Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Jo Wilmot talked to Alli Sharma at 'Detox', Hoxton Square, London N1

AS: You have large and small-scale work in this exhibition; do you have a preference?

JW: It’s easier to get a good rhythm in larger paintings and there’s more control to make it balanced or unbalanced. You’ve got more freedom with the scale of the marks too, from really small to massive. You can’t mess so much with the smaller ones and it’s harder to get stuck in.

AS: So does your process differ according to size?

JW: I always start with a coloured ground and use quite a traditional process, working dark into light. But then I also work wet on wet so it messes it up a bit. Then different amounts of different medium, just to try and get some texture into the painting. And then the different approaches to applying the paint. It’s paint obsessed.

AS: I’ve heard you describe the way you work as letting everything go, getting into a bit of a mess and then having to bring it all back.

JW: There’s a certain point in every painting, especially bigger works, where I look at it and think what have I done? It looks a complete mess, but not in a good way. It hasn’t hung together and it’s almost like it could be sliding off the canvas and it’s just scary. It’s horrible and disheartening and you have to fight through that and then everything starts to slot into place and it starts working. You get to that point and it’s exciting. You come into the studio and it’s pretty much there and you just have some slightly tedious finishing off to get it completely done. The drive is waiting for that magic moment but sometimes you never find it.

AS: So does a lot of work get binned?

JW: There are a lot that don’t make it. I’ve just started on a new technique and the work isn’t ready to show yet because I haven’t worked out how to use the mark making technique.

AS: You’re masking parts off?

JW: Basically, it’s working in two ways. I’d been trying to work with interiors that function as landscapes, like ballrooms, coffee shops and architectural spaces. Then I did the cars and reached the point where I couldn’t do them any more. I needed to move on. Some of them became too composed. So I decided to revisit the landscape based stuff, but trying to do more with the mark making and mess it up. The expressive marks contrasted with the structured architectural spaces produce a nice tension. My paintings work best when they’re slightly ambiguous and slightly hard to read. They’re always representational, but not directly; they’re one step removed.

AS: Is this one based on a gym?

JW: Yes, with the machines. I got into the idea of the repetitive nature of gyms. Not only repetitive, like forced labour, but also the way that there are so many different machines and everyone is doing the same thing, like a cog in the wheel. I started with a bad painting, put down masking tape to fracture it and made another painting over the top then peeled off the tape. So there are two or three works in one. But I’m still working out how to use this technique.

AS: And will you work into it again after the tape comes off?

JW: Probably not. Some need work on the contrast. It was a nice painting with the masking tape on it but now it’s a bit destroyed.

AS: There seems to be a general element of destruction in what you do.

JW: Yeah, and it’s weird with a new body of work and you’re not sure where it’s going and you’re a little bit lost. I was working from photographs of a posh, glitzy gym but really they always look a bit like a dungeon.

AS: It sounds like you find glamorous images, which promise a fantasy and then destroy the gloss of it.

JW: It kind of unravels it. When you check out the website of a restaurant and look at the venue photos they’re always beautiful because it’s just after they’ve opened. But you go there and there are scuffmarks where the mop has been. That’s what my paintings are like. They’re like the scuffmarks, rather than the fantasy. It’s like a family photo when everyone is planning to get on really well and being happy and then 5 minutes later there’s a massive argument and people are crying.

AS: Like getting behind the fa├žade.

JW: It’s the disappointment, failure and feeling like you’ve been slightly conned. I’ve spent too long fantasizing and getting really sucked into things. Perhaps it’s me coming to terms with it.

AS: Just processing what’s going on in your life around you generally?

JW: Yeah, we’re just living in this world of glitz and everything seems to be moving to virtual. Our computer screens are flat so everything looks better. Pictures have brighter colours, faces of people look better and then when you go out into the world it’s quite disappointing. Paintings are good because they’re the antithesis of the seduction of a flat screen. I mean they have a seduction of their own but it’s completely different to shininess.

AS: Some painters enjoy that gloss and slickness.

JW: I’m anti-slick. That’s what I like about paintings, they’re a bit grubby and hand made. Even Velasquez, when you get up close you see those big blobs of white are really crusty, or where he’s lazily cleaned his brush on the painting. But they’re such phenomenal paintings. The refreshing thing about painting is that you can see how it’s made, like when you see a live band, you can see how it’s done. But when you look at images in magazines or on the telly, you’re not brought into the process. Unless you really sit there thinking ok, that’s a photograph, big studio, make up, teams of people and airbrushes.

AS: You used a lot of drippy painting in the suburban garden paintings. There aren’t so many drips in this work.

JW: No, I was relying on those too much as a prop. It was like breaking up, playing with and fracturing the space, which is something that I’ve returned to, but it became like a prop and I knew how to do those paintings too well. They were instinctive and becoming like a parody. Those are the ones people always mention. They’re cheesy and glitzy.

AS: And the colours are bright and vulgar.

JW: They’re like footballers wives; really trashy. But then I got sick of green and I couldn’t use green any more. I needed to move away and challenge myself.

Jo Wilmot is currently showing work at ‘Detox’, 16 Hoxton Square, London N1, which she co-curated with Kristen Lovelock. The exhibition is open Thur-Fri 12-6 pm, Sat 10-6 pm until 6 February.