An Interview with Joanna Goddard – by Sian Matthews

Back in July I started chatting with artist Joanna Goddard via email about her latest works ‘The Kubb series’. Still unable to meet in person because of that virus you may have heard about, and because of a few major life events on both sides, including, sadly, a family bereavement, it has taken us quite a while to get to a point where we can write this blog. But! we got there eventually, and I am excited to share with you an inside look at Jo’s work and inspirations for this, the 6th instalment of our featured artists interviews here on the Sweet Blog.

Predominantly working with Ceramics, specifically paperclay, and inspired by artists such as Grayson Perry and Louise Bourgeois, as well as author Rosette Gault and poet Christina Rossetti. Jo uses bold colour pallets, suggestive forms and an interest in exploring the juxtapositions between materials and the viewers sensory experience to create sculpture which is both stimulating and surreal.  

If you have been following Sweet ‘Art for a while you may also recognise Jo from a previous Sweet ‘Art exhibition back in 2016 called Hand Maid in which she showed her piece ‘Swarm Of Desire, The Nymphs Headrest’. Inspired by ‘L’après-midi d’un faune’ a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé which describes the erotic desires of a faun after he encounters several nymphs in a forest.

Hand Maid was a little bit before my time working with Sweet ‘Art, so although I was aware of the exhibition I wasn’t very familiar with the works or the artists involved. You can imagine my delight when I found these photos of Jo’s works in the show, with that bright shock of orange and blue sitting proudly right in the centre. The energy and feeling that comes from Jo’s work, even just in photos, is so much fun and so vibrant that it captures all your attention, draws you in and makes you want to ask for more. So I started by asking Jo about her background. Where do these ideas come from? Why ceramics? And what’s next?

Jo’s love affair with ceramics started back in the late 80’s/early 90’s while she was studying for her foundation in Hastings, speaking on this early inspiration Jo says…

“I started using clay after my Foundation at Hastings in 1989, we had an amazing teacher called Tony Bennett who created the most incredible ceramic works, they were really amazing. He exhibited in Garth Clarke gallery in New York, and of course we were all v. impressed. It made me realise what could be done with ceramics, that it could be a prestigious material despite its basic origins. I also followed Grayson Perry’s work at this time.”

I always admired his [Grayson Perry’s] work, ever since I saw him in a magazine and realised that it was possible to put pictures on pots. That literally fired me up and I was into monochrome for many years – although there were many times I could have used more colour, I was strangely scared of it.”

She carried this motivation and her ideas over when she started studying 3D Design, Ceramics at Surry Institute for Art and Design, and later, while working with a mould making studio in London to get larger works made and fired. Jo would even transport works to London from Brighton by train as local studios were not keen on sharing firings!

Eventually Jo received some grant money which enabled her to buy her own kiln, this in turn meant that she could create more ambitious, larger scale sculpture and for the first time, start trialling colour in her works.

“Once I got some grants and a kiln, I was able to start experimenting, and finally colour came along! I did many group shows and even took my work to Holland to exhibit. I had loads of outdoor shows, and really enjoyed it. Slowly my work got larger and brighter – the Population series was the heaviest and I realised that I needed to find a new material. I corresponded with Rosette Gault whose investigations into Paperclay were just beginning. She inspired me to use it – and it gave me so much freedom, work could be made/stopped/restarted and it was really liberating. I really loved the Breakfast in Fur, the cup by Méret Oppenheim – that confusion between touch and texture – really excited me. Inspired by this many of my pieces looked like they were made of foam”

Jo’s work morphed yet again in 2006 when she became a mother. From a mix of sleep deprivation, working around her baby’s needs and drawing inspiration from the poetry of Christina Rosetti and The Dolls of Hans Bellmer, the Nymphs Headrests were born, as well as a series of other works in orange.

With motherhood arriving in 2006 my work did change – any mother will know that enough sleep & successful breastfeeding is a holy grail concocted by the devil!! Out of this time I made the Nymphs Headrests and a set of other orange works. The poetry of Christina Rosetti and dolls of Hans Bellmer were big inspirations – no coincidence that I visited the Bellmer exhibit at the Whitechapel with my baby – some raised eyebrows there but he slept through it all! The first 10 years of motherhood were good for my work – but as the kids got into the pre-teens, I found my work getting darker – blue came in, along with metal tones and harder surfaces.”

Nymphs Headrest

Which I guess leads us to now! Quite recently Jo has been working on a new series of work; The Kubb Series. (A quick google of the term Kubb reveals that it is in fact a lawn game, similar to bowling or Horseshoes, which has its origins with the Vikings.) These works are much larger, supersized versions of ancient gaming pieces, “Something you can really get your hand on!”

When Jo showed me these works and explained what they were I got quite excited! I love anything linked to Viking history so I was keen to learn more. I asked Jo about her recent changes in inspiration and her move to a darker colour pallet, as well as her hopes for exhibiting in the future.

Q – At the very beginning of our chat you mentioned that with your most recent work you have had a change of inspiration, working with darker colours and tones, as well as changing the materials you work with to better fit around your commitments. Can you elaborate on that a little?

“For the past 10 years, I have been making different work, working with scale, proportions and deeper colours. This started when I read the poem Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. I got excited about darkness again, a good darkness of velvet shadows and a deep blue twilight feeling. It’s also about the tactile and being inspired by things that people touch, like the Boli figures (from Mali) or viking games. I am excited by the intimacy of those original things that people handled. I also used to work in a castle and sometimes was allowed into the cellar archives to look into boxes of old skulls and pottery, memories of that came back to me. I have also been inspired by my late mother Sandra’s collection of folk songs. Growing up hearing her sing these dark and sometimes brutal storylines has given me much inspiration over the years.”

Q – It’s clear from the descriptions on your website that you have been inspired by all sorts of things over the years but have there been any subjects or themes which you find yourself coming back to often? or which seem to run through your work by themselves without intention?

“I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition of materials and sensory experiences. Mainly where you look at something and imagine it feels like one thing but in fact and when you actually touch it it feels like another.

The artwork which started this off for me was Méret Oppenheim’s cup called Object, I may have already mentioned it. It’s a very strange piece because the more you look at it the more it confuses your mind, I spent a long time looking at it in the Tate.

I also was very drawn to Jeff Koon’s Rabbit which hypnotised me in a gallery in LA.  So for the ’90’s I was making brightly coloured ceramic work that looked like soft fabric toys or foam, to play with that type of sensory perception/confusion. There was also a sensual  element at play, like in the Nymphs Headrests which I made while my children were infants. Motherhood definitely changed me!”

“I often end up making some quite phallic objects but I dont think of this while making them. Mind you I do fancy having my picture taken like this one of Louise Bourgeois with one of my works tucked under my arm!” 

Q – Looking at the images you have sent of your most recent green works, they feel like very organic forms, almost like they created themselves. But I’m interested to know if you have an interest in or have been researching ancient monuments/structures or cultures? they remind me a lot of the upright stones at Stonehenge or the stones at Avebury, all be it on a smaller scale.

“On a visit to the British Museum I was looking at some Viking gaming pieces – small, bronze and worn by the passage of time and hands.

Studying them, I thought that they were like the most perfect of sculptures – if only they were larger….

Then on a family trip to Lindisfarne the exhibits there also drew me into the story of the Viking incursions into England, and how they would have carried these type of gaming pieces about their person.

The objects use – to bide their time when they weren’t rowing boats or fighting, made me realise how little of this side of their society I knew about. There was something very intense about the intimacy of the objects, and that excited me to make these three green works”

“Also As a child I visited Stonehenge and remember touching and laying on the stones, and I also, as a teenager I slept one night in West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire. Being up close and personal with these ancient stones has definitely influenced me, I love the combination between something that looks monumental from a distance but still draws your touch. Modern monuments are always up on a plinth, but these older ones seem to grow from the earth and like a tree you just want to get your hands on it.

Q – Is this new work site specific? And how does the environment the work is placed in influence it? For example would you like one of these pieces installed on a certain hill because of the light interactions, or because of the way it would disrupt the landscape, maybe?

“I would love to exhibit in a forest again – I really like the way the light changes through the trees and that the view of the work changes as you move through the forest.”

Q – Going back to the materials you use, do they impact or manipulate the shape and texture of the piece at all?

“The clay I use is paperclay and it does make me create more solid work, in the way that I construct it all in sections over time. The joy of the paperclay is you can work for a bit, pause then resume, which works well around my kids, job, life. It also means I don’t have to rush. You can make fragile works but I have chosen not to, so the work is much more robust to handle and fire.”

Q – If these pieces were placed in the landscape what reactions do they have from people walking by? (or what reactions would you like them to have?)

“People are often saying that my work looks very pleasing in the landscape – the intimate (less than 60cm) size gives them an intimacy that draws people in – and the material, clay, always draws a comment that they are very “natural””

Q – Do you have any plans to exhibit them outside? And how do you think showing them in a more “traditional” white cube space would change the works and the way people interact with them? (for better or worse)

“I am currently approaching some outdoor venues / cafes and also rural business centres to see if they are interested. Its early days, with C-19 concerns holding things up, but I am keeping up my work on this idea.”

Q – Where do you want to take the work next? Do you have any ideas or plans for new sculptures?

“I am keen to continue working to 60cms, and beyond. I am dreaming of sleek monoliths, moonlit sculpture trails, creating a wooden dome and erecting it in a forest, to exhibit in. Family commitments are a constant draw on my focus but I will continue to make and show my work – who knows, I might sell some pieces if I’m lucky!”

Like most artists Jo also has a few other creative projects on the go! And naturally I had to ask about these ventures and how they fit into her wider body of work…

Q – I remember you also mentioned that you have a few other side projects going on including prop making and sewing. Both of those things seem very different from your ceramic works! How do they fit into your creative bubble? I have been experimenting with sewing and embroidery myself during lockdown and have found it a really good way to relax and “zone out” from all that is going on in the world for a while. Is that similar for you?

“Sewing – specifically quilting, has drawn me as I have only a few decisions to make, then the rest is just work. It’s very different to making a sculpture. You can recut, revisit, resew. With clay there is a finite point, there is no unpicking. So, I found that by doing sewing in the much colder months, I could rest my clay/art making brain a bit. I use a 1930s manual and 60’s electric machine then I hand tie (sew the sides of the quilt together). This involves having a 6” frame in the front room for months, while I work on it every evening. Each triangle gets three stiches in the centre then I move through to the next triangle/space, it’s quite time consuming.

The prop making was done from around 1997 to 2006 for Vavavavoom! a burlesque event lead by my friend Stella Starr. It was really inspiring and great fun, as well as hard work. Again, it was different from making sculptures and great to work to a brief, we had a great understanding of the visual impression of the costumes and props and hope to showcase them again in the future.”

And Finally, I couldn’t finish this feature without mentioning Jo’s dad Lawrence, who sadly passed away during preparations for this blog.

Lawrence helped advise Jo with technical challenges, drove artworks to exhibitions and was a sounding board for her ideas, even if he was slightly bemused by what she was making!

He will be greatly missed.

Jo and dad Lawrence. Taken at a group show at Into You Tattoo in Brighton in 2011

You can also visit Jo’s website and her Instagram for more!

An Interview with Justine Winter by Sian Matthews

Continuing our series of featured artists from behind the lockdown wall, a meeting which would have included a gallery visit, coffee and cake in an actual coffee shop (remember those!?) and of course a conversation with artist Justine Winter about her practice and creative motivations has instead turned into a string of emails, sent from the safety of our homes! We are not letting this virus stop us from staying connected and having important discussions about art and the things that matter to us most. Hopefully once this crisis is over we can resume our original plans and update this blog, but for now…..

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Artist – Justine Winter

Primarily working with performance, video and installation, Justine explores themes of femininity to comment on and question the taboos surrounding women’s bodies as well as the importance of women and their voices within a patriarchal society.

My first encounter with Justine’s work was back in 2018 when I attended the private view of Free Range at The Old Truman Brewery. (if you have been reading our blog for some time you may recognise Justine from our previous post The curious, moving and brilliant new work of the 2018 graduates) Exhibited with Hereford College of Arts was Justine’s piece ‘Beauty is Pain’, and installation featuring wilted flowers pinned to the walls and entwined with vine like ropes woven from human hair, kindly donated by friends, family and in donation boxes dotted around her university. Embedded within, a video (linked below) showed the dry shaving and plucking of hairs from a friend’s body. The intent being to question the implied beauty standards for women in our society and to confront the taboo of women being seen having (or removing) body hair.

I remember seeing this piece as I walked into the room, the video playing in the corner with the flowers and vines creeping across the walls either side. It was bold yet graceful in its delivery and I was drawn in straight away. I knew this work had something to say to the world and I found myself wanting to hear it.

Eager to learn more about Justine and her practice I asked her about her time at university, how she came to work with themes of femininity and why she works with the materials she does. I was surprised to learn that she originally moved to Hereford to study BA Textile Design, but later transferred to Fine Art after discovering a need for more freedom and fluidity in her creative process as well as a shift in interests away from the more commercial ideas of textile design. On this move Justine said, At first this course unpicked my previous ideas of what art was, and provided me with a new, fresh way of thinking about ideas and themes within my work.”

And when I asked if she still works with textiles, or any of the techniques that go along with it she said I started the fine art course in a bit of a rut material wise, I had used all different mediums such as clay, drawing from reference, woodwork, video etc on various subjects. But these just didn’t feel as though they expressed what I was passionate about. I started to go back to my roots of using textiles as this felt the most comfortable. I decided on machine knitting where I started to incorporate my hair into the piece, this turned into three large hangings and they felt as though I had finally found my ‘thing’.”

Justine admits that her biggest influences are observing, learning from, and developing ideas around everyday life and experiences. She is also inspired by Carolee Schneemann, an American artist best known for her experimental multimedia works which explore sexuality, the body and gender.

 

Stemming from her interests in the everyday Justine uses ‘live materials’. These are things which she describes as living, dying, and decaying; for example, using pomegranates to represent the female body, and then letting them decay over time. She also includes her own body in performance work, along with hair and nails. On working with these materials Justine said I enjoy using materials that will decay and change over time, which for me causes the work to be alive. I feel as though by adding these elements of myself into the work, it creates a connection to the piece. There is an element of beauty that is added to the work through using materials that can live within it as their lives are being observed and admired.”

More recently during her MA Justine was given the opportunity to complete a residency which would in turn contribute to her course. Originally from the Rhondda Valleys in South Wales Justine chose The Big Pit National Coal Museum as both a link to her heritage and to explore the themes of her work within a predominantly ‘male’ environment.

While at the museum Justine had the chance to hear stories of what it would have been like to live and work there from ex miner and mentor Ceri Thompson. As well as take tours of the pits themselves, explore a boneyard for old machinery and equipment, she learnt about the women who would have spent time and worked at the mine, who’s voices have now sadly been forgotten. These stories, conversations and tours are what influenced her final creative outcomes as well as the works she created at the mine itself.

In total Justine made six works which were in direct reference to the mine itself and the time she spent there. Created both at the mine and back in her studio at university these works reflect upon not only the lives touched by the mine and the history of the place but also I am sure mimic the stories and connect the lives of people from mines up and down the UK. They seem to be a way for Justine to link who she is as a woman and a feminist artist now to her heritage and the broader histories of South Wales. Admittedly, when Justine first told me that she had participated in a residency at the coal mine, and knowing only of the work she had made previously I was a little sceptical of the connections between the two but was fascinated none the less. Now having heard what she has to say about the work produced during this time and the reasons why she chose to make work in such an environment I think it’s truly unique and find myself wanting to experience the work in person and learn more!

At this point in the blog I should probably show the work and explain it to you, but I think it is better to let Justine explain each piece in her own words.

“The piece ‘That’s the Price of Coal, See’, was created in the space at my MA exhibition. I was given a large room with breeze block walls and metal beams. I wanted to show the work produced from a performance to camera in this room because of its industrial aesthetic, and because it resembled a place of work to me.

This work wasn’t created at the pit purely because of the size of it, being around 14ft in length and width, I also wanted the work to be created within that room, as I felt the materials that I was using such as the pomegranate, could live their life cycle in the space.”

“Along with this work, I created five other pieces. The first, ‘Bread of Heaven’, was a film that I recorded at the colliery and shows an original decaying lift shaft with a sheet tied to it. This sheet represents the domestic life of the women behind the miners, it has spilt pomegranate juice over it which is a reference to the suffering that both men and women would have endured.

With the film, was the song Bread of Heaven sung by a male choir. A traditional Welsh song that was sung by the working men.”

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“The second piece, ‘Cradling’, was an image taken following the performance piece ‘That’s the Price of Coal, See’. This image was projected on the wall opposite the work and depicted me cradling a segment of the crushed pomegranate, a nod to the women who were raising the children and protecting the home.”

“For the third piece, I referenced the song Bread of Heaven again and before I started displaying the works in the space, I sat alone at night in the room and sang the hymn into a recorder. The recorder was then set with some headphones onto the wall. This singular, female voice contrasted with the drama of the male choir and created a feeling of empowerment and a tribute to those working women hidden behind the working men.”

sound recording

“The fourth piece in this room consisted of a table with a mechanical part from a machine found at the pit, surrounding this were a selection of dried wipes I had used to clean the coal off my body after the performance.”

wiped and mechanism

The last piece displayed two pieces of fabric splayed using nails to the wall. One piece was the clothing that I wore during the performative piece, now covered in old fruit and coal dust.

The other was a piece of fabric covered in coal, dust and rust I found on some machinery at the top of the colliery, where the old machines were left to decay.”

 

 

Which leads us to now. I was keen to find out what Justine had been up to creatively after finishing university. Like a lot of people, she admitted to struggling to keep up with her practice after finding herself out of education for the first time ever and without a studio or dedicated space for making. So, for now Justine is taking a break from making artwork and is instead focusing on working and saving money for her future.

I asked if there were any projects which she had been dreaming of realising soon or if she had any plans to exhibit her work in the future (After Covid obviously!), and was pleased to learn that at some point Justine would like to take the work she created during her residency at the coal pit and drag it through the mines as a performative piece! Which sounds amazing and I would love to see!

At the start of next year Justine has planned a solo exhibition back in her hometown of her mining work, saying It is so important to me to be able to show the work in the valleys where mining was so huge.”

This exhibition is due to take place in the attic of The Factory in Porth (where Dandelion and Burdock was created!)  between the 15th of February until the 5th of March 2021, with the private view being the 1st of March (St David’s day). Obviously it’s a long way off yet but I’m sure if you follow Justine on Instagram  and keep an eye on her website you can keep up to date with the exhibition plans (if you’re interested in seeing it) as well as everything else Justine gets up to!

And finally (I had to ask because what else is everyone talking about right now?), I asked Justine if she had been doing anything creative while in lockdown. Embroidering feminist slogans onto a t-shirt was exactly the answer I was looking for! As well as finally getting around to painting her attic and transforming it into a studio!

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I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Justine over the last couple of weeks, it has been fascinating learning about feminist art in a coal mine and on a more personal level I have appreciated having someone to chat to during these strange times. I hope the same is true for Justine and I hope our blog provides you with something thoughtful to experience and to break up your day during lockdown.

This will soon pass Sweet ‘Arts and when it does and we’re allowed out of the house, we will update this blog with our meeting and maybe some new art!

But for now, if you want to see more from Justine, I have linked her social media, website, and YouTube below!

 

Instagram – @Justinedianeart

https://justine-dianeart.weebly.com/

YouTube