Christina Jansen is the managing director of The Scottish Gallery, established in 1842 in Edinburgh. Self-driven and passionate, Christina joined the historical and contemporary art gallery in 1997 and became its managing director in 2016. Located on Edinburgh’s Dundas Street, Scotland’s oldest commercial art gallery has been acquired by its own staff through an employee ownership trust in 2019.
I had an interest in art from an early age. I had no idea what I wanted to do but had a pretty clear idea about what I didn’t want to do: something boring. I wasn’t particularly academic, so my route to the arts was a long journey. I have a degree in Industrial Design, which was an excellent grounding in problem-solving and invention. However, I didn’t want to work in the industry. After graduating, I took off to London to gain experience in the arts (Crafts Council, V&A, The Tate, Christie’s), before doing a post-grad studying the Decorative Arts at the University of Glasgow. By this time, I was a little bit more mature and very focused. I was recommended to The Scottish Gallery, and ever since it has been a constant source of inspiration and definitely never boring.
I feel lucky to work in a creative industry. It’s rewarding, demanding and memorable – every day. I meet talented artists, interesting clients and a whole satellite of organisations and individuals who all benefit from or work with the arts. The gallery was transferred to employee-ownership in 2019, which also feels like a huge accomplishment.
The best way to connect with and experience art is in person. We can turn somersaults online and apply new technologies to improve the remote viewing experience, but there is nothing like experiencing art in person. However you measure art, it’s an emotional and personal response. The UK has one of the finest public art collections in the world, available to everyone with new technologies, so there is almost no barrier to engaging with and appreciating art.
I own artwork. I’d be a complete phoney otherwise! I have a wide, eclectic and ever-changing taste for art. Thank goodness! I love prints, paintings, pots and books. I don’t covet any major work of art. I like visiting art galleries instead. I like the atmosphere and that there’s always something new to discover and learn. I can’t wait until the galleries can reopen!
I admire the work of the American visual artist, Alice Neel. I discovered her work by chance at the Talbot Rice Gallery one afternoon and was blown away. She had painted her entire life: the people, the poets, the poverty and, by accident, a near-century of social upheaval and insights. I was really touched by her work, and that she never gave up on art despite only gaining acknowledgement later in life.
I also have a soft spot for Pat Douthwaite – a non-conformist and outsider artist with an uncompromising, outstanding imagination and vision. The only constant in life was her art.
The Scottish Gallery represented Joan Eardley during her lifetime, and we are working on her Centenary this year. It is a privilege to engage with her work and an honour to continue to champion her enduring talent.
Like Van Gogh, mental health issues are part of her art. With Pat, it’s necessary to make the audience aware that she wasn’t an easy individual. She was uncompromising and did not subscribe to feminism or any other label.
Pat Douthwaite was a trailblazer, at great personal cost. She led a dramatic, bohemian and often destructive lifestyle, but she was at her most happy when she was making art or with her animals. Pat was an incredibly complex artist, and her mental health issues are part of her expression and struggle.
As a society, we are only beginning to understand and acknowledge mental health issues. The Scottish Gallery is currently in the process of donating some of her correspondence to the National Gallery (Scotland) – so that future generations can study and understand this unusual artist.
The art world at the top level is still male dominated, with many talented women waiting in the wings in crucial support roles. I have been blessed with positive male and female role models and colleagues, and I am grateful for their encouragement.
It’s not conscious. Artists are offered exhibitions based on their work, irrespective of gender. I’m proud that The Scottish Gallery has given numerous Edinburgh Festival shows to artists who happened to be women. People notice what we do and who we represent, and we have had a very positive influence on the art market in that regard.
The numbers speak for themselves. Public art collection holdings are currently around 10:1 male to female. Women are not a minority, and women have always made art, so this disparity is driving a lot of gender-specific exhibitions and art fairs. Most women don’t want to be part of women exhibitions, but until public collections are more gender-balanced, the issue will persist. Public art collections need to catch up with the elastic art market – where anything goes.
This year marks 50 years since Linda Nochlin’s seminal essay Why have there been no great women artists? Why were her findings largely ignored by the art world?