Artist inspired by the colours of Bermuda
It was an impressive list of artists, so people took notice of the relatively unproven 20-something-year-old who had landed on it.
Rachel Jones had only recently graduated from university and was struggling to make her way. Being singled out by British newspaper, The Guardian, was “a brilliant push” for her career.
What comes next is also impressive: she’s one of 14 artists who will join the Royal Academy of Arts’ master’s programme in October; 850 people applied for a spot. In the meantime, the Brit is in Bermuda, as Masterworks’ artist-in-residence. She spoke with Lifestyle about how art has shaped her life.
Q: How would you describe your work?
A: For the past two years I’ve been making paintings that discuss the representation of the black figure within the history of art and contemporary society. Recently I made a series of sculptures and large paintings, some measuring 6ft by 8ft. They’re figurative but very expressive. Colour is really important to me so I use a varied palette when I’m painting. That’s why it’s nice to be [in Bermuda], because it’s so colourful.
Q: How did you end up at Masterworks?
A: I have been here three times before on holiday. [For some reason my mum] really wanted to go to Bermuda, so we both came four years ago for a week. We absolutely loved it and have come back every year since.
On my last visit I came to Masterworks I spoke with [gallery director Tom Butterfield]. When he said they had a residency programme and asked if I wanted to be part of it I was ecstatic. It was one of the highlights of my year.
Q: What had you been doing?
A: I graduated from Glasgow School of Art three years ago. It was a massive wake-up call to how hard it is to find studios that are affordable. To carry on making art is not easy in the current financial climate. The studio I was just in is being knocked down to put flats up, and artists are being pushed out of spaces all over London. It is difficult to continue without having money to support yourself so doing a residency like this is amazing. It gives me the opportunity to make work for three months and I don’t have to worry about supporting myself and all those things I have to think about when I’m at home. So I’m really thankful to Masterworks for that — to be able to paint on the island. It’s stunning. Worlds apart from London. It’s a good departure for me.
Q: How’d you get in The Guardian feature?
A: I got a call from the press office at [my alma mater] Glasgow School of Art. They said, ‘We want to put you forward for a piece focusing on the seven ages of an artist. Would you like to do it?’ They put me in touch with the journalist, Kate Kellaway, who came to visit me in my studio [in London] last summer. We had a lovely chat about what it was like studying in Glasgow and coming to London and making work as a young artist. It was great to read the article once it was published. I feel it’s important to share stories about the individual processes of making art and working. A lot of people don’t know how artists support themselves, what it’s like to make work, etc. I was featured alongside artists like Laure Prouvst, Rachel Whiteread, Paula Rego, Richard Deacon … I mean it was phenomenal. Four of the artists out of the seven were Turner Prize winners, so it was a massive compliment to be featured as the representative for the 20-year-olds.
Q: And the public response?
A: As soon as the feature was published a lot of people who didn’t know who I was before, started contacting me. Curators invited me to be part of shows. It was a brilliant push for my career and a step in the right direction. There are a lot of really good artists out there, but they don’t always have all the other stuff you need to succeed — a business head, the ability to network and meet people. So when I was given the opportunity to share, and inform people about my practice in a national newspaper, it was great. It’s been really, really good for my career.
Q: Why did you then decide to return to school?
A: Having time out from school was really good. I needed that, but I felt that it would be good for me to be back in a school environment. I applied to the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal College of Art. I was accepted into the Royal College of Art and shortlisted for a scholarship. I found out in April that I was accepted into the Royal Academy of Arts and I accepted my place there. I start in October. It’s free, as it’s privately funded, and I get bursaries every term for materials. It’s really competitive, a really prestigious school. The ability to just focus on my art is a true gift. And because there are only 14 people in the year it will be intimate, there’ll be a greater sense of family. They whittled the applicants down from 850 to 70 and then invited them for interviews. You have to take a selection of your work in and seven people sit around a table and critique your work as you’re hit with a barrage of questions for half an hour. I’m really happy that I got in, words cannot express.
Q: What would you do if you couldn’t paint?
A: My back-up plan was to go and study English literature at university because I got really good grades in school and I love to read. It wouldn’t have been much of a back-up though because painting is honestly all I’m good for.
• Read more here: rachelvictoriajones.co.uk