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ARTIST TALK | 8 questions for Joanna Turland

Joanna Turland is a UK based contemporary painter. She takes an introspective approach to creating works and her paintings follow a strong personal narrative. In the interview she talks about ideas, dreams, her work and environment.

What experiences have influenced your work?

My work is all about telling stories. A strong narrative is very important to me, so it works really nicely as a way of transcribing and talking about my own life; things that happen to me, being a woman, being a woman in the art world - just the world in general. Also, my mental health journey feeds into the works too. All of those day-to-day lived experiences which I suppose people process in different ways, but I really need art as an outlet for all that.

What do you dream? Artworks? Motifs?

My dreams are incredibly vivid, to the point of it being quite detremental. I have always dreamt (ever since I can remember) vividly and quite lucidly as well. Lucid dreaming was always a thing even before I knew it had a name. I don’t dream about works I have already created but I definitely dream about works in the making.

I get a lot of inspiration from different scenes and feelings of places. I have places in my dreams that I regularly revisit which don’t even exist in my waking life, these reoccurring dreamscapes blow my mind. I also dream about exhibitions and shows that haven’t ever existed. Sometimes I revisit these shows multiple times which again, blows my mind.

A lot of my inspiration comes from dreams. I think your unconscious is unpacking a lot while you sleep, it’s sort of digesting and defragging. I think about that a lot and if you’re an active dreamer, you get a glimpse of what is happening behind the scenes and that is definitely good fuel for work.

Your ‘self’ plays a big role in your practice. How do you create your works?

I always knew that I wanted to tell stories that were based on my life experiences, but I wasn’t always brave enough to do it. For a long time I used a girl called Joanna, because she has the same name as me and was a similar age. She was my model whenever I needed somebody to stand in for me within the work, I wasn’t brave enough to use my own image, so I used hers. Similarly, there were other characters in my life that also had stand in’s - it was all very staged in that way. I am actually a very private person, with my life and who I talk and open up to. I am very selective with who I share information with, which is sometimes a little counterintuitive with the work that I make work.

My painting style four years ago was very tight and controlled and I really struggled to open myself up to a looser and more intuitive way of working, but it was always there bursting to get out. I slowly started accepting this was the direction my work was going and decided to just tell my story and in doing so, I should be able to paint my own face instead of hiding behind someone else’s.

It was quite difficult actually, I hadn’t done a self-portrait for the whole of my drawing career. I could never really pin down what my face truly looked like. I think we have such a distorted image of ourselves; we look in the mirror every day and see things we don’t like or we see thing that we want to change. We don’t have a very objective view of ourselves - or at least, I certainly didn’t - but painting broke that barrier.

And suddenly I wasn’t looking at things I didn’t like anymore, I was looking at the planes of my face, the colours, the shapes, the lines.

All of a sudden it kind of clicked together and I was able to paint myself. One of the best benefits is that I am readily available and always there! It has been a real turning point for me and I haven’t looked back.

What is your most important tool?

I suppose my memories because without those I wouldn’t be able to put the same degree of feeling and emotion into the work, which is the most important part (I would argue) So if I didn’t have my experiences and memories I’d have nothing to paint about.

What is your working environment like? Do you listen to music when you work?

Yes, I love listening to music (metal is a real guilty pleasure!) It depends on my mood but music is always playing. I am very physical when I paint. The paintings are quite large and usually I like to walk around, pace backwards and forwards constantly moving around. I wouldn’t want to share a studio with anyone particularly, because I might look a bit strange when I start sort of dancing while working and being really in the moment. I love it, for me it’s a sacred space where anything goes.

I am not a messy painter, there’s an unavoidable amount of paint that gets on you when you’re making larger /expressive works but I’m fairly conscious about it. I clean up at the end of the day and put everything in it’s right place ready for the next day.

What is your favourite colour?

Really hard question, I try to enjoy all of them. If I had to pick one at the moment I would say lilac, a sort of lavender colour, I’m really enjoying sage green right now too. But it will change, if you ask me again next week it will be something else.

What topic would you like to work on?

The work I’m making during my current residency at Asylum Studios my partner is featured quite heavily, It’s a reflection of our domestic life and mirrors kind of what is happening with us right now: where we are, where I am in this particular stage of my life and career. A lot of archetypes and a lot of emotional states are coming out as animal characters and motifs. They started coming out in my work for my solo show in January, Currently there is a new motif of a tiger and rabbits as well.

These paintings embody a softness, sleepiness and a kind of dreamy ‘follow the white rabbit into the dreamland’ atmosphere.

I don’t always know what these new motifs are going to be until I have started working, I just kind of have an intuitive sense that there has to be a tiger here or, something to that effect. It’s not until I start looking at the composition as a whole and stand back that I realise why I have made those particular choices. Some paintings are very easy for me to understand, others can take years. I have some works that I’m still not sure what they’re about! It all comes back to that unconscious process of defragging and unpacking. I am not quite sure what kind of way of working that is, but that’s how it happens.

Where would you like to travel to?

Anywhere! I could really use a holiday so the bar is very low right now. I am definitely more of a city person, so right now it would probably be Rome.

Joanna Turland in her studio

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