Jennifer Douglas studied in Newcastle and later at the Glasgow School of Art. She lives and works in Gateshead and is represented by Workplace Gallery. I sit down with her to talk about her practice and the show ‘Have I Been Here Before’, currently on view in the Club Room at Century.
I know that you are coming from a sculptural background and I have always felt that even though your two-dimensional works are paintings, they feel more like objects. Please tell me a little about this.
I agree, and I think it is because of the process that the materials have been through resulting in the surfaces containing the residue of this activity. They are live rather than static and demand time of the viewer with their three-dimensionality. Added to this, the depth of each surface is considered in relation to the scale of the work, projecting itself out from the wall to exist as an object in space.
Close to the bar in the exhibition hangs one of your earlier works. In that series, you have used utilitarian materials as floor paint and carbon paper. Would you like to expand on the background of these materials in your making?
With a practice rooted in sculpture, the exploration of materials and how they operate in space is fundamental. The paint used to prime these surfaces is not just primer but heavy duty floor paint, commonly used in commercial and industrial spaces. In some instances, I am drawn to materials which have become obsolete or superseded by something that ‘does the job better’. For me, though, there is often an aesthetic quality in, for example, videotape, outmoded light bulbs or carbon paper which I seek to disassociate from its original function and re-appropriate formally to be read as material in space. The carbon paper which previously belonged to my Grandmother, was an obvious choice of material to experiment with and initiate new methods and processes of making. The traces of carbon paper are remnants of its puckering and puncturing upon the surface; creating subtle contradictions and conflict.
Your new work is more “bling” and you have worked with gold and silver leaf. Three of these works are hanging in the exhibition at Century. Please tell me about the path to using these materials.
Visually I made a direct connection between carbon paper and the silver leaf with its fragile state though I had used silver leaf, to a degree, in some earlier works. It’s always fascinating to look back at photos of works and studio shots. I did this fairly recently to discover a photo from a previous studio where, amongst other bits and pieces, is a version of a silver leaf ‘painting’. My studio is effectively my laboratory in which I gather, explore allow time for things to gestate, exist and come together to create works. The bling was already there but was triggered by the use of carbon paper for it to come to the fore.
The silver leaf oxidises and changes with time. How do you see these works and the importance of time in the works?
I mentioned before how I considered my work to assert the activity present in their making. The silver leaf works take this to a further level as they will continue to change as the silver oxidises and, the speed at which this happens will be determined by the conditions of the space in which it is kept. The works are active, anti-static, moving and I love this. I think there are differing currencies of time within my practice of which the silver leaf works are one. I visualise my practice a bit like a musical score with different works operating at different tempos whilst, simultaneously, there are ‘forces’ occurring, where materials I suppose, come in and out of focus, added to which I utilise materials which denote aspects of time which leap from the past. Putting this into words is a frenzied head fuck, but with materials it’s easy.
In the works in the exhibition the method of making is quite different in ‘Untitled’ you stab the canvas and in ‘A Tacit Understanding (24ct gold / Nimbus)’ it is quite a delicate process, I assume, applying the gold leaf. Why did you make these choices?
Where I’ve used tones of grey floor paint and made my mark upon this with the carbon paper I’ve punctured and scratched the skin of the work in order to focus attention towards these points and lines; yet acknowledging the expanse they sit within. The silver and gold leaf works have encountered my intervention through their application, the leaf is crumbled, scattered, or flicked to create an expanse of material in which to be immersed, irrespective of scale. This exploration isn’t over though; I’ve begun scratching and piercing into recent leaf works to interrogate this further.
The North East scene is special and vibrant with culture. Would you let me know some of your favourite spaces and events for anyone heading to Newcastle maybe this summer?
The New Bridge Project where I have a studio space has an amazing programme of events and exhibitions in both its Newcastle and Gateshead spaces. Workplace Foundation in Gateshead has an interesting evolving exhibition on throughout the summer too. You’ve obviously got BALTIC and Sage, and there are also lots of fabulous independent pop up bars within a new container village along the Gateshead Quayside just beneath the iconic Tyne Bridge. The Cook House on Ouse Street, Newcastle is a favourite foodie stop off for me as is a trip to the stunning Longsands beach in Tynemouth which is an easy Metro ride away.
What do you have coming up next?
I’m working with Workplace Gallery towards a solo show in London as well as collating materials for a publication. At the moment I am looking forward to a long hot summer with plenty of runs as I am participating in The Great North Run in September. How about you Maria? Wanna be my training partner? (Laughter).
Maria Stenfors has more than 20 years of experience from the art world. She worked at several galleries in Stockholm and London, as well as an independent art advisor, prior to running her own eponymous contemporary art gallery in King’s Cross between 2010 and 2016. She is now an independent consultant alongside working in a gallery.