Jo Fraser is a figure painter and portrait artist from Edinburgh, now based in London. Jo’s work has always been largely driven by the ‘physicality and malleability of paint and mark making’, but is also underpinned by the draughtsmanship of academic aesthetic. Jo was the 2011 winner of the BP Portrait Travel Award and also exhibited a large-scale portrait depicting Peruvian weavers in the 2012 BP Portrait Award exhibition. We have been producing the artist's bespoke canvases and artwork stretchers to a museum quality for several years.
Q) When did you discover fine art?
A) I was born creative; I have always drawn, painted, made books, cardboard houses and had sketchbooks, napkins and mark-making implements within arm’s reach. I discovered Fine Art at Art College, being wholly undecided on what the term meant until it was under my nose as one path in which to specialise.
Q) You recently returned from a two month residency in a Quechua Mountain weaving community, which has resulted in some beautiful work on the textile traditions of Peruvian weavers. How did you select this location and what did you discover on your trip?
A) The time I spent in Peru was the result of winning The BP Portrait Travel Award and funding in 2011. I had written a proposal and given an interview, stating my intention to go and live with an indigenous mountain weaving community. It basically stems from the side of me that is inherently crafty; consistently behind a sewing machine, constructing things from wood or making things from textiles. I have this ingrained part of my nature that appreciates things hands-on, decorative and textural that belong for the majority, to an old-time make do and mend philosophy.
I’ve always seemed to have a visual and textural appreciation for weavings from The Andes, and wanted to develop a project in portraiture to document the weavers themselves. The importance that the weavings have to the inhabitants of Patacancha and similar Peruvian mountain communities appealed to me, as did their way of living (qualities such as self-sustainability, family and livestock-rearing, decorative traditional custom)
Q) Do you utilise any unusual equipment or painting techniques in your creative process?
A) I work through a continuous process of making charcoal marks and painting over them - a sort of curious progressive hybrid of drawing and painting. Aside from this method, all my tools and preparative processes are quite traditional. I quite like it to be this way - I feel connected to painting as an historical, creative occupation by maintaining my use of traditional materials and mediums ie. oils, painting medium, brushes, traditional supports, grounds and sizes - but for me, all this tradition feels so much more exciting when fused with contemporary ideas, painting methods and colours.
Q) Where do you find your inspiration?
A) In people.
Q) Do you have a piece of work which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you for emotional or sentimental reasons?
A) As of this year, yes. I’m so happy with ‘The Weavers’ because of the emotional connection I have to my experience of being with the sitters. I connected with the whole project so intensely that it’s inevitably left a huge sentimental stamp on this part of my oeuvre.
Q) Where and how do you like to relax and gain head space in between your studio time?
A) I’m either on or off; intensively making work or intensively...not. The energy that goes into my painting isn’t sustainable as a constant, so when I’ve finished a big bit of work, I walk, I sew, I visit galleries and museums, have good conversations, read, dance and spend time in Scotland.
Q) If you could collaborate with any artist on a creative project throughout history, who would you choose and why?
A) One of my biggest inspirations to date has been the artist, Larry Rivers. I will forever be in love with the energy in his work and the delicious physicality of his paint. For this reason, yes, Larry Rivers. And having read his assisted autobiography, I just love the way he approached life.
Q) Are there any particular comforts or lucky charms which you like to have to hand when working in your studio?
A) My environment has a huge affect on my ability to make work. It doesn’t mean everything has to be rosy and comfortable - I could work well in a stone shack, but the stone shack would have to speak to me. “What’s up Jo, how’s things?....” No, I can’t ever put my finger on why a space works and why others don’t, but it’s the space itself that determines my productivity.
Q) What new projects do you have on the horizon?
A) I’ve only recently moved to London, so I’m aware that I’m still adjusting. I’m working on portraits for a solo exhibition. The theme is basically one of androgyny.
Q) How important is choosing the right canvas surface when completing your work?
A) It’s just unquestionably important. As soon as you start making work that requires longevity, you have to consider your use of things like pigment lightfastness, canvas surface, stretcher quality.