[above: Sarah Tutt on the day of the interview with her work, (photo: H. Kurzke)]
Sarah Tutt is a visual and performance artist from Nottingham. I first encountered her large-scale asemic ink drawings, hanging on the wall of the large, open studio space at Backlit Galleries shared by recent graduates of Nottingham Trent University. This was in pandemic times, so all I could do at the time was to leave a note on her desk. We eventually managed to meet up, and I was lucky enough for her to agree to an interview. She is now coming to the end of a residency at Loughborough University and is preparing to undertake a PhD at Nottingham Trent University in October. Fort his interview she invited me to meet her in the attic gallery space of On Thoresby Street, where she was documenting and evaluating some works from her residency.
Well, let’s dive right in: Can you tell me where you come from artistically?
Originally my practice was performance. My undergrad was in Contemporary Arts at Nottingham Trent University; the course offered a combination of performance and visual art. It was truly inter-disciplinary, and that approach underpins my work to this day. After Uni, I ran or worked with several performance companies for many years.
And you were successful in your work! You won Barclays New Stages Award for Best of New British Theatre, you toured, your work was commissioned… What made you leave theatre?
I became a mother and moved to France and lived abroad for many years. Theatre is a very heavy practice: You need storerooms, you need props, you need all these kinds of things. When I moved abroad, I left all that behind. I only carried my laptop and writing became my output.
[above: PRESS series C. 2022. Artist-made paper, ink, graphite, wax, copper, marble, by: Sarah Tutt (photo: Jes Hill)]
Would you say, this performance and writing background influences the visual art that you are making now?
Yes, writing has always held a position in my practice, be it for performance, in drawing, for research or simply writing as its own art form. How it shows up can be very different, sometimes it might be in the choreography of the hand in mark making, which is very similar to writing. Sometimes it might be that I’m using language in order to generate practice.
My art making is process lead, and I have a material-based practice. I go through a period of investigation where I explore what the material can do. Not in the same sense as a craftsperson might, but exploring how materials and artist might perform together. It is a process that invites failure in. It’s a feeling-out stage in which I note the gestures that are used, and then takes those gestures and make them into a formal instructions that are used to make work.
The work that you see around you now has come out of residency at Loughborough University, where I was exploring paper and making paper for the first time. And what I realised when I was working with papermaking was that the unique gesture that came out of that was “press”, which then became the formal instruction that I used to make all these works.
When I look at the artwork hung here, I see four distinct … – should I call it bodies of work?
…different forms of documentation, I would say.
Should I view these different forms of documentation together, in a sequence, or all individually?
There’s no sequence here, because often I find it useful to work on more than one thing at a time, and that’s to do with the rhythm of experimentation and the failure that comes naturally with an experimental approach.
What I do is, I go into the studio and start working, and something emerges out of a process. And by working on one piece, I can have the head space to reflect on another. Whilst making the various works of the series Press, I also worked on this very detailed piece [points to a large sheet of paper with intricate marks; photo below] over many weeks. In this way, I would be going back and forth.
[above: PRESS series C. 2022. Artist-made paper, ink, graphite, wax, copper, marble, by: Sarah Tutt (photo: Jes Hill)]
Let’s take a closer look at the sheets hung on that wall there (series Press). Do you see these drawings as the finished art? Or are they leftovers of the true art which was in the process of making?
Sometimes the process is important in exhibition. That’s when I will go into the gallery space myself and stage an intervention. But more often the exploration of a material is a private act, and what I show in a gallery are resulting documents of that. I think the tension between the absence and the presence of the artist is always there in my work.
This is why I’m interested in the unruly line. By this I mean the line that happens by chance, by misadventure or by response. It is often the unruly line that holds a document of a live process and a relationship between materials, gesture, time and repetition – the key themes I work with.
If I was to describe a main impression I have of this work, I would be talking of dots in a grid rather than lines…
These particular pieces here are all made with the gesture of press. So the mark making stems from this gesture and a line is released. The drip from that pressed dot. This is the unruly line I am searching for.
The grid comes up in my work as a way to hold something unruly. The choreographic process of repetition and order is important in my practice as is the friction between this order and chaos.
During my residency I engaged with papermaking for the first time. Papermaking is such a physical, wet and dirty process, you are constantly soaking wet, you’ve got Wellingtons on. There’s this constant wetting, drying and pressing. And so these processes got carried over into the process of drawing, with the finished drawings finally pressed in an industrial press several times.
I began to reflect on what would happen if I gave agency to the paper to dictate the surface, so instead of pressing it, I allowed the paper to dry naturally by suspension, which dictated the form of the dry paper surface, which in turn gave rise to the nature of the unruly line in the work. As I was placing the new sheets of paper to hang on these ball drying racks that you find in print workshops, I noticed what beautiful objects they are in themselves and that, when the paper was suspended in them, they acted as a kind of frame…..so, from there I developed the idea of making ball drying racks both part of the process of making and part of the made object in exhibition.
And after applying the calligraphy the papers were then dipped in paint by the look of it?
They are not dipped. Everything is made with the gesture of press. In the process of making these I spent a lot of time searching for the right medium to use with the material. And much experimentation went into the process of finding the right balance between the material, medium, tools, and gesture to use.
I made my own paper from cotton linters, and thus it has this high absorbency. The first thing I learned when applying drawing was how greedy it was compared to store bought paper. I tried many different inks and substances before I landed on a mix of wax and graphite that held and released the unruly line in harmony with the scale of the paper.
Initially, I approached the paper with larger pushed gestures, working with bigger brushes. But the work was unresolved, and I didn’t understand why until I sat back and realised that the paper already contained a strong line – that of the deckle edge. I then started to find a harmony between materials and mark.
As to the added colour, I don’t often use colour, as I’m drawn to raw and organic materials and favour the quietness found in monochrome. I had just been to see some work by Derek Sprawson, and one work in particular grabbed me. I found something in it that was both quiet and used colour, and it inspired me to investigate.
[above: WIP. 2021-2022. Artist-made paper, graphite. 135 x 110 cm by: Sarah Tutt (photo: Joe Tutt)]
This work here is very different. On first sight and from the distance, it looks almost like a city map to me. But looking from up close it looks fractal in that the drawing repeats and emphasizes the pattern and texture of the paper on a smaller scale. And the individual lines remind me of the process of hatching…
When I started to make paper, I was quickly drawn to the different personality of the paper that you can make: either incredibly fine, ethereal, flimsy material or big paper like this which is just so robust and hard and stubborn.
I thought I might work very differently with it. The bold marks I initially tried just didn’t call to me, whereas, as soon as I started to work in fine detail, it just felt right for that particular paper. The scale between surface, lines and marks became very important in this whole project.
In the way this is done here, the absent line that becomes the unruly line, the spaces in between.
Often with my practice, the particular projects I’m working on remain unfinished or unresolved. What happens is, I just move on to something else: I move between projects anyway, and it might happen that another idea starts to excite me more. And so I may go back again or not. This ties in with what you keep and what you don’t. [Remark of the author: she is referring to the outcome of continued experimentation.]
This larger work is not a work that I particularly think is finished. But it’s not calling me to make any more marks on it yet. But maybe one day I’ll come back and add to it. I don’t necessarily think it’s a resolved piece. But at this time I think it’s resolved enough.
Thank you very much for your time and patience, Sarah!
[above: PRESS 1. 2021. 33 x 22 cm. Artist-made paper, ink, graphite, wax, rust, by: Sarah Tutt (photo: the artist)]
All images were used with the kind permission of Sarah.
Amanda Watson Will is an Australian book artist who has a varied body of work, utilizing different techniques and materials for each work of art. This fresh approach to each book she produces, makes her body of work powerful and energetic.
That may seem like a contrast to her personal circumstances, as she has been diagnosed with ME/CFS, a condition that has many symptoms but which most powerfully impacts on her energy levels and ability to continue with any given activity over stretches of time.
Thanks to the wonders of video call technology, I am able to visit Amanda in her Brisbane home today, to chat about her work to date.
Hello Amanda, thank you very much for taking your time to speak with me today.
Let’s start with some biographical background. You studied Fine Art and Ceramics, is that correct?
Yes, but it wasn’t straight forward. My first career was in occupational therapy. I had to stop working, however, when I got really sick. I tried to go back into work in a graded fashion after my diagnosis of ME/CFS, but it just was too much.
I saw a potter throwing on a wheel during a demonstration, and I was immediately inspired, and I knew that this was something worth pursuing in my life.
I started with adult classes in pottery first, and through that found out there there was a program for a diploma which I then enlisted for. During that time, my interest in Fine Art awoke, and I became aware of this art/craft dilemma that hangs over ceramics. For a long time I didn’t really like the craft aspect to it. Even though I like throwing, I wouldn’t have wanted to make functional ware. I always wanted to make art.
The work I did in ceramics was mostly sculptures and installations. And when I had finished my diploma, I felt like I wanted to go on and study art in a university context. That chance came when I was accepted for a master’s program at the ceramics department at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT). That’s were I started book art. I sort of stumbled across it.
Where do you see the difference between art and craft?
I think, craft is a way to follow an honoured pathway. The traditional idea is to not bring something original to it. I, on the other hand, am interested in exploring and understanding my personal experiences through my making.
My view on crafts has changed over the years. I remember visiting the V&A in London, where you can see the highest level of craft that you can imagine. I spent the whole day there, way past the energy I really should have, but I just couldn’t drag myself away. There’s so much beauty and skill, and there’s something to be said about the fact that all these amazing objects were made by we-don’t-know-who. There’s an amazing humility about that.
Now I value that. And I realise what a gift those people have given society. It’s possibly more relatable for many people than fine art.
You said you started a master’s in pottery, and you ended up making book art. How does that go together?
Working with clay is very physical, and your work has to be fired in the kiln for at least 8 hours, sometimes longer, and you can’t just leave and go home for a while, you have to monitor it. During my time in Melbourne I found I was lacking the energy to do that.
So I decided to work with unfired clay. I almost painted with it: I added a bit of water into it, so that it stuck to the wall. The first thing I did was a figure on the wall, and then I projected a blurred picture of myself walking onto that. As the clay dries over the time of an installation, it shrinks, and eventually pulls away from the wall and falls off, and I worked with that.
This made the work very ephemeral, though, and so it needed documenting. And that’s when the book art came in. I took photos of that process and made the book “Self (states of self)”. That is a ceramic book with pages that are not bound. That came about toward the end of my master’s.
So these first books you made were a cross-over, really, between ceramics and books. But you probably wouldn’t have seen yourself as a book artist then.
No. That came a little while later with Book Art Object in 2011. After the Masters I was pretty exhausted and I knew I had to find a way to express myself, to use my creative energy that was even less physically demanding.
Sarah Bowen invited 15 artists to join her for this project. The idea was to choose a text, and each of us made a book inspired by that text in an edition large enough so that each participant could have a copy.
For this first round of book arts object, I made the work “Judy & the Jacaranda”. The project coincided with my mother’s death and that book became about my mother.
Your parents dying, … I feel this is a whole other developmental stage in your life, like becoming a parent. There are these huge mile stones that happen and really change you.
I had only made one other paper book before. But I did a lot of reading about book art and I wrote about that, about my masters and my ideas on my blog. It was a time when bloggers were very active and blogs were an incredibly rich source of information, inspiration and connection. I think that’s how Sarah found me.
I am a natural born researcher. And if I have found something that interests me, I just dive right into it. I am just fearless that way, and that’s what happened with books. It’s very lucky that I am not afraid to experiment, because I have needed to keep exploring new media in order to be able to continue making art despite my diminishing energy.
That’s one of the things that initially made me follow your blog and keeps me following your work over the years. I think it’s fascinating how you keep starting new things, especially keeping in mind your energy and time you can invest in something is limited. There is risk involved in starting something new, without knowing whether you’d ever use it. I recall seeing some interesting experiments with embroidery and scrim. – Did you ever do anything with that?
I started exploring textiles when natural dyeing was really big on the internet, maybe 5 years ago. People got some beautiful results, collecting leaves that grew locally and using their natural pigment to transfer onto the textile. But for me it didn’t work that well because I live in a subtropical area, and the trees here don’t produce the pigment needed. So I started embroidery instead.
But at the same time, I was also looking into pastels and learned to use them.
Then the last book arts object came around with the poem “Overwintering by an Australian poet, John Bennet. It raises environmental issues and the importance of keeping the breeding, feeding, and resting spaces of migratory birds intact.
So, while learning to work with pastels and embroidery, I developed some ideas for “Curlew”, my latest book. I developed a technique where I shaved the pastel to get powder, press that through a stencil, and then burnish it to make it stay. I realised that, because I can work only so many hours at a time, pursuing both pastels and fibre art was too slow. So decided to focus on pastels. But I do have some ideas for the fibres.
Which do you consider your best work and what makes it the best, what’s the criteria?
I like it when my work fulfills and expresses successfully what I wanted to convey, and I am interested in expressing emotional things. “About M.E.” is quite an emotional work, and “Judy & the Jacaranda” is…
I would go back to “Self” if I had to choose one that I think is best. There are two continuing themes that I find important and try to explore and extend each time I make work. They’re the idea of change and exploring transparency/ translucency in ways that contribute to the mood of the work.
You are diagnosed M.E./CFS. Do you consider yourself as disabled?
While I wouldn’t really identify myself as a disabled artist, my condition has certainly handicapped my participation in the art world.
First I have been forced to change medium again and again, because my energy over the years has gradually got less and less. I changed from pottery to working with unfired clay to artist books, as a means of reducing the physical demands of my work. I used photography and explored printmaking for imagery. But the technique I felt most drawn to, intaglio, I found to be outside my physical possibilities. Which then led to exploring techniques with pastels.
The other thing I did was to take a decision after my masters to always do work first and then look for an outlet for it, rather than responding to a commission or call-out to a topic. In that way, book arts is a good field to be in. Because, at least before Covid, there used to be a quite reliable calendar of events, and I could prepare for that.
That might all have been for the better. But the thing that I miss most is the ability to go to conferences and workshops. When M.E. first set in, I used to go to shows more and even to workshops, but I can’t anymore. I rarely have the opportunity to speak about art and about my art with anyone these days.
Do you think that there is something that art galleries or other venues and organizers could do to make it easier for you to participate?
The challenge when accommodating people with ME/CFS is to allow a high degree of flexibility. This is needed because even for a single individual with ME/CFS, their energy levels can fluctuate from day to day.
With today’s interview, I trusted that you were the kind of person who would be o.k. with postponing on short notice. There was always a 50:50 chance of that happening. When you agree to do an artist talk for a gallery, postponing late could be difficult. So I can’t normally do that. Even as an audience member, I have booked to attend events in the past and then couldn’t go.
But I must say that Covid in this way really opened things up for me. Because quite a few art institutions have started to put talks and workshops online to watch at your own pace. Some are offered only as live events, for three or four days over zoom, and that really is no better than if I had to do it in person. That’s no option for me.
So one thing that would allow me better access, would be to keep a recording of such a class online and allow people to do them more slowly on their own afterwards.
I wonder whether just allowing for recordings is really enough. Maybe there’s a way to include disabled artists better. If they are excluded from live events, we are losing the connection.
Yes, and I do really miss it, this connection with other artists, the feedback you can get about your work. But I do think it can work online. We had this type of exchange with Book Art Object. There was a discussion going on, we got feedback. It was all online, it was through blogging about it.
On the other hand, in a way, if you have people away in their homes, connecting through the internet, it might be convenient for them and everyone. But it is very similar to having disabled people in care homes, in that they are away from the community. They are not seen. And understood. The understanding of what they can contribute is really lost and that they are valid valuable members of society as well.
Thank you very much, Amanda, for speaking with me today, that was an interesting insight into how intertwined your personal story and health story are with the books you make and media you use. Any final words?
I’d like to thank you, Hilke, for giving me the opportunity to talk with you about my work and my life as an artist. I hope it’s been of interest to your readers. If there’s anyone who has any questions or comments about the work, or about ME/CFS or combining the two, I would be more than happy to hear from them.
You can reach me via email: [email protected]
Here are a few links for you to follow up on Amanda, have a more detailed look at her work, follow her blog, and see her work in progress on instagram:
Images have been used with the kind permission from the artist.
Dominique Golden is a multidisciplinary artist, originally from Lancashire, in the North of England, and is now working and living in London. The first time I became aware of her work was through the “Familiar Machines” exhibition at Backlit Galleries in Nottingham in 2019 where an almost life-sized Madonna with an integrated structure that made it weep bloody tears was shown. Beside working in sculpture and drawing, Dominique also makes video art, writes and performs poetry, works with music and runs her own music label (Pearl Home records).
The special circumstance of the ongoing Pandemic has opened up the opportunity for us to meet online, and at the same time kept us from actually meeting face to face. But that didn’t stop us from getting into conversation.
Hello Dominique. Thank you so much for taking your time to answer my questions. Let’s start with facts and basics: Do you have a formal art education, and do you think that’s important at all?
Yes, I do have a formal education and without it, I would not have arrived at the art I practise now. Due to having grown up in a very loving but unartistic family, it has shaped and enabled my practise and personality and gave me access to the art world.
Growing up in St Helens at that time, being an artist or even working in the arts was not a career option for me. At school my careers advisor suggested I become a florist due to my obvious enthusiasm and dedication to creative lessons.
Luckily, my art teacher had suggested to my parents that I should go to art college. I was very keen to do this, so my path was set: I firstly went to the Gamble institute in St Helens, Lancashire for pre-foundation and foundation, and then went on to Leeds University Graphic Design, studying printmaking. And following this I was accepted to the RCA fine art printmaking where I completed my MA and fellowship which was 3 years in total.
In your statement on your website you mention “family” as a central topic of your work. What exactly do you mean by this? Are you referring to the family we grew up in, as in where we come from, or rather the core family we build for ourselves?
I am not exactly representing the family as such. All of my work is a self-portrait in a loose sense. I am addressing my position within my family and within the world at large.
I have a husband called Nik and 2 sons, who are 12 and 9 years old. I came to realise early on that as a parent you are controlled by your children. Therefore, there is a dance that occurs between family members. The dynamics move around the 4 of us as we all grow and develop into new figures due to the push and pull of each other; creating multiple selves at every stage.
Would you say you see your position in the world through your position in your family?
Recently I have represented myself in the image of Mary the Mother of God for performances of spoken word sound art and sculpture. Mary has been used throughout history as a template for all mothers. I want to combine this with the every-type woman, combine these traditional depictions and meanings and the idea of the domestic and worldly into my creative representation of the feminine.
But ultimately I’m not defined by my family.
Many of your drawings I find outright disturbing. Figures that have missing limbs or doubled features, sometimes limbs are twisted so that it seems to be bodies more than living people, and then some seem to be half animal… There’s an edginess to your drawings that doesn’t quite match the positive and comforting picture that’s often associated with motherhood.
For me, family both means comfort and conflict. A lot of my work has a psychological quality, and I address control in various states.
In my recent drawings, I have been focusing on the marionette figure which represents control and nature…
The animal aspect was a subject which I have worked with for many years and is prior to my recent myth building of children made of wood.
For example, I made a series with tigers that represented feminine lust. And I used sharks, indicating an archetypal personality type which only takes and does not give.
Marionettes and wood figures: Can you explain what interests you in them? You are drawing, not making them, right?
The subject matter of marionettes comes from an eclectic research pattern which incorporates among other influences, Pinocchio, feminism, and what I call gender alternate birth rite.
The story of Pinocchio has always fascinated me because the mother is unnecessary, as the father Geppetto carves his son out of wood.
I paired this with the Catholic holy family. In this storyline, Joseph the carpenter is capable of singular child creation along-side the story of the virgin birth. This provides basis for intrigue about the origin of the son of God, and how this would shift the patriarchal control.
How would that shift patriarchal control, I don’t understand. If a man was birther of god wouldn’t that, if anything, strengthen his position?
Well, it refers to what I meant when I mentioned “gender alternate birth rite” and is a huge area of feminism and hard to describe in brief: In our male dominated society, child birth generates expectations of the role in society on women. In an alternate society as invented in the story of Pinocchio, this might turn and would mean that the notion of the house wife, or mother as primary carer would be broken down, perhaps men would become primary child carer’s, and in extension create a huge shift in society at large.
The drawing above is from this body of work?
The title is ‘Vincent climbing through the window’. Here, everything is made of wood and is a living thing. Therefore, everything is level in status, and everything is connected. Therefore, one’s actions affect everyone and everything around you, which refers back to the comment I made earlier: There’s a dance that occurs between family members.
The drawing is also meant to represent a birth, the action of Vincent entering the home; this is also intended to echo the reversal of the gender reversal birth option as above.
That’s fascinating! – Do you currently work mainly with imagery? Is that the form you think it will stay in, or are these preparatory works? – It sounds like you have a lot of story developed, too, maybe it’ll end as a book?
I am currently making a series of drawings that are very defined in this thought process – so far I have only released them on instagram.
But my plan is to make a wooden child – I’ve started to collect driftwood for it.
I am also working on a design for a stain glass window
However, my next move which I hope to spend some time on is to make some more moving image work.
So what is your interest in the story behind your art? Is the narrative that you explore part of your research only? Or is it part of the art itself?
I would say I am interested in narrative in general and have special interest in alternate timelines and alternate worlds. I have often made work which is in some way influenced by childhood fairy tales and ancient mythology.
I use existing narrative as a mosaic. I patch together various themes which resonate with me and present them as images. I don’t tell stories as such, I retell pre-written text via image making and investigation of well known and not so well known tales.
My other interest in terms of the written word is poetry. During lockdown I created a poetry pamphlet about journeying into new pastures yet feeling like you want to stay at home. A lot of my work is hinged on periods of time that are rites of passage like when you change from child to adult, I.e. a combination of fear and sexual awakening. You can find it here:
‘The Mary Fact File’ was another publication I put together that filled in as many missing blanks from Mary the Mother of God’s recorded existence as I could find. I performed the fact file as a rap with a backing track and video animation whilst dressed as Mary. The fact file leaflet was passed around the audience so they could sing along.
You mentioned performance before. So, you are not mainly interested in written poetry, you perform and make music too?
Yes I am interested in spoken word and sound art. Prior to having children I sang in a band called Jesus Licks, I still play the flute with COMA London which is an improvisation orchestra. We perform concerts in various venues in and around London. I have also composed some scores for them which where performed via zoom during lockdown.
Myself and Nik run a DIY record label that release handmade vinyl by artists working in these formats. We also host concerts at home and present a radio show www.theneonhospice.com on Friday nights at 5.30pm. This is in order to show case our own sound art/music and spoken word as well as our friends and colleagues whom we share similar interest.
Any immediate plans for the future?
My current enthusiasm is tied up in making sound art for the radio show, I have been writing material and selecting work from our back catalogue. Also, the kids just started school again this week, so I am looking forward to seeing some shows! Just booked to see Aubrey Beardsley at the tate.
I have taken a break from drawing every day (to focus on the end of summer) now we are back to term time I will endeavour to make some moving images/animation of my drawings and create some graphic score also using animation. During lockdown I made a film for COMA London, which I will review as a stepping off point…
I am afraid, we are running out of space on this blog here. Maybe a last question: If someone wants to follow up on this and find out more about you and your art, where should they go or where should they click?
There’s my hompage(s)
My radio show can be found here every Friday at 5.30pm.
Thank you, Dominique!
all images used in the blogpost are under copyright of Dominique Golden and were used with her kind permission.
I first met Jenny at the Sheffield Artist Book Fair last autumn and was immediately smitten by her and her books. Despite their diverse subjects, they share a common aesthetic: many have a concertina as the basic element, lending flexibility and movement to the structure, with abstract collages in a calm colour palette and no text on the pages.
I was very happy to be invited into her home for this interview.
Hilke: (looking around in the room) I am always interested in biographies, how the places we find ourselves in, literally as well as figuratively, shape what we make. And how sometimes just everything seems to slot into place.
Jenny: Yeah, definitely. I sometimes wish I had my own studio somewhere. But working in the house currently works best with the family situation I find myself in. My children are 3 and 7 years old, and mostly I work while they are away in school or preschool and while they are asleep.
Surprisingly, however, I found that working like this, I get more work done than ever before.
Hilke: That’s amazing! Most parents seem to complain about the lack of creative time. Why do you think it’s different for you?
Jenny: Before the kids, I worked as an art technician at a secondary school. My work gave me a sense of achievement and it satisfied my need to be creative. I still made my own work, but very slowly – there was always time to finish tomorrow.
After I had the kids, I gave up the job as a technician, and it became so much more important to do something for myself.
It is in the small time slots when I am alone or they are asleep that I get my table and bench out, unpack my materials, and become very focussed on what I want to achieve.
Hilke: I see. How would you describe your books and how you work?
Jenny: I love to work with different layers, textures and combine them all. In my collages I bring together my own material from sketchbooks, mixed media layers and mark-making experiments, and I combine those with carefully selected elements from magazines to form an organic whole.
Hilke: What is it about the book format that appeals to you? Why not make stand-alone collages?
Jenny: Books appeal to me as fairly small and handheld artwork. They are intimate and playful. The viewer holds it in their hands, and is able to experience it at their own pace. And I like how in a book the elements move, bringing the different collages into relation to each other.
Hilke: How do you approach a new work?
Jenny: I use mind-mapping to choose my theme and then gather research: other artists who worked with similar elements, drawings of the subject matter, markmaking in response to the theme and I make notes all the way through.
I also glue in paper samples, a trial collage at a later stage, maybe. – I always think through the concept of a piece. Recording my thoughts and research helps me to think and later to talk about my art. And by the time I start with the first collages, I have a clear idea of what book structure I am going to use, and what kind of feeling I want to portray. I create more collages than I need for a project so I can choose which will work best in the book and which relate well to each other.
Hilke: Moving from one collage to the other, what drives you on? Are you dissatisfied with the collage you just made, and try to make it better?
Jenny: Making collages with found paper has an exciting element for me. I’m thinking for example: How can I turn that image of a lampshade into a reflective part in a window? or: How can I cut out this bowl of soup, change the context and change how the viewer sees it.
Rather than being dissatisfied with what I already have, I’m still curious to see whether I can catch the same emotional content, picture the same atmosphere, once again now that the snippets I used in the last collage aren’t available anymore. – Once I’ve used a piece, it’s gone, and I can’t use it again.
Hilke: So scarcity of material is important for you work?
Jenny: In a way, yes. But I do use photocopiers in all stages of my work. I might photocopy a drawing, sometimes onto acetate and then cut from there. I also might photocopy a finished collage and then keep working with it.
Hilke: Do you have an overarching topic in your work?
Jenny: I like to discover the story in a place, maybe its history, the feeling of visiting it or how people live. Windows are a recurring theme – they offer a glimpse into someone else’s world. I’m also inspired by all the texture, detail and angular lines in buildings. I find that the imagery I work to, and the way I interpret a topic has a clear personal style and I often use the same materials and colour theme in my work.
Hilke: Mhm, yes, I can see how many of your books have a strong architectural element to it. Some remind me of technical drawings. Architecture often is bold and big. – What is the biggest book you made?
Jenny: I’ve always loved working small – I must take after my Dad, he’s a modelmaker. I experimented with larger work at Uni but I always bounced right back to something handheld.
Hilke: Where would an interested reader be able to see your work?
Jenny: I’m going to be at the Turn The Page book arts fair in Norwich in May 2020, and my book ‘Cut Across’ will be included in the exhibition 2020 Vision: Magellans Voyage in Liverpool Central Library.
Hilke: Thank you for taking the time to work on this interview with me!
All images in this article are used with kind permission of Jenny Stevenson.
I don’t keep a sketchbook[…], all is experimentation.Hilke: You said you kept on working through cancer treatment. – You really must love your work. But I am curious how you do it! From talking to others I know I am not alone in feeling that planning lessons is consuming all my creative energy. And then there’s the marking and all the many small things a teacher does for their pupils… How do you cope and keep on working on your own projects? Clare: I made the decision to work part time on my return and to reduce responsibilities in school in order to find better balance and nurture my reignited passion for creating. Being a teacher can easily be all consuming. When I am in school, I give my pupils 100% of me, and I love it. But when I am out of school, there is this switch in my head – and I am off work and can work on my art. Hilke: Do you feel your pupils and the work in school give you something that then manifests itself in your prints? Clare: No, not really. I think it is rather the other way around: Because I am active as an artist, I have a better feeling and understanding for what I ask of my students. They profit from my practise that way in the end. You know, it’s a bit funny but, although I require that from my students, I don’t keep a sketchbook or something similar. I turn my sketches right into screens, use ink to paint directly and intuitively onto acetate. There’s no in between stage, all is experimentation. So although my students have to do that to document their progress, my work gives me that understanding that free practise and experimentation is something that has to have its place, too.
We can be broken, taken apart, and then reassembled. And […] there is beauty in that.Hilke: Let’s talk a little more about your art work again. You said your practise changed from before the diagnosis. Do you see development in your prints since? Clare: Yes, definitely. I can see three connected series of prints. In the beginning when I picked up my work, all my figures were falling to illustrate the lack of control and uncertainty. They explode with colour as I see opportunity for growth in embracing change. Their bodies are not whole: in motion they leave fragments behind. They show how we can be broken, taken apart, and then reassembled. And that there is beauty in that. The bright colours are integral to that concept and this is where the circles started to appear. As time went on, as I got to a better place myself and grew stronger, my figures take more active roles: they jump and leap, taking control and radiating energy. elements café and Artcore. I will also be doing a number of open studios and art trails over the autumn, and last Friday the “Loovre” opened with my work at Surface Gallery. To keep up to date please go to my website www.curisousinkyme.com. Hilke: Thank you so much for your time today. And good luck with your upcoming exhibition! Clare: Thank you! A final tip from me, the author: If you are curious about her artwork do go and have a look at her instagram feed. There she shares work in progress, quick sketches, and newly finished prints. All images in this post have been provided by and are used with kind permission of Clare Morgan.