by Helen Martin
Helensville figurative artist and plant propagator Jayne Thomas has a very good memory for detail. Describing her first years, when she and her family went from Britain to Australia, then to New Zealand, back to Britain, then back, finally, to New Zealand, she recalls that they went to Australia as “£10 poms” and that, at the convent she was sent to, they were still writing on slates. Later, in Avondale, New Zealand, the family boarded with a Scotswoman they called Aunty Haggis and her husband George, whose sign out the front of the house “Fish bait, right here mate” is locked into Jayne’s memory.
She attended several primary schools, where having “the wrong accent” got her into fights, first as a pom in NZ then, after she’d acquired a Kiwi twang, back in Britain. “After boundaries were sorted, we always shook hands and became friends,” she says. Jayne’s introduction to lovely old things came when her mother worked for musician Graham Brazier’s mother at her curiosity shop in Balmoral. “I’d go there every day after school, and she got me collecting coins and stamps and showed me beautiful books.” Her lifelong love of the outdoors began with her father taking the family to the beach every weekend.
At school Jayne always did well in art and was lucky to have her talent fostered at Kelston Girls High School, where she was taught by painter and sculptor Gretchen Albrecht. The fact that sculptor Marte Szir may also taught there was another influence. Despite her success in art, Jayne left school at 16 after she had passed School Certificate and, looking around for a job, settled on becoming a lab technician at Auckland Hospital, with responsibility for producing graphs. She’s had a wide variety of jobs since then: draughtswoman for commercial windows and doors; factory work preparing aluminium to be anodised; fruit picking (twice); van driving and stock control; graphic paste-up artist; and plant propagation, where she completed an apprenticeship through her employer Lyndale Nurseries.
For four years she then ran her own gardening, landscaping and lawn mowing business, before buying an acre in Te Pua School Road, Helensville (coming here because she had a boyfriend in the area) and settling in as a plant propagator at Francis Brothers nursery in Waimauku, making cuttings, growing and rooting hedging and shrubs.
Meeting her future husband Warren 25 years ago cemented Jayne’s decision to stay in the area. For the past three years they’ve lived on five acres on the outskirts of Helensville, where they work hard transforming the land into a beautiful garden and keep a few sheep and ducks. Warren’s passion is bees. He has five hives and, as well as gathering the honey, is now putting down mead. Jayne enjoys balancing creating spaces outside in the garden and producing artwork inside in her ‘studio’ (i.e. the parts of the garage not occupied by bee paraphernalia). She favours charcoal drawing and figurative painting (i.e. referencing the real world, particularly the human figure) because “people intrigue me, and I enjoy them.” She uses oils and encaustic, which involves using heated beeswax to which coloured pigments are added and has recently also being working with acrylics. “I let a bit of serendipity come into the work. I like a work to unfold, without my having full control of it. I’ll do a painting, say, in a watercolour, then I’ll go over it with hot coloured wax, then I heat it up and it blends and bleeds. Then I paint on top of that with oil, then I heat it up to make lines move, just to see what happens. And after a few layers you get this layer of oils and glazes and occasionally the whole sheet has lifted and gone.”
Jayne has plenty of success with her art. Her painting ‘Rehearsal’ is on the cover of ‘New Zealand’s Favourite Artists v.2’ by Denis Robinson, she exhibits at galleries, including her Devonport outlet gallery ‘Art by the Sea’ and her work sells well. Locally, she is a regular contributor to Helensville’s Arts in the Ville. She’s stayed inspired through art courses – in 2001 she took a productive year off work to do creative and visual arts at Rutherford High School under tutor Sue Daley and last year studied at Browne School of Art in Grey Lynn under tutor Brendan McGorry, a course that has prompted her to begin a new body of work.
When Jayne first arrived in Helensville she thought, “Really? What am I doing here?” but now, 28 years later, she’s sold on it. “I love the gorgeous view of the river. Helensville’s been left on the back burner a bit, but they’re great people here, with such interesting lives, everyone has something to offer. People are very accepting - you could go down the main street wearing a Fido suit, and no-one would care. The place has a soul, and it’s tight. You can always find someone to have a coffee with. We’re a very lucky community.”