In the moment: Janet Taylor Pickett lights up Morristown’s ‘Art in the Atrium’ show
By Kevin Coughlin
Janet Taylor Pickett’s 60th birthday prompted her to reflect on her mortality, and on her artistic legacy.
The results of this introspection are on display at Art in the Atrium, where she is the featured artist.
It’s an inspired choice for a coming-of-age party: This Morristown showcase of African American artists is celebrating its 21st year, and Janet’s message brims with vitality and the joy of new beginnings.
“The plan you have for yourself has nothing to do with the plan God has for you,” she told guests at Friday’s reception. “It’s never what you expect. Be in the moment, and be happy!”
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The exhibition runs through March 8, 2013, at the Atrium Gallery, in the Morris County Administration and Records Building at 10 Court St. Paintings, sculptures and quilts by more than 30 artists fill four floors in what has become the East Coast’s largest display of African American art.
Janet’s colorful paintings and dress designs set the tone. Many of her colors scream “California!,” which is where she moved about 18 months ago, after a long career teaching at Essex County Community College.
“The light in California is amazing. They call it LaLa Land because it is another world. There’s a clarity of light,” she said.
Janet’s art has given her clarity about immortality. It’s not in the future. It’s right now.
“Being in the moment…it’s being in this now, because that’s the only moment we really have, is the now,” said the Michigan native. “And when you’re creating–think about yourself when you’re listening to music, or you’ve read a poem, or you’re with someone you really care about. You’re there, you feel it, it’s wonderful. And that’s what being in the moment, and creativity, is. You lose time.”
Viki Craig, co-founder of Art in the Atrium, is partial to one of Janet’s pre-LaLa Land creations, Hagar’s Dress, a somber piece symbolizing the Middle Passage– the shipment of slaves from Africa to the New World.
“I selected this as my favorite work because this is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and I think it’s important that we remember that, and we celebrate the fact that we’re 150 years later, doing a lot of different things and contributing to the fabric and the culture of the United States of America,” Viki said.
Art in the Atrium began as a Black History Month art show; Viki envisions a series of workshops to make African American artists accessible to the community year-round.
Janet, who was educated at the University of Michigan, the Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Vermont Studio School, has been involved with Art in the Atrium from its start.
“If you ask me why do we have to have a venue that shows African American art, well, it’s not really always a [level] playing field when it comes to visual arts. And artists need a place to share their work. You don’t create in a vacuum. You want people to look at your work. Performers have that. Musicians have that, and actors. The visual artist needs a forum. And I think Art in the Atrium is very important for that, and for the support of the arts.”
At Friday’s reception, Janet applauded her fellow black artists for persevering.
“There’s a journey in this art,” she told visitors. “Even if you say, ‘I could have done that’ — you didn’t! The artist did. They took that leap of faith.”
For Janet, there was no choice in the matter. She makes art because “I have to. It’s like breathing.”
Her advice to aspiring artists applies to creative people of all colors:
“Believe in yourself and believe in what you do. Because if you don’t, no one else is.”