HER ART speaks eloquently to the beauty and undeniable charm which may be found in “ordinary nature”. As one of Jamaica’s most accomplished watercolour artists, Barbara Juliet Thorburn is distinguished in her vision to represent life in it’s pure harmony and fullness, an interpretation which is both refreshing and comforting.
Juliet, as she is frequently called, is inspired by the incredible landscape and seascape of the island, and gets immense pleasure from capturing these scenes as they are brought to life by the energy and magic of their play with natural sunlight.
When Juliet speaks it is with a positive enthusiasm which embraces her artistic impulse as much as her personal outlook. She is passionate about her craft, and is respectful of a gift which allows her to bring people together in a visual experience which ultimately enriches their lives. She also has a precise conviction about what is valuable in life – family, friendships and simple pleasures like the setting sun. Today she is softly feminine, dressed in an elegant pink floral skirt, and a white embroidered top perfected by a lace shawl. A young woman, modern in her way and also having what may be called a timeless beauty. Perhaps it is in the way she has chosen to follow in her grandmothers’ footsteps which gives her this aura.
She grew up in Kingston in a setting where her talents were encouraged, and she recalls with fondness her grandmother Barbara visiting from England. Her grandmother, an avid painter, loved painting river and garden scenes and just about anything in nature which captivated her. Juliet admired her for her open-mindedness and her spunk in taking art classes up to age 70. The young Juliet observed keenly and intuited this zest for capturing the gift of nature on paper.
After completing high school, Juliet solidified by her interest in art by studying graphic design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, began a career in that field. She later felt the urge to become more focused on the fine arts, and responded to this desire by developing her painting and drawing expertise through studies at Istituto per L’Arte e il Restauro in Florence, Italy. She held her first solo exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries in Kingston and since then has had five successful exhibitions, along with a nomination as a finalist for the 2001 Artist of the Year competition. Juliet’s work has been selected for the prestigious National Gallery’s annual shows, and she also taught illustration at the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts for two years.
Now that she has completely engaged the watercolour medium, she speaks openly of the joys and challenges of mastering the craft. However, she remains fascinated with the translucency of watercolour on paper. She explains that it is a difficult and mostly unforgiving medium since each stroke must be precise. The process of painting for her requires a discipline and certainty in what effect is desired ahead of time. Juliet enjoys the play between vivid colours – dense blues and intense reds that are evoked in her florals, especially as they are enlivened by light.
A particularly nourishing experience for her as an artist was a visit to New Mexico which allowed her an opportunity to interpret subjects in a less familiar way. The sparseness of vegetation and the solid character of the architecture of the place along with it’s peculiar and intense light, offered an interesting contrast to her subjects in Jamaica.
Some of Juliet’s favourite subjects are leaves, she sees them as having a life and a personality of their own. And this is perhaps the definitive mark of brilliance in her work, her fine regard for showing customary nature, the one we are sometimes amiss in remarking, with the surprise element of exquisite attraction. This gives a reassuring quality to her art, as you feel that everything does have a place in the universe. A favourite painting, a seascape called “Nanny’s View”, is ardent in it’s capturing of the sky, rocks, cliff face and thickets at Treasure Beach.
Juliet’s guiding light has been the support of her family. She credits her mother, Dr. Marigold Thorburn, as someone who is broadminded and earthy, and who has taught her how to be interested in many things. She remembers taking family trips up to her home in Cedar Valley in St. Thomas. There she learned along with her sisters Rachel and Diana, how to sew, how to bake with mangoes, and best of all how to be resourceful.
She describes her father Carroll Thorburn as a man of integrity, who was consistently a stable presence. The values she learned about how to cherish life have led her to be grateful for all the things in nature which she responds to in both a personal and artistic way – a brisk wind or the sunrise count for what she now calls her blessings, and these are a reinforcement of her faith.
For the moment, Juliet is now tapping into the inspiration she feels to paint with more freedom, and not to be caught up with details. She envisions a time when her work will have the same essence without as much detail. The confidence to throw the colours down and trust her intuition more will no doubt follow as she is one who paints from the heart. And we can trust this, as she has spoken with a reassuring smile,
” everything comes in time, since everything has it’s own rhythm and divinity.”