Meet our artist of the month for June, IJE, who talks to us about her passions for paint, words, hiking, mountaineering and her studio, plus balancing life as an holistic therapist, mentor and coach with life as an artist. IJE is one of the contemporary artists from the Midlands taking part in Visibility BlackArtProject , commencing this month.
Why/ when did you start making art?
Unlike many artists, I didn’t consider myself to be into art as a child. I didn’t really draw/sketch/paint, though I’ve always written and collected “words” as well as being taught to be creative through needlework, knitting, music, play and especially physical activity. Both my parents were very practical and pragmatic in outlook, focused on me being strong, capable and achieving to my potential, I guess more directed at academic achievement than artistic/creative. I can remember enjoying learning about art in my first 2 years at secondary school, but I wasn’t allowed to take art further as I did science and languages.
Scroll forward 20 years to 2004 – my mam bought me a watercolour painting workshop as a birthday present and then an oil painting one with the same artist later that year. Once I started playing with oil paints I was hooked, my passion for paint ignited.
I began to paint regularly from 2007 when I moved from Yorkshire to Rugby and joined an evening painting class run by a local self-taught artist. By 2011 I was really doing my own thing, painting mainly abstract work and had graduated from the box room to taking over a double bedroom as my studio. By 2011 I realised I “had to paint”, it wasn’t a hobby, it wasn’t a passing fancy, it was a passion, a deep need, having a creative outlet kept me sane.
In 2012 I redirected from my career as a senior manager in the local government/health sector and took the opportunity to recover my health and develop myself as a healer and artist, completing a Fine Art Diploma in 2014 at Leamington School of Art, followed by an MA Fine Art (Birmingham City University) in 2016. This is when things really opened up for me, learning about other artists and philosophy (metaphysics and phenomenology), understanding what motivated me and inspired my making, learning to experiment and, importantly to talk about art, share ideas and collaborate with others.
Where do you work?
I make most of my work from my garden studio in Rugby. The studio itself is a work in progress, having built the shell and basic interior with my partner in 2013, I’m gradually making improvements/modifications as I can afford, having recently completed the insulation on my lightwell so it will be cooler in summer and warmer in winter. I’m and currently saving to get plumbing to my sink which is outside on the “veranda” which is as yet unfinished.
I love being in there and will go in at least once a day, even to just sit and feel the energy. I’m very lucky as I can go in at any time of the day or night and especially when I’m struggling with my health.
I open my studio to the public once a year (or by appointment) during Warwickshire Open Studios Arts Weeks. This year I am sharing my space with 2 other artist friends and we are open as “In The Mix”, 11-6 Sat/Sun 19/20 June, Fri to Sun 25 to 27 June and Fri to Sun 2 to 4 July.
I also have a studio space in the old morgue at GRID Studios, Harborough Magna where I can be around other artists and focus on learning new skills like ceramics.
How would you describe your pieces?
All my work has an energy, a sense of movement, time and rhythm; they are vibrant, layered, with the physical work usually very textured. Textured paintings with inclusions of manufactured materials are often described as bold and energetic, reflecting the feelings, political resonance, and sensuousness of my encounters. My photographs/videos initially act as immediate note taking, capturing glimpses of the times and spaces that I occupy in the world, often leading on to incorporation with poetry, sculpture or installation.
I am a mixed practice artist: I am a writer, a poet, an explorer, a painter, a photographer, a creator, a healer; I am a sculptor, an adventurer, a walker and a runner, a performer, a thinker, a catalyst. I look up towards, I look down onto, I look through and on the face of things; I encounter, touch, feel, remember, imagine, and fabricate.
Do you follow a set process or does it vary?
My work can be hard to categorise as it is often standalone pieces or small series of works. I am very prolific and usually have up to 10 pieces on the go at any time, all in different stages of development. Some are finished in a matter of days after long periods of thought and others have taken 5 or 6 years for me to be happy with them.
All work starts with a refrain – sound / colour / movement initiated during my activities which gathers intensity, galvanising the physical, expressive process. This refrain may start as a single sound or word and I’ll pick up on it and hear it over and over for a period of time, then this may gather momentum into more words or colours, into a rhythm until my bodies is saturated. I will have started to write/make notes by this point and then this will erupt into a poem or straight to a painting or to the shaping of materials like galvanised steel mesh or velvet or clay.
I always use my “though books”, like a sketch book I guess but mine have more writing in than sketches. From ideas, to research, to documenting how every artwork is made – dates, materials, progress, thoughts, what it’s about or linked to, success or failure, if it turns into something else.
When painting, I like to get rid of the white surface and then work quickly and intensively with large gestures. There are nearly always lots of layers and the materials I use have to be mutable, full of potential; concealing, revealing, creating spaces in between, worlds within worlds to be explored, to get lost and found, these spaces I go when I’m journeying.
What inspires your work?
Physical, mental and spiritual movement – change. My practice draws on a lifetime of moving across the UK and beyond exploring landscapes, from wild spaces of mountains and coastlines, to mining and farming communities to industrial towns and cities. My painting, photography, installation and writing are products of immersive experiences and the transformative properties of expansive natural spaces.
During my youth up to my 30’s, I was always very active, playing most sports to a high level and then going on to martial arts, hiking, rock climbing and mountaineering. That got pushed aside for my career until in 2012 as part of my recovery I began to do endurance activities of long, steady walking or slow running building up to being out on the trails for many hours/miles. This activity now underpins my practice, freeing my mind to generate creative ideas, meander through concepts and activate the gestures and physicality that later becomes integral to my making.
I really missed the solitude and perspective of wild open spaces during 2020 as I was contained to my local area in a more urban/agricultural environment. This has led to more introspective, self-reflective and memory-based artworks. I am currently exploring ideas of identity and how our encounters with the world we inhabit shape us, re-discovering my African/Nigerian/Igbo heritage, including re-learning and recovering language memories.
Do you have any creative role models?
I’m quite eclectic in the artists I like. Usually painters, poets or sculptors – Emily Kame Kngwarraye, Peju Alatise, Anthony Wishaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lemn Sissay, Seamus Heaney, Frank Herbert, Kazuo Shiraga, Hamish Fulton, Nnenna Okore, Michael Raedecker, John Hoyland, Lee Bul, Howard Hodgkin, Miguel Barcelo, Anish Kapoor, Pat Steir and Athena Papadopoulos.
Are there particular themes that run through your work? If so, what are they?
Sensuous, tactile experiences; change, fear and hope; gestures and mark making. My practice draws on a lifetime of moving across the UK and beyond exploring landscapes, from mining and farming communities to industrial towns and cities, to wild spaces of mountains and coastlines.
I return time and again to themes about:
- the winter and the elements – like wind, water, ice
- journeying physically, spiritually and through time
- interconnections and interdependencies, gathering together, chaining, intertwining, repetition and difference
- change – pushing through fear with hope and light, always adding to rather than negating
Do you think about an audience when you are making work? If so what do you hope the viewer gets from your work?
Unless it is a commission, I don’t really think about the viewer as I make. I am tuned in to the refrain I “hear” internally, the repetition of words or phrases or songs; the beat, the rhythm, the feeling, and make the work in response. Once near completion, I start to think more about the orientation and presentation of the work. As I’m finalising the title and considering what I have made and whether it has told its story/said its piece, I do a sense check considering whether the viewer will get a sense of that. Important to me is the encounter, the connection with/to the work – if a viewer feels that, well.. success! Ultimately, once the work is complete then it is on its own and will be received and interpreted by each encounter with others.
What is your favourite work of art (by another artist)?
Oooh, this was so hard. John Hoyland, Warrior Universe; 2010; screenprint on paper
What has been the standout moment for you as an artist so far?
- Selling 3 large paintings from a UK gallery to the same buyer from China in 2019
- Winning the Contemporary Colour Arts Prize at Surface Gallery, Nottingham in 2019 for a solo exhibition at the gallery in 2020
- That I now have a few collectors of my paintings
Is there an artwork you are most proud of/ favourite piece?
I found it far too difficult to choose just one, and hard enough to choose a top 5 as I love every piece that I release, they all express something of me:
EMBEDDED IN THE FLESH OF THE WORLD 2
INTERSECTIONS 4: EQUINOX 2
STILL LIFE TRIPTYCH, AROUND THE LOCH 1-3; TRACKS TRAILS AND TREACHERY; NIMBLE FOOTWORK; DID I SLIP?
RELEASE MY COLOURS: DIKE / WARRIOR
You also work as a healer. Can you tell us about this too?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been empathic and wanted to help others and take away pain and as a child and then adult I found my own ways to “heal” using the energy that is all around, acting as a conduit and channel for catharsis and balance. Since 2012 I have run my own business as a holistic therapist, mentor and coach.
A Holistic Practitioner since 1994, I established ReflexEnergy By Amanda in 2012 and use an eclectic range of energy, reflexology, massage and mindset techniques to affect, sustain and maintain body balance. Personal Effectiveness Coaching/Mentoring is an element of my business, working 1:1 with individuals to consider their aspirations, passions and challenges across personal and career life, supporting them to identify and bring to life their dream ambitions, new perspectives on work challenges, engaging emotional intelligence and improving understanding of organisational/sector dynamics/politics. I have worked with a range of people from company directors, senior managers, independent consultants, academics, small business start-ups as well as artists. I am passionate about supporting individuals to flourish and find balance in their lives
You are one of the artists involved in Visibility BlackArtProject. Tell us what you are looking forward to in terms of your involvement?
I’m really looking forward to learning more about some successful British black artists’ and the conversation that emerges from the encounters between us and our work. It will be interesting to explore perspectives on blackness, what is black art in 2021, why I make art and how does that sit in the context of these artists’ works.
What are your hopes for the future?
I would love to have some commissions (or gain funding) for bold and/or really big works – paintings and sculptures. The biggest painting I’ve made so far is called TORRENT – a composite of six panels measuring w 338 X h 244 cm, however the costs of quality materials to make on spec are too much.
I hope to have another solo exhibition in a big space and have lots of people visit and get to encounter my art works.
My dream is to earn enough from my art to fund my art making and research and be able to have this as my main job. I currently work 3-4 days a week as a holistic therapist which I love and I am successful at, but my true passion and the thing that brings me joy is creating.
That my next exhibition, MULTIPLICITY OF US, which is a collaboration with 6 other artists from the West Midlands, is awesome and lots of people visit, interact and give positive feedback. It’s on at Arcadia Gallery, Coventry from 26 July to 15 August 2021.
Really enjoyed reading this. Thank you Ije.
Ije you are an inspiration. Your energy is tangible both in your painting and holistic therapies.
What can I say?
Didn’t expect anything else?, and this is only the beginning
You will fly
Love you lots and so proud of you xxxx
Brilliant article Ije. It gives an honest picture of how you view life. I’ve put the dates for Arcadia Gallery in my diary.