Artist Q & A: Janna Watson

In anticipation of her upcoming solo exhibition, Poems, Toronto-based artist Janna Watson shares insights into her current artistic practice and mindset, reflecting on the inspiration of language and the techniques used to bring her new visions to life.

Janna Watson Poems opens on Saturday February 10, 2024 at Bau-Xi Vancouver. The artist will be in attendance.


Janna Watson, Silence Happens Inside Words. Mixed Media on Panel, 60 x 56 inches.

1. You open your artist statement for this new series with a beautiful quote from Canadian poet and professor Anne Carson: “Language is not a tool we have, it is a shapeshifter, a being that lives with us, walks and talks with us and has its own business and intentions.” Can you tell us about your discovery of her writing and how you have applied it to your work?

Anne Carson is one of my favourite poets. She has translated Greek tragedies with witty, ironic brilliance in a way that made me fall in love with words. Being inside the mental activity of translation is a stimulating creative exercise for me. I often feel the English language falls short of emotions that other languages can expand on. So in this way Anne Carson has inspired me to play with my titles and present them as a poetic entry point to my work.

Janna Watson, Never Underestimate A Comma. Mixed Media on Panel, 72 x 72 inches.

2. Can you describe what your current studio workspace looks and feels like? What aspects of it are important to your ability to create?

I work from two different studios. The mental and physical differences between these spaces has helped me to see my work with fresh eyes. Sometimes leaving the studio is just as important as coming, so having the two spaces helps me to leave one and enter another and continue my productivity. I’m a hot mess at the moment so there are lids and splats and mineral water bottles scattered everywhere. I always start my show with a clean and organized space so I can think and see clearly. If I’m in chaos for too long it shows up in my work. I’ve just finished my Vancouver show so I’m very much in the mess of that. Sometimes when I am at an opening I feel shocked because I haven’t "seen" the work before. "Did I paint that?" In my studio I am very much inside of it and part of it and it takes an exhibition space for me to really see it.

Janna Watson, Warm Sleeves Of You. Mixed Media on Panel, 48 x 36 inches.

3. Can you tell us about the mixed media you use in your paintings, and the importance of each medium?

I learned to paint on watercolour paper, and birch wood is very similar in texture to paper so it's my choice of base material. I shouldn’t give my secrets away but gouache is extremely pigmented and can’t be applied too thick because it's chalk based, otherwise it will crack.

4. The public has grown to eagerly anticipate both the elegance and serenity of your compositions and the unabashed playfulness of your titles. How did elegance, serenity and playfulness evolve and come together as hallmarks of your work?

This is a very flattering question! I think the elegance, serenity and playfulness came together in the month of October. Since I’m a Libra, I will unabashedly admit that is why my work has all of these flattering attributes.

The artist in her studio.

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