This week’s post is the first artist profile for Art Matters Now (hooray!). It features an artist I’ve known for almost 20 years. I first met Jackie Ralph in Tokyo, Japan, and later we became neighbours while living in Kyoto. Back then she was painting canvasses with giant sized blue sumo wrestlers in the most beautiful way you can imagine. I have a small one in my home, a gift from Jackie that makes my heart sing. So it is with much delight that I share Jackie’s thoughts on why art matters.
Jackie completed a Bachelor of Fine Art at Victoria College in Melbourne before travelling to many countries and living for a short time in both London and New York where, in both cities, she maintained a studio practice painting and making sculpture. Her interest in form, movement and the contradictions between bulk and fragility found expression whilst living in Japan, in a body of work depicting Sumo wrestlers. This exploration has since morphed from paintings of Sumo wrestlers to sculptures of horses, one of which stands outside the World Trade Centre in Melbourne. She returned to Australia, completing a Graduate Diploma in Visual Art and then a Master of Visual Art at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2005. Since then, Jackie has received several awards and commissions and had her work televised on Art Nation (ABC TV).
Why does art matter?
Thomas Albright in his essays suggests art reshapes the way we see reality, “…art…intensifies and reorders experience into new shapes, new facts…”[i]; that art “has the power …[to help] achieve comprehensions that reason alone cannot encompass.”[ii]
Art is an idea manifest. It’s a window into a thought or thought process that we can’t access otherwise. It can suggest and inform on a subtle level, and allow room for the viewer’s subjective viewpoint.
Tell us about your art practice. What does it consist of now? How has it evolved?
My practice primarily revolves around drawing, painting and sculpture. The three inform each other. At times one discipline might override another depending on what aspect of the work I’m exploring. For the last 7 years the bulk of my practice has been sculpture. I majored in painting at a time when a multi-disciplined practice wasn’t encouraged so people who have come in on my practice at various times have been surprised at what they saw as a shift. But if the body of work is considered, the shifts are minimal.
What is at the heart of your art?
Key considerations in my practice are expression through weight placement: distortion whilst still maintaining form; and the work’s key underlying theme, dislocation; and how to marry these concerns through materiality. In the horse sculptures, opposing qualities such as stillness and movement, and fragility and strength are contrasted within the one form, and through these various parts moving in opposition, I attempt to explore a key emotional state specific to each sculpture. Bent, illogical positioning is used to create tension and suggest disconnection. The textured and irregular surfaces are a continuum from a painterly surface where I layer and scrape back paintings, allowing for previous layers and scrapings to be seen. This shows a history of the work, the process, a kind of marking of time passing and it also hints at a primitiveness which for me suggests a dislocation from the modern world. I present the horse dislocated from its two common environments: a man-centered environment, and its wild state. Generally, horses are portrayed as an extension of man, as a kind of accessory; the working horse, war horse, race horse. They are a subjugated vehicle for people’s desires and represent man’s primacy. I am interested in the horse as sentient being and not as an extension of man. I take the horse from the race, the rider from the horse and try to reposition that horse’s status – to that of a being in its own right. And from these disconnections, invest a work with a particular emotional state that is then explored through form.
There are some key consistencies – the mark making left on the surface that has no central focus. Eyes are generally omitted to take focus from facial expression to overall physicality. The mane and tail are reduced in order to make the form more visceral and to suggest a removal from the horses’ wilder state.
“Horse with something to say” (pictured below) is a sculpture about discontent. As it happened, it landed in the perfect environment, in amongst buildings with straight lines and inorganic angles.
What motivates you to create?
I don’t really know. I get a certain sense of satisfaction from what works at times. Each time you go into the studio it’s like “how do I get this to work?” Most artists I know grapple with how to get something to work. I envy anyone who gets pure enjoyment or relaxation out of placing colour on paper.
What advice would you provide for someone who told you they really don’t know how to go about understanding art?
Watch BBC’s “How Art Made the World”. Start with episode 1, More Human than Human.
What are your top tips for getting into the creative zone?
Repetition. Doing it as much as you can – preferably on a routine basis. If my time is limited, I listen to music that I’ve played a lot, a real lot, in the studio – gets you straight into it.
Thanks Jackie. It’s been super enlightening to hear about your practice and why art matters to you.
[i] Thomas Albright, “The Mysteries of Contemporary Art”, In On Art and Artists essays by Thomas Albright, edited by Beverly Hennessey, Chronicle Books. San Francisco ,1989, p30
[ii] Thomas Albright ,”The Content is the Message Now”, Ibid, p11