Interview with Artist Jennie McCall

16 February 2018

We recently had the pleasure of speaking to artist Jennie McCall from the East Midlands, UK.

Here is our interview....

Please describe your artwork style

I am a symbolist and figurative artist.

What’s your background?

I was born in an RAF zone in Germany on Boxing Day 1957. At ten months old my father died. My mother returned to her family home and I was raised in the Scottish Borders where the local industry was textiles. My family all worked in various trades in the mills and this would have a big influence on my work in later years.

How long have you been an artist?

I think we are all born artists, but community and family expectations can suppress the potential but not the desire. I was aware of my creative passion from a very early age and despite disapproval from family to follow an art career I decided to follow my heart and take the risk that many artists do when embarking on a profession in art.

Who or what are your biggest influences?

Nature and folklore continue to be the biggest influences in my work. Growing up I read and re-read the beautiful, dark fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. I was mesmerised by the evocative illustrations by Czech artist Jiri Trnka who would influence the development of my illustrating style and practice for many years. The French Post Impressionist and Symbolist painter Odilon Redon had a major influence on my early work but the lyrics and soulful voice of Leonard Cohen is my constant studio companion and spiritual mentor.

How have you developed your career?

I graduated with a BA HONs Graphic Design and Illustration and was awarded the RSA Design Award for illustration. For a few years I worked as a freelance designer/ Illustrator in London but my instinct was to ‘make’ rather than design. After a move back to Scotland for a short while I settled to start my family and I rekindled my love of embroidery and textiles. Whilst in Scotland I continued to study and research the local folklore tales and I started to take part in many exhibitions and became a member of several art organisations. I moved to the midlands whilst my children were growing up and continued with further education and teaching opportunities. It was at this time I began to explore the deeper meaning of folklore, myths and legend and also to develop new skills through the medium of ceramics and wire in sculptural form.

Which current art world trends are you following? I feel very positive about the emerging strength of woman artists and I feel the latent feminine trends of Hygge and the minimalistic influence of Japanese culture are changing the dominance of ‘the male’ in the arts globally and forever.

Where do you create your work?

I have a beautiful two-storey purpose built studio situated between two lovely ancient trees in my garden.

What do you feel is the role of the artist in society? 

The artists’ role in society is as vital now as it was in the past though in these modern times for different reasons. With the creation of social media such as instagram, art can be the messenger of social commentary at every level from politics to fashion trends and the applied arts. Creatives of all social classes can have a voice if they so choose to and the responsibility of artists therefore is not as an exclusive act of communication or ownership only for the middle and upper classes but for all.

What techniques / mediums do you use?

My materials are clay and mixed media.

I hand build my pieces using porcelain and often parian – both unforgiving and technically challenging clays but ultimately immensely satisfying with a deeply emotive aesthetic outcome.

Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed?

Oh boy that is a difficult question. I find that hard to answer because increasingly as mid career artist I find my techniques are becoming more intuitive and the nature of what I do less contrived.I ‘imagine’ emotionally and my hands do the work!

How do you feel when you are letting your emotions loose on the canvas?

After a period of ‘settling’ I feel immersed in the physical and emotional actions of self – awareness that comes with the deeper practice of ‘making’. Like a child I am switched off from the outside world of stress and responsibility and enjoy the flow of natural creativity.

What project are you working on now?

I am working on another large installation based on identity and support within the community. It is a wall-mounted piece titled ‘The Peeps’, consisting of hundreds of small silk cocoons with porcelain faces. These are placed inside golden magnetised honeycombs that are all housed together on a large flat piece of steel wall mounted at eye level. This is an interactive piece that was first shown at The NCCD in May last year. Viewers are invited to ‘choose’ a peep, take it home, photograph it and send the image back to me via Instagram or email with a reason why that one was chosen.

Any current or up-coming exhibitions?

Yes, I am presently exhibiting in the beautiful Heart Gallery, in Hebdon Bridge, North Yorkshire. I will be taking part in The Collectors Exhibition at Sunny Banks Mill, Leeds from April where the Peeps will continue their journey and thereafter several summer/autumn shows and exhibitions.

Where do you find your ideas for your work?

My work is a continuation of the fore mentioned influences through reading and research, museums and travel. I find daily inspiration from my walks foraging and collecting in the local countryside.

Is there an artwork you are most proud of?Why? 

Again this is such a difficult question. I have to say this would not be my ‘best’ work but I feel a landmark in my career. I won the RSA Design/Illustration Award as a student in the early eighties. This was a time when women were still striving to be taken seriously in what was most certainly a male dominated area. In fact, my all male tutors did not consider my work appropriate to be put forward for selection because I had used embroidery as an illustrative media. I sent it anyway. I was shortlisted and won the first prize. Sir Hugh Casson awarded me my prize at a ceremony in London. Not one of my tutors turned up. I went on to win a second RSA award the following year. I’m so proud of this and have used it as an example to my two artists daughters to follow their instincts above all else!

How do you know when a work is finished?

After I have got through the challenging ‘ugly’ phase - I instinctively know when less is more.

What is your most important artist tool?

Is there something you can’t live without in your studio? My hands.

Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?

I enjoy the moment of inspiration that always comes unexpectedly and sends me scurrying down the path to the studio at any time day or night! It is the reminder that even when you feel flat and uninspired there is always a little ember of creativity just waiting to be rekindled into action.

Contact Jennie here: [email protected]

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