Interview: Paul Jex | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Dimensions Variable (2017)

Paul Jex is an artist who currently lives and works in Newcastle and since we last wrote about him in 2018 he has been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries and had two pieces selected for shows at Leeds Art Gallery and currently at The South London Gallery. 

As an artist, he is focused on the tangential, the liminal spaces and boundaries of art. At the centre of his practice is the act of collecting, appropriating and referencing of art. His selections of artworks are supported by anecdotes that reveal the sequence of the artists’ investigations – the chances and discoveries.

We chat with Paul to see how things are going. 

You did a ‘My Inspiration’ feature with us in 2018 looking at your work entitled ‘She’, 2017. This work was acquired by Leeds Art Gallery whose collection includes Francis Bacon, Susan Hiller and Bridget Riley. How did that come about and how does it feel to have your work alongside the work of some iconic artists?
Initially, I was a bit taken aback! I was invited to do a lecture at Leeds Art Gallery as part of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries about my work in which I talked about how an audience engages with art that they see in person and then as a reproduction.  When the lecture and Q&A finished, one of the team at Leeds Art Gallery introduced herself to me and explained that she and her colleagues were interested in acquiring ‘She’ for the collection. To put the work in context, ‘She’ comprises of two obituaries from The Guardian; Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro.  Girling and Caro were both artists and were married for over 60 years, Caro died in 2013 and Girling in 2015. However, in Girling’s obituary, The Guardian referenced Caro and their relationship 25 times whilst in Caro’s only 10 times, which is hugely gender-biased, especially for such a liberal-leaning paper.

I didn’t want to think of the suggestion of the acquisition as fact, but the correspondence continued and when the paperwork was signed, well then I was ecstatic, I couldn’t believe it haha

Leeds Art Gallery has a fantastic collection; one of the best outside London, a collection, I used to skip school and college to see it when I was younger and with the Henry Moore Institute on the adjacent building is the cherry on the cake as Caro was an assistant to Moore! For an emerging artist, to have the opportunity to exhibit in such a great gallery with an amazing collection and likewise, other selected artists is pretty damn sweet!

What inspires your work and how has it evolved since you last featured in NARC?
I’m basically an art nerd, I’ll hold my hands up straight away with no shame, I find art escapist, a way of distraction but more so it fascinates me.  Curiosity is everything, whether it’s in art or science, for example, the fact that someone looks at something at a different angle or to question the current status quo is inspiration, I guess that’s why I’m hugely influenced by Appropriation Art and the Picture Generation Artists. I’m influenced and inspired by what I see in the art world. Saying that I hate as much as I like and I guess that both inspires and challenges me.

When I wrote about ‘She’ for NARC’s ‘My Inspiration’, I was halfway through my MFA at Newcastle University, at the same time I continued to work full time in HR for Arup it was quite full on! Since then, I continue to work full time (everyone has to earn an income!) but what’s different is reflection and underpinning my practice.  The first thing I did was to jump into applications for shows, such as Middlesbrough Art Weekender where I exhibited at MIMA which was fantastic and now I’m expanding projects that I’ve been considering for some time yet now I have the time to get the intention of the projects right.

You have recently been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries. What is that and what does that mean to you?
Bloomberg New Contemporaries is an open application for recently graduated students in most disciplines of art.  With no lie its something I considered, applied with an expectation of a ‘thank you for your application, on this occasion, unfortunately, no,’ email back as so many applications go, yet they requested to see three of the five works I submitted – I kinda thought I had a chance at that point, and then I found out I was successful!.  Whilst at work I saw the email and was happily shocked so much so I had to ask my work colleagues to read it back to me in case I was miss reading. As I kept reading it throughout the day (because I couldn’t believe it), in the evening whilst watching RuPaul I read it again and realised that two of my pieces was successful, that’s when I moved on from the wine to the whisky, hahaha.

To be selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries is amazing, for me there’s the validation of what I’m doing is understood and recognised by a selection panel of artists, in this case, Rana Begum, Sonia Boyce and Ben Rivers. I was very anxious for some weeks about what was expected and what was coming up, such as being able to visit the exhibitions and the events that they hold.  At work, they have been fantastically supportive, and the BNC team have been amazing.

What other memorable responses have you had to your work?
It goes without saying the team at Leeds Art Gallery and their support in acquiring ‘She’. The responses from tutorials at Leeds Beckett University and I’ve been receiving emails and messages on Instagram about the two selected works following my Instagram Artist Take Over for BNC.  The Artist Newspaper and Art Review magazine have both referred to my works in their exhibition reviews and Corridor 8 wrote about my work in relation to the New Writing with New Contemporaries programme. In all, I didn’t have expectations of what to expect yet the responses have been incredible.

What does 2020 have in store? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Much of the work I make takes a considerable amount of time to research and importantly collect.  These can take months and years to gather and now I have the material to work with so I can formulate the appropriate response for the work whether this be finalising work for exhibitions, producing books or doing more lectures/discussions which I enjoy.  I’ll be focusing quite a bit of time on my project in which I’ll be correlating more data that refers to artists that have or continue to work in one colour.  

I’m excited about what develops and like many artists, ideas and concepts that pop up unexpectantly which is fun to not know the unknown!

Follow Paul on Instagram @Paul_Jex

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2019 at South London Gallery, London continues till 23 February 2020.

T01513: Yves Klein IKB 79 or Tate Modern keeps on getting it wrong
Dimensions Variable

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