In Conversation With… Jo Chapman
Countryside recently spoke with Jo Chapman, established site-specific public artist, about her latest sculpture commission at Ashmere in Ebbsfleet Garden City.
What was your inspiration for the public art at Ashmere?
My inspiration was drawn from a direct response from the site which used to be an old chalk pit. I had my initial site visit and collected some of the pieces of chalk and flint from the site and took them back with me to my studio.
Prior to my visit I had done some research on the mining of chalk, including the processes involved and I knew I wanted to reference this within the artwork, but in a more contemporary and slightly playful way. I like my artwork to reference history, but with a modern and contemporary twist.
After playing around with different end products of the chalk material and by stacking up colourful drawing chalks, this is where the sculpture model began to form. It created a beautiful geometric sculpture I could work with and build on.
What materials have been used within the artwork?
The sculpture will be made completely out of painted steel, taking inspiration from the stacked chalk and pieces of flint I picked up during my first ever visit to the Ashmere site.
What were the key considerations designing the artwork given the location?
There were a lot of key considerations, due to the location of the site. As the sculpture is going to be on an elevated piece of land, we wanted it to be something that was very visible from far and wide. I wanted it to be a focal point from all angles and distances, so we wanted to go with something more up right with height, rather than a lower-level piece of work.
As there are a lot of trees around the site, there were a lot of considerations and practicalities surrounding this too – as we wanted to re-locate some of the trees.
How long have you been designing and creating public art for?
My very first commissioned piece was for the CO-OP headquarters in Rochdale back in 1996. I then moved away from public art as I worked with galleries, working on internal art and commissions for interiors.
After long stint in the gallery world, I was approached to create a large wall drawing in Kettles Yard in Cambridge and off the back of that I got commissioned by Anglia Ruskin university and that kicked started what I’d refer to as the beginning of my public art career.
Once I had one or two commissions under my belt, the momentum just kept going. I’m really excited about this project, as it’s my first time working with Countryside and I’ve already learnt so much throughout the process.
Why do you think public art is important?
Public art is incredibly important as it is a way for people to connect to art, who don’t ordinarily have the opportunity to do so. Art can suffer from being perceived as elitist and I think it’s important to get it into the public realm and give everyone equal opportunities to interact and gain awareness of art and creativity.
Art can enhance lives, and more specifically from a development perspective, it provides a focal point for people.
On a personal level, the work allows me to connect with people in a way I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do with studio-based work. Working as part of a team is a huge motivating factor and having conversations and forming connections through dialogue opens up new aspects to the work, and everyone involved is learning from each other.
What purpose does public art serve?
Public art has the opportunity to, if done well, enhance people’s lives and environments and gives an opportunity to stop and wonder and just engage with creativity.
The process usually involves some kind of community involvement, such as a consultation and if the outcome is positive, it also gives those individuals a sense of ownership they can identify within their place of living or working.
The beauty of public art, unlike a gallery, is that those surrounded by it, get to see it every day and can begin to grow a relationship with the work by noticing different details, seeing it from different angles and in different lights, this kind of familiarity becomes a beautiful thing.