Jane Michiel was born in Vancouver B.C. and moved to Victoria with her family as a child. Although Jane has travelled and lived in various places around the world, she still considers Victoria her home.
Jane’s interest in art began at a young age. She recalls sewing costumes for her dance class and drawing pictures on her bedroom wall. As a teenager, Jane was accepted to the Art Specialty Program at Victoria High School. Later on, Jane took many painting, drawing, and photography courses at Camosun College, University of Victoria, Emily Carr House, and Victoria College of Art. To this day, she enjoys taking private lessons from local artists. Still, after approximately thirty years of painting, Jane considers herself to be self-taught.
Although she has primarily worked in abstract painting, over the past year she finds more and more figures creeping into her artworks. Jane is continually inspired by nature, travel, music, as well as the effects of light. Many of her works include the subtle additions of fibers, and materials such as gold leaf and vintage maps.
Within the past year, she joined Gage Gallery Arts Collective. In October 2018, Jane had her first solo show at Gage titled Realism from an Abstract Mind. The show featured several her latest figurative works.
“There are some absolutely wonderful artists here on the island. [Victoria] is so beautiful and inspiring, everywhere you go there is inspiration.”Jane Michiel
In the following two interviews, Jane discusses her trajectory as an artist and provides insight into the Victoria artist community.
In Conversation with Jane Michiel
Full Interview 1
Full Interview 2
Full Interview Transcription 1
Edited and transcribed by Sarah Kapp in consultation with Jane Michiel
Text in square brackets indicates additions, subtractions, and/or actions from original interview as recorded in the audio file above.
Sarah Kapp: Start by telling me a little about yourself, where you grew up, for instance.
Jane Michiel: I was born in Vancouver, but my family moved over when I was, I think, six or seven, so I’ve been here since then. I’ve gone away, I’ve come back, but this is always home.
SK: Have you traveled a lot?
JM: Yeah, I lived in Mexico for a while. Off and on for a couple years down at Cozumel, and my husband and I have been all over Europe.
SK: When did you first become interested in making art?
JM: Oh gee, I was thinking about this. I think I was pretty young, probably around eight or nine years old; I was really interested in it. I had these romantic ideas about wanting to be an artist when I grew up; but, back then, it was kind of frowned upon. First off, I think it was my dad mostly, he valued things like going to university to become a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, or something like that. He’d just look at me and shake his head. I wasn’t really encouraged at a young age.
SK: Was there a specific type of art you were interested in?
JM: When I was little, it was anything creative. We used to take dance classes and I [would] make my own costume, sew, make pretty things, paint, and draw pictures on my bedroom wall—things like that.
SK: When was the jump for you between knowing you loved art and knowing that you wanted to be an artist?
JM: Well, back in the day, at Vic High, they used to have a program called the Art Specialty Program. At the time, when I was in high school—we’re talking way back here [laughter]—I was at Esquimalt High School and I heard about it. […] I applied and I got in. I left all my friends there and came over to Vic High. It was really a pivotal moment for me. It was a wonderful program, I don’t know if they still have it or not. […] I remember my teacher’s name, it was Mr. Hemming. He kind of took a shine to me for some reason. He gave me this huge canvas and said, “Paint whatever you want.” I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is great! This is living!” [laughter] It turned out it wasn’t very good, but his criticism and just the fact that he trusted me, that was a big moment for me. […] [But, when I went to university, I started out at Camosun in their university transfer program to become a teacher], and then I was out of that really quick and I changed to anthropology. […] I was kind of driven by wanting to make my parents happy with what [program] I took. Art was put on the back-burner because [I didn’t think it was] something that someone could become successful with.
SK: Have you had any artistic training, or do you consider yourself primarily to be self-taught?
JM: I think I’m primarily self-taught, however, I’ve taken so many courses over the years, which I’m sure have influenced me.
SK: What type of courses have you taken? Can you name any of them?
JM: Drawing, painting, and photography courses. I’ve taken tons of those.
SK: Were these all at Camosun?
JM: I’ve taken many at Camosun. They used to have courses at the Emily Carr House here in Victoria.
SK: Oh, I didn’t know that.
JM: Yeah, I’m not sure if they still do, but I took several there and a couple over in Vancouver. Recently, I took a drawing course with a local guy here named Bill Porteous. That was good. Every once in a while us painters think, “Can I draw,” [laughter] and it’s always good to take a drawing course and hone those skills again.
SK: [Did you have a mentor]? You mentioned your teacher at school.
JM: He definitely influenced me. I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor in the sense of the word. I’ve had lots of people that have greatly influenced me. A fellow I went to high school with, who later ended up being my brother-in-law, and now he’s my ex brother-in-law. But his name is Ian McSorley. I was always so impressed with him. He’s an artist to this day. He used to look at things in a certain way and point out how to look at things. He found it so easy to replicate what he saw. He taught me a lot in a dark room and that really influenced me later with painting. [For example], light, dark, how light affects things, looking at the beauty of small a portion of photograph, and things like that.
SK: When you start a new painting, what does your process look like? When you approach something new, how does that come about? What does that look like for you?
JM: Usually it’s not one painting. [laughter] Usually it’s trying to figure something out. Usually it’s trying to portray something. Instead of making an image that is pleasing for someone to look at, it’s more about conveying an emotion and trying to translate something with paint into something that somebody will feel. [whispers] It’s really weird! [laughter] It’s usually a long process in my head and then I quickly churn things out. It’s never just one, there’s always a series, and that series isn’t about making several paintings. It’s about perfecting what I’m trying to do with the first one, but then they all come out differently and that’s interesting too.
SK: What medium do you work with primarily?
JM: Acrylic paints.
SK: Acrylic paints, and do you use a lot of gold fill as well?
JM: Yeah, I use gold leaf.
SK: Oh, gold leaf. Sorry, I always mess up those terminologies.
JM: That’s okay, yeah, gold leaf. I use a lot of that and a lot of fibers, like straw, and [other] materials, and I mix it in with my paints.
SK: Oh, really?
SK: Why are you attracted [to mixed media]?
JM: It changes all the time, but I like the texture and I’ve got a thing for costume too. Just the whole idea of costume and being able to incorporate some of that material in with the paint so it looks more touchable and real.
SK: With the gold leaf, does that come from your attraction to light? […]
JM: Yeah, and reflection. Yeah, definitely, also just the richness of the color. I’m really drawn to those warm tones.
SK: When you [start] a painting, do you have a timeframe normally?
JM: It depends on what I’m doing. With a lot of abstract work, I can pick at it and go back and forth for days on end. I finally have to go “step away from the painting” because I’ll overdo it. Then, I have to paint over it and start again. The figures in my paintings are relatively new for me. Maybe 25 years ago I did some figures, but only in the past, say, year have figures come back into my painting. I try to make them as loose as possible and even a little bit unfinished. I sometimes have a hard time not going back and perfecting things, so it depends. They’re all different timeframes.
SK: You said that your figurative works [are] new.
SK: How new [are they]? […]
JM: I’ve done primarily abstract for the past 30 years. But, I haven’t always worked as a full-time artist. I’ve had varied careers along the way, one of which was working in the cosmetics industry as a makeup artist. When I stopped doing that, I found that I was missing it, the beauty and transformation of a woman’s face. I’m also just really intrigued by different cultures, what they find beautiful, and what they do to adorn themselves in terms of beauty. That just really captures me.
SK: What did you do in the cosmetics industry?
JM: I worked at a cosmetics counter and I did people’s makeup as makeup artist for a couple of different lines. […] It was fun. It was a good job when my son was little. It enabled me to do stuff with him, go to work, and get time off.
SK: [Where do you get inspiration for your abstract works]?
JM: It’s changed over the years. I think photography had a big influence on my abstract work at first. Just simply because I learned what to do in a dark room. It was really interesting when images were changing in the chemicals, and I liked that better than the beginning or the end [result]. I liked that in-between fuzzy milky look to the photograph and I tried to replicate that. Just taking photographs and zeroing in on one little corner of an image and [translating it onto a canvas]. That captured me for a lot of years, [as well as] nature, travel, and music. For example, […] I listen to a lot of African music and it [is] really good! African jazz.
Jane Michiel, Seeing Music, date unknown, acrylic on canvas, 36x36
SK: Are there particular artists that inspire you? Historical artists like [Gustave Klimt]? I can see your notebook is Klimt.
JM: Yeah, everything’s Klimt. [laughter] I really like Klimt, everything he did was beautiful. I made a little note here [looks at her notebook], I have someone that I really like. Gabriel Moreno. I was reading about him, I don’t get him at all [laughter], but his work is exquisite. And Andre Dujardin, he has a video on YouTube called ‘The Visual Emotionalism’ and it’s just incredible.
SK: Are these contemporary artists?
JM: There’s a fellow down in the States named Dan McCaw and I really like his work, a lot.
SK: What type of work do these artists do?
JM: Mostly abstract. Dan does mostly abstract, and abstract with figures in his abstractions, which is quite lovely. I think locally, I’ve always really liked Phyllis Serota’s work, and you might have seen some of her stuff around town. It’s sort of simplistic and joyful; it’s really good.
SK: In your own body of work, is there a particular piece that you’re really gravitated to [or] that you’re really proud of?
JM: You mean like one painting?
SK: Or a few. Is there anything that you [think], “This is me”?
JM: I think [I like the work I’m doing] right now. Had you asked me five years ago I would have said right now, and ten years ago I would have said right now. It’s always a process for me and it’s sort of an ongoing thing, I’m always happiest where I am because I feel that I’ve advanced. Looking back on my body of work, that’s not true, though I feel good about right now.
I should mention that I belong to a gallery now, a collective gallery. There’s 18 artists that run it and that’s at the Gage Gallery where we work. That’s a new experience for me as an artist.
SK: When did you join that?
JM: Just under a year ago. […] Up until then, I’ve been associated with lots of galleries, but just as one of their artists. You drop off your paintings, they do everything, and tell you when something has sold, which is nice. Being an artist is a very alone thing. I spend hours, literally hours, by myself. I love it, but I just got to a point where I wanted to be [around] like-minded people, so I joined the Gage. That’s been very interesting, being part of [a group of] 18 artists, continually seeing their work, having shows, and working with [them]. That’s been really interesting.
SK: How does Gage [operate]?
JM: It’s a collective. There are 18 of us artists and we run the gallery—it’s not owned by a gallery owner. It’s just us and we rotate our art through the gallery. Approximately once a year we get a solo show and then a couple of times during the year we’ll have a group show or maybe [exhibit] with another person.
SK: It’s not juried then?
JM: No. […] It’s been really fun because it’s sort of unstructured. It’s fun not to do a juried show for a change, with all the pressure of that.
SK: Have you done juried shows before?
SK: Oh, okay. That’s completely different then?
JM: It is. I’m not sure what their end process is like, but I guess people who are in the arts go around and judge your work, which is kind of odd.
SK: That is really odd, so is it [through a] society?
JM: I think every place that does it has their own people that come through.
SK: [Has working with different 18 different artists impacted your artistic process and/or what you create]?
JM: No, it hasn’t. It’s made me take myself a little less seriously with my art, which is good. Every once in a while it’s good to step back and go, “This is fun,” and not be quite so hard on myself continually. [Gage] has been good for that, just to see other artists’ struggles, new things that they’re trying to do, and seeing what they come up with. Yeah, it’s been good.
SK: Your [solo] show [with Gage] was finished on the 27th?
SK: What was that all like? Was that enjoyable?
JM: It was enjoyable. It was good. […] Like I said before, whenever I was in a show or had a show, somebody else looked after it so I had to just concentrate on the art and having it there on time. I do like that process. But with this one, I hung the show, I took the show down, I arranged the opening, and so forth. It wasn’t as far-reaching as perhaps other galleries because I had to invite everybody, do the promo, and so forth. But it was a learning experience and that is always good. As an artist, would I prefer someone to look after it? I’m thinking so [laughter]. I’m thinking so, but it was good.
SK: That’s awesome. I loved going […] and seeing your work in person instead of just on my laptop screen because there’s so much dimension to them. […]
JM: That’s true, yeah.
SK: The one of the body and the map, I didn’t realize that that was a map until I got there. I thought that was amazing!
JM: Yeah, there was a series of paintings with vintage maps in them. […] I like maps. There was that one [referring to the painting SK mentioned], and this one [points to a painting on her wall] actually has a few maps in it too. […] There’s another one, oh, the one that sold [at her solo exhibition at Gage], and it was the [painting of women with gowns of maps].
Jane Michiel, Nostalgic, date unknown, acrylic and vintage maps on canvas, 24x30
SK: Now, what are you doing? What’s your newest project?
JM: I’ve got a few Christmas shows coming up, and they’re just fun. They call them small works shows. [The sizes range between 10x10 and 16x24].
SK: Yeah, those are really small.
JM: The Victoria Arts Council will be having a show […], so I’m just going to work on that…
-END OF INTERVIEW 1-
Full Interview Transcription 2
Edited and transcribed by Sarah Kapp in consultation with Jane Michiel
Text in square brackets indicates additions, subtractions, and/or actions from original interview as recorded in the audio file above.
Sarah Kapp: […] For this interview, I just want to gather more information on what it’s like to be an artist in Victoria.
Jane Michiel: Okay.
SK: How would you describe the artist community here? I know that’s a general question, but if you had to pick out some key points what would [they be]?
JM: Well, I think that there are different communities. I think it’s pretty segregated here in Victoria. [The UVic students tend to do things together, of course]. [They] show together, like at the Legacy Gallery, and so forth. […] As I’ve gotten older, [I have noticed] there is more community stuff, which is great and daunting at the same time because it tends to be older people. And you’re like, “What do you mean I’m this old?” [laughter] But there are a lot of collectives. When you’re in a collective you have to volunteer time, and so forth. People who work full-time usually can’t become involved. […] Even for full-time artists it’s hard to come up with the time to volunteer. But, if you want to be around like-minded people there are resources. There are several collectives. There is the Victoria Arts Council, [and several shows that you can apply for] as well.
SK: We talked about it a bit last time. [Does Gage have volunteers]? […]
JM: We do. There are 18 artists that run it. We all take turns running the gallery. […] Every day somebody different is in there. It turns out to be about three days a month. Yeah, about three days. Three or four days. And if you have a show on, you’re in all the time.
SK: Do you think that artists have very many exhibiting opportunities here?
JM: Yeah, I do. There is a lot. You just have to find them. But the Victoria Arts Council is fabulous for that. At any level, like if you’re starting out, or even if you’re more ‘crafty’—which a lot of fine artists don’t like that [terminology]. But, if you’re kind of a ‘crafty person’, there is a place there for you. Also, if you’re selling in galleries, and you’re a fine artist that is well established, you can still become involved. They have different things for every level.
SK: How did you become involved? [You said in our last interview that you started painting fairly young]. How did that play out?
JM: Well, when I was younger there was nothing. [laughter] There was nothing here in Victoria that I knew about. I remember hearing through Camosun College [about] one of the first things I became involved with. I must have been in my twenties.
SK: Oh, wow.
JM: Yeah. And as I mentioned before [in the previous interview], the Emily Carr House, which I think is just a tourist thing now. But back in the day, they used to have several art classes that were put on by different artists in town. That was where I mostly found things out. I mean, we didn’t have the internet or anything. I remember riding around on my bicycle to places that I used to hear about in some church hall. You would hear about artists gathering, and go find out. In the ’70s there were several houses that housed artists in the city. Like, in James Bay there was a big house, and we would go there. Everybody would put music on, and paint together. It was a real ’70s sort of scene. [There were] lots of artists around, but nothing formal.
SK: Now you would describe it as a lot more formal?
SK: Have you seen any differences in exhibiting opportunities for men versus women? […]
JM: I have not run into anything. For me to say that is big because throughout my working life and all of my other careers, I’ve always had to fight for what I was doing with men. But in the artist community, it’s always been very equal. I’ve never found a problem with that at all, or seen it.
SK: That’s good! […]
JM: Which is amazing!
SK: That is amazing.
JM: It is amazing!
SK: I feel that’s what you hear about studying art history. […] I’m happy to hear that.
JM: I have heard other people talk about other places. Like, down in the states and even Montreal several years ago now. But in Victoria, I’ve never come across that.
SK: In our first interview when we weren’t recording, you mentioned the role of artist representatives. Can you explain what that is? How it is beneficial to artists?
JM: Yeah, an artist rep, or an artist agent, is somebody who, like anyone in the arts, manage[s] [the artist]. Same as an actor’s agent or rep, or a singer. Instead of finding you gigs, they find you exhibition outlets, and galleries. If I had an artist’s rep, they would probably find me galleries across Canada, and maybe some opportunities in the states. They look after you personally in terms of getting you plane tickets to where you needed to go, and things like that. [They are also in charge of] setting up meet and greets, and so forth in galleries. Yeah, it’s a really cool position, but I don’t know of many artists here in Victoria [who can afford one]. That’s probably why it’s not very prevalent because they do take a commission. I’m suspicious that there are several [artists here] that do have them, but I don’t know who they are.
SK: Is that something that’s kind of ‘hush-hush’?
JM: It’s a weird thing. I mean, I went to a workshop with a well-known artist here in Victoria last winter. And I thought, “How does he have the time to produce what he’s producing, and have it everywhere?” And I thought, “Oh, he must have a rep.” But he never mentioned it. [However], several times [I have questioned how they get everything done] because I know how long the creative process is. I mean, just for myself to juggle shows, and be organized enough to go meet with somebody in a gallery is difficult.
JM: A lot of the artists I know, and myself included, [are] just not inclined. It’s not my forte. If you meet an artist that’s all over the place, well known, making a lot of money, and they’re kind of shy, they probably have a rep. But, here in Victoria, there aren’t that many that I know of. If you were to Google it like in somewhere like LA, or New York, there are lists.
SK: That’s cool, but crazy.
JM: It would be a cool job.
SK: Without an artist rep, how would you market yourself to the public?
JM: It’s difficult.
JM: It’s difficult.
SK: What are some things that you do?
JM: Well, I’ve kind of got it honed in. I’ve got this little circuit I do. [laughter] For example, it’s just before Christmas now. I know that next spring there will be a show that I always go in at […] The Atrium. I go usually every year if I’m accepted. […] And my Gage Gallery thing is always sort of mapped out for me. I have a yearly thing that I do. I’ve tried to get into a couple of galleries down in the states, and they were very interested. But the logistics of taking art, bundling it up, insuring it, and all that is difficult.
SK: Yeah. Totally.
JM: Again, if I had a rep it would be a different story. […] And being fine art, most airlines want it insured, and want to see the insurance papers, which is expensive.
SK: Yikes, yeah.
JM: It has to be crated and it’s usually in wood. […] Well, it’s funny. One time I went [to a small gallery down in the states]. They wanted me to send them some work. I just threw a bunch in the back of my car, put towels between it, and off I went. The woman who owned the gallery [was there]. I said, “Oh, I’ve got some things in my car. I’ll bring them in.” She goes, “Oh, are you going to do it yourself?” And I said, “Yeah.” She came out with me and she was just horrified! [laughter] [The paintings] were in the back of my car with towels wrapped around them. She was like, “Oh…” […] As soon as I paint something, I have no emotional attachment to it. I’m just like, “Whatever…” [laughter]
SK: Do you see any challenges in the artistic community right now that artists are facing? […]
JM: Well, one of the constant problems is selling your art. Victoria… and somebody else might have a different opinion on this…
SK: Oh, totally. Yeah, of course.
JM: My opinion is that people love to go and look. It’s funny because they think, “Oh, I’m supporting the arts.” When in fact all they’re doing is coming and looking. I think it’s a really small circle of people that actually buy original art. It’s considered a luxury item, which we could get off on a whole other tangent here because I think it’s a necessary thing in people’s lives. But, yeah, selling your art is a difficult thing. If I’m selling something in Vancouver, it will go for a different price than it does here. I have to lower my prices if I want to sell [here]. Yeah. That’s a problem. Another problem would be that there is a lot of competition here. There are a lot of artists in Victoria.
JM: Yeah. It could sound kind of snobby, I don’t mean it that way. But the caliber of art sometimes… if you want to go into a show, you’ll put something in that you might consider fine art, and it’s [shown] with something that maybe is very crafty. It’s difficult to know where to show your art [and] have it in the right category.
SK: I don’t know if you relate to any of those challenges. Are there any challenges that you personally have faced? Or do you think that [the challenges you listed encapsulate that as well]?
JM: Well, exposure for a long time was big. Originally, I wanted to be with a few galleries, but [some] galleries want you to sign an exclusive contract with them. That’s a bit of a difficulty right there. However, I have learned that some of those galleries actually act as artist’s reps for their artists. In that they will [say], “We only want you to show at our gallery here in Victoria. However, we will put you in touch with someone in Calgary, someone in Toronto, [etc.].” They will actually recommend and send examples of your work to other galleries as a payoff of only being in their gallery. Now that has not happened to me, but I’ve heard that.
JM: Yeah, so it’s competitive. It’s difficult because if you know somebody [you can get your foot in the door]. Victoria is like that with everything it seems.
JM: It’s funny, there is one gallery in town that I have tried to get into several times over the years. It just got to the point where it was almost fun to try because I knew she’d say no. As soon as she saw my name she said, “No.” [laughter] It was very bizarre.
SK: Are there any […] benefits of working [in Victoria]? […] I want to see the flip side [of being an artist here] as well.
JM: Yeah, there is. I mean, when you do get involved with a community, I’ve never met such lovely and creative people! There are some absolutely wonderful artists here on the island. Also, just the island itself is so beautiful and inspiring, everywhere you go there is inspiration.
JM: I love that about [Victoria]. Another really cool thing about being an artist in Victoria is all of the art walks and things like that. There is one here in Fernwood.
SK: Oh, really?
JM: Yeah, there is an art stroll in Fernwood, and it’s great. Most people have their art in their gardens—you can go through and look at everything.
SK: [Is it the artists who are displaying their work]?
JM: Yeah, and there is so many artists in Fernwood. It’s really bizarre how many there are.
SK: That’s awesome!
JM: You can walk around and they’ll have a little sign up. You can go into their garden and meet them. […] It’s fun.
-END OF INTERVIEW 2-
The following bibliography has informed Sarah Kapp’s interview questions, as well as her biography on Jane Michiel.
“Anita Boyd, Jane Michiel, Haren Vakil at Gage Gallery.” YouTube, uploaded by ExhibitVic, 15 July 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8FNlwILdR8.
“Canadian artist-run centres.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_artist-run_centres. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.
Cooley, Alison, and Caoimhe Morgan-Feir. “Canada’s Galleries Fall Short: The Not-So Great White North.” Canadian Art, 21 April 2015, https://canadianart.ca/features/canadas-galleries-fall-short-the-not-so-great-white-north/. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.
Marder, Lisa. “Acrylic Paint.” ThoughtCo, 29 June 2018, https://www.thoughtco.com/acrylic-paint-explained-2577362.
Michiel, Jane. “About the Artist.” Blogspot, https://janemichiel.blogspot.com. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.
Richman-Abdou, Kelly. “Why Artists Use Gold Leaf and How You Can Make Your Own Ethereal Paintings.” My Modern Met, 1 March 2018, https://mymodernmet.com/gold-leaf-art/.