Artwork by Jane Tully Heath
Born in Northern England, Jane Heath received her formal art training at the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts from 1932 to 1937, winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art and Crafts. She married Jack Heath in 1941, and they immigrated to South Africa in 1946, where Jack took up a teaching post at Rhodes University. Jane followed in her husband’s footsteps when she started teaching at the Port Elizabeth Technical College in 1947, where she stayed for five years.
She then taught at the Pietermaritzburg Technical College for a year, before being appointed as Fine Art lecturer at the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal in 1953. She was active as an artist and teacher in Pietermaritzburg for forty-two years, and though she produced a substantial body of work in a variety of media, she never pursued public attention.
As a student, Jane was surrounded by the English artistic heritage, the prevailing artistic climate inspired by a number of great artists such as Sir Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash, many of whom she met. These influences, together with her classical training, had a great impact during her formative years, influencing her style and approach to painting. She was, however, an individualist, and did not succumb to popular taste, also described by Burnett as a contemplative painter engaged with formal visual language […] more interested in pictorial poetry than illustrational preaching . Extracts from The Art of Jane Tully Heath (her identity as an artist and factors, including her training and teaching approach, which informed it by Barbara. S Burnett: Landscape painting forms an important part of the English tradition, reaching great heights in the romantic landscapes of Constable and Turner. Landscape painting has come under scrutiny for its hidden ideological meanings. […] Heath did not involve herself with these matters in her art and did not identify with Walter Battiss’ and Alexis Preller’s “Spirit of Africa”, the New Group, Resistance Art or Township art. Heath used abstraction selectively throughout her work. She saw fit to observe the world around her, and then to alter colour, tone, pattern and form in the interests of the painting she was making. […] In a cubist manner reminiscent of the works of Picasso, Braque and Robert Delaunay, imposing geometrical curves and lines and simplifying the colours as dictated by the picture. In her notes, she quotes Pablo Picasso: “There is no abstract art – you always begin with something” . The landscape paintings focus on the land, not the sky, the concrete, not the ephemeral. These features underline the traditional character of Heath’s work and her straightforward, direct approach to her subject. It is remarkable that, within these limitations, Heath was nonetheless able to produce works which testify at once to her high standards of craftsmanship and to her imaginative way of transforming the subject matter into works which are diverse in character .