4 December 2017

Pink to Make The Women Wink

Painting a utopian world of blush-hued rolling hills and emerald green palm leaves, Jo Butcher's work delves much deeper than an aesthetically pleasing surface level to depict the transcendent joy and overwhelming relief that comes with recovering from mental health issues. With a process that involves curation as much as painting, she melds objects, colours and shapes in a way which represents the way she began to see the world as recovery changed her mindset. Jo had a chat with me about the importance of creating dialogue about mental health, her exploration of the female form and the power of art as a free, forward-thinking platform.

when did you start painting?
I only started painting in January! I had never been encouraged to try painting in school as I thought I was a line drawing and screen print kinda art kid, but I’m so glad I eventually tried it. I really feel like I’ve found what I’m meant to be doing.

how would you describe your aesthetic?
I think it’s changing all the time. Right now, I’d say it’s a combination of surrealist landscapes, mid-century pieces, and objects / decorative pieces from all over the world and throughout history. A big element of my process feels more like curating rather than painting; I grab bits and bobs from what I see and put them into one image where I think they will work well together. It’s a nice way of working as I feel like I’m giving a nod to my inspirations while creating something new.

considering all of the elements that are huddled under the umbrella term of “art”, what is your favourite ever work of art?
This is a really hard question, but the first thing that came to mind is The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson. I was 7 when I went to see it at the Tate with my mum, and I still remember that warm feeling from the glow of the light. No work of art since has been so memorable for me. Although the medium is completely different, I think the feeling of warmth, beauty and absolute calm is exactly what I try to convey with my own work.

you explore the female form a lot within the context of mental health and self-confidence; can you talk us through that link?
I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, and my work is kind of the result of my recovery; I went on antidepressants and suddenly I wanted to paint. The paintings felt crude at first, I didn't think I was technically very ‘good’ - but I can feel myself developing and see progression in my work, and I’m really just enjoying painting as a sort of therapy - I get a bit down when I haven’t painted in a while. The female form was something that I really enjoyed exploring in my work earlier this year. All the ladies in my work represent not caring about what people think of you anymore. They’re on their holidays, tummy rolls out, they look good and they really don’t care what you think. My self confidence improved drastically with my recovery, so I think I channelled that into these beautiful and confident ladies.

how important is art as a means of communicating and creating dialogue about these issues?
Hugely important. It was never my intention to make my art particularly political or even personal, but it naturally began to develop a narrative about mental health, which is more in the undertones rather than in your face. However I recognise how necessary it is to have a platform to share these themes. I’ve always been really open about my experiences and I think that’s a great product of living in this age, where people are talking more to their friends and family when they aren’t feeling too good in the head. Nowadays, I’m more surprised by someone saying they haven’t had personal experience with mental health issues than when they have! And I don’t think that’s because more people are suffering, but just that more people are admitting when they are. Art can be a free, forward thinking platform to express your feelings, so I think naturally these issues will come up as they appear more in society’s conversations. 

one of my favourite aspects of your work is your use of colour and the particular hues that you put together. Is there a particular process to your colour selection?
I think my colour selection is just about whatever’s inspiring me at that time. Using colour blocks or a pink wash was a great way to start out, especially when I wasn’t as sure of my painting abilities. It felt like a way to break the barrier between me and the blank page. Now, I feel more confident in starting with a more neutral colour and building up pink or other colours where it works. ‘Less is more’ and all that! I’d say the colour selection comes naturally after I decide my subject matter for each painting, though maybe I do include things that I know I can manipulate to suit my palette. I’m really enjoying a mix of ochre, dark green and dark red at the moment.

there’s a prominent pink theme in your work, what does the colour represent to you?
Pink has been my favourite colour for ages! It's a versatile colour that conveys heat nicely. Obviously there are the connotations of femininity and softness, and I like that too. There’s nothing too deep about it, I am simply drawn to pink and wanted to create worlds where everything is seen through a yummy pink-tinted lens.

can you see yourself expanding your work across other mediums beyond painting?
Yes definitely! I’d love to create an immersive installation. For now though, I’m really happy just painting and continuing to find out what my work’s all about. It still feels so new for me, and I just want to carry on experimenting and pushing my work forward.

what do you hope people take away from your work?
When I paint, I have to try to remember not to think about the audience, otherwise I get too worried about what people will think and can’t paint properly! So, if I’m honest, I don’t mind what people take from my work because it’s my outlet, and I paint for myself. However, I would be happy if people come away from my paintings feeling the same way I do when I paint them; satisfied, calm, and curious about what’s next.

do you have any upcoming projects or new work that you can tell us about?
I’m not planning anything major at the moment, I’m just going to keep on painting and I want to start working on a bigger scale which will be exciting! There are a couple of potential things in the pipeline like designing a hoodie with Something to Hate On, and maybe exhibiting in Bristol in the New Year.