Commentary, critique on the art and practice of contemporary British artist Jane Hargrave


There is a virtuosity in Jane Hargrave’s vast range of technique, medium, imagination and major themes, giving vent to powerful expressions and feelings that aligns her with the greats. There is an unfolding process alive in her work, a divulging of information from the the labyrinthine depths and layers of the psyche, at once from both individual and universal perspectives.! Within this unfolding journey, her work intuitively and spontaneously explores, through an eclectic flow of insightful and imaginative imagery, the great themes of Life, Death, Beauty, Cruelty, mans inhumanity to man, the Soul, Time and the extraordinary nature of the Universe. In so doing there is a dimension of relationship to personal experience, past and present, implicitly incorporated into her work, and a rich tapestry of allusion to history, psychology, religion, mythology and science.

Her work has taken her on a meandering path, sometimes hazardous, of curiosity and the questioner, a voyage of discovery, of seeking and becoming, of constant surpassing,and transcendence through projects, freely developing her own artistic language. There is a magic and mystery at work that resonates through all the ambiguities, conflicts, inhumanities, cruelties, pain and suffering, as if she, the artist and author, is the wandering monk, the vagabond, the helpless child, the soldier, the warrior, the Magician and the queen.

After the Deluge oil on canvas, was the beginning of what she calls her Dark Period and went on to create the Protest and Revolt series. It was a time of great personal tragedy, shock and betrayal. A microcosm of the macrocosm. A searching and a need to understand, to know. It is like journeying through Dante’s Inferno, there is darkness and magic, humor and deepest tragedy, or the plot of a great play, where history and mystery dance in tandem.

There is a curious intermingling of Time and Eternity, Old Father Time, oil on canvas and as in nature, temporal continuity, that causal chain of history, the basis of order and the basis of ego, broken up and broken through by the Eternal. A synchronicity. A sense of quantum jumps, spontaneous events, forgetting and foolishness, uselessness in the world of power yet full knowledge, even though unpredictable.

Then coming into a meditative process, stillness and allowing, passion and colour, rage and destruction, with a sense of Motion, of Time – travel and of Heroes. there is a pointing to things being pivotal but slightly off centre, with the ultimate goal to Unify opposites. She says it is like the Re-Union of the Vertical Axis to heal the split spirit. The beginning of a new period in her work she calls “ The Great Work of the Alchemical Wedding and Meditations” – an emergence of the oneness, unity and celebration of life and the grandeur of nature.

In another layer, and with the knowledge and effects of personal experience, she questions what humanity has made of the human female. Ersatz morality – the positions of women as dictated by societies, the ideas of what is normal, with psycho analysis only able to recognize less, but never more, acknowledging failure but never successes, fueling lack and negation. Shocking, she had said, in that this stuff comes out of the mouths and minds of ‘great men’.

She questions the value of muscular strength, the phallus and the tool, and finds these can only be defined in a world of values : motivation – the drive by the fundamental project of the existent, transcending itself towards being. The male principle creates to maintain and the female principle maintains to create, a fundamental biological function. “Honour the Mother” oil on board, posits the question “ why has woman not been able to derive total autonomy from motherhood ( as animals do) and make a pedestal for herself, from it?. She portrays woman in many different forms, showing both great strength and great vulnerability. She goes on to say “ Us humans are an unnatural species in that man risks his life and this brings great status, with superiority not granted to the sex that gives birth. She finds the subjugation of woman, through history, of both Woman and Nature, and the burdening on to her of harmful aspects of the ambivalent virtues throughout the ages of religion, and the enslavement of woman to the prostitution of her body with vast sums of money profiting the state. She becomes burdened with a deep sense of guilt but has no idea what crime she has committed.

Yet Man’s soul is Psyche, a Woman. As Stendhal found “ the source of all faults blamed on woman” yet “ they are neither angels nor demons nor sphinx, but human beings reduced to semi-slavery in idiotic customs”. Quoting Simone de Beauvoir in her great achievement The Second Sex, still relevant today, it is women like this artist, Jane Hargrave, who have “been able to preserve as best they can, their freedoms, albeit unfulfilled, who rise up by passion to a kind of heroism as they meet an object worthy of the them. Their force of soul and their energy a!ttest to the fierce purity of total commitment.

Death and destruction are themes intermingled, as in The Wreck of the Deutschland, Armageddon and The Apocalypse, but hope must spring eternal and we have the Seer, the mystical, the Alchemist, the Magician who turns base metal into gold. (Here I suggest that Damien Hirst, although on similar themes, has an inauthentic quality and a lack of virtuosity to h!is practice, in a sense, and perhaps ought to go and pickle his own penis!)

The great element of chaos plays out and is encountered with her process. Marcus Aurelius said “ Tranquility is nothing but the good ordering of the mind.” but what to do if one finds nothing but chaos? There is a group of paintings, including Loving the Alien, Strange Fruit, Cultivated Desire, Cartesian Split ( the division of body and soul) Studio Piece and Love Painting No 1, which speak of the tensions of opposites. alienation, struggle, pain and pleasure, feminine and masculine, beauty and ugliness, flowering, ready to open up, dying out, cold and frozen, denervation by amputation, inside/outside, tremendous dynamic effort towards balance, healing, progress and renewal.

Purpose and Destiny come through with a powerful sense of Soul in her work, with all those accumulations of sins and sufferings pointless unless they point inward to central meanings and the soul. Where the mythological substrata gives the soul a sense of destiny, and that without that individuals sense of personal soul, that holds the balance in the scales, we are simply prehistoric men and women with only collective destiny.

There is sometimes a playfulness and a subtle eroticism also at work on another level.

As in “The Procession” oil on canvas, the act of moving forward, a carnival feel, a celebration of life, humour and colour as the characters move away from tyranny and greed towards a new era. The blue so dominant in this painting represents a spiritual dimension – out of the blue. The multiple headed central motif brings to mind humanity in her largesse, her expansiveness and the ethereal quality imbues a sense of appearing and disappearing, the comings and goings of life.

Forever arriving at new portals, through her artistic practice, there is a constant interweaving and linking of the historical past with the the psychological present, and where science meets art and spirituality, as in the “Quantum Leap” series. The universe expanding and contracting, mans relationship with it , making allusion to outmoded patriarchy stubbornly clinging to what it knows – faulted thinking of the split archetype and the one -sidedness or the over rationality of the ego that cuts it off from the living, with the power and greed of the ego making its point of view tyrannical and its consciousness deaf. The verticals and the spirals in this painting allude to the call of a thing to the perfection of itself and connection to consciousness. Then there are the outer and the inner connections to every living thing, expressing advancements, breakthroughs, the power of light, inside, outside, revolution, revolving, bursting from the centre of a black hole, as in Immediate Expansion, oil on canvas, like a laser beam of bright white light – Source. Revelations.

Her series of landscapes and seascapes resonate with a sense of epic, punched through with powerful emotions, light, colour, grandeur, and a subtle build up of marks and brushstrokes, glazes and impasto that surely embraces an affinity with Turner, with echoes of Picasso in her versatility, passions and themes.

While mystery being at the heart of creativity, one still has the ability to intuit meaning, with life as symbolic, and in so doing Hargrave’s art imitates life, with parallel and corresponding existence that informs her work, a progressive evolutionary path, which she transforms through her practice to a state of consciousness. All the while and throughout her work there is a harmony and balance.

Hargrave began her real work as an artist around 1990, studying at Chelsea college of art and Richmond Art School. From 1998, and as a single mother of two, she continued to create and develop her practice from her studio in Teddington, exhibiting and doing commissions. With the realities of life presenting, her prolific and virtuoso output is an extraordinary achievement.


I have known good and evil,
Sin and virtue, right and wrong,
I have passed through birth and death,
Joy and sorrow, heaven and hell,
And in the end I realised,
That I am everything,
And everything is in me.

Hazrat Inayat Khan

Soften the light, become one with the dusty world.

Lao Tzu!