Soul Chat - Be Inspired by Thriving Women.
Meet Janet de Wagt, Artist and Community Artist. This is a woman who is keeping it real! Living her dream while taking no crap and driving a bright purple falcon.
- What does being an artist mean to you?
It means I am very lucky! I am fortunate to be a working artist so in a way I get paid for self-expression. In many ways I’m very privileged but the process can be hard work. You know, it’s like you figure out when to use the tea bag three times and when to get top-shelf pinot!
As an artist I feel I am responding to the land, responding to the people, responding to emotion.
Yes, I feel much gratitude that I have chosen to be an artist and walk this path.
- How has art shaped your life?
When I was young, I was probably destined to work for the Post Office service. Art or creative expression was not really celebrated. I am dyslexic so school could be challenging. But inside of me I had this creative urge and I had to keep going; I had to keep expressing and creating.
I've met some really cool people. I've been to amazing places around the world.
For me art is joyous. Well, it may not feel joyous when you do a crappy painting but it teaches you resilience. With art when it’s crappy you can paint over and recreate something anew. You can always create something new.
- You call yourself a Community Artist. What does ‘Community Artist’ mean and why have you channeled your creativity into the community?
I call myself both an ‘Artist’ and a ‘Community Artist’. I don’t think I could be a community artist if I wasn’t firstly an artist in its own right. I needed to have the background of being a professional artist to have had the opportunity to work with communities.
I work with lots of different people, organisations and communities with art. It may be a large-scale project based on a visual installation. This could be banners or a sculpture. It may be art within a school or an aged care facility. Sometimes they are small projects and other times they are big projects.
Basically, I am working with a group of people to encourage and enable them to do their own unique creative practice and to make something.
I’m not beholden to anybody and I have found my niche. I'm passionate about art and I’m interested in sharing my skills with people; I'm interested in working within the school system with young people and also connecting with other groups of people through art.
- Your website talks of the ‘deep and enduring power of community art’. Can you elaborate on this and share how art can be a tool to foster community, tell stories and celebrate culture?
It is deep, moving and can be very powerful. Once people tap into their own creative spirit, they can become very powerful. Their emotions can be sad and dramatic or they can be so empowered and courageous.
It’s a bit like I’m a driver giving a lift to a hitchhiker and I offer an ‘art ride’. These people are already on the journey for themselves and all that’s happening is that I’m one part of that journey. They go on an art journey with themselves and they join others along the way.
Community art can potentially be quite healing for people. They are able to tell stories that they might not otherwise have been able to tell.
I’ve worked with many different people in many different places both in New Zealand and overseas. One off-shore community was in Leeds, England where I worked with local high school students on the Mabgate mural. This mural told the stories of West Indians' arrival in Leeds based on the research undertaken by the high school students. The students took a lot of ownership of the mural and this pride and recognition of its importance have continued 33 years later.
On my forearm is a tattoo that was part of a journey I took with a group of women in New Zealand who had head injuries. When I began working with this group of women I asked, ‘what sort of art do you want to do?’ and they answered that they wanted to design their own tattoos. So that’s what we did.
As a community artist, I respond to what people want to do, what they most need at the time. And if people really feel overwhelmed and don’t know then I can show them examples of art projects and coax them along.
There is a discussion in the art world around art therapy and the creative process. I’m more into believing that everybody has got some sort of creative spirit, whether it be gardening, cooking or whatever and it's about hooking into their experience.
I don't want to make a value judgement just because they've used a very dark colour in a painting they might be depressed. I don’t come from that medical model as it has its history in the medical world. Yet I am very much about giving people an opportunity to have a voice.
- You are passionate about the work that you do with Bathgate School in Dunedin. Can you share your philosophy of sharing art with children and what this initiative means to you and the children?
There is a long history of art being valued in this school and I am just one part of the jigsaw puzzle.
I find working with children joyous and wonderful. Some days it can be hard but it's amazing being with young people and honouring them as creative beings and giving them the opportunity to use materials so they can create their own visual imagery.
It’s not me telling them what to do but me showing them how to use materials and they go forward from there.
- Have there been challenges along the way to you becoming a professional artist?
Yes, it can be challenging. You know you have to be a bit stubborn and you have to be a bit loose. You have to work hard; really hard.
- What does it take to live one’s dream?
In regards to living one’s dream, I would say to people not necessarily to chase rainbows but actually work out where the rainbow starts and the rest will happen.
Be grounded in what you do. Keep working at it and working on it. Show up!
- What advice would you give to women seeking to turn their passion into a career?
You have to think a bit different! Not the ‘same old, same old’.
You have to be creative in your marketing, in telling your story.
You have to be self-reflective and ask ‘is what I am doing marketable and do people want to buy this product or experience? Is what I’m offering a bit special?'
Don’t expect to get rich just because you love doing something. But if you are doing what you love and you are connecting with people from the ground up then you will turn your passion into a career.
Know that some days you will struggle and others will be amazing. It all balances out.
- Yin Yang questions –
Grass or sand? Grass
Abstract or Realism? I’m in the middle
Tajh Mahal or Eiffel Tower? Neither
Still or sparkling? Sparkling
Play five instruments beautifully or speak five languages fluently? I’d like to be able to speak just one language fluently! I’d rather speak five languages.
Is there a person that inspires you?
Patsy Cline music inspires me. It makes me cheerful. I like country music, particularly alternative. I like deep and soulful music.
To be further inspired by Janet check out her website -