Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jane Hickey Caminos, Activist Artist, Tells Her Story

I’m a Brooklyn born Jersey Girl who wanted to become a famous artist, or maybe a Rockette, before I was five. Walls were my canvas, crayons my brushes. Sound familiar? I liked to draw funny things because they were easier than realistic ones. My people stood in tall grass with their hands in their pockets. Uh huh. I planned on a career working for Walt Disney.

Fear  36x18

I was about as political as a kneaded gum eraser. Whomever my father voted for, so did my mother. That’s the way it was in the 50s. The assassination, followed by Vietnam, forced more emotion into the 60s. It was a perfect time to go off to art school. I went to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with long-ish blonde hair grown for the occasion. I was going to be a beatnik with an apartment painted black; I’d walk down Benefit Street snapping my fingers. Black turtleneck, black tights, and the required black beret. Beatniks morphed into hippies, so I added beads.

Saint Malala  28x29

‘Nam crashed a lot of dreams in the late 60s. Boys from high school were stepping on mines, and art school guys were starving them-selves as thin as skeletons to shock the draft into stamping them 4F. Beatniks turned into Hippies and then into Peaceniks overnight. Artists took to the street in protest with everyone else except we had better signs. 

There weren’t enough kids left to draft so a lottery was introduced. Low numbers went to war, high numbers did not, unless their grades were bad. I became as political as any other young woman, afraid her boyfriend would be swept away.

Grenade  24x30

We worried through the ‘Hell No We Won’t Go’ years, sought God via acid trips, got married because those were the rules. Some of us became photographers who documented all the efforts, others painted out their angst. I was humiliated because I wound up knocking out cherubic greeting cards, on the bottom rung of the ladder of cool. And as many of my generation discovered, mining for a Heart of Gold or not, things weren’t working out the way we were promised.

Time Has Come  14x16

Stomping Toward Feminism

No famous painter dwelling in Greenwich Village, just a mortified RISD BFA churning out “cuter neuters” as we called them in the Game of Cards. The only artistic trick I picked up was how to be neat. I longed to make a fortune as a fancy pants magazine illustrator like Bernie Fuchs. Madison Avenue, a real life Mad Men four-martini lunch, that was me. Except it wasn’t. Not in Newtonville living in a two family.

I watched from above (as those of us blessed with fertile imaginations can easily do) as the whole construct imploded. I was numb, eroded, and left standing in line with everyone else in a casting call for “Who Will You Be Now?”  

Rage    16x20

The seventies were a decade of shifting identities. Due to circumstances beyond my control, my new persona was that of a militant feminist complete with feigned loss of humor, taking on androgyny as a costume, which was boring but the boots were good. My ‘Nam era’ leftist stance easily slid into Take Back the Night marches for women’s rights. It was then that I made a commitment to paint women. Only women. Not beautiful, nubile model types but the women nobody bothered honoring; aunts, neighbors, grandmas at weddings. I told their stories, in a usually humorous manner and always with affection. Political art without stridency.

World Upside Down   22x26

By the late 80s I was encouraged by my life partner, Chris, to exhibit. It’s one thing to put commercial work out there, the kind you may produce to make a living, but the stuff that arrives from the soul, is another matter. Some of you must agree!
Picked   24x30

A Reputation?

A number of years passed, my health dipped down and moreso: in becoming disabled, a newfound empathy for those in worse shape than I kept me in balance. So I kept painting women, groups, trios, duos, stand alone's, surrounded by convenient props . . . fruits, pasta, fish . . . whatever  could fill up that white space in the background. Exhibits were well attended. People bought. Sometimes. ‘Jane Caminos: Narrative Painter of Women’ had found a gimmick.

Three in One   24x30

2012 Changed Everything 

One evening, half asleep with PBS dutifully tuned in: a documentary about women’s rights was showing, specifically detailing the gang rape of 23 year old Jyoti Singh by 5 men in Delhi. She was cast aside, and died from sepsis two weeks later. Tears of rage came as a surprise, as did finding my fists were clenched. I’m not an emotive personality but here was a story that cycloned a fury complete with yelling at the flat screen.

A Leader Emerges   24x30

That night in the NJ rental house I vowed to devote the remainder of my painting life to exposing violence against women across all cultures by telling their stories as I found them. On Women Bound was born on the easel the following morning. I became an activist artist.

At first the promise to work for change sounded simple: I made a list of terrible things that I knew were happening to women, mostly those living in third world countries. YouTube and Google yielded videos, images and articles from periodicals around the globe. Events out there were worse, much worse, than my white bread upbringing had imagined, the scope of the project ahead grew in size but also in importance. How much should I show on the canvas? Did I want to shock or tell these stories without the blood and guts, which to some ways of thinking could be construed as exploitive? What would you do? After all, if the ultimate goal of On Women Bound was to help (in my small way) victims become the victorious, what would that entail?

Three Each Hour   22x26

There have been subjects, such as the cultural rite of passage, FGM, Female Genital Mutilation, that have been wrenching to depict. I’ve painted fear of rape instead of actual rape, although one in three women will be raped in their lifetime. I’ve yet been unable to handle stoning, breast ironing, or beheading. Trafficking explodes as a worldwide money maker for villains of all stripes, even in suburban America, where we don’t believe blonde daughters will be kidnapped on their way to school. They are.

Sometimes goodness helps to balance evil, such as providing micro loans to impoverished women, or women taking to the streets to protest rape, or corporate takeovers of mining that otherwise would be supporting whole villages, or bravely forming barricades to block weapons of war from moving forward. I’ve included these stories of defiance to see-saw the acid wrecked faces, murdered female infants, and child brides.

Do you think I’m preaching to the choir?  Will exhibiting paintings of women’s troubles ignite a dialogue among those who see the work, as I hope?  Can I reach the “right people” and assuming I do, what then will these right people do about it?  Discuss in shocked voices over a nice Pinot how terrible things are in Africa? And so? Change happens step by step, at least I hope it does.

Awareness is the first step, so that’s what I do and I hope that someone out there will choose to share On Women Bound with a bigger audience than I can reach alone. It has long been the responsibility of artists to work toward making positive change where possible, and as hokey as that may sound, it carries historical weight. The list is long and glorious.

Manna from Heaven   24x30

I worried that taking on the role of Activist Artist might peg me as the humorless leftist I once played at being, leaving me responding to like types, but instead, through social media, I’ve renewed contacts and discovered hundreds of supporters who let me know when I’ve hit the nail, gone too far, or have made no impact at all.

It’s with your help that I’m assured I’m not working alone, although there are days at the easel when Alone is all there is: Jane hunched over with the Three-0 brush talking with a suffering woman in India who has lost her ten-year-old daughter to kidnappers. How can a middle aged white woman, an only child with none of her own, relate to this sadness? I stroke her cheek, her fingers, choosing colors for her clothing I think she might like. Art as comfort.

Because I’ve been fortunate to have found a voice for change doesn’t mean you have to, but look at the mess we’re in. I never in a million nights dreamed I’d see a TV show that would change my life’s focus.

Warning   24x30

Yes, I still produce paintings from the original narrative series of beloved women. It’s ‘painting happy’, a necessary break from On Women Bound and its inherent pain. My reference files fill a back up drive and two boot boxes, and just when I think I’ve got enough horrors to overwhelm my Mac, the news brings another tragedy, followed by another and we understand that every war brings genocide and a generation of children who will never understand the delight of laughter.

This is Week 10 of 2018 Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Jane’s story today. To connect with Jane and see more of her work, please visit the following links: