For April’s Manc of the Month, we had the absolute pleasure of speaking to the one and only Jamie Kirk. Based in Manchester, Jamie’s art is produced with a wide variety of colour, texture and shape, all whilst exploring the life that surrounds him and in doing so creates art with powerful compositions. Read on to see what Jamie has to say about his art, advice for students and his plans for post-pandemic.
Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your art to our Cotton On MCR readers.
Jamie Kirk: ‘I’m Jamie Kirk, I’m an artist primarily interested in painting. My work’s influenced by lots of different things, namely my personal life and observations I make of the world around me. Although these are fairly grounded origins, I afford the work breathing room to partially dictate itself as I believe some of the best decisions happen spontaneously, akin to automatic drawing. Doing so allows the attention to shift towards the interaction between colours, shapes, textures and forms, with an ambiguity that leaves their subjects unanswered and open to interpretation.’
COM: We saw that you studied at Manchester School of Art for your BA and your MA, what advice would you give current students?
JK: ‘There’s so much advice I’d give past me, with the gift of hindsight, but naturally that’s gonna be different to what I’d advise current students in 2021. Imagining for a second we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I would say to get into the workshops, try things out with materials you might not have worked with before and really apply yourself to the opportunities that present themselves. Taking part in open calls, crits, collaborative projects and exhibitions is really crucial to building your identity as an artist, as well as establishing a network. That network, and the relationships you make within it can bring about new opportunities too.
I really valued the opinion of my peers as well as my tutors, and I still talk to the same group of people about mine and their work today. A lot of those conversations happened in the studio, so I know that’s going to be a drastically different experience for students that are having to stay at home. Talking over Zoom just isn’t the same as both of you being stood in front of an artwork. I think it’s the best people can do for now, as well as maybe keeping note of ideas you’d like to pursue when things open up again. If you haven’t got the means to do your practice at home, maybe try something new. I mean that in the, ‘do a collage!’ sense. Not the ‘retrain for a different profession’ sense. Eugh.’
COM: Has the pandemic and the lockdowns had an effect on your art practice at all?
JK: ‘I’ve been fortunate enough to carry on painting at home, within reason; perhaps I’m not splashing paint about as much or being as indulgent in spray painting. First world problems. I’ve got a decent sized space in my living room with an easel and it’s fairly well lit. I use a ring light for painting at night.’
‘I’ve actually been far more productive since the start of the pandemic, maybe because I’d not long finished my MA before things started to really slow down, so I still had the momentum from that. The pandemic itself has made me even more aware of how much importance imagery has in conveying information. Seeing the abundance of Covid related signs and warnings and adverts plastered everywhere- for me, that’s what really made the severity of the situation sink in, towards the start of last year.’
COM: Post Covid-19, do you have any plans for the future you can tell us about?
JK: ‘I’m actually going to be starting a small business with my mum. We’re going to be making unique, limited edition fine art inspired garments and some homeware items. She is great at embroidery so there’s a lot of potential for interesting combinations. The pandemic’s also given us the chance to streamline our vision for it before properly releasing it. I’ll also have a bigger studio space by that point, and I’ve been really eager to make some work which isn’t necessarily paintings. I’ve got lots of plans for 3D work, although paint as a medium will still be front and centre. So I’m excited for all of that.’
COM: What do you think of the Manchester art scene?
JK: ‘I think it’s really vibrant, there’s a lot of great talent flowing in and out of the uni and a lot of innovative people that put their minds to making things happen. I think there are some interesting spaces to show work as well, and Manchester’s reputation as a site of great art only seems to be getting stronger. But in all honesty I don’t feel as involved in it as I potentially could be, something I’ve put down to being too timid during my time at uni, hence the stern retrospective advice… I think it’s also why I’m so eager to collaborate with people now.’
COM: What’s your favourite piece that you’ve created?
JK: ‘That’s tricky because I go through stages of really liking something to thinking it’s The Elephant’s Foot. ‘Washing Up’, which I made as part of a series of more representational paintings for my MA show, has a special place in my heart. Despite it being so different to how I usually paint, I think it just reminds me of that time of my life. I was living on my own for the first time which was great and felt really independent, but also meant I was frequently facing that familiar sight: the washing up. It’s a bit of an inside joke with myself, about the highs and lows of independence. I think most of my work stems from inside jokes with myself. Is that a bit sad?’
COM: No it’s not sad at all! We particularly like the piece ‘‘Panda Eats, Shoots & Leaves’. Can you tell us more about this?
JK: ‘Thank you! That came about after I’d been breaking my paintings down, quite literally into smaller, individual pieces, and then looking at reconstituting them as a whole image. I made ‘Panda’ to be comprised of 4 separate parts, or quarters I suppose, which could exist in isolation or as part of a complete composition. The title came from my interest in languages and the importance of grammar in sentences, and subsequently the gravitas of words. A panda eats bamboo shoots and leaves but the simple addition of a comma transforms him into a homicidal bear. That’s where the idea to have these big, black, comma and apostrophe-shaped voids came from, ‘breaking up’ the piece as they would a sentence.’
COM: Who are your favourite artists and who are you following?
JK: ‘I feel like I’m always discovering new artists, whose work transpires all kinds of media and subjects. I really like the work of Trudy Benson, Fiona Rae, Laura Owens and Fabian Marcaccio to name a few. I like painting that tiptoes between graphic digital references and messy, painterly mark making. Albert Oehlen’s work has been a big influence on mine and I look up to the practices of my former tutors a lot too.’
‘I could go on…’
‘I’ve found fantastic artists through social media; Charley Peters springs to mind whose paintings I love, plus she shares honest insights into her practice which shed light on some of the hands-on questions that I liked to ask during tutorials. I keep an eye on the Manchester School of Art’s social media, as well as other universities. I’m mentally curating shows in my head a lot so I’m always on the lookout for work I could potentially exhibit alongside.’
‘Jenny Eden, Sarah Louise Hawkins, Hayley Harman, Frank Osborne, Molly Goulding, Sophie Smorczewska, Jayson Gylen, Jay Ottewell, Catflap Collective, are just a handful of names ranging through current to graduated students, as well as several peers from my own time studying; Kay Shah, Jack Finch, Ed Florance, Liam Fallon, Sam Holmes, Mark Baxter, Ffion Taverner, Beatrice Lee Knowles, Tom Heaton, Alastair Peat, Beth Costerd, Matthew Bamber, I love all their work.’
COM: Outside of art, what are your hobbies and interests?
JK: ‘I’m really into film, tv and comedy. I actually just did a painting swap with Joe Lycett which was a lot of fun, I wanna do more swaps. I’ve been watching so many series and film franchises over lockdown. I’m also into cooking but that’s a double edged sword for someone who’s just as into eating. I like learning about space and the cosmos, theoretical physics despite most of it (all of it) going over my head, feats of engineering, glossed-over history.’
COM: Lastly, a fun question! If you could live in any piece of artwork, what would it be and why?
JK: ‘Oh wow that’s such a good question. I think it would have to be ‘The Birth Of Venus’, by Botticelli. It’s the first painting that inspired me to research symbolism, Renaissance art, mythology and vanitas paintings, and I can still trace a line from my current practice back to that. I’ve not even seen it in person yet, but I just think it’s amazing. We’re quite used to seeing that image now, but at the time it was pretty damn radical.’