Q&A with Angela Samata, Project Manager, John Moores Painting Prize and Artist Jo Berry
30 August 2014
AS: What is the subject of your painting `Untitled 2013`?
JB: I had been looking at a stock photography website and searching for images by popularity, I became interested in the unpopular ones. I came across this image of a young woman lying in a field in the sunshine in a search for healthy lifestyle images. I`m drawn to the insincerity of these images.
The process I use to create the work, finding an image - taking a photograph of it from the computer screen, re-photographing, cropping, editing and then painting using an airbrush, the image tends to lose its original purpose as an advertising image and becomes something different, but retains some sort of familiarity. The insincerity disappears and it gets brought back to life in some way.
The meaning becomes open to interpretation, and I think that is the appeal of this painting. When I finish my paintings I`m never sure whether that bit of it has worked its only when I get feedback do I know.
I`ve had all sorts of readings of this painting, is it a self-portrait, is it a nude, is it a dead person, is it a copy of the cover of the book The Accidental by Ali Smith. The best one was Juliet Losq who I met at the opening of this show - she is one of the short listed artists - she said it made her think of the last work Marcel Duchamp made, not sure of any of you know it but it was installation consisting of spy holes in 2 wooden doors looking through to an image of a naked woman lying next to a waterfall.
AS: Can you tell us more about the processes do you use?
JB: I am interested in making the process an important part of the work. This painting originates from a photograph on a computer screen and I wanted to refer to that. That`s why there is this area at the bottom of the painting where it has been deliberately badly cropped.
AS: The John Moores Jurors were intrigued by that part of the painting, they thought it was a police crime photograph
JB: It`s actually the reference number of the stock photograph. I get quite excited about the distortions and things that appear in the images during the process, for instance a bit of glare on the computer screen or the stripes of distortion that appear sometimes when you try and take a photo on a screen. Or in this painting where the reference number is left.
By obscuring the image in some way it brings the viewer in and there`s a curiosity to see past the obstructions.
I have been painting with an airbrush for a few years now - it started when I was trying to achieve the effect of one colour blending into another and couldn`t do that with a paint brush.
I do sometimes question why I am using it all the time, as it has become a technique. Technique sounds a bit limiting but also I have been doing it so long I have created a unique way of working with it and it`s become like my painting language I use to explore my ideas and it suits them well.
I do like its limitations. I end up using quite a limited palette which is partly a deliberate aesthetic thing and partly a practical thing, as I have to wash the airbrush out when I am changing colours.
Also the type of mark making is quite limited, so especially of I`m working on a small canvas I end with quite a struggle on my hands which can result in something quite interesting.
I tried to paint a photograph of a 3-D bookmark recently. That was a result of me worrying that my work was becoming a bit slick, I liked the idea of creating something that ruined the idea of this `that`s clever how is that done` and there was loads of the distortion and odd things appearing but I think it went too far the other way and didn`t really work as a painting. There wasn`t that balance between representation and abstraction to give that bit of ambiguity.
AS: Do you always paint on canvas? Have you ever considered painting on a larger scale or a different surface?
JB: I like to paint on canvas to keep the work as painting within a traditional context. There is a genre to airbrush art I`d like to distance myself from. I have painted on a smoother surface before but I quite like the coarseness of the canvas and again I don`t want my work to be as slick as the photo realist genre of painting.
AS: Can you tell us how you went about making this painting
JB: I talked a little about the process earlier, so I had quite a clear idea of how I wanted the painting to look before I started.
One painting I was looking at a lot when I was working on this one was a Morandi still life. I work very near the National Museum in Cardiff and there was an exhibition on at the time called Pop and Abstraction, mainly 60`s paintings but the first painting in the show was a Morandi. It was typical of his work, all wobbly vases and mugs painted using a muted palette and it had this very abstract bit in the middle where all idea of form was completely gone and there was this fantastic grey area. I kept going back to look at it, it was definitely an influence on the grey area in my painting.
AS: How far away from the original image is your painting, have you ever had any copyright issues?
JB: My paintings are always distanced enough from their original image for copyright not to be an issue. There is a lot of editing, cropping and interference that goes on in the process. However I am interested in the questions that arise from appropriation in the image saturated world we live in and artists who work with ideas around that. It`s the photograph rather than photography that interests me.
I have included the watermark in some of the paintings I have made of these stock photographs, and with this one some of its reference number to emphasise it is a copy of an existing photograph in the context of it being of value for something.
AS: Do all the paintings in your current series of work feature women?
JB: A lot of these advertising images tend to be of young women, and whilst I didn`t want the painting to be overtly making a point about images of women being used to sell things I didn`t want to avoid the issue either. So I have deliberately used images of women.
By changing the meaning of the image, the women in these images are given a different role in a way. For another painting in this series, I had found an image of a woman running in a field with a young child, it was a happy outdoor scene, the sort of thing that might be used for a shampoo advert. I went through a similar process of editing the image before I painted it and the resulting painting had a very different feel to it, with more of a chase going on rather than a fun family moment.