Interview with Jess Kemp, Silk Painting Artist

Interview with Jess Kemp, Silk Painting Artist

January 19, 2021

Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries is a proud delivery partner on a Landscape Partnership scheme called Miner2Major. The scheme, supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, encourages local communities to get involved in projects that celebrate the diverse wildlife, important habitats and rich heritage of Sherwood Forest. This year Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries, Miner2Major and artist Jess Kemp have been working together to deliver a fabulous Big Draw project in Nottinghamshire.

Working (almost) as planned, and thanks to the ever flexible ethos of The Big Draw, we created a drawing activity that could be accessed remotely. Together we’ve reached out to local community groups to retain communication, creativity and spirit. For many, it has also been the first introduction to the Miner2Major Landscape Partnership Scheme, but it won’t be the last, as their fantastic work will continue to 2023. The Big Draw has provided us with a powerful platform to highlight the Miner2Major work as well as engaging, educating and supporting local groups during these difficult times.

The work produced can be seen in a touring exhibition until July 2021 in Inspire Library Galleries and will then adorn Miner2Major festivals and events from 2021 to 2023.

  • Beeston Library Gallery: Saturday 17 October to Thursday 17 December 2020
  • Worksop Library Gallery: Thursday 14 January to Sunday 28 February 2021
  • Mansfield Central Library Gallery: Weds 3 March to Weds 21 April 2021
  • West Bridgford Library Gallery: Wednesday 2 June to Wednesday 7 July 2021

We hope you enjoy this interview with Jess Kemp, silk painting artist!

Interview: Matilda Barratt in conversation with Jess Kemp.

Could we start by talking about your work with Inspire and Miner2Major as part of this year’s Big Green Draw Festival? Why bunting flags? 

Because bunting has such celebratory and community connections. As a colourful way to introduce people to the project it’s engaging and easy to achieve with an amazing collective end result.

Working backwards a little, could you tell us a bit about you? How did you come to do what you do today? What routes has your career taken?

I trained as a theatre designer then worked with local youth theatres and arts in education projects. This evolved into a broad community arts offer across Nottinghamshire and the east midlands working with a number of arts organisations and local authorities including a fairly long term connection with Inspire, which brings me here.

Your personal practice combines colour and design with the tactile qualities of silk. What draws you to these themes and this material in particular?

This relates back to my theatre and dancing days, the colour and movement of fabrics, spectacle and storytelling. Silk is also really relaxing to paint, you can’t help getting drawn into the flow of colour across its smooth surface.

Does drawing play an important role both in and outside of your working life?

Yes, for work it’s used as a means to translate ideas into images, trying to capture moments from an ever shifting creative mind onto paper and playing around with designs. Sometimes I’ll do some sketching outside of work, but work and personal creativity are so entwined there’s not much distinction. 

How have you been coping with these past months? Have you found that the lockdown and restrictions have changed your relationship to drawing and making at all?

The past few months have been interesting! Stressful and liberating in turns! Losing all my work for the first 5 months was financially terrifying but aside from that it did give me a break from project deadlines to explore some of my own creativity more, which was lovely. After that having to adapt my work to become more of a digital offer and be responsive to ever changing circumstances has offered new challenges!  This project was a joy in terms of being able to so much ‘actual’ designing and painting. 

Our Big Draw Festival theme this year explores humans' relationship with our living environments and ecosystems, encouraging drawing as a means of positive activism. Why do you think that art and design are so good at engaging people in important and often difficult topics?

That’s a complex question! If approached thoughtfully creativity is a great way to break down barriers and open up conversations. The ‘I can’t draw’ response is quite strong so if the creative activity is designed to be fun, easy and almost so that people don’t realise that they are actually drawing then it lures them in. It can create safe spaces where people start to discuss the topic or find ways to illustrate their thoughts. Lots of individual thoughts added to whole groups responses can create a combined ‘picture’ of that topic which everyone can visualise and reflect on. 

[Image credit: Neil Pledger]

What do you find most rewarding, as well as most challenging, about your work?

The most rewarding is working with groups or individuals who might not be very confident and over time creating something visually amazing and meaningful which makes them feel special and that they’ve achieved something.

The most challenging is trying to devise a way to achieve this! Working through financial and accessibility issues, designing engaging activities to fit often complex remits and ensure a quality result.  But it’s worth it in the end!

Thank you Jess!

Find out more about Jess, The Big Draw 2020: A Climate of Change Exhibition and Miner2Major here.

To find out more about Big Draw Sponsor Partners, Inspire: Culture, Learning & Libraries, visit their website here

Follow Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries on Facebook @InspireArtsCulture and on Instagram @inspireculturenotts

Registrations are open for The Big Draw Festival 2020: A Climate of Change! Find out more about the benefits of becoming an organiser here and other ways to support The Big Draw's mission here.