WTJU Artist Interview: Janet Grahame Nault

Local artist Janet Grahame Nault makes multimedia collages that combine etchings, paint and thread in a process that she has developed over the past decade.

As part of a partnership with WTJU 91.1′s public affairs program Soundboard, she recently sat down with Julia Kudravetz to talk about her work. The interview has been edited for clarity and consistency.

It may take a year for your work to “cure” before you can collage with it. What is your studio like? Is it just packed with all this work waiting to be taken apart?

Some of them ended up going in frames, several to the Pauley Center at the Virginia Museum, and gradually they are coming back out of the frames to be incorporated into collages as I intended. The surface of my pieces can get very greasy, so sometimes it’s better to keep them away from the sewing machine.

How did you come to using a sewing machine to make collage? We usually think of sewing machines working with fabric rather than paper.

A lot of people visiting my studio think I use fabric because of the patterns and the stitching, but years ago I took a class from Judy McCloud and we had an assignment of making twenty identical etchings, which really means finessing the ink on the plate the same way twenty times. Mine did not turn out identical, so for the next project I cut all those pieces into bits and sewed them back together. Now I can’t wait to cut them apart once they’re completed.

So this technique really began with sort of a failure?

Yes, I just didn’t have the patience to have each print be identical, and even now I make each print to be different; I do things like apply color with a paintbrush onto the plate, which is not normally how you do it. Lots of times I get mud from that, lots of times the mud works out okay too, but I’m always now making the print with the idea that it will become fodder for collage.

Can we back up and talk about how you got started as an artist? What has been your trajectory?

I’ve wanted to make things ever since first grade, and my mom was always very active with us doing craft projects. I have to say that that sort of activity growing up with hands busy- I just never wanted to stop doing that. Even now, the cutting and pasting can feel very childlike.

That sounds really calming, that you can just let your pieces happen in that way.

Yeah, people ask me a lot of times if I plan or have an image before I cut things up, and sometimes I wish that I did- sometimes things might be more productive if I had a plan. But I never have a plan; I’m always just moving all the materials around, just going going going until I have something that feels done. Sometimes the paper feels so thick that I can’t sew through it anymore, and then I know it’s done.

Most of your work is pretty abstract.

Yes, I would say that, abstract and non-representational.

But I feel like I’ve seen a bird in there…

Yes, a lot of my imagery comes from nature; my husband and I spend a lot of time hiking, and I am particularly attracted to the layer that’s about six inches off the ground, where it’s the little growth- not the big trees, but all the little stuff that grows on the ground, and ground birds. That sort of chaos is reflected in my imagery, and then I have some wings and beaks and eyes in there sometimes. Things from the forest floor.

Have you seen your work change a lot over the past ten years or so? Because I know you’ve had several careers.

Yes, I did go to art school, but then I feel into a small business and did something completely different but earned some good experience there, and really I have only been doing this kind of work for about a decade. Before that, I did watercolors.
I’d rather convey the experience of being in nature than say, drawing a flower directly. I think nature gets transferred subconsciously in the work that I do because people see the natural elements in it. Even though almost all my shapes are rectangular, very architectural, the lines are organic.