Jane Wiles

Jane was born on 18 April 1946 in Grahamstown to Norman and Lucy Mullins, then farming at Salem in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She spent the first two years of 

Jane was born on 18 April 1946 in Grahamstown to Norman and Lucy Mullins, then farming at Salem in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She spent the first two years of her life in Butterworth, Transkei. Her parents divorced, and Jane, her mother and her sister spent the next five years in Engcobo, Transkei. Her first year of school was at the Engcobo primary school, then at seven years old she went to boarding school at Queenstown to the Sacred heart Convent. At this time, Lucy Mullins, Jane’s mother, started painting full time to support her two daughters. Lucy’s subjects were the Xhosa people, so they spent hours in Transkei river beds and at trading stores while she painted her 'native studies' or portraits. She was called "e'photo" by the locals. Her work ethic was stringent: "If you don't find something to paint by 10 a.m. stop the car and do what you see"; Jane recalled that Lucy painted friezes of the Xhosa people late into the night, every night and sometimes the artist Constance Greaves painted along with her mother.

Lucy met Jane’s stepfather, Brian, when she went to lessons with Brian's artist father, W G Wiles, in Knysna. She married him in 1954 and Jane and her sister officially took his name, Wiles. Brian also started painting at this time. The family moved to Knysna and the two girls went to school in Port Elizabeth where Jane matriculated from the Senior Collegiate School for Girls in 1963 with academic subjects. Jane studied art in the afternoons at the PE Technikon.

Jane went to Rhodes University in 1964, where she studied Art for only two years before giving it up for Psychology. Brian Bradshaw was the Professor at that time, but Joss Nel and Tom Matthews seemed to have a more positive effect on her, though they both mocked her naiveté in painting "little fruities" (Joss) and, when she was painting flowers, "you must paint your soul Miss Wiles, black and green and purple" (Tom). She also felt ambivalent about being dubbed the daughter of "popular painters".

In 1964/65 Jane spent a year in Pennsylvania on an American Field Scholarship and came across the Amish country and the work of Andrew Wyeth which has always stayed with her.

She specialized in English Literature and in 1969 started lecturing in English at the University College of Rhodesia, then still a college of London University, with subjects ranging from Chaucer to Eugene O'Niel.

Jane married English Lit professor, Tony Voss, in 1969 and moved into motherhood for the next nine years - Lucy in 1970 and Ben in 1973. She always painted a little during those years in Zimbabwe and later in Pietermaritzburg, exhibiting on little local white shows, (sold a large work to the Standard Bank of Salisbury, now Harare) but found being an artist very lonely, so did not really commit to it. Instead, she founded and administered the Black Sash Advice office in Pietermaritzburg, and designed costumes and painted sets for University of Natal drama productions, and did a Drama degree. During these years Jane went to art lessons/courses with Trevor Hall (Salisbury), Chink Ewan (Grahamstown), and Jane Heath (Pietermaritzburg).

Jane taught English at Fort Hare University from 1979 to 1983, then at the University of Zululand from 1983 to 1994. During these years she was very committed to the teaching of English to second language speakers and preoccupied with the South African situation. She spent a year in the UK and USA studying the teaching of English as Second Language, always wondering if she would ever get back to art in her lifetime. Jane also worked as a consultant/lecturer for the Community Law Project in Durban, devising and teaching English courses to rural paralegals for black legal rights. She did always paint a little, especially oils, and sold her paintings in the Wiles Gallery, Knysna. She painted under her married name of Voss for a while.

In July 1994, after the death of her partner, Lorenzo De Neuilly Rice, whom she married three months before his death, Jane gave up her lecturing post to paint full time.

In December 1994 Jane had her first one woman exhibition at the Wiles Gallery, Knysna. It was opened by Gillian Carter of the Knysna Library. In May 1995 a second exhibition followed in her home studio in Mtunzini, Zululand and was opened by her ex-husband, Professor Tony Voss. In December 1995 Jane had a third exhibition, also in her home, Mtunzini, and was opened by Evelyn Cresswell, well known Natal human rights activist and wife of the Natal University Vice Chancellor.

In May 1996 Jane shared an exhibition with potter Annie Nicolson of Felixton, Natal, opened by Anemarie Meyer, curator of the Empangeni Museum of Art and Cultural History. In August 1996 Brendan Bell, director of the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg opened her first Durban exhibition at The Spookhouse. Jane’s first Johannesburg exhibition took place on 21 June 1997 at the Keith Alexander Studio in Hurlingham, and was opened by educationist Neil Jardine. In December 1997 Jane’s eighth exhibition in her home studio in Mtunzini, opened by naturalist and conservationist Ian Garland. A ninth exhibition, opened by the Rev Bev Bodenstein, was in October 1998. The next show was at Craig’s Barn, Otto’s Bluff, Pietermaritzburg and was opened by Professor David Maughan Brown, Vice Chancellor of University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

In September 1999 Jane had a last Natal exhibition before leaving for Johannesburg to pursue a deep interest in workshops on Personal Transformation. In the same year she had her twelfth exhibition at the Courtyard Gallery in Craighall Park, Johannesburg, opened by Jonathan Paton.

Between 2000 and 2002 Jane ran Personal Transformation workshops in Johannesburg, an extraordinarily privileged experience which came to an end in August 2002 when she was treated for breast cancer with chemotherapy. This, however gave Jane the chance to go back to her painting, and, not to be discouraged, she subsequently had three Johannesburg exhibitions in her Craighall Studio, in November 2002, opened by professor Marcia Leveson, December 2003 opened by the Honourable Judge Kathleen Satchwell, and December 2004, opened by poet and author Stephen Gray. This last exhibition in Johannesburg before she retreated back to the bush, was definitely Jane’s coming of age as an artist, for the first time commanding high prices and selling everything!

Jane moved to Bathurst in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, where she built her own Gallery which opened on Summer Solstice 21st December 2005 by Jacklyn Cock, Sociology Professor at Wits and a descendant of the original 1820 settler William Cock, who was famous for his attempts to turn Port Alfred into a viable harbour.

The Empangeni Museum of Art and Cultural History purchased one of Jane’s big oils. Jane exhibited on a permanent basis at The Gaze Gallery, Ramsgate, Cannon and Cannon in Hilton, and the Chris Tugwell Gallery (formerly the Wiles Gallery) at Knysna.

The Wiles family tree of artists appears in both the compilations of South African Artists by Everard Read and Esme Burman.

Jane said; “When I started painting full time I thought that I would bring to my painting all the socio-political trauma of years in Black education and the pain of the death through cancer of my partner. I thought I would be an intellectual painter, after years of literary criticism; instead, after the death of Lorenzo, I allowed myself to paint exactly what I wanted to paint and found that I sought out the beautiful, the quiet, and the spiritual spaciousness of nature. Much of my work is inspired by being alone in the land and sea of the Natal North Coast, and to a lesser degree Knysna, where I grew up. When I hung my first exhibition in my home, only a year after Lorenzo's death, I was amazed to find that my paintings were full of light, reflected from water and sky. They were so simple and clear and un-peopled for someone so involved with, and fascinated by, human beings. They were also unashamedly derivative of my parents' landscape tradition, particularly my mother, in composition and style.

I am moved by how the light integrates and disintegrates Nature, especially at change of light, dawn and dusk. I feel the sadness of the loss of wild places, especially places where water runs free, so it is not surprising that I find the sea my most nurturing place, and the margin between sea and sky and land the most exciting subjects. The sea, rivers, wind and sky have a way of cleaning the slate clean in a way bigger than man can handle. The reflecting backwash of a wave is a perfect example of this, as is the wind ripples on the sand.

The jewel like colours of vegetables and fruit in combination with decorative fabrics also excite me.

Again to my surprise, I find that watercolour enchants me in its luminosity, the fine sensuality of its application in comparison with the gross stickiness of oil, and its aliveness and unpredictability. I feel sure that watercolour is the medium of my greatest excitement, and I feel I am only likely to paint oils if I can paint them to mirror the luminosity of watercolours. Oils are still a medium I find I want to use because of the size impact.

The greatest influences on my work have been the work of my mother, Lucy Wiles and my stepfather, Brian Wiles. I find this both an advantage and a disadvantage. I am to some extent stuck in traditional ways of seeing and find I have to fight the idea of art as a living, which it always was for my parents. I feel I have moved beyond intellect into simple spirit, and have no idea where that will take me. I am now painting the water and light of the Eastern Cape – Kasouga, Port Alfred, the Bushmans, Kariega and Kap rivers, and the sea”.

Sadly, Jane passed away after a long battle with cancer, in September 2013 but her art and her legend live on.