It was a pleasure catching up with Jennie just before the opening of her first solo exhibition at Freedom.
Hi Jennie, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m originally from Glasgow but I’ve been studying Illustration at DJCAD for the last few years – I’m currently in my final year. It was always my plan to go to art school, since I found out it existed when I was 5. It’s a pretty privileged position to be in – art school can be a bit of a bubble.
This will be my first solo exhibition but I’ve taken part in a couple of others – I co-organised and exhibited in a show last January at Tin Roof with some friends of mine as part of a collective called Selection Box. We didn’t have any set theme for the exhibition and all our work is really varied so we got a really good reaction. It only ran for the one night and we had music and drinks, so it was kind of more of an art party which was really fun. My friends Kali and Jasmine have taken Selection Box forward to do workshops and events, you can keep up with them on Instagram (@selectionboxdundee).
Also I did an exhibition with my class at the D’Arcy Thompson museum last year called Pole Tay Pole which was of work we had all made in response to Dundee’s history; specifically the whaling industry, polar exploration and D’Arcy Thompson, which gave some really rich subject matter to draw from.
I’m really looking forward to doing this exhibition though – having the freedom to fill the space with my work is really exciting.
My next exhibition after this will be my degree show in May! Come and see the illustrators lurking in the basement.
Have you always created?
I’ve always drawn a lot since I was younger and always enjoyed making things. As a child I was much more keen on drawing than running about or doing sports. My family went on holiday to a caravan every year and I would spend a lot of time by myself on the hill next to the caravan building a soggy shelter out of sticks and bracken – sounds pretty sad but I loved it. In a way going to art school has taken a bit of the fun out of creation – I’ve become a lot more self-critical which can push me to raise my standards but can also paralyse me a bit.
What is your favourite piece that you have created and why have you chosen it?
My favourite piece I’ve created for the exhibition is probably the lithographs I made for the window display – probably because they’re the most recent thing and I love the colours. It’s a pattern I’ve revisited a lot, just a doodle that I do, and with these large prints I really pushed it, quite a repetitive or hypnotic act of drawing.
See Jennie demonstrating how she screen printed the yellow onto her beautiful blue lithograph in this short interview with Suzanne.
What has been your most challenging piece?
I generally find the projects I do for my course a lot more challenging than prints I make for fun. All of the prints in the exhibition are ones I’ve made in my own time for no particular purpose which can take a bit of the creative anxiety out. I really enjoy illustration but often I can overthink my response to a brief. When I’m printmaking the decision-making process has to be simpler and I’m limited in some ways by the medium so I suppose I find that easier.
What inspires you?
Lots of things – wee stories I’ve heard, books, images. I really like analogue technologies – for example film photography, traditional printmaking methods, and I recently found a 70’s “3D viewfinder” in a flea-market in Belgium which I’m planning to make my own discs for. I’m quite inspired by my love of popular physics, for example I’m a fan of Carl Sagan, Brian Cox, people like that who make scientific ideas accessible and bring in a human element. Belief systems are interesting to me and I like coming up with visual puns. With my prints the inspiration can be more simple, often they just come from doodling or experimenting with the medium.
Do you have favourite artists? An art hero?
This is going to make me sound like an absolute loser but I have a bit of a thing for medieval Christian art. With really early stuff people are drawn in such a funny stylised way and I really enjoy the balance and symmetry of a lot of the work and excessive use of gold leaf and ornamentation. Also I enjoy the different formats for the paintings – like altarpieces and stuff which aren’t on the standard rectangular board. In the same vein I love painters like Bosch and Breugel who do these huge paintings with so much going on in them.
Artists I can owe my love of collage to are people like Hannah Hoch, John Stezaker and especially Joseph Cornell; he makes these boxes which are filled with found objects. I saw an exhibition of his work in London which was probably the best show I’ve been to.
A favourite illustrator of mine that I’ve been following for the past couple of years is Nuria Riaza, she does these incredibly detailed but surreal drawings in blue biro which have this strange isolated feel to them, well worth checking out.
I also think Matisse is worth a mention – the simplicity of his cut-out work is something I’m always aiming for but always end up overcomplicating things.
An artist I’ve found recently on Instagram is Frances Waite – don’t look her up if you’re prudish but I love her drawing style.
What are your favourite materials/ tools/ equipment?
My favourite medium is definitely printmaking. At the moment I’m doing a lot of screen-printing and lithography which have their own merits. I love the ease and simplicity of screen-printing and the excitement of building up an image in layers but lithography can give a superior tonal and textural quality and has more spontaneity which I’m keen to explore at the moment.
I also rely heavily on collage in my illustration work – possibly because I’m less confident in my drawing skills at the moment, but mainly because I love the aesthetic qualities of the old books and magazines I draw my source material from and have fun subverting images to make new meanings.
Is your art your fulltime job? What do you do outside of your art?
I’m currently living off my student loan while I try and get a degree but hopefully in future I can start making a living from my art! I have lots of other hobbies but they’re probably not interesting enough to list here…
I asked Jennie Irving’s three creativity questions that he asks everyone having an exhibition at Freedom:
What is creativity?
Hard question – I would say it’s the opportunity to solve problems in an unexpected way or to express yourself.
How do you use it?
In my artwork but in my everyday life too, even down to cooking or rearranging things in my flat.
Describe in 3 words:
Fun and necessary
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
I’m working on making a proper website but for now I update my Instagram most regularly – @jenniebates