JANET LAING, Untitled, 2015, Oil on canvas 18

JANET LAING, Untitled, 2015, Oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ (round)   Photo: Bianca Sforni
Courtesy of 137ac

Artist Statement


 “I have been painting for 13 years—ever since I first got sober at 49, and began art therapy groups. Painting is healing and therapeutic for me, it frees my mind of clutter so I can concentrate on what is in front of me. 

I love art because it is such a great tool for self-expression. Both singing and painting are my fortes because through these vehicles I find my inner voice. 

There is something magical about capturing a sound, a color, and the vibrancy of telling a story. It also makes me only too aware of how I must evolve, stretching beyond my comfort zone, taking some risks so that my personal truth can come to light. 

Lately I have been painting in oil on canvas and giving myself themes: People and Pets; Kissing Couples; and Waterfalls.”

TIME HAS A WAY OF BEING FEMALE     I was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and raised in a working class family attending schools in Covina and West Covina.  I knew I wanted to be a professional singer by the age of eight, but was never encouraged in this or any other art form.  In my twenties I did a lot of different jobs, but mostly worked as a legal secretary because my typing was fast.  When I found out my mother died at 38 from Huntington’s Disease, and  I had a 50/50 chance of inheriting the gene, I decided I better work at what I love, singing.

That is when I moved to New York City and sang with the Funktionaries. Later I formed my own female band, Wanda and The Way It Is.  I sang, wrote songs and breezed past my late thirties and forties without getting HD but my two brothers were not so lucky. They both passed away. Me, I was living the fast, wild and wooly lifestyle of an entertainer. It didn’t take long before I was a full-fledged alcoholic.

Recovery brought me to my knees and then my senses were awakened in art, music and writing. I became prolific in all three and recaptured my long lost soul.  My spirit had been pushed down all my life because it was impractical to be an artist. Now I am thriving in all art’s glory. Thanks to Annatina Miescher, founder of 137ac, I have a studio with supplies to paint in and get to work with like-minded people who love to paint. Our collective is innovative and challenging and we are blessed to have each other to inspire. My band, Wanda and The Way It Is, has come full circle as well.


“When we look at the blue sky for the first time, that is to say not merely see it, but look at it and experience it and for the first time have a sense that we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there — few people realize that they are looking at the world of their own thoughts and the world of their own feelings.

On that occasion, the blue sky is a particular of life that we have thought of often, even though unconsciously, and that we have felt intensely in those crystallizations of freshness that we no more remember than we remember this or that gust of wind in spring or autumn.” (Wallace Stevens)


JANET LAING, Swimmers, 2014, oil on canvas  24

JANET LAING, Swimmers, 2014, oil on canvas 24″ x 18″       Photo: Bianca Sforni
Courtesy of 137ac



What’s in front of her, in front of us all, is the most malleable scene. Only the mood, and the way we step into the new day will tell if the beach, or the towers downtown are easy or impossible to reach. Los Angeles is in my mind, the place where Jane Laing came from and where I live; a non geographical spreading of trees houses water and sky so expanded and intertwined with different languages and communities that nobody thinks of human nature as something interesting. Human nature is just a drop in the water.

So I’m not sure what disconnected Janet from her nature nailing her fast fingers to a typewriter except the idea maybe that humans are good when they make money and compete with machines. A very diffused feeling around parents of young people of her generation, also in Europe, a sort of after war syndrome. “Tears are not the chorus. Food is not the chorus. Money is not the chorus. What is the chorus. … Anyway there is the question of identity.” (Gertrude Stein) And that also has to do with the cat.

Jane built her living space despite the broken glass around her, perhaps a broken sky. Her cat recognizes her. In the end she became an artist.

Her painted stories are songs of separation: she paints a life pushed down to earth, rocks or asphalt. There is no open sky, no sky at all. Buildings and roads as brown as dirt. They are scenes of movement. Flatness liberates them from realism. Painted life is not reproduced life. It’s her dream of a living place charged with physical energy: human bodies float rather than swim in the ocean because the water does the work after swallowing green and blue and azure and pale blue and she can tell the humans “you know? I don’t care. I’m the strong one.”

JANET LAING, Waterfall, 2014 (?)  oil on canvas Courtesy of 137ac

JANET LAING, Waterfall, 2014,  oil on canvas
Courtesy of 137ac

The painter as well found her voice as if crystals of freshness exploded in her mind, as if she had seen the sky melting in waterfalls so the rocks can wear a liquid dress that constantly changes, at the same time sounding like an orchestra for the invisible birds hidden in the green. Of course, somewhere, there is always a cat.

JANET LAING, Caramela and the Birds, 2014, Oil on canvas  18

JANET LAING, Caramela and the Birds, 2014, Oil on canvas 18″ x 20″
Courtesy of 137ac

Her painted cats are bodies of tense muscles, concentrated: “Shall I jump from the window? mmm… Maybe the birds are too distant.” But a crazy desire spreads from the eye in yellow, follows the birds, becomes a yellow stream from a window… and the azure surrounding the cat like a river, whatever, why should words count?

JANE LAING, Portrait of Jonathan, 2013, Oil on canvas, 18

JANE LAING, Portrait of Jonathan, 2013, Oil on canvas, 18″ x 24″
Courtesy of 137ac

That’s why I love Jane Laing’s portraits. They are silent. Although they happen to be in a particular place, the person’s outline is surrounded by a white halo, maybe a reflection of her/his/whose mind which travels elsewhere, and doesn’t stay inside.

JANET LAING, bicker chicks, 2013, Oil on canvas, 23.5

JANET LAING, bicker chicks, 2013, Oil on canvas, 23.5″ x 31″
Courtesy of 137ac

Let’s go, let’s go girls, springtime is calling. Musicians are ready. “Azure, the afternoon is too azure and too long for me. I might take the train and come to see you. But, the train of my desires and the one of my thoughts go in opposite directions.” What about a lemon ice-cream? “Azzurro, il pomeriggio è troppo azzurro e lungo per me. Quasi quasi prendo il treno e vengo da te. Ma il treno dei desideri e dei pensieri all’incontrario van.” From Azzurro, a song by Paolo Conte.


The home of Raw Art — 137 ac (artist collective)

PARIS 1947         NEW YORK 2011

A full day of snow in New York was enchanting enough, like an invitation to silence the tricks of the mind with a white curtain over the pupils. For the opening of an art brut exhibition, American and contemporary, it was a good omen. I’m not reviewing the exhibition. This is a story of friendship, hope and despair bringing up, despite sixty years of distance and different countries, the same wish for freedom and authenticity in art expressed by The Company of Raw Art in Paris in 1947. Ideas and projects came from Jean Dubuffet, Jean Paulhan, Charles Ratton, Henri-Pierre Roché, and Michel Tapié:

“We are seeking artistic works such as paintings, drawings, statues and statuettes, all types of objects owing nothing to the imitation of works of art seen in museums, salons and galleries. They should put originality to use, along with the most spontaneous and personal inventions, they should be productions which the creator drew from deep within, the result of his [her] own inclination and moods, […] regardless of the conventions currently in use. Works without masks or contraints. We believe these abilities exist (at least at times) in every man [and woman].”

Bianca Sforni, Annatina Miescher, and Jonathan McVey, others around them, are first of all connected by friendship. And one idea lives in their minds: there is no such thing as outsider art. There are artists. Some of them were treasure islands found over decades of psychiatric practice by Dr. Annatina Miescher: they were self taught, sometimes in a strong conflict with life. In 2011, after twenty years as a director of the Outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of the Bellevue Hospital in New York, Dr. Miescher invited them to be part of the 137ac (artist collective) and share a studio. Some of their works were hung on the walls of Bianca Sforni’s Noho studio on March 5th for an exhibition blessed by the snow. Bianca, or you could call her White, is a belated gift I received from Claudia, a friend for all her life, after she passed away. She was Bianca’s gallerist in Milan. I met Bianca in New York and we ate and ate remembering Claudia who used to love a great deal of good food. What’s stronger than friendship?

Here’s the story, written by Annatina doctor, with images of the 137ac studio first and of her Bellevue Hospital office between words.




137ac (artist collective) by Annatina Miescher

The 429.8 square feet studio is on the third floor of 137 West 14th Street in New York City. Four artist work there sharing all supplies. Kenny Guttierrez, the landlord, offered them a space in the building where he is creating a community he named Rat Park. He thought they would bring good karma. My parents pay the rent. I clean and help stretch canvas. Jonathan McVey made me stick to my dream and became my associate. We created a non-profit building support for the collective. We have no written contract with the painters, they have it clear: the studio air is tolerance, care and respect while they inspire and challenge each other to explore and develop their talent to the fullest. They have their own keys.

The four artists currently working at the studio are Paula Isaac, Janet Laing, Richard Lau and Uman while the collective counts several more. Painting need or desire and life circumstances do not always go hand in hand and the studio is small. Each artist has an extraordinary life course and could write a tremendous book, but they do not write, they paint. I hope you get to know them.

Now the dream. Mid 2010 I ended my over two decades career in Bellevue Hospital in order to continue practicing psychiatry based on my experience and ethical values outside of an institution in which the bureaucratic constraints had suddenly risen above the patient care. My time at Bellevue had been wonderful, I was the director of the Outpatient Chemical Dependency Program and together with the dedicated staff and patients was able to build a wholesome community for people to practice sober life in a fun loving oasis that included art, food, patient government and economy, pets and gardening integrated with first class medical and psychiatric treatments. My office was an art collection of patient works mixed with found objects and found animals. A timber wolf, a one eyed black cat called Six Toes, a pigeon, a pair of gay doves and three cockatiels roamed free in my office. Art has always been a way of life for me and I apply it to everything. “Practicing psychiatry is like making sculptures with found objects, you take inventory of what the person carries and help them balance it to walk on in life.” One day an Art Brut authority visited my office and was impressed by the art. His words still resonate in my heart: “you have to make them paint”, while his name faded. 

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018_6Aannatina & birds


So I had a dream debt: to see what the talented people I had met there could do if given the opportunity. This opportunity arrived in December 2011. I was introduced to Bjarne Melgaard who was looking for a source of painters to collaborate with. He offered to share his personal studio in Bushwick with painters without formal art education or contact with the contemporary art world. I brought eleven artists and became myself part of the group.

Bjarne was an exceptional host, he made it a point to not interfere with our work and gave us unlimited access to art supplies. We understood he was looking for authenticity. Then he offered us his own painted canvas to collaborate on and asked us to do papier mâché pieces to illustrate a book we did not read.

He included our works in his show at Ramiken Crucible, Ideal Pole part two: all words destroy and brought the collaborative works and all the papier mâché works to London in September 2012, to be in his ICA show, called “a House to Die in”, our group was called the Bellevue Survivors. Our time in Melgaard’s studio came to an end.

Words of Melgaard in Opening Ceremony News News, October 2, 2013
“these people make art not as a career choice but because they needed it for survival. Their way of relating to the images and the pictures was so different from my own. It was so direct and so private and so spontaneous, all at the same time.”

We continued the group in a smaller version and adopted the name 137ac. the Bellevue Survivors name inspired people in the press to be at liberty to refer to us neither as people nor artists but “the schizophrenics”. Melgaard continued to donate supplies, and curated our first 137ac show :”Dans ma Chambre” in a pop up space in the Chelsea art Gallery district in May 2013. While we learned how to work as a collective we had another show “Artists in Resonance” at Adjacent to Life (http://adjacenttolife.tumblr.com) curated by Mark Roth in October 2013 and offered a couple of studio art fairs.

Then Bianca Sforni offered to host and curate a show “Art Brut” in her beautiful Bleecker Street Studio in March 2015. She had followed the collective since its beginnings in Melgaard’s studio. Her professionalism, dedication and care challenged us to realize we have a responsibility to take our place in the contemporary art scene.