Interview 
Jack Sommerville and Caroline Georgea Hayes

Spring 2021

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Studio shot, Le Dorat, France I Jack Sommerville Sun, Bursting, 350.5cm - 340 cm, Oil paint on Hessian and Sun-bleached Velvet.

| courtesy of Stallmann

Why don’t you like talking about your work too much, normally?

 

Well, no one ever likes hearing it, yeah? With anyone. People just kind of suck it up and bear it whilst it’s happening. No one likes it, everyone finds it boring because it’s not useful in any way that is of real value. It’s just—uh, it’s just like, regular old small talk. It’s not um I mean you’re not going to—no one’s ever going to substitute that with seeing the work. Are they?

I could see that.

 

It’s just boring. It’s just really, really boring and everyone cringes when everyone does it. Um, and I just think it’s a waste of time.

So then, maybe let’s talk about sort of your transition from art school into your new studio. So you graduated from Central Saint Martins in London and you’re currently working out of a studio in rural France. What specifically prompted that move?

 

Well, property prices here are very, very cheap. Ridiculously—as in, not funny cheap. Very very, depressingly cheap. As in—tere’s thousands and thousands and thousands of property, as in, domestic properties, lying in absolute ruin all over the countryside. It’s so strange. Some of them have earth floors and have only just recently been moved out of. So the cost was a big thing. 

Also, I seem to have gotten out at the right time. My own personal convenience, in terms of breathing room. Also, there’s something about Britian now that, it’s like the whole island—not the whole island, but—there’s an aura about it that’s a kind of penitentiary. Everyone’s sort of, everyone’s sort of begun to—obviously not everyone, but—a huge anoubt of people started being absolutely okay with letting themselves be floated away by the sort of schedule that’s been written for them. Like you have at school, or the prison system. And it makes people fucking weird, and I just don’t like being there anymore. This is a very sleepy, ancient town in rural France, and people are just sort of normal. There isn’t this constant hysteria when you bump into someone on the street. And fear. I don’t know.

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Studio shot, Le Dorat, France 

| courtesy of Stallmann

So, do you think it sort of changes the way that your art is produced, in the way that you’re sort of perceiving other people and your own self? 

 

Yeah, well, when I moved out of London, we were in—I was in a quiet town there, and it changed my work a lot. I went from making pretty generic, art student abstract painting to something that I think is pretty compelling and is definitely not earth-shaking. Which it shouldn’t be—and it can’t be. Nothing ever can be. It’s only ever hysteria that says it is. It’s just sort of humble and charming. 

 

Like the town, sort of.

 

Exactly, yeah. My studio now is – I’m sitting down, looking at the road, it’s like—it’s kind of like a tree fort. It’s a little box that’s raised up like a tree house.  And I look at these paintings and I thought you know in if you are young enough and you’re into contemporary art and you have a tree house in your garden you probably want to fill that tree house with art, wouldn’t you? 

I thought that was quite a nice way of approaching painting. As one that you get to put up in your little treehouse as a kid. 

So, do you miss anything from London? Or at least just being in a big city?

 

Yeah, I miss my friends. That’s it, that’s pretty much it. I went back and I just didn’t like being there. I just really wanted to leave immediately. It’s um—yeah, don’t want to get into that that’s a huge conversation.

 

Do you think you’re gonna stay in this location or will you explore other small-town locations in the future?

 

No, I’ll be here for a while. I’ll definitely have a studio here for a long time. Cause it’s what it is. Also, who knows? Who knows, but I’m happy here and it’s very comfortable here. And it’s out of the way and you get left alone, so I don’t need to be urgent about moving, hysterical about moving. 

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Studio shot, Le Dorat, France 

| courtesy of Stallmann

How would you explain this sort of change of location has changed or affected this new collection of work you’re showcasing?

 

Well, most of them—is it most of them? No. The biggest ones are ones that I made in England. The ‘Big Rain Pieces’. And then the smaller stuff is the stuff that I made here. There is a kind of-- there is a difference, I hadn’t quite thought about that. What I’ve made here has been it’s been sort of... it’s taken... I always have this theatrical thing. I have this theatrical, way of making the pictures. Not – I don’t know how to explain—cause the ‘Big Rain Paintings’ they really are kind of scenic backdrops for something or other. But it’s like a there’s a whole theatre around my life and the fact that i do this. And they are sort of backdrops to that life. 

 

The new ones are much more of a kind of production in themselves. They’re – you could describe each one as a little verse or something. The rain or they’re just rain. And they’re still my favourite ones. Because what I’ve done here has been something like that. Imagine if I took that piece of creation, that piece of – well, a cloud bursting—which is already a perfect thing. And I try and put a little trinket on it. That trinket, that piece of compositional tact that I have tried to claim improves this image—doesn’t. I don’t know why I would’ve done that in France. When I was alright to just leave it with the rain in England.

I noticed that you referred to your paintings as verses. Does that sort of connotation of verse – as sort of peotic, as extracts of a larger piece—show how you aim to communicate? 

 

I don’t aim to communicate in any way. I don’t plan them—an emotive address. I mean, most of these images that I make they literally just appear in my head at some point. In their entirety they appear. I mean, there’s bound to be people that don’t believe that that ever happens. That’s what. I mean I’ll hear something or I’ll see something and then the entire image will come into my head. Abnd I’ll write it down and I’ll make it as soon as possible. The faster you act, the more of that image going on in your head you can capture. 

 

Several of your projects, like the one you’re sitting in front of now, feature that motif of rain falling a single cloud. Could you elaborate on that, what does that mean to you?

 

To me, it’s just—it is just rain. Again, if I try and imbue it with something, it’s just a trinket, it’s just a piece of tat. Like these aren’t as good as standing under a cloud bursting, as in real weather. No painting is as good as that. And everyone knows that. There are certain things that we—like, it’s not even part of the same questions, like they’re different things. But the rain, a cloud bursting, I’ve obviously, I’m aware of the very many different ways of interpreting it especially now. [sarcastically] Clouds bursting—a watershed moment. 

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Studio shot, Le Dorat, France 

| courtesy of Stallmann

Or as in the biblical sense of water as well—like water as rebirth.

 

There was a time in England when I was there when there were constant cloudbursts. And it was this – oh, no actually—it was on the way, when I came to France to look at this place before it was bought. That’s when it was. That’s interesting. And there’s this, kind of feeling of absolution when you get hit with one. This sudden, you know when you have a very sudden one, and it’s very heavy there is this sort of washing away or restarting or absolution. Don’t want to talk about resets, but. It’s yeah there’s just something pure—very very uncomplicatied and very very compelling about that happening and I thought, ‘yeah what better subject matter could I use?’ And then I basically just carried on using it, and I’m still just using it until it’s run out. Obviously the rain will never urn out. But my capacity to play with it might. I don’t see it happening soon but also I see myself getting bored with it soon as it runs out. You know I might just go outside and a cloud will burst and I’ll realise how futile it is trying to portray it on a piece of cloth. 

On first glance, at least digitally, most of the recent works that you’ve produced, they sort of appear as just paint on canvas but then you look closer and see that they’re made up of really distinct materials. For example, in the painting behind you, I think you said that it’s made up of stained glass paint and a sort of linen sack. And then another one is velvet. So, what material considerations do you take in developing these pieces?

 

So this one, the green is cotton, and the sack is hessian. The white is oil and the blue is stained glas paint. The sack i found here—yeah, the sack—I mean it is just very charming. And it is very poetic, and it is very childish poetry. Let’s say it’s got the eloquence of a child that grow- ups don’t have. But yeah the a lot of it is just what I find a lot of it is just—I have things. But the fact that I use velvet a lot is, well I used it once and the way that the paint sat on it was just complete magic. You know how you brush velvet and the colour changes. When you put paint on it the colour beneath the paint changes as well. So, yeah, it makes this really, I don’t know how to explain the visual effect, but it’s really amazing. But I like the poetry of the fact that they’re all sunbleached velvet. Cause I buy old vintage antique curtains which I’ve obviously been hanging for a long time and that hanging gives them a pattern from where the sunlight’s hit them. 

 

Oil paint on hessian and sun-bleached velvet. That’s obviously going to be very nice to look at. It’s obviously going to be nice and lovely, and it is. There’s no meaningless adornery on it. It’s something you just really like to live with. Cause I have to live with them. People always—we always come back to that. Your works living in—paintings living in people’s houses. Really, what better test can there be than somebody bringing that thing that you’ve made into their home and—you’d have to really love something to do that.

When you’re talking about yourself and your art you seem to be actively practicing restraint and humility both in the way that you describe the pieces but also in the way that you want the pieces to come across. Like you say—they’re not as good as the real thing. In terms of the cloudbursts or something. In contrast, what status do you think humility has in the braoder general artistic production today?

 

Well, the broader general artistic production, that’s just people doing stuff. So it’s no – the question is just, what’s the place of humility in life? Because there’s no distinction from life, between life and making art. Like, you can’t have humility in making art if you’re not a humble person. So you need to work on yourself as a man or as a woman, humility is endless. I mean, yeah. Be humble. Be grateful. Trust me when I say that.

 

I mean there’s a whole generation of people learning how to be their own fathers now. And the more of this fatherly wisdom you give people the more they seem to want to be around you. And, yeah a lot of people. Be humble. Obviously, be humble. That’s all you can really say., It will only benefit you to be humble.

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Studio shot, Le Dorat, France 

| courtesy of Stallmann

I think that sort of ties in with the way you communicate as well. It’s really calculated and minimal, I would say. But, with that, there comes a rnange of interpretations that might come from a alck of definitive communication. How do you feel about the different ways people might come to understand you or understand your work, that might not necessarily align with the way that you see it?

 

I don’t know how people will see my work. That’s part of the fun. I think, you know, the way that these pictures can’t speak for ‘the real thing’ is the same as me speaking for the paintings. This is what was so irritating at art school—these absolute ‘obviousnesses’ that no one has the humility to say. A painting is not—or for example, someone would make a virtual space of a show. And they would still just keep pretending that they’re looking at paintings. When you’re obviously not, you’re looking at photographs of paintings. That’s a boring topic, but it’s a different thing you’re looking it. What I say is literally only as valuable as what you say about it, because it’s just description. Like it’s not—I don’t even know how to approach the question anymore. Because they’re just obviously different things. You know that, I know that, everyone knows that. So just come and look at them instead of getting off on these little descriptions that you need so badly, because—not you, Caroline—but these little descriptions that you need because you need some sort of thing to say when you meet that important person next time. Like, do you enjoy art or not? 

You just have to come and stand in front of it and look at it and see what you think . Obviously. It’s the same with all art.

And just a few quick questions—who has informed your work in terms of applying your artistic practice?

 

 

This recent work—really don’t know that I can sday that it’s been informed by anyone from a conscious out of conscious effort. I’m realising that – well, I mentionedf with Matisse before, and I remember I went to the Mattisse museum, and it was my favourite museum ever. And there’s all that stained glass there and I’m thinking about making stained glass. And I find myself getting converged onto a lot of Matisse areas. I don’t know, I mean, Julian Schnabel, it’s hard not to be influenced by Julian Schnabel now. When you’re making large-scale pictures. And I think he’s he really is great. And i think that’s why he gets so much criticism. And I must have been—but I don’t keep track of that. I mean there’s so many artists that I look at. Maybe El Greco in a weird way, but that could be seen as the same thing that could come from Matisse. Yeah, I’m not really sure.

 

What themes do you want to develop further in future works?

 

Um, well as I said I’m just you know this um well I don’t – I’m not being pretentious, there’s I make one picture, then the next one comes from that, the next one is some sort of extension of that. Origin from that. So I don’t really have a theme, I mean, if you want to call rain a theme, as opposed to a subject, okay, then I’m ‘working with the theme of rain.’ And now the mood has been just killed.

So, the exhibition at Stallmann is gonna be your first solo show, and you’ve had a close relationship with the development of the gallery as well. Lina Stallmann has described your show as a revelation of the direction that the gallery will be going in. How do you feel about its upcoming opening?

 

Yeah, i agree with lina. I’ll usually agree with Lina, she’s um, she’s really cool. Lina has this similar, very similar understanding of why being like a child is the best thing you can do when you’re trying to extract cultural goods. She understands that the way that the childlike way of thinking is is a way of being that is just sort of only humble. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about the play. It’s about the produce. It’s about the fun of the experience. Which you don’t get if you’re thinking about what a special little boy you are all the time. When you’re a little kid playing with your friends, usually you’re not thinking about yourself. Usually you’re thinking about monster trucks, or doing the biggest jump you can on your bike or—it’s never about you, it’s about the thing you’re making. And once you get rid of the ego out of it all and your social obligations to creating clever lines then you start making good stuff. Then you can have fun and not be enacting your entire career in fear because you’re beholding to these weird social nets that you’ve built for yourself. She really gets that. And I’ve gone really far away from the question. Which I would like you to remind me of.

 

I’m seeing the scale of the paintings I know you’ve mentioned the dimensions a few times, but seeing them in the context of this space—why do you choose to have such large paintings?

 

Well, these, you can stand under the rain. also when they’re this big, then you’re little, in comparison. You can children are little, the fact that everything’s big I think is important for the feeling that you have when you’re a child, which obviously then of course is part of the selflessness that children have, that they’re small, and it’s not about them. But, yeah, it’s as simple as you can stand under the rain now, because they’re big. I’ve got a lot i was raised in the backstage of opera theatres because my parents were in that business. And i always find myself making things that are like scenic painting. So imagine this as a sort of pantomine piece of scenic panelling, [audio issues] there’s some sort of scene in which it is raining. So they make a panel of rain to put there so that the audience can see that it’s raining. But imagine that as a little kid, making things in his treehouse in the garden. And i think you’re pretty close to what i’m doing.  

Special thanks to Caroline Georgea Hayes