Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am from Oxford originally, a village on the outskirts. I now live and work in Bristol, UK. I studied Fashion Design at Falmouth University from 2010 – 2014 – this is where I discovered I loved designing clothes, and drawing people more than making clothes. I always loved my sketchbooks, creating and developing imagery through a concept. This was the best part of my course as far as I was concerned. In 2016, living in Penryn, Cornwall, I started painting. I worked in a deli across the way part time and spent the rest of my time painting. I felt quite isolated, but working in this way for that time period allowed me to develop a painting style as I was never trained in Fine Art other than at school and college level.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
Throughout my studies in Fashion Design I would create research sketchbooks to influence my design concepts. I was always heavily drawn to artists works as a reference point for shape, space and colour. This was my first taste of exploring art and going more in depth with particular artists. My favourites were and still are Milton Avery and Pierre Boncompain for their use of colour and shapely figures. To me I loved the way both artists paintings never gave too much away – especially Milton Avery. I found myself very drawn to the anonymity of his subjects.
What do you like most about working where you do?
I love being in a city. Bristol being a small one is very easy to explore. The buildings in Bristol and rows of continental-looking houses in areas like Montpelier are constantly inspiring my colour palettes. I’m always taking pictures of different colour combinations I see together on the streets of Bristol. You can also pretty much get anywhere on foot or by bike. You can live the simple life and still have all the many perks of living in a city. I like that you don’t need great amounts of money to live here. I can pretty much exist and run a studio working some of my week in a cafe and the rest of the week I can paint. The people are interesting and friendly – there’s no cold, hard city people here. You can connect and network quite easily as people are interested when you talk to them. It’s a good place to be and always changing.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I am currently working on a portrait project. I started 2020 with a want to explore people’s emotions through subtle expression: a stance, their facial expressions. Also colour and composition. I wanted to work bigger. I always set myself ‘themes’ for different painting series. This sets boundaries so that I can fully explore an idea, almost like a brief. A series of paintings could be a feeling I want the viewer to pick up on, or imagery that feels completely open to the viewer’s interpretation.
What is your process like?
I sometimes plan what i’m going to paint and I also just go straight in. I like to work from life as well as working straight from my head. The outcomes are very different dependent on whichever way I decide to work but I always think it’s clear to see it’s from the same artist. For a series I did called ‘Reverie’ I worked only from head which gave the paintings a more abstract look. The figures became shapes almost, blending in with the settings I put them in. However for the ‘Portrait 2020’ series i’m currently working on I am referencing imagery that I have taken or seen in photographs I like and interpreting those images in my own way. Picking up on certain sections and missing out others to create a whole new visual. Also working from life.
What is your favorite material to work with, and why?
I work with oil paint on board. A friend who was taking painting classes introduced me to painting on board. It’s a great way to work on unusual sizes and is cheaper than canvas and linen. I feel the board allows the painting to become less precious. I share my studio in Bristol with a carpenter who frames my paintings for me. They are simple walnut wooden frames that stick directly to the board. Painting with oils on board allows me to be experimental with the paint. I can apply paint very thick, I can scrape it off and I can also apply paint thinly. I often etch into my paintings too.
What is the last thing you read?
The last thing I read was one of Rupi Kaur’s poetry books, ‘Milk and Honey’.
What are you passionate about?
I am very passionate about design in general. Especially interior design. I love space. I love creating a peaceful environment around me. Nesting in this way is probably my favourite thing to do.
I also love going abroad, exploring new places, new cultures and coming back feeling full of inspiration. It gives me a new lease of life.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
People! Working on my portrait project has really made me home in on people. People’s emotions, expressions, body language and defining personality traits, etc. It’s very interesting and I feel like capturing it through painting leaves you with a lot of scope to be experimental.
How do you spend your time when you’re not making work?
I love yoga, this keeps me grounded. I also love walking and exploring the city. I love eating out with friends which I probably do more than I should. The simple things basically.
How has your work evolved over the last few years?
I feel like with every series my work follows a different path. I feel like I am constantly discovering new things about being a painter. I go through creative highs and lows which keeps me hooked and interested. When I sell work it feels great but that’s definitely not what I do it for. I need an outlet to put all my emotion somewhere. Painting is definitely that for me. I love to paint and I feel that helps any practice to evolve naturally – as long as you enjoy what you do and feel fulfilled by it.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I work in a cafe a few days a week which helps fund my painting.
What do you do when you’re find yourself in a creative rut, or feeling unsure about what direction to go?
I don’t paint for a couple of weeks. A creative rut is telling you something; probably to hit pause and re-assess. Not even re-assess, just take time for you to re-charge again. Too much of anything is a bad thing usually and I weirdly find myself at the ‘creative rut’ point when i’ve been too immersed in my work without taking many breaks. It’s important to step out and step back in with fresh eyes.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Community means a lot to me. For example I am a part of a creative community around Bristol. I have my work in The Ottowin Shop, 56 Gloucester Rd. This shop is ran by Ollie and Lucy who have their own shoe brand which is Ottowin. They ripped out and re-built their beautiful space on Gloucester Rd to showcase their shoes and also the works of 40 other independent artists and designers. It feels very community driven. Everyone being very supportive of each other.
Bristol in general has a great sense of community, arts and other. People look out for each other, people are interested in each other. It makes all the difference.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I start my day very early. I start walking to the studio around 7.30am and it’s a 40 minute walk to get there. I do my yoga before that so I guess I start my day with a lot of exercise. This must help motivate me as when i’m in the studio, i’m sitting in one spot painting for hours at a time.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I actually find putting work out there to be criticised most daunting. It’s like selling a part of your soul. However this is also pretty addictive so I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How would you define “success” in art?
I think success is a tricky subject. I personally measure success in happiness. If I’m happy doing what I’m doing, regardless of money or social status as an artist, then I feel successful.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
The most exciting thing I’ve done in my art so far is being a part of different artistic groups in Bristol. To me that’s a sign of recognition and has made me feel good about my painting. This has also lead me to meet so many other interesting artists, designers and makers.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
I am involved in a small independent collaborative at The Ottowin Shop in Bristol. It’s great to be a part of some amazing creators and be able to sell your work under the same roof. The Ottowin Shop is definitely a worth while shop to go and visit if you’re ever in Bristol.
Find more at jayharper.art and on Instagram @jayharperart!
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