Thursday, April 4, 2013

Joanne Hewko interviewed by Debora Alanna


Debora How do you feel about the title of the show (Precarious Circumstances)?

Joanne Well, it is actually something Sarah (Cowan) and I came up with together. The word precarious is a word I have been personally meditating on for a couple of years. Sarah and I are friends from quite a ways back, we reconnected at VISA (Vancouver Island School of Art), seven years ago. She and I took courses together, and have maintained a very close friendship that talks about our art, our art process, and our kids, and our families. This word, precarious, is a notion that came to me to think about in art practice. A few years ago, when I was thinking about being at this place in my life, where I am middle aged, and I am watching people’s relationships change, and different things were happening. Babies were being born, people were passing away. People were getting sick, people were losing their jobs, losing their partners. It made me think that in a way we live, really, on a knife’s edge. We go about our day thinking that we have plans of what we are going to achieve during the day. We get up in the morning, we figure out what we are going to do. We follow through that, yet at any moment in time it could change. And it could change in a way that is unexpected. And what was startling for me was in thinking that our lives could change completely in a moment. That one could go through their day, and at the end of the day, have an appointment and find out that they have a terminal disease. Everything they understood is over.
So, this particular body of work was created at a time when a very, very close friend of mine was very sick, with a terminal disease. Creating this work part of my process of figuring out and understanding what my emotions. What I tried to do in my artwork was condense a physical, visceral and emotional response and distil it into a single image. What came forward for me were feelings of lightness and heaviness. Joy and grief. There was a lot of contrast.
These two drawings were made around the same time. It was a pair. This one, being, sort of heaviness, and the swinging feeling of pendulum. And this one, was more expansive. and light.

Artist: Joanne Hewko
Title: “Gravitas”
Media: graphite powder, floor wax, charcoal, white chalk
Size: 38”x 50”
Date: Autumn 2011

Title: “Tenuous, At Best”
Media: graphite powder, floor wax, charcoal, white chalk
Size: 38”x 50”
Date: Autumn 2011

Artist: Joanne Hewko
Name: “Barometer”
Media: graphite powder, floor wax, charcoal, white chalk
Size: 38”x 50”
Date: Autumn 2011

These two drawings are about the impossibility of lightness in the face of heaviness. This drawing, which looks like a big dark cloud with tiny little bubbles underneath was me trying to understand this feeling of depression, that I was feeling. And yet in that depression, because I have close family and friends, people that care about me, were these tiny moments of joy and happiness, and effervescence.
This particular drawing is about how hope can actually... something so small, can hold up something that is so large, and pressing down. That was my intention with that drawing.
And this one was intended as a detail of the other.

Artist: Joanne Hewko
Title: “Small Mercies”
Media: graphite powder, floor wax, charcoal, white chalk
Size: 38”x 50”
Date: Autumn 2011

In this exploration of my understanding that often we live in hope and faith, and our perceptions are often quite tenuous. That is where this particular group of drawings came from. The idea of precariousness is something that has resonated with for some time.

Debora And this drawing here...?

Artist: Joanne Hewko
Title: “Grace”
Media: graphite powder, floor wax, charcoal
Size: 22”x 30”
Date: Spring 2011

Joanne This drawing is from the previous series before I did this larger body of work and again, I was looking at heaviness and something being held tenuously at either end, and trying to feel weighted-ness and weightlessness at the same time. So, the contrasting – between the two.

Debora This (previous) series was shown where?

Joanne None of this work had been shown. It is all part of my private body of work. I am an emerging artist.

Debora So, this is your first, first?

Joanne I have done a couple of shows at VISA. Painting. These particular drawings were done while I was a student. I have not had an opportunity to have them hung together. This is the first time they have hung together as a group.

Debora What material are you using?

Joanne The surface is printmaking paper with graphite powder, graphite, charcoal, erasure, and alittle bit of white chalk. Then I use– I engage floor wax as a way of getting the graphite powder to go deep into the fibre of the painting. That burnished effect is using waxes with the graphite.

Debora These are large. What size are they?

Joanne They are, the sheet sizes are 38 x 50”.

Debora What, if any are your influences?

Joanne There are both painters, and artists draw that have influenced me.
Modernist Robert Morris: for the powerful way that he is able to distil emotions and expressions into form, and also for the rawness and emotion of his drawings. Contemporary artist William Kentridge: for the beauty of his drawing and the deep black charcoal that he uses in his work. Sculptor Antony Gormley: for his persistence in exploring deeply one idea over his artistic career. Painter Sean Scully: for the way that he expresses humanity, strength, and vulnerability through abstract painting.
Debora Is there something you would like your audience to take away with them?
Joanne It is a very personal story that I am working through, but I hope that behind it there is an emotional charge. I hope that when people look at these drawings that they can feel a connection to me, a depth.

Debora Have you had any public responses?

Joanne We have had some terrific feedback to the show. People seem to be moved by it. I shared as much as I felt comfortable sharing in my artist statement, about why I made the work. It seems to be connecting with people. I hope they have a power, the drawings.
Debora They do.

Joanne. Thank you.

Debora They are stunning.

I was wondering, did you ever have a class with Jeroen Witvliet, the instructor at VISA?
Joanne I did. I had some painting courses with him and I did a theory course with him. He is a very complicated, deep thinking man. I had some excellent instruction at VISA. Danielle Hogan was also one of my favourite teachers who was very supportive. Also Rachel Hellner. Wendy (Welch), of course. I was very fortunate to be able to take courses over a seven year period and had a full gamut of different instructors, very caring – Xane (St Phillip), and John Luna. And I also met some really terrific artists as well, students who have been incredibly supportive.

I have a huge debt to Sarah (Cowan). She and I have a lot of deep conversations about our thinking, our work. There are elements of each other’s thinking and ideas between and through both parts of the (respective) work.

Debora It seems like a companionable double show.

Joanne And it came together very serendipitously... The other thing I wanted to talk about in the work is the actual process of drawing... I really like it because it is very forgiving, it is very physical. The work comes up very quickly, and I can respond to it. As in painting, there is a much larger commitment of time. And for me, doing work that is specifically trying to connect with visceral, emotional experience, drawing works really well. In that way. I do like to paint, but my paintings have a lot of drawing in them, my drawings have painting technique in them. I am finding myself drawn to drawing, more, in the art practice that I have.

Debora The wax use. How did you come to think about that?

Joanne I took an amazing two day workshop at VISA with Leslie Clark, an artist from up in Nanaimo. She is a print maker, and she taught this amazing process using resists and wax and Graphite

Debora How did she find out about that?

Joanne I think she created it out of her printmaking – she’s a painter and printmaker. With printmaking you deal with oily substances, pigments. She combined drawing elements with oils and wax. Great stuff.

Debora This is really exciting.

Debora One thing I am finding about VISA students, and I have been speaking with many different ones, is that you are articulate about your work and your process. Which is great. A great testament to the school.

Joanne I think so too. Because they ask you to think about why you are doing what you are doing. Not just because it feels good, or you like it. To go beyond that and say why do you like it, why does it resonate with you, why does this work for you as opposed to this. I feel very fortunate to have access to VISA, as a school because they give such high quality courses that are available to anyone. As compared to taking something at a community recreation centre, which is perfectly good, but to want to go deeper, without having to make a commitment to a university program... it is an excellent school.

Debora Do you think you are going on to the (VISA) opportunity in Cheltenham?

Joanne In Gloucestershire? (University of Gloucestershire). I don’t know. Sarah (Cowan) keeps talking about it. I have a family, and a son who is still in high school. So I don’t know. I would love to. I would love to keep studying, working with different people. And continuing to expand my practice and my thinking. At this point in time, the work that I do is very much an adjunct to my thinking and my being.

Debora Do you have an idea for future projects?

Joanne I am just exploring that. I am not entirely sure. I think that I want to dive into trying to combine drawing work like this with painting. And maybe working on hard supports and doing drawings and then interacting with painting and continuing. Just finding this hybrid between the two. Because there is all kinds of opportunity in that.

Debora Thank you for your time.

Joanne I really enjoyed this conversation.

Debora Me too.
Precarious Circumstances

Gallery 1580
1580 Cook Street
Victoria BC
27 March 2013

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