Obsessed with art

Jane Labaton - From Heaton, UK to Jerusalem, 1982

JANE: 'My art is more important than I am' (photo credit: VADIM LIDIN)
JANE: 'My art is more important than I am'
(photo credit: VADIM LIDIN)
After nearly 20 years, as she describes, of self-isolation in her Jerusalem art studio, Jane Labaton has decided to share her art with the public. On August 22, if the coronavirus restrictions do not stand in the way, there will be an opening of her exhibition “Obsession,” curated by Ilana Carmeli Lanner, at the Periscope Gallery in Tel Aviv. The audience will be able to visit the exhibition for a month.
In recent years, Labaton has been working with recycled materials. She has rescued discarded books, giving them a second life, transforming them into sculptures. She creates their new stories “on the outside, not inside;” – everything is written and painted on the covers. Her other crucial (at the moment) objects are chairs, decorated with thousands of butterflies. Chairs represent comfort, providing the ability to sit and relax, although in her installations (due to the added elements), they are impossible to sit on.
“Butterflies are too delicate to sit on. You can only imagine how it would be to sit on them. It’s very tempting, seductive and sensual,” explains Labaton, “but it is like almost everything in life; you can imagine yourself doing something but it doesn’t always go beyond the vision.”
In Labaton’s case, the vision of being an artist was consistent and she succeeded. But the way to it was very unorthodox. She was always passionate about art and determined to become an artist, despite harsh beginnings. Born and raised in Heaton, a small village in Northern England, she had a secular upbringing at home and Christian at school. She went to Moravian Church School, built in the late 18th century, where she was the only Jew (she can still sing Christian hymns that she learned in the school choir better than any other Jewish liturgical tune).
Her mother was a fourth-generation Brit and her father, who escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1940 and came to England via Palestine while his family was killed in the Holocaust, raised her in a secular Jewish home. So the prestigious school she was sent to was quite a contrast to her home environment.
Her classmates included a descendant of the aristocratic Dudley family (her best friend), girls from colonial and old families, and the nouveau riche, she recalls. Many of them let her feel how different and exotic she seemed. She was proud to be a Jew. She loved being among Jewish people. “It was more of a national, ethnic identity, not religious.” But she didn’t know about antisemitism and hated for Jews, so some of what she felt at school was a shocking to little Labaton.
She experienced antisemitism not only from some students, but also from her art teacher, who was making fun of her artwork and of Labaton herself.
“One day she made me stand on a high table in the lively art room while she ripped my clothes,” she recalls. “I then had to travel two hours on two buses to get home with my torn dress flapping around my feet.” Labaton was only was 12 years old. Now she says that experience made her stronger.
At age of almost 18, she left England and went alone to study French in Paris. But as she arrived in France, art won over studies immediately.
“I was hooked by the art world.”
Instead of studying the language, she started her own approach to art education.
“I ditched all regular studies and educated myself by asking students from the Ecole de Beaux Arts to let me hang around their studios.”
She offered to clean up their brushes and workspaces in exchange for them letting her observe their various creative methods. She just sat and watched them and learned about art. Soon she decided to focus only on art.
After Paris, still in her 20s, she continued her unconventional art education in London and Montreal, where she started to exhibit her own art. She exhibited in UK, New York, Montreal and Paris. For some time she worked also as an haute couture clothes designer, but that is behind her. Today she says, “I am an artist and my art is more important than I am.”
Labaton traveled around the world until 1982, when she made aliyah (“I always knew I have to come to Israel”) and settled in Jerusalem. There, introduced by her friends, she met her future husband Luis, who had moved here from Argentina a few years earlier. They have three children: 31-year-old Avigail and 28-year-old twins, Gavriel and Carolina. Two of the kids are lawyers and one is studying law.
And she has an adorable 14-year-old dog named Miel.
Labaton admits that she created her little British world over here in her home and art studio in the German Colony. After all those years, English, not Hebrew is still the language in which she thinks. She loves atmosphere of Jerusalem, despite not being connected to the religious aspects of the city at all. But, even more, she loves the isolated reality she has created that lets her progress on her art journey. 
Labaton was always influenced by the movement, dance and Russian ballet. Those were the inspirations for her art in the early years. At the beginning she created only in black and white because, as she says, she was afraid of colors for many years, but that has changed with time.
“After I settled in Jerusalem and my children were not so little any more, I went back full time to art and then everything became very complicated.” Complicated in her artistic path, she explains. Slowly she started to incorporate colors.
“Suddenly my art became very colorful.”
To Labaton, not only the result is important, but also the creative process. She documents creative stages of this process in her videos and photos. “I am obsessed with my work,” she says. Her obsession and fascination is also about butterflies and moths. She finds them beautiful and fragile.
In “Obsession,” the exhibition in Tel Aviv, we will see thousands of butterflies in her chairs; she painted separately over many hours and days. Labaton describes her creative process as giving birth – often painful, but in the end beautiful. She compares her “Obsession” to a phoenix and ashes.
“Deconstruction and resurrection, fire and ashes, reinvent, recycle, resurrect. All these concepts became the intellectual fabric of the work,” explains Labaton. “So fire born of the ashes of my own doubt and turmoil became a search of the color of shadows.”
Fascinated by the power of fire, nowadays she uses very strong orange-red and gray. But she also stays faithful to the white, characteristic for the first artistic period, representing pureness. 
Jane Labaton, in 2020, is definitely not a black-and-white person, and moving to Israel, she surely added color to the local artistic scene. After years here of keeping her art to herself and close friends, with the coming exhibition she is opening her art to the world, and maybe letting it fly like her favorite fragile butterflies.
For more information on the exhibition:

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