Jane Harris, who has died aged 65 after a short illness, was one of Britain’s most important abstract painters. For 30 years, she investigated, by means of a set of self-imposed rules, the perceptual properties of the ellipse. It was a shape that could be both graceful and Spartan in her hands, and visually mischievous through her beautiful handling of paint. Carefully painted in oil, each of the meticulous brushstrokes that outline her curvilinear forms describes both a form, themselves, and a texture, which captures and reflects light.
I met Jane at Goldsmiths College, University of London (now Goldsmiths University of London) in the 1990s, when I was a student on the MA Fine Art course. She just graduated. Jane first studied art in Bournemouth, Dorset, the county in which she spent her childhood. She was born in Swanage, one of four children of George Harris, who was in the navy, and his wife, Eva (née Armstrong).
After leaving Bournemouth College of Art (now Bournemouth University of the Arts), she then went via Camberwell School of Art and Crafts (now Camberwell College of Arts)) and Brighton Polytechnic (now University), to the Slade in London. She practiced as an artist for 10 years, during which she received scholarships to study classical gardens in Paris and Zen gardens in Japan, before seeking the intellectual debate at Goldsmiths, then in its heyday, to explore herself even further. dare. . It was there that she began working with ellipses, creating a language that was uniquely her own, and that allowed her paintings to retain multiple and shifting identities. For a decade from 1996 she taught on the MA course herself.
In 2006, she moved, together with her husband, the sculptor Jiří Kratochvil, and son, to rural Périgord, in France, where she created a studio and home, to be able to concentrate more fully on her work. From this position of relative isolation, her paintings first became more complex, and then more colorful. She described to me how inspiring she found the quality of changing light on the surface of the quiet landscape she could see from her window.
Another source of inspiration was the artists Josef and Anni Albers, and she spent two productive residencies as a visiting artist at the Albers Foundation in Connecticut. It was there that she expanded her drawing practice, creating beautiful works on paper in dark graphite pencil and pencil and watercolor.
Jane’s work is held in significant British, French and American collections, including those of the Arts Council England, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Pallant House, Chichester and Southampton City Art Gallery; and some of the most respected writers on contemporary painting, such as Martin Hentschel and Barry Schwabsky, have written about her. Her presence, humor and friendship will be deeply missed by her many artist friends.
A survey of her work will open in 2023 at FRAC MÈCA Bordeaux.
She is survived by Jiří and their son, George, and two of her brothers, Tim and Nick.