In the studio: Jody Graham

Jody Graham’s creative undertakings have amplified in the last few years. ‘I love it that way – at times it can seem chaotic but essentially I think my studio environment mirrors my thoughts and ideas,’ confesses the artist. Her current exhibition, ‘Getting Pinked’ at the Blue Mountain’s Lost Bear Gallery in New South Wales, presents new works comprising drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations inspired by the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires; its chaos, destruction and renewal. The blushing series references the pink fire retardant dropped over the bush and, inadvertently, on those fighting the fires. Graham is also collaborating with musician Mark Cauvin in developing multidisciplinary artworks, including sound and performance for a joint exhibition in Mudgee, New South Wales, in February 2022.

Jody Graham, Magpie, 2020, work in progress, drawn with burnt wood from recent fires. Courtesy the artist

From her compulsion to collect found material ‘to rescue things and restore life and purpose’ to her innovative use of drawing tools and thought processes, Graham speaks with Art Almanac about her creative practice and studio life.

Can you describe your process in selecting new methods and materials (or unconventional tools) to explore and expand your creative practice?
I’m fascinated by what people discard and enjoy contemplating who they are and why rubbish ends up in certain places. I think there is a saying, ‘you can tell a lot about someone by what they throw away’, and that’s probably what underpins my need to collect – my curiosity and imaginings.

I walk often; long walks – 10 to 15 kilometres at a time. These walks are precious: they help me think and figure out ideas and provide invaluable opportunities to collect discarded material. Essentially, I like making site-responsive and time-responsive artworks, and walking in an area helps me connect with the place I am in.

Drawing is my go-to thing – it’s how I learn about people, places and things. Often, I draw with utensils and tools I’ve crafted from a place or an event I am drawing, such as charcoal collected from the Black Summer fires, which I used to depict flying embers or birds escaping the flames. Sometimes, though, I relish the opportunity to put the drawing material aside and figure out how to respond creatively to a subject in another way. My collecting of face masks or burnt twisted cans from the Black Summer fires is an example of this. I love this process: it challenges me and keeps me awake at night with my mind playing mental gymnastics, exploring new concepts and trying to answer difficult questions. Many are soiled and damaged; but this adds layers to the artwork that I can’t imagine pristine face masks would provide.

Working out PPE pandemic masks installation in studio, 2021, collection of found discarded face masks from pandemic 2020/21. Photograph: Graeme Wienand. Courtesy the artist

How does this all tie in with your ‘compulsion to rescue and restore’?
I like decay: the evidence of prior existence; worn out surfaces and eroded objects; the marks, textures and patinas that speak of a previous life. This type of material adds a character that I don’t feel in the shiny and new.

I like giving new life to the discarded – this directly correlates with my life. Over a decade ago, I emerged from a dark past, which had involved copious amounts of dangerous drinking, to reemerge and build a new, productive and healthy life. A large part of my artwork reflects this urge to rescue things and restore life and purpose.

Where do you find inspiration when starting a new body of work?
I am innately inspired to make artwork readily from what I observe and hear. My dilemma is to resist running with every idea I have, to enforce boundaries on myself, and then practice spontaneity within those self-imposed restrictions. Deadlines help with this too; otherwise, I get swept up starting new work and can be inundated with unfinished, half-baked artworks.

Many of my ideas are born from experiencing and watching life. I think I collect intriguing parts of conversations and unconsciously store them away in my memory bank; often recalling parts of these exchanges years later and connecting them with concepts I am working on.

Over the last twelve months, I have been inspired to learn how to relate drawing to sound. I am enthused about the transferring of knowledge while working and learning with Mark Cauvin. Currently, we are trying to blur the boundaries of visual art and sound and develop a new language.

Drawn from the discarded mark making, drawing tools, 2021, animal bones, wood, wire, discarded fabric and grass string, dimensions variable. Photograph: Graeme Wienand. Courtesy the artist

How has the pandemic redefined your studio practice?
I like my life being stripped back to the essentials. The pandemic reminded me of the pleasure I find in the simple and unpretentious. During this time, I decided to do a residency in my studio; particularly early on, this allowed me to enjoy living with my work for long periods and mostly loving it. I rediscovered how beneficial it is to artmaking to dedicate large slabs of unbroken time.

Making art can be a solitary business that I usually rejoice in, but as the pandemic progressed, I needed to be careful not to spend too much time isolating. At times, I felt a bit stir-crazy because my studio is like a concrete cave; however, I found that continually creating doesn’t always equal good art. I can get so close to things that I can’t see properly and need to step back, go for a walk, pick some rubbish up, whistle to a magpie or talk to a friend. I worked out how important connecting with others and the environment is for my well-being.

 

Jody Graham is represented by Nanda\Hobbs, Sydney and Lost Bear Gallery, New South Wales.

jodygraham.com.au

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