Happy Feature Friday!
Today’s feature is probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen before! We were truly astounded when we saw the incredible portraits by Johanna Wilbraham, and found out she creates these huge masterpieces by using jars to pour diluted oil paint straight onto the canvas! It’s amazing how something so unplanned and unpredictable can produce such beautiful results! Each portrait she does tells it’s own story and we love how she shows vulnerability and real women throughout her work. To learn a little more about the meaning behind her portraits, as well as her creative process, keep reading!
: Tell us a little about yourself.
: I am a British Artist who has lived in Australia for the last 6 years with my Aussie husband. I currently live in Melbourne where I have a little studio for some very large artworks. I work part time in an Art Gallery alongside my own creative practice. I’m obsessed with painting faces, hanging eclectic figurative artworks around my house in gaudy gold frames, playful folky illustrations and music, candles that smell like cookies, floral dresses, and my dog Fox.
: We love your portraits! How would you describe your current work?
: Thank you! This year I have been challenging myself to paint on a smaller scale than usual. I’m used to working on very large canvases, and it’s quite liberating for me to be working on small 40 x 40 cm boards right now. It also enables me to paint quicker and experiment more. With my technique there is a lot of drying time in between layers, so working small allows me to get the most of my little studio. I can’t quite get away from large works though, so always have a few of these on the go too. I would describe my current work as a group of colourful, expressive and quirky portraits of women in my life. The faces tend to have a sadness and vulnerability to them which is deliberately contrasted with bright, bold colour pairings and the use of flat pattern work.
: How do you wish to portray women through your art that is different than their typical representation in today’s society?
: This is a great question! I’ve always been fascinated with representations of women in the media, art, film…etc. As much as I feel I have been shaped and influenced by them, I am not satisfied with the images we are offered on a daily basis. Women have been fed an unrealistic and dishonest ideal of beauty which lends itself to body dissatisfaction and shame. I would like to offer a way of seeing that resists stylisation, objectification and sexualisation but still offers beauty. The women in my paintings are all women in my life, imperfectly beautiful and meeting the gaze of the viewer with boldness and vulnerability at the same time. The sense of vulnerability is important for me too, creating an intimacy (especially with the large scale works) with the viewer – I am quite obsessed with the idea of vulnerability as completely necessary for connection with others. The idea of broken jars of clay holding treasure, and accepting our flaws as part of our unique beauty. My favourite lyric is from Leonard Cohen – ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’ and I get pulled back to this piece of inspiration time and time again.
: You create your portraits using jars and jugs of diluted oil paint – so cool! This technique leaves a lot of room for experimentation and even results that you may not have expected! What do you love about approaching your portraits in this way?
: I love this approach because it means I am never completely master of my materials! So I am never bored, and never too confident. You are completely right – sometimes there are results I don’t expect and most of the time this a positive thing. I see the pouring process as a push and pull between myself and the material, like a chess game where each of us makes a move and then responds. My control over the paint is limited and I think it is in this space that some of the great, interesting marks and textures are made. When applied to portraiture, the technique is challenging but also gives me unique and distinctive aesthetic.
: You have a Fine Art Degree. How do you think your studies impacted the art you create today?
: I know a lot hugely talented self-taught artists so I know it’s not the path for everyone, but for me it was invaluable. I have a tendency towards procrastination and the structure and routine was the discipline I needed develop my practice. I remember going through a time at university when I was very bored and frustrated. I was already obsessed with portraiture, but was painting more traditionally with a paintbrush and I began to get frustrated that I wasn’t trying to do anything different to anyone else. One of my tutors urged me to find out what ‘painting like Johanna’ actually looked like. I made a huge canvas, mixed up some very diluted oil paint in a jar and started throwing it around. It came from a place of frustration, but marked the beginning of a creative process that felt like it was actually mine.
: Your pieces are also inspired from the children you have worked with overseas. Can you describe your experiences working with these kids and how they influenced you in your creative journey.
: In my twenties I spent a fair bit of time volunteering in an orphanage in India and developed a relationship with the centre and the children. It was a wonderful, humbling experience and it completely changed my life. I actually met my husband there too, which is why I live in Australia now. I couldn’t help but be inspired by the innocence, openness and beauty of the children and so consequently have spent a lot of time magnifying that beauty on very large canvases. I love the idea of portraiture being a tool to celebrate and magnify and honour somebody, especially in regards to those that may not normally be seen or have voices.
: You’ve won awards, been in several exhibitions and have had your work in publications! What does it feel like to have your work appreciated in this way?
: The successful moments are always balanced with the many unsuccessful ones! I am very grateful for the recognition I have had so far and it really is a beautiful feeling when someone simply appreciates and enjoys the artwork you are making. When someone chooses to buy a work you have created it is very special, especially as I am aware portraiture is not the easiest work to sell. A lot of people don’t want portraits of people they don’t know on their wall!
: What are some of your studio must haves?
: Firstly, good light and great music! I also need a huge amount of jars and pipettes to work with. I find it very beneficial to have inspiration images from favourite contemporary artists pinned around the studio. My studio is private and this makes me feel like I am surrounded by peers and challenged by the standard of their artwork. I also need a lot of rags to clear up the many inevitable messes created by pouring paint!
: You also have a very supportive studio pup, Mr. Fox! How has he and other people in your life helped support your art career?
: Hahaha, Fox is most supportive when it comes to taking photos for Instagram. He is only a year old and way too playful to be trusted in the studio all the time. He does very much enjoying posing next to the paintings though, I expect he believes my entire practice revolves around him.
I am really blessed to have supportive people all around me. My husband is a big champion of my work and is able to pull me up when I’m struggling and encourage me to keep going. I am also very thankful to my friends and models. It is hard not to want to control and curate how you are presented in a portrait or an image, so they support me by going me creative freedom with their wonderful faces and allowing me to work with a vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable image. I think it takes a lot of trust and courage to do that.
: Any advice for aspiring artists or artists looking to get their work out there?
: Absolutely! I would say a lot of what is perceived as talent, is actually just hard work and a lot of practice. Invest time in what you love. Sometimes you can’t explain why you love something, why you are fascinated by it. Part of being an artist is resolving that obsession in a visual way, and the words come later as you learn more about yourself and your practice. Follow your curiosity down the rabbit hole and see where it goes!
Also, working in a gallery I see a great deal of artists working hard to be noticed. If you are serious about having a career as an artist I think the most practical advice I could give to you would be to work at something until you find a way to offer something unique, and different to the rest of the market – find YOUR style and your voice – be unapologetically you.
See more from Johanna at:
Facebook: Johanna Wilbraham Fine Art