A Powerful Force: An Interview with Jane Beesley
13 Sep 2023

Artist Jane Beesley’s exclusive exhibition ‘A Powerful Force’ is at Mrs Jones’ Art Shop & Gallery until September 30th. Katy Rink visited the artist at home in Belle Vue.

I’m brimming with impressions as I leave Jane Beesley’s plant-filled home in Belle Vue; her extraordinary black and white cat Bob and his amazing tricks; flick books full of brilliant cartoons and illustrated recipes, sprawling foliage, cacti and passion flowers that seem to have woven themselves into the fabric of this creative space. They are ingredients that feed the gigantic imagination engine of Jane.  

Obviously, these are the conditions that allow genius to flourish. Evidence of a great talent pepper the walls in every room. Jane’s beautiful acrylic and mixed media landscape paintings are everywhere, propped against sofas, or sheathed in careful bubblewrap for her first solo exhibition at Mrs Jones’ Gallery in Coleham. 

Jane at her solo exhibition in Coleham

Jane at the opening of her solo exhibition 'A Powerful Force' in Coleham (until September 30th, 2023)

She tears up at the opening and it’s no wonder why. This has all come to Jane late in life, since winning the Belle Vue Arts Festival Art Competition a few years back. She’ll be 66 this year - ‘a pensioner!’. When she entered the competition in 2021, she had only been painting for a year, having taken it up after mandibular cancer robbed her of her ‘dream job’ as an international aid worker. She used to take photographs, as a communications specialist for Oxfam, telling the stories of people in crisis overseas (it runs in the family - Jane’s brother is the famous photographer Ian Beesley and her father was a draughtsman). She worked all over the world, across Africa, Asia, The Middle East and South America. 

But that all stopped with the diagnosis. She underwent scores of operations to remove the cancer and rebuild her jaw and, thankfully, the cancer has not returned, although she still faces further facial surgery this year: “We’re now in double figures!” she says. 

Living alone during lockdown, she drew cute cartoons about her cat ‘The Artful Bob’, along with hand-drawn recipe cards:“Every day, I would do one more, sitting here watching the world go by,” she said.  

‘Me and My Cat Bob’ featured in a book about women artists (10x10 Lockdown, by Penny Perrett, in aid of Women’s Aid). 

Jane also began to ‘play’ with acrylics on wood panel, creating land and seascapes, allowing paintings to assume their own energy, without forcing a subject. Framed on the wall of her bedroom are the original palette papers from her earliest colour experiments. 

A selection of Janes work

A selection of Jane's paintings from 'A Powerful Force'

It’s uncanny seeing Jane’s expressive style emerge over the months since July 2021 via her social media pages The posts reveal a fascinating metamorphosis - of journeying and arriving at somewhere completely unexpected and yet also, somehow, pre-determined, as though this was all meant to be. Jane has finally learned to define herself as an ‘artist’. She’s no longer messing around (although ‘play’ remains very important to her process).

“I go on a gut feeling,” she says. “I just sit on my floor and just play. I don’t mean to paint anything, it just happens. It’s great fun.”

Her mixed media works are a pleasing fusion of pencil, acrylic ink and crayon. She has no formal training (her art teacher at school told her not to bother!). She just stops when it feels right. 

Jane’s textured landscapes often capture particular weather events - a moment in a storm, a passing cloud, or a rare sunbeam. These collected impressions reflect a lifetime of global travel, bundled together with memories and mostly positive emotions (she’s a positive person!). 

Winning the Belle Vue Arts Festival competition was a major milestone: “I had to read the email several times. It made a huge difference to me and how people saw me.

“It’s about identity. I used to love my job (as humanitarian communications specialist), going out and meeting people. Being able to be a witness and to bring that back can touch people’s hearts. Sometimes it would be a seven days a week, 16-hour job. And then suddenly that all goes and you lose your identity. People see you as Jane with cancer. Now I'm Jane the artist."

Jane the artist

“Now I am Jane the artist.” 

Her paintings have been exhibited at Glou Glou, Shrewsbury Coffeehouse, Shropshire Art Society, Oberon and The Greenhouse Cafe in Shrewsbury, as well as at The Three Counties Open Exhibition and online, but ‘A Powerful Force’ is her first solo show in an art gallery. It is a stunning collection of previously unseen works. 

The title is particularly apt: “It’s a bit tongue in cheek,” Jane admits. “I was told at 13 that I was no good at art, but the drive to be creative is a powerful force! We’re all creative and I think it’s really sad when people say they can’t do anything.

“It’s also about grabbing life, enjoying life,” she adds. “I felt stuck toward the end of last year after a string of close bereavements. Then I started playing around with stuff and a lot of paintings came together all at once. You grab it while you can”.

In her previous role, as a communications specialist, Jane would combine image and words for optimal impact. She brings those storytelling skills to her paintings, allowing a title to offer itself, sometimes in the form of a poem, but only once the paintings are finished.

“I like titles to be something people read and then come back to the painting,” she says. 

'A Cracked Horizon' by Jane Beesley

'Cracked Horizon' by Jane Beesley - "Things may be cracked but they can still be beautiful"

Sometimes a title will arrive unbidden, as with 'Cracked Horizon': “It was just what the printer called it. I had been struggling with a title. It just suited it. I love it when that happens.” 

The painting reflects the seismic shift in Jane’s own life: “Whatever you might be thinking about the future, sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. In my case, I had to give up the work I loved, a job that made my heart sing. It was my identity, my livelihood - everything.”

What Jane has achieved, alone in her little terraced home in Shrewsbury - losing half of her jaw - and completely reinventing herself in the middle of a global pandemic - is a whit short of miraculous. 

“Things may be cracked but they can still be beautiful,” she says. “In my case, I have discovered a whole new identity. I never thought I would be painting but I absolutely love it. It’s so much fun. It’s never too late.”

Jane Beesley's solo exhibition ‘A Powerful Force’ is at Mrs Jones’ Art Shop & Gallery in Coleham until September 30th 2023. The exhibition also features work by ceramicist Ruth Gibson. The gallery is open Wed - Sat, 10.30am to 4pm with a special late night opening on Friday until 6.30pm. Find out more at @jane.beesley  @ruthgibson

Jane looking at cookbook illustrations
Jane at home in Belle Vue