We at Those London Chicks were pleased to catch up with the gifted Artist Rebecca Jewell about her life and work……
Rebecca, we at Those London Chicks absolutely love your work. It’s clearly a passion, was that always the case or did you have other dreams as a child?
I always loved drawing as a child. And I loved nature. Both my parents were zoologists, and as a teenager I spent time with my father on one of his fieldwork trips to the Orkneys. He spent months in Uganda, returning to give us slide shows of all the wild animals he had seen and studied. We had a bird box high up in a tree in our garden and every year our father would take me and my sisters up a long ladder to peak into the box and see the blue tit eggs, and then the chicks once they had hatched. My mother worked at the Natural History Museum for 30 years, and we used to visit her in the ‘bone room’ where all the mammal skeletons were kept, down in the basement of the museum. I studied social anthropology at Cambridge, but I always kept up my drawing and painting and eventually I decided to go to art college – in 1998 I went to the Royal College of Art to do a PhD in Natural History Illustration.
You are artist in residence at the British Museum. You’ve exhibited all over the world. Tell us about your inspirations and your journey.
After University I got a job at the British Museum in the Ethnography Department (which was then the Museum of Mankind). I loved working with the objects in the collections – I had recently returned from living in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and I felt enormously privileged to be able to work with the unique collections in the Museum, including objects brought back by Captain Cook in the 18th Century. I illustrated two books for the Museum, then went to the RCA, and I did my PhD based on the featherwork collections in the ethnography department. I then won a Leverhulme Scholarship to be Artist in Residence, and in 2009 I travelled to the Solomon Islands with Museum staff to work in Santa Cruz for six weeks, running art workshops. Since then I have continued to be Artist in Residence, although now it is unfunded, but I continue to have access to the collections and to work with the curators on various projects.
Were there any challenges along the way? If so, how did you overcome them?
Yes, there were (and are) many challenges. Mostly it has been juggling married life and three children with work and travel – I started my PhD when my youngest was two years old. But my husband has been hugely supportive and encouraging, and so have my children – my youngest is now 18 and she helps me in the studio. I had help with child care which was probably the most important thing – we had many aupair girls, which I always thought was a good thing for the family, to have new people from different cultures, living with us and speaking different languages. The other main challenge was keeping focused on the direction I wanted to go in, not to get despondent or disheartened (mostly by the lack of financial reward, being an artist). But I was lucky to have a husband who was prepared to be the main bread-winner and I knew that I didn’t want to do anything else other than be an artist.
You work in various mediums, how did that come about and how did your style develop ?
I used to go to Life Drawing classes when I was at Cambridge. I fell in love with etching and print-making when I did an evening class in Finsbury Park before I went to the RCA. At the RCA I had an amazing teacher called John Norris Wood who taught me how to paint with watercolour. With my passion for feathers, I drew, painted and printed feathers, and one day I had a ‘eureka’ moment when I thought ‘I wonder what would happen if I printed an image onto a feather?’ Ever since then (it was in 2011 when I was working at Sir John Cass School of Art with a wonderful teacher and print-maker Nigel oxley) I have developed the process and my mixed-media work.
What has been your ‘crowning moment’, as an artist and why?
I think it was being taken on by a top London gallery, the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery. Ever since I worked at the British Museum in 1985 I knew about her gallery and I always thought that if I was with a gallery I would like it to be hers. In 2005 we met and she liked my work and in 2009 I had my first solo show there, ‘Charmed Adventures.’
What advice would you give to an up and coming artist hoping to break into the industry?
Try to find your ‘niche’ in the way you work – develop your technique and medium. Develop and maintain your network of other artists, it is essential to be able to share both achievements and disappointments with people who know how difficult the industry is. Go to lots of Private Views and exhibitions and keep an eye out for art competitions and residencies and keep applying for things – a good website is Artquest (sign up for their newsletter). AA2A is a great scheme for practicing artists, you can apply to work within an art department with free access to facilities for a year. Above all, work hard and don’t give up.
Finally, where can we see your work?
This autumn you can see some of my ‘Owl Feathers’ at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in Charlotte Street (17 September – 4 http://www.rebeccahossack.com) and my work will be on show at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery Stand at some of the Art Fairs in London, including 20/21 British Art Fair at the Royal College of Art (10-14 September, http://britishartfair.co.uk) and Lapada, Berkeley Square 24-28 September http://www.lapadalondon.com). In December (10 December – 10 January) I am having a solo show at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in New York.