What inspires The Biscuit Factory’s latest exhibitor, Juliet E.P. Gibbs?
We chat to the 25-year-old oil painter about the isolation of art, the inspiration inside English country houses and why she’s chosen to exhibit her latest collection of work at Newcastle’s The Biscuit Factory.
For Juliet E.P. Gibbs, inspiration lies is in the microcosmic.
The miniature, almost otherworldly environments that can be found in the most unlikely of places: the tropical climates preserved in European greenhouses; the artificial wildness that clings to steel girders and concrete foundations, instead of trees that have grown naturally for centuries.
This age-old conflict between the organic and the manmade is what lies at the core of Juliet’s latest solo exhibition, which opened at The Biscuit Factory earlier this week.
The winner of the 2019 Open Contemporary Young Artist Award has brought together a sensational collection of charcoal drawings, sketches, oil and acrylic paintings in the exhibition, in a bid to artistically consider the direct threat humanity poses to the natural world – and how, in turn, nature continues to fight back.
We caught up with Juliet to find out why ‘man versus nature’ informs nearly all of her work, how she juggles the side-hustle with her flourishing career as an artist, her career highlights, ambitions and adventures and why she’ll never buy her supplies already prepped.
Tell us about your exhibition at The Biscuit Factory.
This exhibition is an amalgamation of work that I’ve made over the past three years. It even includes a painting I showed back at my degree show in 2018. I really wanted to emphasise the natural progression of my work, as well as showing the evolution of my style.
What inspires you?
My work looks at the theme of Man vs Nature and I’ve found most of my inspiration in England’s garden estates. I’m fascinated with glasshouses and the microcosmic nature of having a tropical jungle preserved within a European climate. I often look at the push-and-pull effect occurring between manmade architectural forms and the dominance of nature. I think it’s safe to say, with the past few years we’ve all had, nature has shown itself to be the more dominant force.
Did the pandemic impact your work?
Massively! When lockdown kicked in and everything closed down, I was one of those lucky enough to be able to get on with my passion and really dedicate time to art. I spent a huge amount of time in my studio, which I share with my partner, making work and experimenting with painting. As a result of the lack of external input, the paintings became quite claustrophobic and the compositions tighter – you can see this in the close-crop paintings of plants. I think these paintings are an accurate representation of how I was feeling at the time.
How did you first get into art?
My family is a melting pot of creativity and energy, and this is something I’ve absorbed over time. I grew up surrounded with actors, musicians, artists and show-offs and having that kind of inspiration challenges you to seek your own path and also encourages you not to be scared of doing so. My parents were huge drivers in following this dream and always encouraged the artist in me.
So how did you go about forging a career as an artist?
I was really supported to pursue a career in art by my art teacher in secondary school. Also, being surrounded a by a lot of kids who only wanted to get A*s in academic subjects really inspired the anarchist in me to pursue art!
I later went to Falmouth University, where students are encouraged to engage with all mediums and be experimental. This changed my entire style from a more graphic painting style to what it is now. I wouldn’t be making art the way I do now if it wasn’t for the tutors and peers I spent time with at university. The rest is history, really – art is a very difficult, self-reflective and personal journey that is isolating at times, but I wouldn’t change my path at all. A career in art is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
Your work involves both painting and drawing – do you prefer one over the other?
I would always consider myself an oil painter first, before anything else. But drawing usually comes before the painting. I keep sketchbooks – a habit from my time in education that I’ve held onto. These sketchbooks have little notes in, ideas, sketches and full-blown drawings and they’re so useful to reference and come back to if I’m a bit stuck.
You don’t tend to buy your supplies already prepped – why is that?
I’m most interested in the process of making work, almost more than the final outcome of a piece. I enjoy putting together the canvas bars, stretching the canvas, mixing the paint, making just the right consistency, painting a ground. All these actions are usually things I do before I’ve even considered what I’m going to paint.
Some artists buy their painting supplies prepped because they’re bursting to get their ideas straight down onto the canvas (and it’s easier). But I like to prepare the canvas myself to give me some time to think about what I’m going to make on it. I know it’s a bit back to front!
You were selected by chief curator Rebecca Wilson for their 2019 Saatchi Art ‘Invest In Art’ report. That must have felt awesome?!
To be selected for ‘Invest In Art’ by Saatchi Art was a big deal! It happened just after I graduated from Falmouth Fine Art and it was a huge surprise, as well as a real boost during the turbulent time post-university. It gave me the confidence to imagine myself making art further down the line.
What would you say is your career highlight so far?
I’d say my involvement with UK New Artists (UKNA) has been a real highlight of my career so far. I was chosen to be an exhibiting artist as a part of their Nottingham City Takeover in 2019 – which was a fabulous, week-long arts event with over 250 artists showing works across the city. My involvement with UKNA didn’t stop there and my work was shown at GRAFT in Preston, an exhibition curated by the wonderful Garth Gatrix (who showed immense patience whilst I ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ over which paintings I wanted to show!).
Then the big one happened – UKNA gave me the chance to go to China with seven other UK-based artists, to join with Chinese and South Korean artists to make work and curate an incredible exhibition in an abandoned food factory in a small town around 40 minutes outside of Shanghai. This, to date, has been the most amazing trip of my career and I’m so grateful to all those at UKNA who gave me the chance to make work over there.
So, what’s next for you?
Ideally, my main goals for the moment are to maintain stability with my art and be able to focus more of my energy into painting. I think when you’re able to dedicate your time to something, good things always come from it.
At the moment, like the vast majority of early-career artists, I’m working a part-time job in order to fund my art practice, so being able to go full-time with my art is the dream. The side-hustle is real, people!
Juliet’s exhibition is running at The Biscuit Factory until 26th November. For more information, visit The Biscuit Factory’s website.
The Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, Newcastle NE2 1AN