Some people go to church for spiritual fulfillment. Artist Brianne Janes goes to the mesas, the plains and lonely dirt roads of New Mexico, where the splendor of the land, the mystery of the clouds and the pull of the wind inspire her. “There have been times I’ve witnessed a sunset or a monsoon, and it’s moved me to tears,” Janes says.
Janes is a plein air painter. Almost every weekend, she packs up her Toyota 4Runner with paints and canvases and ventures down a road she’s never taken. Once she’s found a spot, the work begins. “Clouds change,” she says. “You have to paint fast and furious when it’s happening. There are times I’m using both hands with a knife and a brush just to try to get it down, to capture it.”
Her paintings are emotional, immediate and dense with paint and color. “The colors of the Southwest — I’ve never seen anything like it,” Janes says. “The color of the soil, the color of the sky, that rosy hue at twilight . . .” The sentence drifts off as Janes loses herself in the vision.
Janes grew up on a farm in Utica, Nebraska, a fitting place for instilling a deep love for land. The urge to create took hold early; Janes enrolled in private art lessons at age eight. But when it came time for college, Janes felt compelled to be “practical.” She got a degree in graphic design and minored in fine art. In a way, it was a curse. Graphic design took over her life, and for ten years, Janes didn’t paint. “I was living a fake life,” she says.
Everything changed when she decided to take a plein air painting workshop in Montana. One of the master teachers was Louisa McElwain, an acclaimed artist from New Mexico. McElwain and Janes connected, and McElwain told Janes to look her up if she ever came south. That was in 2007. Three years later, Janes did just that.
“I came to Santa Fe for a visit, and I never left,” Janes laughs. She started working with McElwain at her studio. Janes soaked up McElwain’s knowledge and was inspired by McElwain’s passion. McElwain died in 2013, but Janes says, “I’m still learning from her. I look at her work and the expression it holds, and it is so magnificent.”
Janes has had solo shows and is working with an agent to find gallery representation. She also takes “land commissions” — paintings of a special spot on a ranch, the view out of a window or a family cabin in the woods. The memories that connect people to these places are especially moving to her. “It’s such a gift when I can give that to the owner,” Janes says.
Whether she paints for a commission or for a gallery show, Janes is sure of one thing: She must create. She must chase beauty. “There have been times when I’m in the moment, and I feel almost like I’m not moving my own arms. It’s happening so quickly that it’s moving through me,” Janes says. “That doesn’t happen all the time, but to know that it’s available is exciting, and keeps me coming back to see when that moment is going to come again.”