This week we speak to Jenny Purrett. Jenny is an artist and art educator working in rural Northumberland. Taking inspiration from the natural environment, she draws and makes using found materials both outside and in the studio. Drawing is a fundamental part of her practice and she is passionate about facilitating others in realising their drawing potential too.
Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?
I spend a lot of time in the woods and fields and by the river near my home. I make work in response to this environment, collecting materials, both the discarded and the natural, to reappropriate, recraft and reuse. Drawing and installation are fundamental parts of my practice and I use these to record my experiences and also to root myself in the here and now. I enjoy the process of mark-making and object-making and love playing with materials…. gunpowder, graphite powder, shotgun cartridges, wool, Japanese paper, pastel, pigment, earth, porcelain, charcoal, sticks, berry juice, found materials, etching and lithography have all played their part. I am interested in the temporal, ephemeral, tactile and experiential qualities of making and experiencing art.
What are you exploring at the moment?
In my drawing practice, observation has been the fundamental starting point for most of my work: examining my subject matter really closely, finding edges, overlaying marks by looking and re-looking, rendering surface texture through mark-making. In the past couple of years, I have also started to explore ways of making drawings in response to sound, still working outside but often with my eyes shut. I have sketchbooks full of soundscapes and am currently working on developing these into more resolved pieces, both on paper and onto gesso and porcelain. Drawing and object making are slowly becoming intertwined.
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?
Being outside is definitely the key factor. People have also influenced and inspired me enabling me to take my work in new directions. For example, during my residency with VARC in a hill-farming community in Northumberland, I spent a lot of time with farmers and became fascinated by the way sheep impacted on the landscape. I was shown how to shear (not a task I excelled in I have to admit) and made a piece of work with the fleeces. During that time I also made an installation piece called ‘Shot paper’ which came about after a conversation about mark-making with a local farm worker and we made marks by shooting at cartridge paper with surprisingly wonderful outcomes.
Making collaborative work can also be really rewarding, enabling me to be braver and take more creative risks. For example, during an AA2A residency at Sunderland, I made some collaborative work with Helen Pailing which then led me to start developing my work in a different way using the objects I habitually pick up whenever I’m out.
I teach and I find that really stimulating. Planning workshops or lessons, lead me to research or think about things beyond my immediate practice. Conversations with students can definitely stimulate and influence me.
I’ll include here a shortened list of artists whose work speaks to me. For poetry in making: Guiseppe Penone, Cornelia Parker, Anya Gallaccio. For being blown away by drawing: Rembrandt’s ink sketches, Giacometti’s portraits, Jeanette Barnes’ huge energetic cityscapes, Leonardo’s deluges, and Van Gogh’s pen and ink drawings of landscapes which are so incredibly intense and full of love for the landscape. Painters: every time I’m at the Tate I go and visit Turner’s sketchbooks and I love seeing Anselm Kiefer’s work which is also awe inspiring. For cataloguing, analysing, recording, journeying: herman de vries, Tanya Kovats, Richard Long.
Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?
As I say, I work outside initially and then bring things, sketches, thoughts back to my studio at home and work on them there. It’s small but has beautiful light and a view over the field at the end of the garden and to the oak trees beyond. I work on the walls or on the table and have to have regular clear ups otherwise I can find myself getting swamped which stops me making new work.
What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald. I loved it. The visual imagery she conjures through words evoke the landscape, the hawk and her relationship with both. Some other books on my shelf that are important to me: Berger on Drawing (John Berger), Wanderlust (Rebecca Solnit), Wilding (Isabella Tree), Art Forms in Nature (Ernst Haekel), Flora Britannica (Richard Maybe), and a whole host of other plant, flower, bird, tree, fungi, lichen identification books, Wild Geese (Mary Oliver) and other poetry anthologies.
Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?
treading softly, nature bathing, sitting scribbling, mark making, looking closer, arranging rearranging, light touch, eyes shut, mind open, being here
Where can people see your work?
Robinson-Gay Gallery Hexham
I am currently planning a large wall drawing for Thought Foundation’s Thoughtful Planet 3 this summer. http://www.thoughtfoundation.co.uk
Our last featured artist, Oliver Doe, asked, “To what extent do artistic media outside of your own practice influence what you do?” Could you answer Oliver’s question please and think of a new one for our next artist?
In many Eastern traditions the concept of refining to the essence in response to the natural world particularly resonates with me and I am influenced by Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arranging) and haiku poetry. In terms of process, Shodo calligraphy where the energy of the mark comes from the whole body really interests me. There’s a great contemporary performance artist, Tomoko Kawao who’s work is stunning and worth taking a look at. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056qcjq
The question I would like to ask… When you find yourself in a creative rut, what strategies do you use to get yourself out of it?