print by Jo Spikes

As you can see I am an ‘older’ MA student  – older in age rather than in experience.

I have always been interested in art and, in the 1960s, after leaving school, I did a Foundation course at High Wycombe College of Art and Technology.  However, due to the culture of sex and drugs and rock and roll at that time, and to a lack of funding (my twin brother  got the grant), I failed to take it further and instead did a number of different jobs, followed in later life by a degree in French and Italian at Aberystwyth University, and subsequently worked at IGER, Plas Gogerddan, (now IBERS, Aberystwyth University)  until my retirement in 2012.

I opted for early retirement to do a Foundation course (again!) at the local FE college, Coleg Ceredigion, which was so inspiring it spurred me on to other (greater?) things, hence the MA.  I have now committed myself to learning how to print – so I am currently experimenting with different techniques and media. I have been learning about woodcut, linocut, etching on aluminium and copper and stone lithography. Print for me is a form of magic. It is only when you peel off the paper that you finally reveal the image. Until that moment, you do not know what to expect, so the sense of anticipation is huge. Although I love to paint, I find it almost too predictable –  I prefer the element of surprise.

In art I have always found it very difficult to focus on one thematic area – there is just so much choice. It helps me if the subject matter is limited.  However, in some form or other my work is nearly always to do with people – how their faces are put together, how they relate to each other, and how they behave in the environment. On the Foundation course for my final project I got interested in looking at friends and acquaintances’ selfies on facebook.  The selfie is an interesting phenomenon. There is something intriguing in catching a glimpse of someone’s photos of themselves – of their vanity perhaps, or their self-interest. Looking at them seems almost like an invasion of privacy, but since they are on the internet for all to see, it is also acceptable.  What really struck me was the fact that people are not embarrassed to make themselves ugly, distorting and pulling faces, and adopting ludicrous poses, seemingly unaware of their exposure, or perhaps supremely confident. This is very different to the traditional portrait where people strive to look their best.

I have done quite a lot of research into other portrait artists, particularly Marlene Dumas,  and  I also like the work by Chuck Close who looks at the digital image but then portrays it in a traditional way. Close grids out photographs of faces and reproduces the grid in his own way using paint. I have tried to do this in some of my ‘selfies’ paintings.  I have also become very interested in German Expressionism and Otto Dix and Max Beckmann‘s work. I like Dix’s quirkiness, and Beckmann’s etchings and the way he crams people into a frame.  However, if I  had to choose one artist,  I particularly admire the work of Walter Sickert, his use of colour, the limited palette, and the air of mystery that he achieves through the way he lights his paintings. All of the above have definitely influenced my work over the last couple of years. Since I began print, however, I have been looking at a range of contemporary artists –  Mary Gillett’s landscapes and Victor Pasmore‘s abstracts being just a couple.

I experimented quite a lot with monoprint for my final Foundation project.  I used photos as a basis for monoprints but was selective with the line,  and I have carried this on in life drawing.  Apart from doing monoprint drawings of the model,  I have also experimented with transferring life drawings into monoprints, then adding thin layers of paint to give texture.   I like the immediacy of the medium – it captures the essence of a drawing but with a print quality, and, as well as drawing with a point, I have tried using finger and sponge pressure to create shaded areas –  this has produced some quite interesting effects. This year  I have been experimenting with mark making in etching, using coffee lift and spit bite with aluminium plates, combined with drypoint,  and recently, I have been trying out some ‘technology’ – an electric handheld engraving tool with a range of heads, and seeing what marks it produces when used directly on a metal plate, or onto an etching ground, before etching.

In all my work I tend to work fast: although for some people this appears a bit slap-happy, I seem to get better results if I work quickly and sketchily.  As a result I produce a lot.  Some of my best work has been done when I work fast as I enjoy capturing the essence of a person rather than the detail.