August 18th, 2022
Boston artist Jane Maxwell did not originally intend on becoming a professional artist. In fact, it wasn’t until her mid-thirties that she even discovered a passion for art. At the time, Maxwell held a career in the public relations industry. She was also a freelance writer and a mother when she first began taking extended education courses. She enrolled in a mixed media art class as a simple means of expression. It wasn’t until one of her teachers in her mixed media courses observed that Maxwell had an interesting voice that she even considered showing her work. “I figured out that I was doing something a little bit different in terms of materiality,” Maxwell recalls, “I really hadn’t seen a lot of collage fine art before.”
Maxwell then began to enter juried art shows. She made it a goal for herself to eventually show her work on Newbury St. — a street in her hometown of Boston known for its high-end art galleries. Soon, Maxwell had achieved this goal, and only then, did she recognize that she could potentially make art her full-time career. Maxwell believes that her unique start into the art world — one without a formal art education or early interest — has freed her up to be more completely original.
From the start, Maxwell was immediately drawn to more vintage materials and a collage style for her work, but the true turning point in her art career was when she began exploring the intersection between her art and the fashion industry.
Some of Jane Maxwell’s earliest memories are from her grandfather’s garment factory in Boston, where she would wander around the industrial sewing machines and bolts of fabric, marveling at the women’s clothing and the designer who created them. As Maxwell grew older, however, her relationship with fashion grew more complicated. She was frustrated at clothes that didn’t fit in an industry that seemed to promote a single beauty standard.
“I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am deeply and unapologetically moved by fashion.”
– Jane Maxwell
Later, as a mother, she watched her girls play with paper dolls that their grandmother gave them. Maxwell remembers how, “I realized that these little paper doll dresses and little tops fit these paper dolls just perfectly and that didn’t feel like a realistic message for my daughters, so I started taking the paper dolls and deconstructing them to comment on the image and the media and how unrealistic it was.” This revelation and the compelling body of work that emerged from this commentary on the fashion industry is what truly launched her art career.
What initially began as critique, however, has gradually evolved into something a little brighter and a little bolder. While Maxwell continues to deconstruct the iconic female form to comment on some of the inherent issues of the fashion industry, her work now sees the fashion industry through a more sympathetic lens. Now her work celebrates fashion and the ways in which clothing can empower women and add to a woman’s sense of individuality. Maxwell observes, “as I’ve aged, I still can’t fit into most fashion that I revere, and I’m still so overwhelmed by the price tags, but something has shifted in me. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am deeply and unapologetically moved by fashion.”
Through her initial critique, Maxwell has discovered the silver linings within the fashion world: the ways in which fashion can celebrate the power, confidence, and individuality of women while promoting creativity and innovation from its designers. “When I began,” Maxwell says, “I was very much into body image, and I was taking a bit of a more negative approach towards the fashion industry. Then I realized as I got older, that individuality is something that you can really accentuate through fashion and that fashion is very powerful. We can tell a lot about ourselves and others through our clothing and accessories. I’ve shifted my perspective. Now my girls are grown-up. They can handle themselves, and I just want them to feel powerful and empowered. So now, I focus more on women strutting their stuff and doing powerful things like skiing and surfing.”
To create her large scale collages, Jane Maxwell only uses materials that she finds. In this way, her artistic process begins long before she steps foot in the studio. Instead, her art begins with something of a treasure hunt for her materials. She remembers one exciting find early in her career at a very large antique fair in Boston. She found what looked like a deteriorating box in the corner of the market. When she asked the vendor what it was, she discovered the box to be full of old crate labels. Back in the 1940s, farmers would adhere beautifully designed labels to crates of their produce. Maxwell bought the entire crate for $50. Within it, she found a treasure trove of paper materials with which to make her works of art, inspiring a lifelong hunt for more precious vintage materials.
In another memorable find, Maxwell was on vacation in Prague. On her way to a fancy dinner, she passed by two men who were pulling down paper billboards. In the US, most of the advertising is printed on vinyl, but in many parts of Europe, billboards are still printed on paper. When Maxwell saw the strips of beautiful paper advertisements being stripped off the walls and stuffed into trash bags, she knew that she needed to act quickly to take advantage of these gorgeous materials. “I communicated with these people who did not speak a lick of English to explain to them that essentially, I wanted their trash,” she remembers, laughing. “They couldn’t understand why I wanted something that the city was paying them to take to the dump.” In her beautiful cocktail dress, Maxwell filled trash bags with discarded scraps of paper and took them to her lovely European hotel and asked them to ship her trash bags of papers back to her address in Boston. Maxwell recalls, “It was the beginning of what I recognized was a fantastic medium.”
Since then, much of Maxwell‘s best material comes from paper billboards throughout Europe. Now, within her circle of friends, it is well known that Maxwell is in the business of finding these gorgeous vintage paper materials. Her friends now send her pins from places throughout the country and world of great places to find such material. A close friend of hers travels to Paris often, sending her back 10 to 15 boxes of Parisian paper materials a year. These paper materials are pulled off the wall in sheets, unveiling the history of more paper materials beneath. In that way, Maxwell’s bags of billboard scraps become time capsules to the history of advertising beneath them. Her style of work then combines modern forms, colors, and sensibility with vintage materials, just as the materials themselves run the spectrum from modern to vintage.
Maxwell humbly claims that her work is only as good as the materials she finds, but this doesn’t take into account her masterful artist’s eye for finding and recognizing the right materials and knowing how to arrange them in a way that evokes such a powerful response from her viewers. The number one response to Maxwell‘s work, is the word “originality,” which is fitting considering her work’s own commentary on fashion’s originality. “I get a lot of people telling me that the work has real originality,” Maxwell says, “Plus, a lot of people find their own hidden meanings and messages within the work. It’s a very personal reaction from a lot of people, and I’m glad viewers find such meaning in the work.”
Maxwell‘s work often depicts women in action, strutting on runways and strolling along with their friends, but lately, Maxwell has ventured even further into this world of women in action. When her daughter moved to LA, she spent a couple of months visiting. Spending time on the beach in LA, she was mesmerized by Southern California life, especially the women surfing. Maxwell elaborates, “I just saw these women surfing and I thought, talk about power! The power of the waves, the power of the poses, and the power of the women.” It was this experience that first inspired Maxwell to incorporate outdoor sports into her work.
The surfing scenes then naturally led her to her ski paintings. “I’ve been skiing since I was three years old, and I feel so free and powerful when I ski,” Maxwell says. Here in Park City, Utah, many of our collectors can relate all too well to the freedom and power that skiing affords. “Depicting women skiing and snowboarding is a new theme for me,” Maxwell continues, “and yet it fits perfectly into my theme of women’s power. I love to capture the idea that a woman has such athleticism and power to tackle the most advanced terrain. Most of the women I create are jumping or racing and looking very strong, so women’s power and strength is a theme that runs through all of my work.“
This month, We’re proud to host a new exhibition by Jane Maxwell entitled “On The Move,” at Gallery MAR, opening on August 26, 2022. Maxwell feels especially grateful to show this work in a women-run gallery, like Gallery MAR. “I really do love women-run galleries,” Maxwell says, “and I love the spunky, gorgeous, fabulous women at Gallery MAR. I love how warm they are and how much they love my work.”
“Women are on the move right now, especially with everything happening in our country. Women have to be more vibrant and more articulate and more adamant about what they want in this world.”
– Jane Maxwell
In this new body of work, Maxwell continues to deliver on her theme of women’s power and strength. “Women are on the move right now, especially with everything happening in our country,” Maxwell says, “women have to be more vibrant and more articulate and more adamant about what they want in this world. In my new work, it’s all about women on the move: women figures engaged in strong movement with strong color, a lot of text, a lot of layering, and even a few hidden messages.”
Through her career as a mixed media artist, Jane Maxwell has learned that creating empowering work can be empowering. “Creating this work has completely empowered me,” she says, “I really wanted to show my kids that a woman could be successful and make a career through hard work, passion, and dedication. I’ve been able to make a wonderful career for myself doing what I love, which is very rare.” Looking ahead, Maxwell is excited about starting a new chapter in her life. “It’s been a big transition year for me and I’m very excited to be working on extremely personal work,” she says. As her work continues to evolve, we look forward to seeing the ways in which Maxwell delves further into the world of fashion and into her own personal journey of self-empowerment.
Written by Veronica Vale