Jane Phillips 1957-2011
Swansea’s declining city dockland, before its redevelopment as the new maritime quarter, was, like other similar sites in early post-industrial Britain, the birthplace of a thriving artistic community that took creative advantage of the cheap rents and the spatial opportunities that its many empty buildings offered the budding artist and maker.
By itself the potential of these places would have amounted to very little without the dedication, commitment and vision of an exceptional group of people. Prominent among those who propelled, not just this area, but, eventually, the whole of Swansea and beyond, into a future where the visual arts were paramount in the remaking of its cultural vitality was the artist and gallery director, Jane Phillips, whose death on 6th February 2011 was deeply mourned by her family, her partner and many friends and colleagues in the art world.
Jane was born and raised in Swansea, spent a short period as a child in Bristol, before returning to the city and attending Bishop Gore School. Jane completed a Foundation year at the Swansea College of Art in 1976, followed by a BA Honours in Fine Art Painting at Central school, London, which she was awarded in 1979.
It was during her final years as a student that she began to volunteer in the Swansea Arts Workshop and its adjacent gallery, which still required a great deal of physical work in its refurbishment, and at which Jane was particularly accomplished. This would later become the Mission Gallery, of which she became the highly distinguished and much respected, first director in 2003.
In the years prior to this appointment she worked in Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Gallery, beginning as Senior Technician in 1984, and becoming Exhibitions Officer in 1991. During this period she continued to work as a volunteer in the Mission Gallery, demonstrating her belief in the redemptive power of the visual arts as she created what was to become one of the Gallery’s chief priorities, a public platform for the encouragement and development of new artistic talent. She recognised the potential of young artists and makers and organised many seminal exhibitions, establishing the reputations of artists who now have an important place in the visual arts, as well as developing extensive cultural links across Wales, the United Kingdom and Europe. It was as a result of Jane’s foresight, that Tim Davies, who will represent Wales in this year’s Venice Biennale, had his first one-man show, after returning to Wales, at the Mission Gallery, and many others, and not simply artists acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude to her for her prescience and her faith in their abilities.
An artist herself, an example of her work can be seen at Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Gallery. Purchased for their collection in 1986, ‘Hurricane Charlie’ is described by Curator Jenni Spencer Davies as, ‘a very fine tribute in remembrance of her creativity and her very colourful life’.
Jane’s chief interests outside the arts were her family, gardening, contemporary music, politics and people while from childhood she developed a taste for the active outdoor life, particularly enjoying horse riding, walking and skiing. Interestingly, one of Jane’s outstanding contributions to the cultural life of Wales is seen in the continuing role that volunteers play in the running of the gallery. Art students and others, encouraged by Jane’s enthusiasm have become closely connected with the gallery and are given the chance to develop their interest in the visual arts by their involvement with the exhibition programme.
Jane will be remembered for her energy, indomitable spirit, courage and her firmly held beliefs and although the gallery is the physical memorial of an extraordinary person, Jane’s lasting legacy is much more than the gallery itself. Important though that is, she will forever be remembered by the fruits of her deeply held philosophy of encouraging and mentoring the creative potential of the young people who now continue and honour her life’s work.
Osi Rhys Osmond, March 2011