JULIET KAC, PAINTER, PRINTMAKER, PORTRAITIST.
A well-made, quietly thoughtful woman in her late forties, Juliet Kac
is a visiting lecturer in printmaking at the University of Brighton
and is bookkeeper at the Phoenix Arts Association, the principal art centre
in Brighton.She is studying for a MPhil./PhD. at the university and continues
her own practice at the Phoenix where she has a
Juliet came to Brighton quite literally from the other end of the world, from New Zealand where she was born in 1949. She remembers Wellington, her birthplace, as 'very beautiful', with its hills and botanical gardens, and the paths which remain an abiding theme in her work. Her mother was a teacher and her family background was generally 'cultured', with frequent visits to the ballet and concerts. Of even greater importance was her father's work as a paint chemist which meant that she grew up in an environment permeated with 'paint' - its smell, the brightness of colour cards and samples, the sponginess of putty. And so Art was a driving interest from the very beginning and she received an extensive training both in New Zealand and in Australia, where the family moved when she was 11. On her return to New Zealand she completed her education with an M A in Fine Arts at Auckland University in 1973.
The Voyage North.
Europe was inevitably the next step, and she travelled by Italian slowboat
across the Pacific, arriving in Genoa after a five week voyage. On the
long journey to the northern hemisphere, she remembers the brilliant colours
of Panama, where even peeling paintwork in impoverished slums had a vibrancy
that was 'wonderful to look at'.What struck her first about her initial
encounter with the Old World was the sense of history, the ability to experience
at first hand the work of masters such as Michelangelo whom she had studied
at college. For three months she travelled around the Mediterranean
on a railpass - to Spain, France, Portugal, Morocco - drawing ceaselessly.
Thus to England, where at least the natives spoke the same language, and
the first impressions she formed here was that it was 'friendly', 'cosy'
but 'disorganised' - partly because of the unpunctuality of the trains.
She also reacted to the rigid social attitudes she found here. Juliet lived
for a while in Cambridge, which she found 'Dickensian', with its smoking
chimneys, smell of coal and cold weather. It was there that she met her
husband, and when he came to study at Sussex University she moved south
And so to Brighton... and what struck her first about the town? the sea! She lived first in Montpelier Crescent, whose hilliness reminded her of her hometown, Wellington, but her first years in the town were marked by struggle. On the one hand her work prospered, even if it did not bring in any great financial rewards.
Juliet was a founder member of North Star studios, a printmaking cooperative, and joined Five Ways Artists, an informal group of artists who open their studios to the public during the Brighton Festival in the summer - a very popular feature of the fortnight. On the other hand her personal life was not so fortunate. Unable to earn a reasonable living from her creative work she had to take a job as a cleaner. Her marriage broke down and for a time she found herself homeless, with a young daughter to care for, and by her own admission, 'hit rockbottom'. Yet even when living in extreme poverty she was constantly outside in the streets, drawing people. In retrospect she says that if she had not found 'a way out' she would have suffered a nervous breakdown.
The 'way out' for Juliet was to return home to Wellington. Government attitudes towards training were much more encouraging in New Zealand than they are in Britain, where she describes them as 'punitive' and 'depriving the poor', and, impelled by the need to provide a living for her daughter and herself, she took up business studies. Yet her main obligation as always was to her art, to etching and lithography, (in 1982 she won a printmaking award), to teaching, and in particular to the major portrait commissions she received from the Academy. When describing the appeal of portaiture for her, Juliet speaks of her fascination with people, and of discovering the value of humanity where every being is a separate universe. She describes how important it is to establish a rapport with her sitters but will not allow them to interfere in any way with her work as it develops. Her approach is to start with preliminary drawings and perhaps photographs, building up the structure but always leaving the eyes until last -'the gateway to the soul.'
In 1987, for family reasons, Juliet Kac decided to return to Brighton
...And Brighton 1998?
Juliet lives now in Preston Park, a pleasant area north of the town. She likes it for the trees and open spaces, and, reminding her as always of her childhood, its paths. She doesn't go out much; occasionally to the Duke of York's, a specialist cinema much frequented by the intelligentsia. In any case her financial resources are limited, and the cost of a studio and materials is considerable. Otherwise there is always the rich countryside and country pubs. She has lived here now for a long time, has many contacts, and says she couldn't live anywhere else. Why? because it is so interesting and there is so much happening, because of its proximity to London, because it is so easy to get around, because of the sea and the Downs,and because...it is so unique.
And the future for Juliet Kac? 'Unpredictable',she answers, with a wry
smile, but she doesn't think it could be anywhere other than Brighton.
|Cat Creep, Brighton.
Oil on Board. 27x34
Juliet's fascination with pathways goes back to her childhood in New Zealand and is echoed in this painting from the backstreets of Brighton. The organisation of the picture shows her interest in recessional space.
|Lithograph of pathways. Juliet here explores
the spatial and coloristic conflicts between the areas at the top and bottom
of the print, and the central body. She has been involved with printmaking
in Brighton for twenty years.
Juliet with two self-portraits. She has been working on the central
one for a year now.