Jolyon Fenwick and Liza Campbell on ‘Life is Too Short to Live in Black and White’

On the 25th of October, artist Jolyon Fenwick and artist and writer Liza Campbell are coming together for the first time to present the joint exhibition Life is Too Short to Live In Black and White. I had the opportunity to talk to both of them about the inspirations behind the works in the exhibition, which mix cheerful imagery with the darker struggles in our society.

The exhibition Life is too Short to Live In Black and White is a joint exhibition; can you tell us how this came about?

Well, we’d been working on our own projects independently for the last year or so – the fruits of which we’d originally planned to show separately. But as time went on it occurred to us that serendipitously all the work – textual, playful and multi-coloured – shared a very similar stable and that, after a fairly unstintingly monochrome period for everyone, they might combine well in a single, optimistic show.

Jolyon: Your work takes a humorous approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. Are you worried that this light-hearted approach might cause offence to anyone?

No. The ‘black joke’ has always been a great tradition of the British in a crisis – and both the crises and the humour were much blacker in the last century than they ever have been in this one. Virus Classics is intended as a souvenir of a moment – one that in future might hopefully attest to the fact we weren’t all quite as bogusly po-faced as we’re mandated to be.

Jolyon: In addition to being an artist, you are a picture dealer. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how it came about?

I’ve bought pictures with any spare cash all my life. I have a sort of ‘salon-style’ approach to picture hanging so that when I moved into my house in the Cotswolds it came accidentally to resemble a small gallery with comfy sofas. Visiting friends became clients and I found I got huge pleasure deflecting people from the largely indefensible contemporary art world and getting them to buy a good picture instead. 

Jolyon: Which artists at the moment are you particularly interested in? For example, are there any works that you have acquired recently?

Like every good dilettante, I buy anything I like but I always come back to 20th Century British painting. I’ve recently bought some great pieces: a lovely peach-coloured still-life of anenomes by Denis Peploe (1914-1993), a thickly-painted abstract gardenscape by Fred Yates (1922-2008), a large oil of an existentially-challenged woman next to a parking meter by John Bratby (1928-1992) and a wonderful, rare child portrait by Cecil Beaton (1904-1980).

Liza: You’ve used tapestries to address issues surrounding addiction and relationships between men and women. Can you tell us why you have used the medium of tapestry to express this? 

These things develop in such a stealthy, organic way, I’m not sure if I can explain a lot of it.  Two of my abiding obsessions, that I return to again and again, are maps and lists.  I like humour and satire to be bunked up with serious issues.  Some of the tapestries in this current show started off as paintings, but then I stitched a small version of Social Animal Kingdom by hand.  When I started collaborating with Jolyon, he encouraged me to make them much larger and because it was already in a sewn format we never considered doing it any other way….

Liza: Do you feel that art can ever be therapeutic? If so, what instances would you cite to support that?

If you mean can art in general ever be restorative, beneficial, curative, remedial, a tonic?  Then of course, absolutely, yes.  I find it touching to think about aliens visiting earth and observing the human compulsion to take small squares of wood or canvas, mark them with pigments and although they appear to serve no useful purpose, love and treasure certain ones as some of their most beloved objects. 

If you are asking the question in a technical, psychological sense regarding my tapestries, then yes also, because therapy is about making connections between disparate thoughts that you might not have previously made.

If you are asking, is it therapeutic for the maker, then I think every artist would say, not only is the act of creating a meditation but exposing our inner lives is unavoidable, (look at Paula Rego, Freda Kahlo, Edvard Munch) but I certainly never ever go to my studio thinking, ‘ooh, why don’t I work on a past traumatic experience today’.

Life Is Too Short To Live in Black And White opens on the 25th of October at the Fitzrovia Gallery, London. Click here for more details.

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