Sara Kerry and Jessica Wilson in conversation
Sara Kerry and Jessica Wilson first met in 2012 when they were painters on the first year of Turps Banana Painting Programme, an experimental art school in London, run by Marcus Harvey and Peter Ashton Jones. Since then they have developed an ongoing dialogue which in 2015 led to a two-person exhibition, Lonely Long Feet, at Standpoint Gallery, London.
Lonely Long Feet demonstrated that drawing is central to both Kerry and Wilson’s practices. Drawing has been and remains a necessary tool for painters: it is the mediator between the world and the studio with a unique emotional and intellectual capacity to record or capture a seen thing or an idea, and a necessary backbone for the pictorial construction and aesthetic execution of a painting. It is also intrinsic to a developing dialogue between an image/picture and the idea/concept that underpins a painting - a kind of consciousness within the making which is a part of the ‘painting’. Although Kerry and Wilson are very different painters, the above is central to the making of their paintings.
Over the last year Kerry and Wilson have continued this dialogue with regular visits to each other’s studios. What follows is an excerpt from their most recent conversation which took place in Wilson’s studio at the beginning of August 2016.
SK: I think it’s amazing how that painting is like that window. The really simple thing that I’ve thought about in the last year, that I’ve never really considered but its really obvious, is that everything has to start as an ideology, even if it’s the most simple, so I don’t know what you or anybody would consider as abstract anyway.
JW: Yes exactly, I often get put in the abstract category but I don’t consider my paintings abstract. They all come from life. They’re translations, just like Ellsworth Kelly’s works are translations of things he’s seen in the world.
SK: Well that was like Vanessa Jackson being asked if her work was abstract and she said no it’s completely figurative. And then I’m thinking about Tomma Abts and Katrina Blannin as well, it is all figurative based.
JW: It is. It comes from something.
SK: Where do your initial ideas come from?
JW: I begin by making a series of line drawings. These drawings are an essence of something half remembered, a moment caught, an approximation. The inspiration is visual and generated from the world around me: from the negative space between two objects or the texture of a fabric to patterns in weather and the movement of traffic. I’m also often looking at other paintings when I’m making them. My aim is to inscribe my paintings with an art historical anamnesis, with subtle associations to works of other painters of the 20th century, that also triggers the viewers’ personal recollections. My thoughts about the works of other artists mingle with subjective motifs from my own biography. It is, so to speak, a dual memory that not only recounts the history of abstraction but also an autobiographical medium.
SK: What artists are you looking at when you’re making these drawings?
JW: All sorts, people like Raoul de Keyser, Ellsworth Kelly, Mary Heilmann, and Blinky Palermo, people I’ve been looking at for years but then also random things I see on Instagram. I make line drawings in my sketch book which I constantly look back over, mentally dissecting, reworking and inventing. The original memory becoming ever more faded and blurred until the drawings take on a life of their own.
SK: Tell me about this idea for a fantasy exhibition?
JW: All the paintings I’ve been making over the last few months have been for a fantasy exhibition titled, ‘Mary, Blinky, Jessica, Yay!’
SK: Where does the ‘Yay’ come from?
JW: ‘Mary, Blinky, Yay!’ is the title of an exhibition that took place at Kunstmuseum Bonn in 2013 that showed the work of Mary Heilmann and Blinky Palermo. In this fantasy exhibition my work is shown beside Heilmann and Palermo. Both Heilmann and Palermo appropriate the work of other artists such as Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly. I recently made a series of paintings that were appropriations of their appropriations. So the fantasy exhibition and appropriating the ideas behind the original exhibition seemed like a a playful way to provide a context for the paintings. The fantasy exhibition, like my paintings, bring together a certain sense of cheekiness, an intelligent comment and a painterly, often almost nostalgic history. There will be a catalogue to accompany the fantasy exhibition.
SK: So in the catalogue will it just be your work?
JW: No it will include images of Heilmann and Palermo’s work alongside my own. In addition to an essay which is largely appropriated from the original exhibition catalogue. So it’s appropriation again, even the essay is appropriated!
SK: A bit like Melania Trump appropriating Michelle Obama. Isn’t that interesting. Kenny G was going on about it, he said it was the best piece of art ever on Facebook. He’s been advocating it for years.
JW: That’s funny.
SK: When we did the show at Standpoint last year, you referred to how making a painting is like playing a game, is this still true?
JW: Yes, I think that will always be a part of how I make paintings. First I start to paint in my head, playing out different scenarios, different moves. It feels like a game but I am unsure of the rules. When a particular arrangement grabs me I spring into action, eager to get paint on the surface before I forget my intentions. Some works are completed quickly – others take more time, needing a further period of looking, thinking and drawing. The paint often surprises me and the tactics need to be altered.
SK: Before starting at GSA you were showing work in series or grid formations and you spoke about the conversation between the pieces – does that still apply to this work?
JW: Absolutely. My practice centres around visual language. In the studio I work on many pieces at once and so my studio wall is always full of paintings. The works are constantly shifted around, being placed and reordered. I see this wall as an evolving story, a set of possibilities. My imagination bounces from one work to the next. The works are never viewed singularly; together they form an investigation into visual language and are an attempt at conversation.
SK: Over the last year you’ve started to move away from making work on paper.
JW: Yes, since we were at Turps most of the work I had been making was oil on paper but this year I wanted to expand on that and my practice has been centred around a material investigation. I’ve been playing with copper, aluminium, canvas and linen as well as experimenting with different types of primer. I’ve been priming sections of the canvas in different ways to achieve subtle differences in the surface. The decisions I make when the painting is being sized and primed are just as important as the final layers.
SK: Copper, linen, aluminium; they’re all traditional artist materials. You haven’t experimented with anything that isn’t a traditional artist material?
JW: No – I must be traditional then. (Laughs).
SK: Do these have titles?
JW: Yes (pointing), The smell of other people’s houses, average-pretty, Mock and judge me, I’m doing my face with magic marker, Tasteful thickness. They’re song lyrics mainly or bits of conversation, poetry.
SK: Tasteful thickness – where does that come from?
JW: I think it’s a phrase from American Psycho – I saw someone had used the title for something on Instagram so I just nicked it.
SK: Like dumb and dumber.
JW: Haha, yep!