Jeanette Barnes personal statement
I wasn’t allowed to take art as an option at school, as the teachers said I was awful and wouldn’t pass it in a million years. What they meant was that I couldn’t work in a highly graphic, very predictable style - I still can’t, so perhaps they were right. I just kept on drawing and waited for an opportunity to do something with it.. I assumed I had better do something practical so I thought I might join the RAF to draw maps!
Instead I went onto a foundation course at Accrington and Rossendale College. followed by a degree course at Liverpool Polytechnic. Both these places were great in encouraging inventive work from the figure and sending us outside to draw from the environment. They also taught the value of history of art. The teachers there were all practising artists and passionate about their subject, so you couldn’t fail to be encouraged.
When I went to the Royal Academy Schools to do a postgraduate course, I was lost to begin with. I found it difficult to identify with what was on offer in the Life Room, and I was overwhelmed by being in such a big city. Around this time I spent a lot of time just looking at and sketching other artist’s work. I began to work from people moving within the city, to try to capture the energy of urban life. At that time I saw an exhibition of Frank Auerbach’s small sketches of the city which was a revelation to me - not so much in the way that they were drawn, but the fact that someone felt they were worth making an exhibition of. I had been sketching outside and worrying that I should be doing grander pictures instead. After that I realised that these little ideas could be the start of something more interesting.
These days my practice is concerned with producing lots of work of different sizes on the spot, and then using these sketches to make larger pieces of work back at the studio. I only draw now, and make large pieces in charcoal of London or New York. Although life drawing does not feature in my own work as such, drawing examples and looking and talking to the students about the figure in Outreach workshops helps me with my own compositions of people within the urban environment.
People can sometimes dismiss quick drawings, but for me they are the key to generating a number of alternative, inventive ideas and sustaining the interest in longer drawings. They are of great value, never more so than in the Outreach workshops. Not every student will go onto pursue art, but if they want to get onto any college course or interesting job, it is the candidate who can see things differently and think their way creatively around a problem who has the best chance.