‘From Whaling to Watching’ Opening Night

Friday 10 April at Gallery De Novo was opening night for my latest show.  My dear friend Karen gave the audience a brief history of my painting story.

Karen & Janet‘Welcome to Janet’s latest and extraordinary exhibition!
Thank you De Novo!

I’d like to take you on a little journey……of Janet’s art over the years.
People know Janet for her landscapes but actually she is a woman of many talents, and I’m not just talking about her art……

I met Janet last century when she was a quiet woman painting huge murals in Christchurch and she also painted water colours. The first whale sighting occurs in 1985 when we went to Tonga, long before anyone knew to go there to watch whales. Janet read a book called Moby Dick and that left her many more questions than answers about the big mammal.

In Australia Janet started to incorporate politics more subtly into her art, she painted kangaroos – dead in the country, shot by locals, yet kept in zoos exhibited as the nation’s icon.

In the United Kingdom Janet’s focus turned to painting people, people in their place whereever that might have been – markets, home, laughing, playing.

On return to New Zealand, about 20 years ago, Janet fell in love with the landscape – the largeness of Otago and Southland. She is well known for her large and small paintings of landscapes yet is still talented enough to be accepted in the New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Awards with her painting of Mary.

Janet is also prolific in her work in the community, working in schools, speaking at conferences, judging art. She has the ability to make something from nothing. The Mataura River Art Project is an example of this, where all the pupils of all the schools along the Mataura River made a piece of art showing the effect the river has on each of them.

Community Art is Janet’s expression that art should be accessible to all. Her Art n’ Mind shapes and paintings expand this value, making shapes that can fit on any wall, art that is small in size and smaller in price. I’m sure most of you here tonight have a heart, a house, a bird or a plane on your wall. And tonight you see whales….

About 15 years ago Janet started going to Tuatapere (known to many as Aunt Tui’s). She walks up and down Te Waewae Bay head down, eyes focused, examining the beach. Yes she has done many paintings from the beach but Janet is searching , desperately looking for valuable ambergris – the vomit or maybe fossilized pooh of whales. No doubt Janet will be looking for the next 15 years…. then she will be rich!!

IMG_4188Tonight Janet has shared not only her magnificent whales but snippets of knowledge she has gained on the way. Tonight Janet is both an artist and a walking encyclopedia; ask her a question about whales and she will know the scientific answer. Each whale tells a story of life, politics and unfortunately death for many whales. But, we are told that whales are making a comeback and tonight we can celebrate that. Thank you.’


I’ve done a lot of research and have spent hours reading books about these giants of the sea.  I wanted to put this information into a visual format and this resulted in 22 works currently exhibited at Gallery De Novo in Dunedin.

For a very long time now, as I have been out on location looking at and painting the sea, I have wondered what was out there in the depths, just as when I was painting landscapes I wondered who planted that tree and who had walked and shaped the land I was painting.

My most recent painted shapes were penguins, birds who inhabit the land and the sea, so it has been a natural progression to venture further and deeper into the ocean and become interested in the giants of the sea, the mighty whales. Their stories and their journeys are both rich and inspiring – from the Ngai Tahu story of the creation of Foveaux Strait and the Solander Islands, to the recording of the Humpback whales’ song on the golden record carried on Voyager 1 into the extremities of outer space. The Humpbacks’ and other whales’ songs were put into the earliest of musical languages, neumes in the 1970s, and thus given the first recognition of their fluid, musical and song-like patterns and qualities. These and the myriad of other stories about whales are truly amazing and I have tried to capture these stories visually.
Watching and painting the sea, particularly at night time, I have also been struck by the glow and fluorescence of the waves on the sea. Further research has taught me of the many creatures and organisms in the sea that have the power to luminesce and are responsible for this bioluminescence that I have sometimes seen. I have tried to recreate this light in some of these paintings, so that after they have been exposed to light they fluoresce in the dark as the ocean does.

Wellers rock
I love information and the social impact of why we do things. Whaling had a huge impact on the early settlement of New Zealand. In many New Zealand history books whaling has been seen in a romantic way, a life of adventure and freedom on the high sea. The truth was very different and it was an extremely hard and dangerous life as uttered in this whaler’s lament from the 1820s:

They will rob you
They will use you
Worse than any slaves
Before you go whaling boys
You best be in your graves.

In fact whaling went on in New Zealand for a total of 172 years, finally stopping in 1964. There were many whaling stations established in Otago from the late 1820s when shore based whaling began – for example Moturata Island at Taieri Mouth.

Today the whales themselves still can’t escape from the threats of human activity – from the still continuing controversial hunting, to other pressures from modern human life such as plastic and chemical pollution, warming oceans, sonar disruption and propeller strikes from ships.

Whale watching is all about time …… you have to be out there on the water. You won’t see them in bad weather; you can’t see them at night; most of the time they are hidden beneath the surface.
But I know they are there as I paint the seas from the South Island of New Zealand.