Jane Reilly on Motherhood and Art
“I’ve learnt to be childlike again…”
Jane Frances Reilly is as warm and colourful as her work. She regularly bursts into e.g.etal, bright and ebullient, with flame-red hair. She offers us chocolates or home-baked goods, and then opens her bag to reveal a trove of wearable metal sculptures. There are long, pendulous necklaces, springy, dangly earrings and hand-painted objects. “These are windows” she says. Or whisks, or aprons, or houses. As you reconcile her descriptions with the abstract shapes in front of you, the pieces begin to transform. You start see the world through Jane’s eyes, and it’s enchanting.
According to Jane, she owes this unique worldview to her daughter, Zoe, now aged 15. Becoming a mother changed Jane’s outlook on art and life profoundly, giving her the confidence to make a leap of faith into a new practice.
“I have always been artistic. Before I had Zoe I was a ceramicist. Zoe was eight when I commenced formal jewellery training at NMIT [now Melbourne Polytechnic]. Having experienced a few of life’s tough challenges, I gave myself the permission to just go for it – to jump in to art with a whole heart and to see what would happen.”
As well as pursuing a passion, this new approach allowed Jane to structure her life in the way she wanted. A home workshop gives Jane the flexibility to switch between work and family life quickly … although there are still trade-offs. Prone to ‘creative purges’, Jane must balance those flashes of inspiration with the responsibilities of parenting. “When Zoe is home I can’t just go off and work for hours. We need to consider each other. It can be a tricky balance and we are always working on it. Although Zoe gets those pangs of creativity as well, and when that happens I can’t disturb her!”
Beyond the practicalities, motherhood has also shaped Jane’s work creatively. Her crayon-colourful forms and surrealist perspectives have an uplifting, child-like quality. “Being around Zoe has reminded me what its like to be a child. Making has brought out the ‘little Jane’ in me. In that way, I suppose my whole collection is influenced by motherhood.”
Jane sees parallels between developing confidence as a parent and as an artist: “When I had Zoe, I had to learn patience and to listen to a primal intuitiveness within. When you have a child everyone wants to help and comment. It’s like learning skills for your art: everyone tells you what to do and how to do it, but there is a time with both that you need to sit quietly and listen to your primal self.
For her part, Zoe is proud of her “inspirational” mum and appreciates their unconventional life together. “[My mum] expresses her creativity not just in her work but in her life, especially in her humour,” said Zoe. “She hasn’t got a job like other mums and for that I’m very grateful.”
The admiration is mutual: “I love Zoe’s conversations with me, her open heart, her world and the world beyond,” said Jane. “Through her I can see all the negatives in my life become positives, because she has taught me about my life. If she falls I help her get up and if I fall she helps me. It’s a truly a magical life.”