I was put onto the work of British artist Jo Peel from an old friend in the UK. Jo’s Instagram bio states that she is an ‘Artist who paints, draws and animates within and of the urban environment’ As someone with a love for buildings and angles she sounded like the type of artist I’d like! Luckily due to all this lockdown we were able to connect and have a short chat.
Hi Jo how are you? Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m good thanks, I’m currently working during the strange lockdown in the UK during the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m an artist based in Sheffield, UK and I usually travel around the world making my work but right now I am staying put in one place!
What was the original inspiration for grabbing a spray can/pen/brush for the first time?
I genuinely can’t remember! I was a child and I only remember that I used to get in trouble in maths for doodling in the margins. For me it is almost a meditation, I found maths a bit boring so I used to daydream whilst drawing instead.
Looking through your social media it looks like you mostly paint with brush, is that a correct assumption? I always think that artists using brushes on the street for example is just mind blowing, the time it must take!
Yeah I do mainly paint with a brush! I started making work with fine point ink pens so for me the brush doesn’t seem that small. That said, it takes me a while to create a mural. I’m not a street artist in the typical way, I don’t paint quickly, which is why I don’t really paint on the street that often – I just don’t feel like I produce my best work if I have only a couple of hours or a day to complete it.
I have an obsession with taking photos of old shop fronts here in BCN, something about them just fascinates me. What is it about urban landscapes that really captures your imagination?
I just love the idiosyncrasies of the urban environment. The decisions that people make, our constant fight with the environment. A small example of this would be a cracked pavement, when I see that it brings me back the whole idea that we pave over the land in the first place, to make things easier for us to get around, but it is a job that is constantly being re-done, a fight between nature and our human desire to tame it.
When doing larger outdoor/commission pieces do you like to work with a sketch or are you at a point where you can just freestyle?
I kind of like both. I would usually map something out, for example the layout and general look of the piece, but I love to freestyle the details and get lost in the local environment, as I feel like that is when things become more interesting. It’s nice to be able to flow with the artwork and see what comes out in the same way I would sketch on paper.
What’s the inspiration behind your work? A never ending list of things right?!
Yeah, right! Like I said, I get inspired by cracks in the pavement. It’s interesting, I thought lockdown would stifle my inspiration as I’m so used to travel and to being inspired by the places I go. But it turns out that you really can travel around your own back yard.
Do you have a preference with regards to studio work or more muralistic ‘street’ pieces?
I love them both and they are almost dependent upon one another. When I work outside it is such a different feeling to the studio work, but I guess they are two sides to my practise and without one I don’t think the other would be as strong.
Is a piece ever finished in your eyes?
Yeah, sometimes I have to think for a bit, often with canvasses I’ll turn them round and have to look at them again, but once I have signed something as finished, that is it finished and I don’t like to look back.
I saw that you travelled to Cambodia earlier this year for a project! Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? It’s a really amazing country, it must have been a lot of fun!
Yeah it was a great adventure. My painting assistant from London has moved out to Siem Reap and now makes murals full time out there. I like to use my work to travel and see friends so I sent out a few emails and a gallery out there offered me a solo exhibition. I love to work and travel at the same time because my work is all about observing anyway so it’s nice to really get under the surface of a place.
Do you have any crazy ideas/projects that you’d love to do one day?
I’d like to create a 3D cityscape that you can walk through. I love work that not only plays with the environment but is completely immersive.
What do you like to do with your non-painting time?
So many things! I like dancing and laughing with friends, chatting and philosophising, long walks, wild swims, music, sunshine (basking in it) and food (eating it and sharing it). I like to enjoy myself and to see other people enjoying themselves too!
What’s the ideal soundtrack to a day’s painting?
It depends on the mood, so many to choose from but one of my favourite tracks for painting is Jimmy by MIA and if I’m feeling more chilled Willy Mason or Phosphorescent are constantly on my playlists.
If you could have one super power for the day what would you choose?!
What’s next for Jo?
I’m taking a week off! I’ve been doing way too much over lockdown and need to spend a bit more time enjoying the quiet.