War and folklore inspire artist Jane Lee McCracken. She tells Tamzin Lewis about her intricate Biro art.
THE first thing you notice about Jane Lee McCracken’s exhibition is the traditional wooden bed frame. Jane inherited it from her beloved grandmother and as it is currently on show, she, her husband and her wolf dog Lily are sleeping on an air-bed.
So why is the bed in the Customs House Gallery? Well, it makes perfect sense for a show called The Woodcutter’s Cottage, inspired by fairytales, forests and wolves.
Jane, who lives in South Shields, says: “I think fairytales were warnings to children about the brutality of life. Stories were explanations for things which people didn’t have scientific reasons for. They can be exceptionally brutal – like life is. But they can also be very beautiful. I hope to create images which are beautiful but which underneath reveal brutality. I like juxtaposing hope and beauty with darker forces.”
For this exhibition of work made since 2008, Jane wanted to create the imaginary world of an isolated fairytale woodcutter. His interests, like Jane’s, are stories, animals, nature and war.
She says: “I tried to imagine myself as a woodcutter living as a recluse on the periphery of Europe’s forests. He gets his perspective from TV and film. I imagine him sitting in his cottage at night making, for example, the quilt on the bed.”
As a child growing up in Edinburgh, Jane adored books and fairy stories and remembers shutting herself away with pens and paper and telling stories to animals.
She also became obsessed with travelling, as her father’s job with a pharmaceutical company involved regular trips aboard. He would always send Jane postcards and return with gifts such as Russian dolls and Swiss cuckoo clocks.
“As a wee girl, my father travelling to far-off countries really fired my imagination,” says Jane, 44. “My father was very interested in wildlife and that rubbed off on me too: I have a great love of animals. He had served in the RAF and liked to watch war films. For me it was great to sit and watch films with Daddy.”
Jane studied graphic design at the University of Humberside and freelanced as an illustrator before realising she wanted artistic freedom.
“I took a gamble and decided to give up illustration. I experimented with my work which took the best part of 10 years. During this period, I took shift work jobs so I could have plenty of time to fit in my art.”