Ginny Elston was the Student Award winner in Jackson’s Painting Prize this year with her work The Burden of Being. In this interview she discusses her relationship with colour and form, and how resilience has been her most valuable lesson.
Above image: Ginny in her studio
Josephine: Could you tell us about your artistic background? How did you become an artist?
Ginny: Drawing and painting have always been strange and mysterious activities that I’ve been drawn to. They’ve been a constant presence in my life since school, and beyond, when I was a student studying Fine Arts, art history, languages and philosophy. I became an artist through persevering with my passion for making stuff. It’s the activity that I find most stimulating in the world, and occasionally the most exasperating.
Josephine: You work across many mediums including painting, needlework, and sculpture. How do you see the relationship between these outputs; do they inform each other?
Ginny: They do inform each other, because I learn all sorts of things from each medium that weave their way into each other. At the heart of all these different mediums are formal concerns: how does this colour sit next to that colour, how does this shape sit next to that shape, what does this surface do in relation to that surface, how is space rendered, how does the thing hold up on its own terms.
Josephine: Where do you find inspiration?
Ginny: I find that inspiration comes from an inner drive, or sense of desire in seeing things come together on a surface or thing. Though landscapes, gardens, green spaces, people and places all have a place in my work, the intuitive, exciting process of making a drawing or a painting is where I really find inspiration. It’s in the colours, materials, textures and surfaces themselves, rather than out in the world. I often find my inspiration to paint comes from looking at the works of other painters, not in a bid to make work like them, but they fuel this desire or need to make my own stuff.
Josephine: Is your work categorised into series retrospectively, or do you start with a concept and work to resolve it until you’re ready to move on?
Ginny: My work is reflective of particular time periods, or particular areas of focus at the time of making. In this sense, series tend be categorised retrospectively, and exhibitions tend to form a natural culmination of thoughts, processes and ideas at the time. I really love the ideas of retrospective exhibitions. It’d be a dream to be able to hang works from the last 10 years or so alongside each other and see what patterns, themes, and concerns emerge.
Josephine: As the winner of the Student Award, do you find your work evolves with your education? In what ways?
Ginny: The evolution of my work is a mystery to me, in the sense that I can’t necessarily predict my next love affair with a place, person or thing. As a teacher, as well as a student at the moment, my work always evolves with my education. Working on a practice-led PhD inevitably means embedding yourself into particular themes, ideas and questions, that are influenced by institutions, and the people that make them up. But making work always involves the unknown, unconscious, and hidden parts of myself too, which I don’t feel relate to any institution.
Josephine: What is the most important (or your favourite) thing you’ve learnt in your artistic education?
Ginny: Resilience, strength and perseverance. It’s why the arts is critical for our society, and such a valuable field for study. Despite being some of the most fragile and self-doubting creatures I know, painters are also some of the most resilient, tough and brave, because they keep coming back again and again to thing that they love, despite it nearly killing them. That goes for a lot of artists, musicians, poets, writers too.
Josephine: What is your relationship with colour and how do you decide on the colour palette of a painting?
Ginny: I love the quote by Brice Marden, who died recently, ‘A colour next to another colour is a colour situation’. A colour situation! I love colour situations. There’s a real urgency in colour situations. The shocking demand of a Cadmium Red, the gentle insistence of a Yellow Ochre, the visual, warm bath of a Terre Verte, the transcendent power of Lapis Lazuli, the quietly necessary Eau de Nil, the grounding ambience of a Raw Umber. I have different relationships to different colours, and each painting has a different palette, a different harmony that emerges through process and time. Some paintings done at the same time have similar palettes, through proximity to subject matter, but others have decidedly different ones, based on the unique needs of each painting.
Josephine: What materials or tools could you not live without?
Ginny: Artists are often quite resourceful creatures, and are good at substituting one thing for another, so I feel like there’s not really one thing I couldn’t live without in terms of materials or tools. I feel like a sketchbook and a pen are probably the most vital tools that I’d really struggle without. And tea.
Josephine: How long does a painting take, or does it depend on the subject? Do you work on multiple pieces at once?
Ginny: It depends on many things. The process, the idea, the subject, my mood, will and determination, whether it’s a commission or an experiment, whether it’s a large painting or a small one. I try to always work on multiple pieces at one, because they bear the collective weight of my efforts, rather than putting all your painting eggs in one basket, as my tutor Matt Storstein said to me once.
Josephine: How do you know when a painting is finished?
Ginny: When I know that any further marks added to the painting will begin to take away from its strength, when any additions begin to compromise the thing, the tension or the sensation that’s being held in the painting. But knowing that is often quite murky and unclear. Sometimes it’s when I get so frustrated that I just ditch it for a while, then finally the answer comes one day and it’s just a few strokes and that’s it.