Janet McKenzie was born in eastern Victoria, Australia and studied at the Australian National University (History of Art/Philosophy) and the Canberra School of Art (etching). She taught at the Canberra School of Art, the Victorian College of the Arts and the City Art Institute, Sydney (now College of Fine Art, UNSW) designed and exhibited handmade clothing and published: Drawing in Australia, Contemporary Images and Ideas, (1986) and Noel Counihan (1986).
In 1986 Janet McKenzie married the architect Michael Spens and moved to Scotland the following year where she settled permanently. Whilst raising a family her studio practice was primarily painting; Wormiston Wood on Fife Ness and the Isle of Skye and Tuscany, Italy were her main sources of inspiration. She continued writing and publishing and completed her Doctorate at the University of St Andrews on The Art of Arthur Boyd, under the supervision of Professor Martin Kemp, published by Thames and Hudson (2000).
Janet McKenzie co-edited Studio International with Michael Spens 2000-13. Recent work includes the major publication Contemporary Drawing Australia (2012), and Moving Beyond, Painting in China, 2013 (Nanjing) to accompany the exhibition she curated with the poets Yang Lian and Zhaoye for the Edinburgh Festival at Summerhall (29 July-16 September).
She has also embarked on Drawing on Two Worlds, a practice-led research project using collaborative drawing to explore issues of identity and dispossession in Scotland and Australia, for which she was awarded funding by Creative Scotland and Fife Council for a large-scale installation, entitled Embarkation.
She made a suite of seven chainsaw woodcuts, in January 2013, for her exhibition Embarkation: Drawing on Two Worlds at Langford 120 Gallery in Melbourne (April 2013).