Jane Evans in her studio in 1985. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail Collection: 970A
Born in Nelson in 1946, Jane Evans was educated at Nelson College for Girls. She enrolled at Ilam School of Fine Arts in 1965, and the following year she travelled to London to study at Waltham Forest Art College. However, after the first year she left to pursue a programme of self-education.
This freedom of spirit resonates throughout a lifetime’s creation of vibrant, free-flowing works. Jane’s innate understanding and use of colour saw her flower and figurative narratives hit a high spot in the international art market of the early to mid 1980s.
After an initial diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in 1965, Evans was diagnosed with an ongoing condition that affected her for the rest of her life. Often literally painting through her pain, while adapting her painting methods and media accordingly.
‘Suddenly there was life in front of me and I had to grab it with both hands. It was a compulsive thing for me to express the joys of life.’
Evans returned home to Nelson in 1971. She continued to travel on painting expeditions, including to Sydney and Melbourne in 1972, and bank to England in 1973, where she commenced a series of works showing people visiting and viewing paintings in the London galleries and the lively exchanges at markets such as Portobello Road.
Returning home, Evans purchased and renovated a cottage in Tasman Street, and established the garden that became a source of inspiration for her signature flower paintings.
‘The garden was an extension of my life. When I turned to watercolours, I found myself in touch with this wonderful, loose spontaneous medium that was really exciting.’
Passionate about the expressionist works of Matisse, Bonnard and Chagall, Jane said: ‘I am drawn to the painters who express the joy in living.’
In 1997, Jane was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to painting. In the same year, she worked closely with John Coley on her biography, ‘Jane Evans’. She died at her home in Nelson in 2012.
The Suter Art Gallery holds 11 of her works, the largest number by the artist in any public collection. The Gallery’s affection for Jane is reflected in the naming of the Jane Evans Foyer. The Suter’s collection of Jane’s works can be viewed here.
There’s a good overview of Jane’s life in The Prow, and a beautifully written obituary by Tracy Neal in The Nelson Mail.