INTERVIEW WITH JANE HAYES GREENWOOD

Megan Preston Elliott, March 2020

Jane Hayes Greenwood is an artist, Director of Block 336 and a Fine Art Tutor at City & Guilds of London Art School. She graduated from the MA Fine Art course at City & Guilds in 2015 and also studied on the BA Painting course there from 2009-2012.

Jane Hayes Greenwood can be likened to an archaeologist in the way in which she obsessively excavates historical material and objects for research; from ancient plants and botanical diagrams to the bible, this study fuels her practice, enabling her to examine themes of desire and control in a contemporary context. 

Megan Elliott: Could you tell me a bit more about the influences behind one of your latest series, The Witch’s Garden?

 

Jane Hayes GreenwoodThe paintings in the series feature dreamlike plants that I think of as potential ingredients for love potions or spells. The works reference herbal fertility guides and ancient spell books. I’m interested in the ways we attempt to treat and control our bodies and minds medicinally and recreationally and the way that desire, control and magical thinking feature in this. 

 

Apollo’s Gift I, was the first painting I made in the series. It’s based on an extinct plant known as Silphium, reportedly used as a contraceptive and aphrodisiac as far back as 700 BC. One theory suggests this might be where the notorious heart-shaped symbol originates from as it is described as having a heart-shaped seed. I got really excited about this theory, despite it being tenuous.

Women known as witches were often older figures; poor widows who scratched out a living in the community with their experience as midwives and herbalists. Their solitary, vulnerable status and unusual knowledge made them perfect targets for the projection of other people’s rage and fear when crops failed or babies died. Witch persecution often corresponded with the weather, spiking during periods of extreme cold when sharp drops in temperature produced poor harvests, leaving people desperate and looking for someone to blame. I found this both fascinating and totally heart breaking. The story of witches is one of extreme discrimination: one in which women are accused of being inherently powerful and dangerous and therefore threatening to the patriarchal status quo.

Jane Hayes Greenwood, Oviferum, 2019, oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm. Courtesy of the artist. 

ME: What is your working process when making a new body of work? 

JHG: I don’t have a set ‘working process’ as such but as the work shifts, I tend to re-orient what I’m looking at, watching and reading. At the beginning of a new body of work there are often lots of things feeding in – my ongoing interests of course, as well as new obsessions. Research figures pretty significantly. As a way of making some kind of sense of everything that I’m looking at and thinking about, I make lots of drawings and collages and new directions develop organically. 
 

ME: Your paintings often have an uncanny, mythical feel to them. The way they are painted is reminiscent of digital renderings and CGI; you feel like they could be real, but there’s something unsettling about them that disrupts the viewers reading of the work. Would you say that fairy tales and myths feed into your work?

 

JHG: I’m definitely interested in the fables we are told as children and certain stories have fed into previous works. I was looking a lot at how food featured in the Grimms Brothers’ fairy tales a few years ago. They grew up in poverty and were often hungry as children. Food is very significant in many of their stories, often having a magical and threatening presence.

 

Framed in worlds of magic, fairy tales are stories of transformation and possibility. They are used as a way of relating intense experiences and moral codes, often lulling you into a false sense of security only to reveal something darker and more sinister, which is what makes them so attractive.

Jane Hayes Greenwood, Left to right: The Standing Dead, Floating Without Outlines, False Unicorn, 2019, oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm. Courtesy of the artist. 

"a painting practice can be one of excavation and self-discovery"

ME: Your work often utilises a soft, pastel colour palette - where do you draw influence from for your choice of colour?

 

JHG: This is not a wholly conscious choice; I am very much emotionally drawn to the colours I use. I have tried to wean myself off the saccharine palette but always seem to find myself going back to it; I’m like a kid that can’t stop eating sour sweets despite feeling sick.

 

We often associate pastel colours with childhood innocence, which I find disturbing. Segregating soft blues and pinks and imposing an idea of what innocence should look makes me nauseous. The pastel colours in kids TV shows also brings up a similar feeling for me. It feels ultimately corruptible.

 

ME: I loved your solo show, Lead Me Not Into Temptation, at Block 336 back in 2017 – the show extended your work from painting into sculpture and installation, but it felt like the installation was made up of elements that had crawled out of your paintings and into the 3D world. Was it quite a different process for you making an installation on this scale?

 

JHG: I have been making small sculptural works since 2013. Then they were mainly acting as props for paintings or drawings rather than being made to exist in their own right. Saying that, I made Unofficial Versions in 2015, where I cast tools used in archaeological excavations and painting, in pale pink rubber. This is still an important work for me. With the work I was making at that time, I was thinking a lot about how a painting practice can be one of excavation and self-discovery. Freud uses a metaphor where he likens the jobs of the psychoanalyst to that of the archaeologist, suggesting that the psychoanalyst also has to uncover buried fragments and reconstruct them to be understood for a present context.

 

For Lead Me Not Into Temptation, I decided to treat the main gallery at Block like I would a painting: creating new walls, surfaces and physical objects that I could compose in the space, rather than just dotting canvases around the room. I didn’t have much time to make the work, creating the entire installation in less than 7 weeks. Because of the time constraints and the fact that I’ve never worked at that scale, I found a real sense of freedom, working quickly and playfully with new materials (despite multiple setbacks along the way!)

Jane Hayes Greenwood, Lead Me Not Into Temptation, 2017, installation view at Block 336. Courtesy of the artist and Block 336.

ME: Which artists would you say have been most influential to your practice?

JHG: There are many: Stanley Spencer, Edward Burra, Louise Bourgeois, Fritz Khan, Joan Semmel, Horst Antes and, after the Tramps show, I’ve become really interested in Caroline Coon. I always go back to Spencer and Burra; two modern British painters whose work for me shares a similar intensity. Both of them worked with an unfettered obsessive attitude, which is totally present in the paintings. I get a bit of a high from looking at their best works. Burra’s paintings are often transgressive and irreverent, his satirical eye eating up camp, exotic scenes from his travels. He was physically very disabled with severe rheumatoid arthritis and a blood condition but travelled extensively nonetheless, always attracted to the underbelly of the places he visited. 

Stanley’s paintings are compelled by a strong psychosexual drive as well as his fervent Christian faith; a strange but brilliant blend that makes for extraordinary paintings. 

ME: Do you listen to any podcasts, or are you reading anything at the moment that is influencing your ideas?

JHG: Not directly…. Depending on what I’m doing in the studio, I listen to a lot of podcasts. I like to have something on in the background while I’m working. I often find I’m not fully listening though and have to rewind on hours worth of stuff because I’ve zoned out and switched fully into painting mode. I’ve just started reading Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, which is set in a not too distant, misogynistic right wing America. It explores the ways women’s bodies are controlled, and looks at motherhood, identity, and freedom. I’m too early in the book to say if and how this will influence my work but a lot of what I read shapes my thinking in relation to what I’m making.

"a lot of what I read shapes my thinking in relation to what I'm making"

Jane Hayes Greenwood, Lead Me Not Into Temptation, 2017, installation view at Block 336. Courtesy of the artist and Block 336.

ME: Could you talk about how and when you set up Block 336 and how it has grown since? What are the aims for Block 336 and what are the upcoming projects? 

JHG: Ok, so going back to the beginning… I came across the space as part of a group of students in 2009 whilst studying on the Painting course at City & Guilds of London Art School. There is a professional practice component in first and second year where the students are asked to organise an exhibition offsite. Someone knew somebody that worked in the 336 building and told us there was a large basement space that was barely being used. We approached the building manager who was open minded enough to let us use it for a pop-up exhibition. The space was very rough and ready but following that student show, Xabier Basterra and I, (one of my peers from the course), discussed the possibilities of using it on a more permanent basis and when I graduated in 2011 we made an approach with this in mind. 

We ended up taking on the space on with a year’s lease. There were certain conditions such as us having to becoming a registered charity within the first year. This meant a certain level of professionalism was forced on us as at an early stage in that we had to think from the outset about what our charitable aims and objectives would be and implement a Board of Trustees. Once we had certain things in place we approached some people from art school. Alex Gough and Robert Bell joined us and have been part of the original team that is still working together. The first few years were an exciting but steep learning curve!  

We present approximately 4 exhibitions per year and commission artists to make new work in our exhibition spaces. Artists are invited to spend 5+ weeks working in the space to create something that is an extension of their studio practice, which goes beyond what they might be able to produce elsewhere. Our team supports them in developing their ideas and realising technically ambitious works.

On March 20th, we are showing two artists concurrently: Andy Holden will be exhibiting in the main space (gallery 1) and painter Tom Worsfold in gallery 2. I’m really excited about these two shows – their new work is looking amazing! 
 

Jane Hayes Greenwood, The Witch’s Garden, 2019, installation view at GiG Munich. Courtesy of the artist and GiG Munich.

ME: Do you find it difficult to balance your time between Block336, teaching and your own practice?

 

JHG: At times. I guess you could say I’m a bit obsessive so I find ways to make time for what I want to do. I’ve definitely had to work out how to compartmentalise. For me it’s been about learning to instil and protect boundaries as much as possible, which is not always easy. London, although brilliant in many ways, is not the easiest place to balance art, work and life!

 

ME: What are you working on at the moment/ what do you have coming up over the next year?

 

JHG: I’m working on some new paintings that I’m really excited about. They are larger in scale than The Witch’s Garden series and the compositions are more complex. I have a residency coming up at Palazzo Monti in Brescia, from March-April where I’m looking forward to having a whole 4 weeks to concentrate on my work, if coronavirus doesn’t spoil it!

Jane Hayes Greenwood, Left to right: Black Prince, Redstone, 2019, oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm.

Courtesy of the artist. 

© 2020 by Assemblage Magazine.

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