Aspex Gallery, The Vulcan, PO1 3BF
Monday 01 October 2018 – Wednesday 31 July 2019
Image: Jessa Fairbrother, 'Green Garden Trilogy III’ from Conversations with my mother (C-type photograph with hand embroidery).
Our Artist of the Month feature aims to promote artists' work and raise issues in a quick, informal way. September's Artist of the Month is Jessa Fairbrother.
Hello, what do you do?
I’m an artist who uses photography, textiles and performance to explore the origins of yearning. I'm very interested in the elastic quality of a photograph and how it can reach out both forwards and backwards in time and space. The subject always comes back to using myself as the originator of the story through which I aim to make something meaningful – and recognisable – for others.
Where are you based and how long have you been there?
After spending many years living in Sheffield, Pembrokeshire and London I returned to Bristol – where I grew up – in 2012, and I love it.
Where do you work?
I work in my studio at Jamaica Street. I work pretty much every day and try to keep free time at weekends. I like to be disciplined about it.
What’s the best thing about the area you live/work in?
I have thought long and hard about what it is that helps me to make work (because it can be excruciating) and a big part is being nourished by the actual nuts and bolts of the life it's been possible for me to craft here in Bristol.
I reveal a lot of my personal story through my work and in order to do that I really need to be sustained by certain things. I moved into my wonderful studio at Jamaica Street only weeks after my mother died at the end of 2012 and consequently feel very attached to it because the community I found here played such an instrumental part in my grieving process. On a practical level I can walk everywhere I want to go – that is such a gift and makes a profound difference to the shape of my day. The people who work around me have become dear friends and there is always someone to talk to. I love having others nearby and have come to put a lot of significance on that. ‘Doing it every day’ with other people who are also ‘doing it every day’ supports my process. But also, because I do give a lot of myself away in my work, I need that community to fall back on in order to function in that sort of personal way. So, really, I think it is about the kindness I experience in this place, along with acceptance, humour and sociability – and how all of this keeps me going within my practice.
What does 'success' mean to you?
It means several things that have definitely changed over the last few years but it has always meant focussing on making meaningful work that connects with others, that enables me to live while doing it, and that has a permanent life beyond my own.
It also means being able to take the train when I need to… I’ll know I’m feeling really successful when I can do that... I spend far too much of my time on the coach!
Do you earn a living from making art? If not, or only partially, what else do you do?
Over the last 18 months I have managed to make work full time and keep going while doing it. Before that I spent six or seven years teaching part time in colleges and universities as well.
What makes a good artwork?
I’m not really sure how to describe it but you know when you... know! Something expansive in its attitude maybe, something that shows curiosity. Work that makes meaning beyond itself, that points in more than one direction.
What have you been up to recently?
The most recent thing that has just happened has been the most significant – three pieces of mine (including my artist book Conversations with my mother) have been included in an exhibition at Yale Center for British Art in the US. They are all part of their permanent collection and I have been completely overwhelmed by this acquisition of my work. Much of the last year has been about sharing my artist book, gradually managing to get it in front of people: it is also now included in the libraries of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I am pretty thrilled about that.
Earlier this year I had a solo show in Birmingham at the School of Jewellery in BCU, following on from a symposium I spoke at in 2016. I was delighted to show my hand-marked works in that context, and had the opportunity to show new studies.
Spring was taken up with showing work in London: at Free Space Projects in Kentish Town and Fix Photo Festival in the Barge House by the Oxo Tower. What was great about these shows was that I made new pieces dovetailing with Conversations with my mother, producing a large-scale photo ‘quilt’ called Role Play (woman with cushion).
What have you got coming up?
My work is being shown in Vienna this September as part of Parallel Art Fair with Anzenberger Gallery. This is very exciting for me – each gallery shows a ‘project’ so it’s more of a hybrid between fair and exhibition. It’s even taking place in the old Freud University – I love the symbolism of this!
I've spent much of this year travelling or showing work so am looking forward to focussing on a new project back in the studio, concentrating on my hand-marking on photographs in relation to the body. I’m trying to make something much, much bigger than I’ve made before, so that’s going to be interesting…
My practice is largely concerned with gesture, making explicit the moment when the donor of the gesture and the gaze of the viewer collide. Using enactment, photography and textiles my over-arching themes focus on how we perform ourselves, role-playing identities and responding to the ongoing performance of others. I completed an MA in Photographic Studies at the University of Westminster in 2010.
Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.
Part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network