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Hazel Jacket 1989. Stitched Hazel Leaves

Jackie, I know you were involved in the first Women Artist's Diaries - can you explain how the Diaries started and what exactly they were?

The Women Artists Slide Library (WASL) started around the same time as I finished my B.A in 1979. It was an Artist-led slide library set up to highlight public awareness of the practice, impact and achievement of women in visual culture. This was a very exciting initiative that I wanted to be part of so I submitted some slides which were accepted.

The Women Artist's Diaries were published by WASL. Each year, I’m not sure for how many years, a diary would be published, and WASL members works would be selected for inclusion in the diary. I always coveted these diaries; you could find them in Gallery bookshops like the Whitechapel and Serpentine. I would ask for one as a Christmas present.

How did you get involved? How did you hear about the Diaries?

In 1999 I was asked if “Hazel Jacket” could be included in that year’s diary. I even got a fee of £30! HH

Was it typical of the work you were doing then, in the 1980s?

“Hazel Jacket” was a small but very formative piece of work for me. It was made in 1989 when I was pregnant with my second child. I had been making large environmental sculptures with natural materials. Now heavy and with my thoughts focusing more on home and this coming infant, I started to think about nature clothing this child.

Following a traditional matinée pattern with yoke, “Hazel Jacket” is made from Hazel Leaves stitched with grass, but the leaves have been allowed to curl and dry in their own way.                                  

I was fascinated by the social context of a “matinee” jacket, an item of clothing one took one’s baby out in for afternoon visiting.

This started a long term relationship with natural materials and clothing. The coat / jacket has now become a metaphor for mankind.  

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Chestnut Coat in the studio, 2007. Stitched chestnut Bark

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The Art Historian’s Coat,1992. Stitched Oak Leaves

Have you see all or most of the Diaries since then?

Not the diaries but I subscribed to Make which was the Newsletter of WASL. This was a powerful voice for Women Artists at that time. The newsletter evolved into the Women’s Art Magazine and looking through there are names familiar to us, an interview with Paula Rego by Rebecca Fortnum, a review of a show of Laura Godfrey-Issacs at the Sue Williams Gallery. It also had a brilliant Gallery Listings section.

What changes do you see now?

In 2003, WASL ceased to operate as an independent organisation and the slide library and all of its publication archive was given to Goldsmiths College.

It’s exciting that SLWA are now publishing their own diary, acknowledging the vibrancy of the WASL diaries.

What direction is your own work going in?

My work seems to be going in many directions at the moment. I am becoming more involved with the “form” of clothing as a shape to work with and less with the concept. I have been making casts of trees in situ. It is the shape of these casts that is being used to suggest clothing. The casts are filled with specially treated leaves that retain the shape of the cast. That’s quite hard to describe, you’ll have to wait till they’re ready and I will show you!

I have always been fascinated by memory, how it changes, fades, comes back into focus - so alongside the large works I am experimenting with “leaf lace”. At the moment these works consist of sheets of lace cut and formed from leaves. These sheets are incredibly fragile, like objects from history that are imbued with memory.

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Dried Beech Lace, 2011. Dried Beech Leaves.


Light Lace. 2011. Green Beech leaves.

I know you like experimenting with different materials and creating items of clothing out of unconventional objects, such as hair or leaves - how did this interest start?

When I was a young child my Father was studying for a Botany Degree part time. He was looking at moss, and I have a very strong memory of wandering into the spare bedroom where laid out on tables were trays of different mosses, all labelled.

I was fascinated and I think this started a relationship with natural materials. I would absorb his scientific approach to materials, analysing their properties and behaviours. What processes could be applied to those materials? Looking at the lace experiments it’s almost like, hey, what else can I make this leaf do? I am a very tactile person and I want to work directly with my materials. I have less interest in depicting them, although I do like drawing them to gain a greater understanding.

The two pieces I exhibited in the library illustrate my approach to materials.

“Spun Coat” was formed whilst I was working in my studio which has a vaulted roof where a lot of cobwebs loom .Looking up, I was struck not only by their beauty but their possibility as material. Using a long stick I “spun” webs into fabric with which to make a miniature coat.

This coat took on all sorts of myths and fairy tales. As I sat in my freezing studio working the webs I did feel like Rapunzel, nightly weaving piles of straw into golden threads. Recent work with Spiders webs and Golden Spider Silk is phenomenal. The Golden Cape by Simon Peers, recently displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, is a thing of ethereal beauty.


Spun Coat 2011.Spun Spiders Webs.

“Where Worms Have been” also resulted from looking up. Whilst mooring a boat on holiday last summer, I looked up at a lime tree to see that every leaf had been nibbled by a moth or caterpillar. These leaves had a strange fragile quality that echoed my leaf lace experiments.

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Where Worms Have Been. 2012. Lime Leaves


Do you have any longer-term projects you are working on at the moment?

I am currently working on “The Beech Tree Project” with the amazing beech trees at Burnham Beeches that are mentioned in the Doomsday book. They are incredible sentinels to our past, yearly bursting into leaf despite being continually eroded by time.

At the moment I am developing my relationship with the trees through drawing, getting to know their twists and turns. What is extraordinary about Burnham Beeches is the atmosphere; in some parts the history is palpable. I’m hoping that the body of sculptures I develop will evoke this atmospheric presence.


Beech Trees at Burnham Beeches. 2012


In Peckham’s Bellenden Road there is a Komoco Dragon pebble mosaic, designed by local sculptor Jane Higginbottom, [see image left, and http://www.contactarts.co.uk/projects.html], who has recently been awarded £95,000 of Lottery Funding for the Heart Garden, Art in the Park Project in Burgess Park [see http://www.artinthepark.co.uk/]. She now works one day a week there as Project Manager for Gardening and Art. How did she first become interested in sculpture? I went to talk to her at her tranquil studio just off the Old Kent Road.Born near Macclesfield, fond of drawing as a child, Jane studied at Camberwell, spent a year in Milan, then worked painting sets at Covent Garden.“It was fun painting on a 60 foot canvas on the floor – painting with brooms.But it was stressful working in that environment – there were always deadlines and few weekends off.My progression towards sculpture was gradual. First I was doing lots of pictures of stones and stone objects in the middle of the landscape, such as standing stones. Then I visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park and saw Barbara Hepworth’s work. Shortly afterwards I saw a course advertised at Morley College and enrolled. From then on I was really hooked.I respond to the stone. I start work straight into the stone, rough it out, remove stone quickly to give a working shape, get rid of excess stone, using a mallet and point, then move on to a claw chisel and shape the stone more tightly.After a few days I can see a bit I want to get rid of and the shape gradually emerges. Usually I work on two or three pieces at the same time. It’s like a dialogue with the stone, with something that has its own energy, whereas with painting you’re building up from a blank canvas.”What stone do you use?“Not sandstone, because there’s too much dust and you need proper masks and extractor fans. Not harder stones like granite, because there’s too much vibration, too much impact on the bones. I like soapstones: you can get a high polish and lovely colours. And alabaster. And Portland and Purbeck limestone. In 2005 the ‘Discerning Eye’ was bought by the Mall galleries and from that time on I’ve spent 80% of my time on sculpture – maybe just doing one painting a year. I think there’s a spiritual quality about sculpture, and I can be more abstract and personal than I could be with painting.In the series ‘Touching forms’, for example, I was thinking about the idea of relationships. How people are separate but also have a joint identity. The two forms appear to come together and move apart.”Jane herself enjoys working collaboratively. She’s on the Cambridgeshire and Essex Arts register and was commissioned to make a work in the courtyard of a hospital in Milton Keynes for MK Arts. “It’s called ‘The Family Treeo’ [the children’s choice of title!] and consists of three figures, a mother, a father and a child. For that I worked with Year 9 and 10 pupils from the Radcliffe School and it was officially opened in June 2008. I’m also helping an Infant and Nursery School in Braintree to design mosaics and a bench for their new school garden.”Whether they’re in Peckham or Milton Keynes, Burgess Park or Braintree, Jane Higginbottom’s works are a feast for the eyes. You can see examples of her striking sculptures at http://www.contactarts.co.uk/cv.html, but their tactile beauty is best experienced first-hand! Find more about Jane's work here>

Posted: 2009-01-16 00:11:00
Julie BennettInterview by Angela Corrias

I left Dulwich-born Julie Bennett’s studio with the feeling that every dream can come true: I don’t know if it’s just because her’s actually did, or because of her overwhelming and contagious enthusiasm. With her hair up, jeans and t-shirt studded with colourful paint, Julie is the queen of her small and cosy studio.The walls are decorated with some of her favourite paintings, two self-portaits, one of herself as the Mona Lisa.

Women’s eyes, hair, problems, judgements, any kind of feeling, … but always concerning and representing women. The question was mandatory: “Do you always paint women? They look sad, they look like they have problems.” Seemingly, it was what she had been waiting for: “Do you think so? Look at them carefully: they are androgynous characters. Mainly they are women that look like men, I’m interested in the cross-over between identitites. I like painting myself - I have a few self portraits - or my friends, but I normally get my inspiration by trawling through the neverending resources that magazines can offer and I paint everything inspires me, everything that interests me, mainly indefinite features, meaningful and indefinite.”

Allowing the colours to drip loosely, Julie’s objective is capturing the identity of her characters, or more precisely the troubles they have with their identities. “I’m just not interested in landscapes”, she says very spontaneously, “I’m interested in questioning what the role of painting is now, I want the women I paint to be more than passive and merely decorative objects. I want my characters to be very confident and be able to establish an eye contact if you look at them”. In fact, Julie’s women want to show their personality, be it the identity crisis of the “Girl That Thinks She Is A Boy” or the life in “Two Girls”. “That’s why I’m interested in magazines, they are people focused. I really love people, I love interacting with people. The other day I met somebody that used to teach me, in a nursery, when I was three years old and she asked me:‘Do you still love the world?’”Julie Bennett 2

Influenced by artists such as Michael Andrews, Lucian Freud, Marlene Dumas, Jenny Saville, Julie is fascinated by people’s faces and inspired by religious iconography, popular culture, graffiti, tattoos. Despite her success - she has been labelled one of Saatchi’s new stars by The Independent in November 2006 - Julie started painting relatively recently, beginning only two years ago. After completing an eight-week summer school in painting in UCL Slade School of Fine Art in 2006 and a HNC BTEC in Fine Art at Kensington and Chelsea College in 2007, she is now studying at Chelsea College of Art and Design. “I have worked in graphic design for ten years, for famous magazines such as Q, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, and I realized that I was using my hand only to move the mouse. When I felt I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve from a career in graphic design, I thought I needed to do something new, and what did I do? I enrolled in a course to play guitar: I was absolutely awful! It was a struggle to play, I couldn’t even see myself writing music. I’ve played guitar for two years, it was just dreadful! Then I enrolled in a painting course and that was an epiphany, it really changed my life. I started for fun and I’m so excited by the turn my life is taking”.

http://www.juliebennett.co.uk/ Julie works in William Angel Studios, Peckham, with two sculptors, a photographer and an interior designer; their next group show is in April 2008. Meanwhile, her paintings will also be exhibited from March at the Sassoon Gallery, in Peckham, London SE15 and The Saatchi Online Gallery are representing two of her paintings at FORM London art fair.

Posted: 2009-03-13 11:46:00
Interview by Susan Wood

Born in Montreal and raised on the west coast of Canada, Liz moved to London at the age of twenty-four to work in theatre on some really big-budget shows. She’d studied set design and prop-making in Canada and thought she might stay a year or so. She has been here ever since, firmly established in south London with her husband and two sons. She started making props at English National Opera - anything from a huge fibreglass statue of Ho Chi Minh for Miss Saigon to props and sets for the touring show of Cats - and from there went freelance. In 2008 Liz did an MA at Camberwell, where she decided to focus on enhancing her understanding of tone in her drawings, a departure from her previously highly coloured work.How did doing an MA affect your practice?For the MA I started to use charcoal for the first time; my project was the Thames. I was fascinated by waterways and thought of comparing and contrasting them with those in Canada. Then I looked at the reaches of the Thames you can get to in an inflatable kayak, where you won’t be dragged off-course by the current – started upriver near Hampton and continued on downriver towards Putney, the stretch where my sons row. Out there the Thames is not walled, so you can get right down to water-level. I took lots of colour photographs on and next to the river, from which I chose subject matter for my charcoal drawings. Areas of surface water with intricate random patterns fascinate me – they are the starting-point. I’ve a definite affinity with water: I was raised by the sea and my mother still lives about a quarter of a mile from the Pacific Ocean. We were always going down to the sea. I find it immensely calming – that’s the effect of water, even if like the Thames it may in places be full of silt and refuse! The Thames, being entrenched in history, exudes a sense of place and a sense of time. And because a river travels from A to B, from one destination to another, things travelling with it can end up anywhere.Do you ever include figures?No. I find them intrusive and don’t want to share the landscape with them. And I don’t want the viewer to have to share the landscape with another person.How do you work?I use soft willow charcoal and a tiny bit of compressed charcoal for the darker areas, and use my fingers to smudge the charcoal and create the tones. Then I use an eraser to make white marks by lifting off the charcoal. The finished drawings, which take about 4 or 5 days to complete, need three coats of fixative to keep the charcoal from rubbing off.Who are your influences?Vija Celmins, in particular her graphite drawings of water, and the Japanese-Canadian artist Takao Tanabe’s breathtaking large-scale landscapes.What do you think of SLWA?It’s great to be involved and meet and have a dialogue with other women who are raising questions about their art and how it fits in with raising a family and holding down a job.What have you got in the pipeline?In February I have a piece of work in the Jealous Gallery – they liked my more unfinished drawings. And I’ll be exhibiting in Lucy Bainbridge’s studio as part of the Dulwich Open House in May.Look out for Liz’s highly original charcoal drawings, where the emphasis is on composition, tone, shape, and ‘maybe a hint of mystery’.

Posted: 2009-03-24 10:45:00
 IMG_m3193 Tucked away in a leafy corner of a large park is Moira Jarvis’ new studio. It’s one of six ‘potting sheds’ rented out to artists.

Is this your first ever studio?

Yes! I’m very privileged to have my own studio. Before that I had a room in the house, but it had a bed in it and was sometimes used as a guest room. Having a studio has allowed me to focus more sharply on my work. The experience of setting up a studio is very exciting – I painted the walls brilliant white to improve the light and friends gave me some old furniture and a jute rug. On the walls I’ve hung completed paintings and also drawings of trees and colour notes which I use for reference. From the studio I look straight out onto the trees and the sculptors who work outside. Working during the evening here is hugely enjoyable. We have to be out by 9 at night and don’t have 24-hour access, but I usually try to leave before it gets dark. The community of artists here is delightful and supportive.

How do you work?

I take my easel out into the grounds around the studio and sketch and paint and then finish off the works in the studio, where I’m not dependent on the weather. I usually stretch my own canvases but I have started to buy them made up for quickness. I also use graphite on cotton rag paper, but I work primarily in oils, and am very interested in colour mixing. I am currently using Poppy Oil as a mixing medium to give the paint a more lustrous look.

Do you only work in South London?

No. I also have a small barn in Normandy, in Suisse Normande, where there are lots of gnarled old pear trees – the history of the farmland goes back to Roman times.

What are you trying to capture in your paintings?

I’ve always been interested in landscape. I trained in Birmingham and then did an MA in Wimbledon - my series of MA paintings was based on a walk in Yorkshire and the limestone pavement. In November 2008 I had an exhibition of work completed in France, giving the feeling of the landscape and the history of the area. My aim is to record a ‘particular moment in time’ and convey the resonance of the landscape and its history. Rather than provide a detailed account of the landscape I’m trying to reach some sort of understanding of it and respond to it.


Why are you so interested in trees?
I’m seduced by them! I run life-drawing workshops and feel that there’s quite a lot of correlation between drawing figures and drawing trees – both are organic, and both are always moving and changing. There are similar problems to deal with and the basic structures are cylinders. Trees are always affected by the elements – such as the wind – and tend to be at the most wonderful angles – I’m interested in the way they grow.

Do you ever work on other subjects?

I did a series on quinces, and love experimenting with colours. In that series I mostly used vivid blues, burnt sienna and raw sienna, with touches of yellow ochre. I also worked with acid-dyed fleece which I layered to make felt. A totally different sort of commission was for a friend who wanted a CD cover based on the Orkney landscape.

Do you paint full-time?

No. I’m currently working part-time in art education as an artist/teacher. But moving into this studio has had a big impact on me in terms of having easy everyday access to the landscape and a private space to develop my ideas. I aim to spend more and more time here.PS You may like to read the review on the SLWA website of the Artdog Gallery exhibition which includes a reference to Moira’s work.  

Posted: 2009-05-31 12:10:00