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INTERVIEW: Jessica Groome

Jessica Groome is an artist who taught at the University of Guelph. She has moved from Toronto to Berlin and both her body of work and her dedication to her practice inspires us continually. She shared with us her thoughts about colour, artistic influences, and how collaboration has affected her practice.

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?

The first person that comes to mind is Katharina Grosse. I admire her for the way that she uses painting and installation. I think she would be amazing to work with. I've also just watched a couple of videos of her working and she seems very energetic and sporadic, which is extremely different than the way that I work.

Do you have a studio routine?

The first thing I do is move things around, both the work on the wall and the things on my table. My main goal is to negotiate prior ideas.

Do you have any books or documentaries you would recommend?

I’ve read Bridget Riley The Eye’s Mind over and over. She describes her work in a smart, articulate and accessible way. I’m also a huge fan of Dave Hickey’s Pirates and Farmers.

I re-watched the Gerhard Richter documentary recently to work on my German. It was interesting to hear what he had to say and how simple it was. I watched it with Michael, my partner, who is German. Michael thought that what Richter had to say was really basic and uninspiring but I thought that it was kind of amazing and even the simple things he had to say were profound.

If you had an unlimited budget, is there anything you would buy for your studio practice?

First of all, a huge studio with a lot of windows, all to myself. I would also have at least five flat files, for storing large-scale works on paper. Also, in the Richter documentary, I appreciated how everything in his space is so clean and organized. There's definitely a crew of people he's paid to do that. I would also have assistants if I could afford it.

Can you speak about the colour choices you make in your work?

Every work begins as a monochrome. I'll start with a certain colour, say blue. Then, I'll prepare pieces of paper with variations on that colour. For the collaboration I did in Berlin with Stanzie, the entire exhibition was blue. After the show was over, my mind was completely stuck on blue. I had all of these leftover materials and not much money, so I made all blue work. Over the last little while, I realized I'm going through a self-induced blue period, which is bizarre. I'm going to embrace it by making a new series of monochromatic bodies of work, moving through different colours over the course of the year. We'll see, it might not happen but it sounds good.

The shape that you seem to use a lot, the double-curve, how did that shape originate?

I used to make small collages as studies for oil paintings. I remember when that shape showed up in one of the studies; it was in 2012. The first work I used the double-curve in was called Untitled (mound) and it was a small green on green painting. There was also a light blue double-curve cut-out that I made during this time. I thought of it more as a scrap, close to being garbage. This piece of paper floated around my studio for a couple of years. I used it in several temporary works before permanently incorporating it into a collage in the summer of 2014. I think the reason why I'm interested in the double-curve is because it can be so evocative depending on the proportions, functioning as both a positive and a negative shape. It gives the work such a relationship to the figure and to a kind of weirdness, awkwardness, temperament or personality.

How are you able to constantly find new varieties while repeating these forms that you use?

It has a lot to do with the process of moving things around and seeing them from different points of view. I think finding variation in something familiar and old can be extremely frustrating. But when I work at it over and over again, something new inevitably comes out. Because I’m using only my hands and not measuring things exactly, the work is bound to evolve over time.

It must feel great when it does result in something new after so much trial!

It does feel very liberating! It has been a couple of years since I oil painted, but going back to collage and through the repetition involved with making collage, I realized I didn’t need oil paint anymore. That was a moment of liberation through revisiting something that I'd been doing constantly with a new perspective. That’s what I mean about looking at things from different points of view. Phillip Guston, in a documentary called "A Life Lived," talks about things that you can and can’t accept, and it changes over a lifetime. For a long time I couldn't accept the colour blue. I thought it was really cheesy, kind of romantic or something, and I never used it. Then at a certain point I deliberately started using it just to see if it was worth trying. Now it’s ironic because I'm only using blue. I also saw a Mondrian exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin and there was a film in the exhibition where it talked about how Mondrian never used the colour green, and not only that, he hated it! If he had flowers in his studio he would paint the stems white so he didn't have to see the green. I found this fascinating! I wish I could be that insane! (laughs)

Speaking of historical art figures, Matisse and his paper cuts seem to be a large influence to you. Can you speak about how you reference art history and how that inspiration comes to you?

Obviously Matisse is a big one! When I was at Emily Carr, Elizabeth McIntosh and Andy Patton, who was doing a guest semester there, would often mention Matisse to me as someone to look at. I didn’t really get it until summer 2006 I went to visit my friend Jessica Jang in London, and I saw The Snail at the Tate. I think this changed my life forever. I’ll never forget feeling so inspired coming back to my fourth year and having a studio visit with Elizabeth where she said “someone got their shit together over the summer!”

It wasn’t until I was writing my thesis at Guelph that I really started to research Matisse and become even more obsessed with him. I was most interested in photos of him working and in his studio, the way rooms looked with his cut-outs integrated seamlessly. What I take from Matisse, besides working with colour, painted paper and installation, is this sense of making things look deceptively easy, when in fact they are not.

Nude in the woods, the show I had at Erin Stump Projects last fall, was based on Kirchner’s Three Nudes in the Forest. This painting gave me ideas the figure and anthropomorphism, absurdity and also colour. Kirchner style of painting changed in his late work, and Three Nudes in the Forest is a great example of this shift. It turns out he was influenced by a Picasso exhibition he'd seen. It’s the least known and the least respected era of his work, which is funny because it’s my favourite.

Can you speak to us about your process and how you make your forms? Specifically how you apply your paint to your paper and how the curling occurs?

The curling is something that I am also very interested in right now and that I only started to discover when I was making the work for the Nude in the woods show. It happened because I would paint one side of the paper and leave the other side unpainted. The paper warps in the direction of the paint, so that’s how the curling happens. When I scaled up into the larger work, I was constantly fighting with the paper and trying to flatten it. Then I noticed that I could use the curl and incorporate it into the work.

Do you use a really large brush? How do you get the paint on the paper so cleanly?

The brushes I use are actually not as big as you might think. I've been using the same type of brush for years, and I know them inside and out. The brushstroke I use has been a long-term work in progress, and it started by accident. When I was first starting to make oil paintings, I didn't know how much mineral spirits to mix in with the paint, so there would always be too much and the paint would be super thin. I really liked the quality of the wash and the thinness of the paint but obviously it was a disaster at first, so I cultivated that mark into what it is today. Now I predominantly use acrylic and I've been able to achieve a similar effect with the way that it’s applied. I pull it across the page and it has to happen fast and decisively. It cannot be laboured, so there's a very particular pressure that needs to happen. It’s all about consistency, confidence, and efficiency at the same time.

We would love to hear about your exhibition The blue form folds in two.

Stanzie Tooth was also in Berlin so we connected and became fast friends. She invited me to do a collaborative exhibition with her at the Institut für Alles Mögliche, where she was doing a residency. When we started working together it happened really effortlessly. The starting point for the show was based on drawings Stanzie had been making with blue ink. She made over a hundred, thinking about figures passing by the sandblasted window that was in her studio space. Stanzie was constantly working long hours in the studio alone and watching these distorted and anonymous figures walk by this window. All the work that we made for the show, other than the ink drawings, was site-specific. The blue arch I made for the show is a piece of party streamer, or crepe paper, that's been seamlessly adhered to the wall. It was a pretty convincing pseudo-formal geometric thing, even though it’s a very casual, cheap material.

How did you come to the title?

Stanzie had written that line describing a man sitting down in front of the window. It seems quite formal when you read it out of context, which is nice for me, but then it also has a figurative reference to something that happened, which is important to the content of the show.

This isn't your first collaborative show. Do you find yourself gravitating towards them? What draws you to the idea of collaborating with someone?

If you had told me two years ago that I would be doing collaborative work I wouldn't have believed you. The first collaboration with Ashleigh Bartlett was her suggestion. I had a window gallery in Toronto and she was going to do a show. We kept corresponding about the show back and forth, jokingly texting each other and sending candid photos of our studios. I texted her something like, “I've been making a bunch of circles lately,” and she was like “oh, I've been making these wigs!” (laughs) She came from Boston to do the show, and brought her cut-paintings, which she also calls backpack paintings. We were loosely looking at Thomas Schütte. He has these really great small painting installations of Pairs, Spots and Rings from the 70s and 80s. We started pairing the circles and wigs, playing with the installation, using the whole space of the wall. I think working with Ashleigh gave me the freedom to make the sculptural paper works that I ended up making after that, just as working with Stanzie has inspired this monochrome idea. Its interesting working with people! Being skeptical and scared has lead to development in my own practice that I never would have expected.

Did you find that teaching affected your practice in any way? Did it inspire it, did it hinder it?

To watch students become more dedicated and serious about what they do, maybe because of something that you said or did, is a pretty amazing thing. I guess teaching is like a collaboration as well, and the things that you get out of that collaboration aren't always evident at first, or you think you know what's going to happen going into it. But then, coming out of it, everyone who was involved in that collaboration is different afterwards and I think that’s the thing that is the most rewarding and interesting about teaching.

Thank you so much for speaking with us, Jessica! Congratulations on being shortlisted by the Canada Council in the category of painting for the Jeux de la Francophonie in 2017, and on your 6 week residency invitation in Huskvarna Sweden for next February and March.

Want to see more of her incredible work? Be sure to check out the upcoming:

"For you / And me"

A group show organized by Ashleigh Bartlett at Paul Kuhn Gallery in October

"Entangled: Two Views on Contemporary Canadian Painting"

A group show at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the fall of 2017

A continuation of the collaborative project CIRCLES & WIGS with Ashleigh Bartlett

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