“Creatively, I am inspired by a lot of different things but landscapes and seascapes, facts and images from outer space as well as music continue to dominate my imagination. Painting is like jazz improvisation, you know a couple of the riffs but not the entire composition. I strive to make something that is vaguely familiar, an abstraction that draws you close, makes you curious to explore the colors and gooey splashes of paint. The titles are clues to the various sources of inspiration like a bonfire in the fog on Guy Fawkes night or , icicles dripping orange in the sunlight; Drake’s Equation, these things echo in my head and become paintings.”
“I may start with the memory of the cool horizontal yellow light of early May hovering above the lake, but as I work I hear Debussy’s Reverie, see June fireflies, and distant fishermen.How our memory selects and weaves those elements together is alchemy on canvas. The act of painting is all-consuming and the creative conversation is absolutely exhilarating.” DEC 2016
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, the third of four siblings, Jane Runyeonʼs early life was one of adventures in culture, nature and imaginative play. Her father, Bill, a renowned surgeon, civic leader and fisherman, and her artistic, glamourous, tom-boy mother, Jane, gave birth in succession to another Bill, then Frank then Jane, and younger sister, Marian. Subsequently the family tree sprouted two more Bills, one more Frank, making the family tally a total of three Jane’s, four Bills and three Frank’s.
Illustrious ancestors included two U.S. presidents, James Madison and Zachery Taylor, but no visual artists. Jane’s great-grandmother Lilly was, however, an extremely talented seamstress, who could study an evening gown in a shop window and come home to replicate it for her grand- daughter, my mother. They collaborated often making exquisite beaded dresses, full-length tailored coats and evening bags for family and friends. Some of their creations are still being worn.
The Runyeon family’s freedom of spirit was led by Jane’s mother, a lover of dogs, swimming, theatre, jazz and modern art. Older brother Frank possessed an infectious humor about life that was witty and absurd. A gifted pianist, Frank would conspire with Jane and her cronies to organize elaborate annual neighborhood talent shows, with dreams of becoming regulars on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”.
Later Frank went on to work in theatre in New York City and then Los Angeles. He was a regular on the soap opera, “As the World Turns”, playing Steve Andropolis opposite actress Meg Ryan. One of the episodes featured a scene that took place in an art gallery so Frank suggested that the producers take a look at Jane’s portfolio. This led to Jane’s found- object sculptures and abstract canvases being exhibited in the TV art gallery. It wasn’t the Carson show, but it was national television nonetheless.
At an early age, Jane was fascinated with art, from the paintings in her family home to Monet’s Waterlilies to Alexander Calder’s “Circus” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Calder’s transformation of everyday objects into art amused her. Jane never looked at fabric, the circus or wire coat hangers in the same way again. Runyeonʼs first venture into making art was at age eight when her Christmas list was composed of only oil paint-by-numbers kits. Jane worked secretly on these canvases all winter long in the attic. When the horse, red barn and winter night scene were completed she quietly stuffed them into the back of her closet never to be shown to anyone. She did not revisit the notion of painting for a long time. However, Jane’s exposure to culture through her family, going to museums, lectures, concerts, theatre and ice skating under the stars, continued to broaden her artistic horizons.
Jane went to college at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she studied Fine Art, French and Art History. Like many young artists, she looked to her forbearers, including Matisse, Kiefer, Nolde, Cezanne and Hans Hoffman in hopes of finding her voice. Her British professor Roger Tibbits, and renowned American painter Robert Barnes often spoke about William Turner. They both expressed to Jane how her technical or not so technical approach to the canvas and her philosophy about painting seemed to echo Turner’s drive to express the power of Mother Nature and the connection to the Divine.
The summer of 1972 was, for Jane, transformative. She spent a semester in Florence, Italy studying art history with Professor Guasconi and eating gelato. The Galleria dell Academia became Jane’s favorite haunt for its architecture and masterpieces by Michelangelo, Botticelli and Giambologna. Wandering the long hallway filled with Michelangelo’s non-finito sculptures and the sun-drenched dome with The David inspired musings about how humans experience the creative process, both its beauty and its strife. By the end of that summer, Runyeonʼs artistic destiny was permanently set on course.
After being awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1977, Jane went to the Rhode Island School of Design to study with Richard Merkin and Bruce Helander. It was during this time that Jane discovered the collages of Robert Motherwell and the boxes of Joseph Cornell. She began searching flea markets for objects, then making collages with fabrics, wood, old wallpaper samples ,string and paint. Jane had her first successful solo exhibition at RISD, titled “50 Small Collages”. The University of Cincinnati awarded Jane a full scholarship to continue her studies and she completed her Master of Fine Arts in Painting in 1981.
During the 1980’s photographing her studio, interactive installations and found object sculptures dominated Runyeonʼs creative ideas. Chairs bought at Goodwill were sanded and entwined with telephone wire, paint cans, brushes, flowers, keys, window- frames, and neon. They welcomed the viewer to Sit Awhile, absorb the experience. The language of titles became integral to the work. Jane’s MFA thesis stated “the creative process is sacred, ever -changing and therefore more significant than the completed art object,” a concept that is still relevant to her mature work.
Following the completion of her education, Runyeon went on to become an art professor first at the University of Colorado, Denver, and later at Albright College in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. Jane purchased what was originally a vegetable warehouse in Shillington, and transformed it into her home and STUDIO 105.
Famed mushroom chef and restaurateur, Jack Czarnechi, persuaded her to head the design of his new restaurant, Bistro 614. She found it exciting to orchestrate the variety of design elements from seating to lighting and stained glass windows. Shortly after completing the restaurant, Jane was commissioned to design and execute several major stained glass projects: The Heart Center at the Lehigh Valley Hospital, The Reading Hospital, and a 12ʼ x 45ʼ artwork for Swamp Lutheran Church.
In the studio, Jane continued refining her landscape and seascape work to find a pure statement about the seasons of the Northeast. She challenged herself to create a series of works on paper, all the same size, 38” x 50”, relating to the specific times of the day or year. This body of work continues today as the Woodland series. The forest, night sky, libraries, skyscrapers, the sea, landscapes and the wind are recurring themes in her work, about which the late New York Times art critic and friend, William Zimmer, once said: “These paintings are intuitive, smart and quite beautiful”. Runyeon’s lush expressionistic works are fueled by the unexpected twists of Mother Nature, while her collage works are engaging autobiographical collections incorporating words, everyday objects, such as keys, buttons, postcards, credit cards and maps .
In 1998, Runyeon founded All Together Art, Inc. a collaborative resource for contemporary art. Going into her own business, Jane heeded the advice from a lecture by Dale Chihuly at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, in which he emphatically stated, “If you are as creative in your marketing as you are in your art, you will be a success”. Since this venture required understanding the business of art, she studied at New York University with Serge Sabarsky, German Expressionists art dealer for Egon Schiele. He impressed upon Jane the importance of listening to your clients. After reviewing her portfolio, he urged her to continue with her painting no matter what, because he felt that she had a “pure and joyful vision”.
She continues her painting, focusing on the ethereal natural world, in series such as Galactic, Water and Woodlands to the more whimsical mixed media series loosely titled Libraries. In the summer of 2013 a two-person exhibition titled “Art in Space” debuted at the Blum Gallery on the campus of College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine and at the Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park during the annual Night Skies Festival. The show was composed of several canvases from Janeʼs spectacular “Galactic”, Festival of the Night series, and renowned glass artist, Josh Simpson’s amazing “Mega Planets” and “Orbs”. Josh’s wife, NASA/Space Shuttle astronaut Cady Coleman, who had just served as technical advisor to Sandra Bullock on the film, “Gravity”, joined Josh and Jane via Skype from Mission Control in Houston for a lecture on the marriage of art and science. Jane also was congratulated by First Lady of Pennsylvania, Susan Corbit for her painting, Brush Creek at the prestigious Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2013. Exhibitions at the iconic Empire State Building and at The Society of the Four Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida took place in 2014. This year Jane completed a stained glass commission Orbit of the Infinite for the Spiritrust Lutheran Foundation and plans for pop up galleries in Palm Springs and Los Angeles are underway. Several accessory trunk shows are scheduled to present It’s a Jane button bracelets and other wearable collages starting in Philadelphia the first weekend in February 2016.
Runyeonʼs primary studio is in the Fairy Silk Mill, a renovated historic warehouse in Reading, Pennsylvania. She lives in a cottage in the woods with her German Short-Hair Pointer, Meadow Lark, and her husband, whose name happens to be Art.