Inside the Artist's Studio

An intimate look into the working practices of local artist Rachel Wiley-Janota

By Donna Gable Hatch
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The work of Galveston artist Rachel Wiley-Janota, who is renowned for her mastery in producing mixed-media paintings, canvas giclée prints, and photography, is featured at this month’s ArtWalk at René Wiley Gallery. The free self-guided event, which is Saturday, October 7, spotlights Galveston’s downtown art galleries, studios, and exhibits within Galveston's historic district. 

 “I love to use all kinds of media and paint, and to experiment with endless combinations of them, drives my enthusiasm for the work. I’m attracted to both intuitive and analytical decision making in my art-making process, and I try to let the energy and evidence of both remain in my finished works,” said Wiley-Janota, who now resides in rural Galveston County with her husband, a Texas Park Ranger, and their two young boys. 

 “In most of my work, I combine representational forms with a sensitivity to subtle color and texture. I embrace both spontaneity and discipline in my process for photographs and paintings.”

 A true nomad of creative expression, her latest exhibit is titled, “Western Horizons” and is born from a recent sojourn from Texas to Oregon.

 “This new body of work includes subjects much farther west than I usually paint. I have taken thousands of photographs on this last trip that will be the basis of my new paintings. I usually focus on deserted, vernacular subjects under the vastness of the sky, but this trip had so many stops and therefore so many different kinds of subjects and layers. It was such a treat to capture it all from the road.” 

 A captivating blend of painting and photography, her work beautifully bridges the realms of parenthood and creativity. 

 She roams the landscape, often with her family in tow, with an unwavering commitment to capturing life's fleeting moments through her lens, carrying a camera as a constant companion.

 “My husband drives almost the entire time on these trips, so I can photograph even while we drive. This is such a thrill and luxury for me. I am very grateful for him.” 

 One will always find at least one notebook and graphite pencils in her backpack so she’s ready to sketch her observations at any given moment. 

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 “My studio is everywhere; I bring it with me. My home studio, where I am so lucky to have great indoor and outdoor spaces, is always a mess. There are so many layers of projects and paintings,” she said, adding that her sons have their own area within her studio where they can work as well. 

 “I don’t keep things neat and tidy. That is very much like me--mostly chaos and creativity. I’m not into order. I just clean up for art openings.” 

 Her artistic arsenal is as diverse as her experiences. She deftly navigates a range of mediums, from the delicate strokes of watercolors and inks to the bold textures of acrylics and oils. Unconventional in her approach, she sometimes incorporates beeswax, encaustic, and gold leaf into her pieces, lending them an otherworldly luminance. 

 Her choice of canvases is equally eclectic, switching between watercolor papers, hardwood boards, and canvases with ease. Her tools are her instruments of alchemy: putty knives, paper towels, wash brushes, spray bottles with water or alcohol, and, on occasion, a hot plate, sandpaper, or even a blow torch to coax her visions into existence. Through her artistic adventures, she transforms ordinary moments into extraordinary works of art, a true testament to her boundless creativity and adventurous spirit. 

 “I grew up in the piney woods of East Texas but was always making trips to lakes, hunting properties or the ocean with my dad, or traveling to study art and history in Europe, the Southwest, and Mexico with my mom,” said Wiley-Janota. 

 She is one of three artistic sisters: Samantha Wiley, who works in commission oil portraits and photography; and Sarah (Wiley) Thomas, a portrait photographer and realist oil painter. 

 Her parents, Ben Wiley, a passionate outdoors enthusiast, and René Wiley, a renowned and highly esteemed Galveston artist, are the proprietors of the René Wiley Gallery situated in the charming historic district of Galveston Island. 

 Her grandparents, the late Janet Clugston-Ressling, a talented artist, and Dr. Richard C. Ressling, an accomplished orthodontist, were well-traveled individuals, and their family frequently joined them on global journeys.

 “Getting up early to go fishing, hunting, or traveling are some of my favorite childhood memories, and it has had a profound effect on me. I’m always chasing the sky or relics or treasure of some kind, by car or by kayak.” 

 Her knack for crafting art in unconventional settings infuses her work with a sense of urgency, encapsulating her emotions and the atmosphere of the moment. 

 For her, art is a way of documenting and celebrating these small joys, a way to be mindful of the moment and find beauty even in the midst of life's stresses and frustrations. 

 “When my boys were small, and they’d fall asleep in their car seat. I’d drive onto the beach at East Beach or Jamaica Beach and just sit in my car and paint the landscape, sand, waves, and sky from there,” she said.

 “I have a whole mobile studio in my car that I’ve had for many years. We all paint together in the car sometimes now, when it’s too cold or the wind is too strong. Being able to just stop and paint is one of my favorite things to do. The back of my van has room for everything and even shade from the sun, so I position myself to paint with it or have a fishing buggy to haul my painting supplies a short distance.” 

 Placeholder imageShe believes in harnessing and manifesting joy while creating and sharing her art in galleries. 

 “This year, we drove back from Oregon to Texas together and spent days on the road in the desert towns of Nevada and New Mexico. This new show of mixed media paintings celebrates the sky over the places that renew the spirit for me and many others,” she said.

 “The open skies are painted from deserts and deserted coastlines, combining vintage aesthetics of lost motels and forgotten places, while viewed from the roads connecting them. The new works have a dreamlike quality to them, blending together like memories from time on the road.” 

 Since returning, she’s been focusing on a project in her studio where she explores the creation of paint using rocks she and her family gathered from their travels. Wiley-Janota meticulously grinds these collected rocks into fine powders, each carrying the essence of the landscapes she traversed.

 She blends these pigments with carefully selected binders, breathing life into homemade paints that encapsulate the beauty and mystique of her cross-country odyssey, ready to adorn her canvases with the essence of her travels.

 “I usually paint these places, but now I’m going to make paintings with that paint that contains elements of those places. It's been very rewarding so far and I hope to continue working towards a body of work of it.” 

 In the creation of her work, she employs Polaroids, which encompass a sense of nostalgia, dreaminess, and tangible remembrances all rolled into one. The artist's fascination lies in the nostalgic aspects of childhood recollections, as well as the lives of her forebears, spanning generations. 

 These reminiscences often resemble memories or dreams, even though she wasn't physically present. Yet, she maintains a profound connection to them through the medium of photography. 

 Her passion extends to narratives crafted by songwriters, filmmakers, and poets - anything that intricately captures a specific moment in time or an entire era. This passion offers a form of fantasy or an avenue for escapism, akin to the enchantment a remarkable film can provide. 

 She revels in the fusion of time, memory, and reality, artfully infusing vintage aesthetics, including dilapidated motels, weathered storms, and forsaken locales, into her work. 

 “I think it's the two sides of myself that find comfort in this imagery. I love the imagined stories, both fiction and journals, of people who really did spend time on the road,” she said. 

 “I don’t like feeling stuck in one place and want to feel the freedom of seeing new things and meeting new people while traveling and being on the road. I’m always kind of treasure hunting.”

 She firmly holds a distaste for routine, finding excessive repetition and predictability unbearably dull. Nevertheless, she nurtures a profound affection and an innate yearning for the comforting and familiar atmosphere of her home. 

 Each morning, she longs for the soothing warmth and the meticulous routine of preparing her coffee just the way she likes it, complete with the perfect foam in her cherished cup. She takes pleasure in waking up gradually to the sounds of the world beyond her window, whether it's the gentle rustling of her garden or the tranquil presence of nearby water. 

 Placeholder imageHer heart is deeply rooted in her abode, a treasure trove of eclectic discoveries - fabrics, books, photographs, rocks, artwork, bones, and a variety of materials.

 “I’m a nurturer, a mother, a lover, a loner. But also, a bit too impulsive, extremely nostalgic, and quite often feel the weight of the sadness of the world. I can feel great joy and great sadness at the same time,” she said.

 “My dueling sides are always battling for peace within me. I struggle with these things daily and creating really helps me work through them. I want to be the best mother to my children, but I also want to be true to myself and my interests in things outside of being brought down with the hardships and stresses of our day-to-day lives.” 

 Her goal as an artist, regardless of the medium, is to uncover and present fresh perspectives on the often-unnoticed aspects of our daily existence, emphasizing the enchantment within the ordinary and even the mundane.

 “I'm attempting to thoughtfully see, create, and share as much as possible in the short life that I’ve been given, and I aspire to reflect the sincerity of all of these interests in my diverse body of work,” Wiley-Janota said. 

 Her creations frequently contain multiple narratives, some that the artist has deliberately crafted and anticipated, while others remain as uncharted links waiting to be unearthed by those who encounter them. 

 “I’ve intended for my works to somehow be both intimate and universal in this way. Hopefully, my work can offer an escape from our fast-moving world, a still moment of connection, to both our human history and to the natural world that surrounds us.” 

 She considers herself lucky to reside along the Texas coastline, where she can experience the ever-shifting weather, dynamic cloud formations, and the diverse palette of colors that gracefully move or sweep across the cherished landscape she adores.

 “I love finding labyrinths in the sand at the beach lately, and knowing there are women having full moon ceremonies at night and building them there to celebrate,” she said, adding that life, with its moments of heartbreak and unbridled joy, is akin to living along the coast, which delivers both breathtaking natural beauty and the ever-present threat of relentless tides and hurricanes on the horizon. 

 “To live at the edge of the sea and enjoy its many treasures is a borrowed gift - tragedy and destruction are always close. I never forget this delicate balance, and I am so grateful for where I get to create every day,” she said. 

 Nonetheless, the call of wanderlust persists, urging her to set forth once more in pursuit of new adventures. 

 “It is very important to me to create as therapy for myself and to be a source of beauty and joy for others in pain. To be able to work through the difficulties and pain in life is the goal,” she said. 

 “I must paint, I must go out and seek the sky and the treasures of the sea and those desert roads, transforming pain into beauty - because that is the magic of paint and how I measure my success as a painter.” Rachel’s works can be found at René Wiley Studio & Gallery, 2128 Postoffice Street in downtown Galveston. For more on Rachel visit