This is hanging on the wall beside my desk. A Christmas present from Jenny, part of her embroidery exhibition last year ‘Which Side of the Line?’
I’m glad she gave me this one – I did hint, and it clearly worked. Really though, I couldn’t pick a favourite. It was a strong exhibition of consistent quality. About half of them are my favourite. There are some that work well on their own, hanging in someone’s home, and some that are stronger as part of the series, which was one of the strengths of the exhibition for me, how well the images all worked together. The more pictorial images, predictably are the ones that sold, for this reason. Not necessarily because they were better than the others, but they were more conventional as pictures. Though happily nothing here was particularly conventional. Most are subtly funny too, and this one certainly has a streak of humour. The humour of the everyday, of an artist trying to maintain discipline whilst struggling to balance it with life. Which I’m sure most of us can relate to. “Bad Lobster” is another good example. In some the humour gets darker, and sometimes so dark that it almost disappears.
I’m writing this not as a partner but as a fan of the work. It’s difficult to be an artist in our society today and I know far too many people who are talented but unknown, amidst a sea of successful mediocrity. It’s sad that it’s not the quality of the work that counts. It’s all about image, and who you know.
Devoid of Ideas has a great balance between the pictorial, the conceptual, the unconscious, the abstract and the diaristic, which I’m probably being quite bold in saying are the foundations of a lot of Jenny’s work – I’m sure she would disagree, I’m probably forgetting several more important things. It’s always difficult to second guess another artist’s intentions. People will always pick up on things in others’ work that were not necessarily intended, but were not necessarily unintended either. This one is a great example of the primal pictorial style that often permeates Jenny’s work reminding me of Japanese Calligraphy or Egyptian Hieroglyphics. This one feels more hieroglyphic, although the view from the back does looks distinctly Japanese somehow, which is why the glass frames are a nice touch. Ideally this would be hanging in a window, so someone would always be able to see each side.
The combination of words with images is another obsession for Jenny, and is still frankly an under-explored area. David Shrigley uses it a lot, as does David Lynch, in his physical work. Jenny uses it in very different ways, though the link is the dark humour that all three share. Something about the juxtaposition of words and images lends itself to one being used to intentionally undermine the other. The artist self-satirising.
There’s also a pleasing irony to hanging it above my desk. At a time where I’m finally finishing a long-gestating film with no more personal projects set to replace it, it can be nice to have a reminder that I’m not the only one currently devoid of ideas. And that sometimes the absence of ideas can lead to ideas.
I’m not even going to try to deconstruct the form, the abstract use of automatic drawing (i think) – it’s really beyond my area of expertise to say anything other than it works well. The composition is what draws me to it, something about the mix of shapes and lines that I can’t put my finger on, and am probably not supposed to be able to. What really makes the picture for me (the punctum?) are the three lines of red running through it. The perfect shade. Again, I don’t know why. It just works. I think the best art does this – it presents something simple to you. Nothing is hidden, everything is laid bare. There are no tricks. And yet it affects you in a way you can’t explain. Why is this series of lines coupled with these few words appealing to me? That’s the brilliance of it.
Jenny’s work does something very well that I’m deeply interested in – primalism. To work with the materials you’ve got without trying to hide the material. There’s a beauty in it, like cave paintings, that seems to me almost necessary in order to penetrate emotionally in any authentic way. That said, it’s also clear that the work is a translation. Beginning as sketches, a personal diary, a daily routine. Some are chosen to be immortalised in thread, like the Battle of Hastings. This act of translation has a multitude of meanings that enrich the work, such that I can only really scratch the surface. The feminist undertones are most apparent, subverting this supposedly ‘women’s’ medium in order to stand up proudly and display private thoughts, to overcome personal anxiety and historical oppression of thought and expression. To transform something meek into something powerful. But it does so within boundaries created by current social oppression and limitation of opportunity, not only of women but of artists, of the poor. Of knowledge and truth. Jenny stitches rather than paints because she can’t afford a studio, she can’t afford to make a mess. She makes the most of what she is given and carries the meaning of the methods into the work. And does so without unnecessary embellishment, without hiding the mistakes, without worrying about straight lines, and always keeping the materiality of the medium at the forefront.
It’s an inspiration for my own work, to try to keep too much artifice out of my films, to not worry about perfection – indeed to seek what’s interesting about keeping things imperfect. That doesn’t mean to be realistic, it simply means to not hide too much the fact that it’s not real. Jenny’s embroideries are distinctly embroideries. There is nothing conventional about them, but they are very much products of the materials and the methods they’re made with, and they’re very much products of Jenny. This is what I want to be able to achieve myself.
She has a website here: http://www.jcswindells.com