About Janet Sullivan Turner

Email Janet: jsullivanturner [at] comcast.net

By Dr. Burton Wasserman -- Republished from “Janet Sullivan Turner; A retrospective 1955-2005” held at Widener University Art Gallery

Janet Sullivan Turner has dedicated a lifetime of sustained creative passion to voicing sincerely felt responses to her surrounding world and the flux of change has been the signature fact of life during the past 50 years.

Utilizing art from as her medium of expression, she interprets ideas, emotions, beliefs and events she has observed and reflected upon during a period of intense involvement with circumstances and conditions that she has confronted along the way.

And always, at the core of her efforts, she has demonstrated an allegiance to truth that constantly illuminates everything she brings into being in her studio. That unshakable faith in the principle of honesty is the rock on which her entire career is based.

Across the years, in her pursuit of a unique grammar of expression, Turner has explored a variety of two and three dimensional materials and procedures for bringing artworks into being. Typically, they include many of the familiar processes employed in drawing, painting, collage and the shaping of sculptural assemblages that one regularly encounters in the contemporary world of art.

In this latter regard, she has been especially adept at utilizing bits and pieces of discarded wood and metal as well as plastic and paper. With uncanny inventive resourcefulness, she has recycled left-overs and throw-aways found in abandoned factories and farms as well as assorted yard sales, flea markets and junk yards. In the process, she has generated a sense of esthetic life ever anew and brought profound meaning to what might otherwise have merely been viewed as useless trash.

Frequently, these artworks are especially remarkable because they are rich with poetic revelation, especially in the way they bridge the gap situated between the past and the present. And they are all the more eloquent because they are completely unexpected and far removed from the trivial, the tiresome and the ordinary.

In a contemporary exhibition scene all to often cluttered with banal, boring and redundant visual bromides, Turner is able to stop spectators cold in their tracks, using image content that is way off the beaten path!

As she proceeds with her work, Turner exercises a special gift for treating themes with a distinctive American vernacular identity. She does this in a manner that avoids dabbling in the obvious clichés and stale stereotypes frequently employed in cheap chauvinistic sloganeering.

Using images of people in different places in her paintings and collages, as well as parts of cars, trucks, mannequin forms, and bicycles, she comes to terms allegorically with realities of fragmentation, curiosity, transformation and materialism that are central to the national character. Repeatedly, but with considerable artistic variety, they are addressed in compositions that are arrived at by exploring a wide range of highly imaginative plastic options; possibilities of resolution investigated with both courage and open-mindedness – without resorting to either imitation or the used of stock provincial references.

While bringing a bold wealth of metaphorical expression into critical focus, Turner avoids doctrinal disputation. With sincerity and determination, she takes a pragmatic approach to whatever may be at hand at the moment. Avoiding sterile theories and warmed over directives passed down from yesterday by self appointed authorities and experts, she makes art anchored to a foundation of concrete experience and deeply personal insight.

In the end, if a form works, it is retained; if not, it is eliminated. The judgment is made with trust invested in the wisdom of her innermost intuitive capacities, developed over decades of trial and error testing. For Turner, it all adds up to a body of experience bases on the savoir faire that comes from crafting an independent vision that is absolutely hers and hers alone.

Visitors who carefully examine the many selections that Turner has completed over the last half century are bound to be deeply enriched in a manner that no amount of verbal explanation can ever hope to adequately describe. Instead, perhaps the best way to deal with the enormous range of her gift for expression is to realize how much it is matched by the extra-ordinary depth of everything she has been able to put together in a language of design that is as inimitable as it is fresh and amazingly inspired.

[Dr. Burton Wasserman is a professor emeritus of art at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, and a senior art exhibition reviewer for the publications Art Matters and Prime Time.]