In the second interview with our Artists who were due to be exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead - gallery director Gina Cross asks British printmaker Jo de Pear a few questions about her work and response to the recent unexpected events and its impact on her practice
Jo De Pear in her studio
Gina: Hi Jo, thanks for taking time to answer some questions about your work and process. For those who may not know your work well yet - please can you tell us a bit about your current working process and what you were working on just before lockdown
Jo De Pear: I'm a printmaker by trade, but over the past four years I have been lucky enough to spend extended periods of time working in Antigua, so I needed to find a way to print that didn't require any presses. Cyanotypes only require strong UV light, paper, chemicals and water, so I decided to experiment with small scale prints and see where it took me...
[ Gina: For those that are not sure what a cyanotype is : The cyanotype process was one of the first technologies used to create photographic images. To begin the process, two solutions are prepared for the two-part sensitising process. Material sensitised with the solution is then printed by ultraviolet light.
Originated in the 1800's, it was adopted as a copying technique, becoming known by the term "blueprint", with its blue background reproductions of large architectural and industrial drawings. Over the past 150 years Artists have been experimenting with the process to create stand alone artwork. ]
Gina: So, tell us a bit about how your work when in Antigua
JDP: I've got into a routine of working hard for the first half of each day as I wake around 5.30 I'll put my singing kettle on for my first cuppa, get the solutions freshly mixed up and start to tear down and coat my paper.
This period of time is the most important to me. Often I'll look at the work I made the day before and learn from the mistakes that I made or stare and smile endlessly at the ones that worked! I'll use scraps of paper to make notes on with various timings or small sketches to remind me of the order that I moved the subject matter, though often the best prints come from when I have just worked intuitively.
Some of the Flora and Fauna in Antigua Jo uses for her prints
Although I vary my subject matter, the majority of my works are made using the flora and fauna that is abundant on the island. I collect sea fans that wash up on the beaches and love to document their unique structures, but working with large scale plants like banana leaves and palm fronds is definitely more exciting, particularly when I'm working with different combinations and varying scales of leaves. When I get the timings right it's a real delight but there are plenty that don't cut the mustard!
I used to work with music or a podcast on, but I have found working with just the sounds from the garden more beneficial, as I can get totally locked into the work. I don't meditate, but often hours will pass and like many artists I will emerge from my work totally unaware of how much time has passed.
Detail of a Cyanotype print by Jo de Pear
I work outside using the natural sunlight. The Caribbean islands are so close to the equator that the sun is almost directly overhead at midday, so it's like working with a huge limitless light box. It also means that my exposure times are faster than elsewhere and it enables me to get really crisp, graphic shadows, deep indigo blues as well as clear delineations of tone ( when I get my timings right! )
Gina: How have you had to adapt your life and practice due to the lockdown - has it curtailed what you do or offered new opportunities to experiment - either where you physically work
JDP: Luckily I returned two weeks before lock down, armed with plenty of new work. The majority of it I'm happy to say were finished works, but I also had a large folio of prints that I had kept to work on top of with pencils and fine painted lines. I had also prepared lots of interesting surface patterns and textures for the purpose of adding collage, which is what I am currently working on now. I think if I didn't have these pieces to occupy me, I'd be finding this period of isolation much harder. I am enjoying my drawing practice more and more as I had been relying heavily on the subject matter providing all of the structure but now I'm getting more lost in the work. Adding collage in particular has not only allowed me to have more control but to also get lost in these imaginary landscapes, which have become more dreamlike and fantastical.
Gina: Where do you work from in London?
JDP: Frustratingly I had just moved into a new studio which was larger and lighter, but like everyone else I had to take everything I needed and set up working from my studio at home. I feel incredibly lucky to have this space that I can escape to, especially on bad days where at least if I can't engage with my work I can listen to the radio, aimlessly test out old pens and tear up paper whilst the rest of the family think I'm working!
Jo De Pear in her studio hand finishing prints.
My studio in Loughborough Junction is in a building that was an old print works. It has approximately 40 artists all working in various disciplines and we are a tight group, often visiting each other's studios for a cuppa and doing Open Studios together. We are definitely a community and without doubt the artists along my corridor are good friends. I really miss the buzz of the place when everyone's in, the sounds of different radio stations and the general chit chat that goes on.
Gina: Are there positives that you have gained from this current experience?
JDP: I think strangely there have been many positives. I have had to force myself to clear out the old work and clutter that I had been storing in my studio at home in order to free up a proper space to work in. I think at at the beginning of the lock down, whilst I found it hard to concentrate on my own work, I had time to clear with no excuses not to.
My initial anger, frustration and sadness helped though, as I ruthlessly filled bin bag after bin bag as none of it seemed to matter.....the more I cleared from my home studio, the clearer my head became, which enabled me to start working again. It's now a space I look forward to being in.
As well as having both of my sons home and getting to spend time cooking and watching films together, I spend much more time checking in with family and friends. The conversations are more relaxed and meaningful as I'm not rushing off to do something else and the pace of life has just slowed. Our garden's never looked so good and it's so great not hearing traffic from the high road or the planes!
Gina: What are you most looking forward to doing creatively once you have more freedom to move around ?
JDP: Getting back into my studio will be fantastic as I can spread out, have all my work back on the large white walls and get to catch up with everyone. I have missed the freedom of being able to go to exhibitions, travel on buses and the tube and go to art suppliers too, so that will feel like a real treat.
Gina: Thanks Jo - we are looking forward to seeing your work in our online show !
*** To view all of the available works by Jo de Pear please visit her page here***