Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Introducing: Jo Raill

Jo's Kiln Room

Our most recent Left-Field member, Jo-Anne Raill, is a ceramic artist with multiple awards to her name as well as selective exhibitions including the renowned Portage Awards. Practicing for over 20 years Jo was represented by Sanderson Gallery in Newmarket where she is known for her quirky tiered cake plates. This is a great place to start looking at Jo’s work but recently I was lucky enough to visit her home studio where I experienced a fantastic introduction to her new work, practice and philosophies.  

I arrive at Jo’s to find her sitting in her glasshouse like studio situated at the end of her mother’s house looking out over the valley. Her kiln is conveniently positioned in a charming cavity under her own adjacent home. Jo refers to her house as being like a student flat and happily points out her miniature tile collection that she is instinctively adding to in her kitchen.

Jo’s dedication to her practice is apparent by the abundance of work in and around her studio.  She tells me that some nights it’s just a quick toasted sandwich for tea as she struggles to pull herself away when her husband, Micheal comes home from work. The amount of creativity shared in the Raill household becomes obvious as Jo unveils her son’s fabulously large paintings. She tells me about her brother photographing her work and her desire to someday collaborate with her poet daughter and fore mentioned son, who is just finishing an arts degree at Unitech. I instantly see a relationship between Jo’s objects and her son’s work and she expresses bewilderment as to how this has come about. Family is obviously important to Jo and she doesn’t work in the studio over the weekends, stating that this is family time; when all her children come home.

Jo with Fergus and Keiko

Set in 5 acres of lushness at the beginning of the Hunua Gorge, Jo expresses how unfortunately a busy life style had left her garden neglected but now she is finally enjoying planting out raspberries, olive and almond trees, relocating her vegetable patches and bringing an existing orchard back to its former glory. This is all in an effort to grow all their own food and give food to others. Through reinstating her horticulture background and creating this edible forest, Jo is balancing her inside studio life with her ‘greenie’ nature. Having been on the property since their early 20’s, Jo and Micheal relish its position in the country while still having the convenience of being within easy reach of the city. Although Jo started out life as a horticulturalist, she acknowledges that creativity has had a stronghold on her life and is elated that the two are finally merging.

Jo’s artistic path started about 20 years ago with painting but as she found herself ‘just sticking things on the canvas’ while simultaneously becoming annoyed with the illusion of paint, she decided to create objects. She was then introduced to ceramics while at Teachers Training College and it set in as a hobby for the next 10 years while raising her children and teaching in a Manurewa Primary School. She then went on to do a four year, part time, Diploma in Ceramics, where clay started to take over her life. Jo later went on to be a manager at Auckland Studio Potters (ASP) before going on to teach at Unitech. Jo acknowledges that while lecturing at Unitech as a ceramics (studio practice) tutor, she learnt a lot about herself through ‘osmosis: by doing it’. She then later took over supervising the diploma course at ASP while teaching night classes at Selwyn College.

‘Library of Neglected and Unfinished Things’

The merging of Jo’s creativity and green fingers has brought about a wee garden of ceramics outside her studio that she calls her ‘Library of Neglected and Unfinished Things’, while inside, she is starting a new series of ‘wall works’ based on a domestic kitchen scene. Her last wall work series, the Architect, consists of about ten pieces and was inspired from a previous work, ironically now situated in the ‘Library of Neglected and Unfinished Things’. Here she explains how she was interested in making a ceramic painting with different corners and secret areas and although she felt it failed technically and that it wasn’t communicating her idea, she enjoyed the ‘see through’ layering. Obviously, paint hasn’t completely slipped from Jo’s practice as her glazes are skilfully applied and her objects, when clustered, are extremely reminiscent of the surrealist painters, especially Miro. Jo articulates, “I always wanted to paint on work, I don’t even like making mugs, I  just like it when you get a surface to paint on and then my work got ridiculously big, it just kept getting bigger and bigger coz I wanted to paint on things and then I thought why don’t I just get a canvas and then from there I thought why don’t you just take the subject matter out of the painting like the main characters and make them instead of trying to paint on work because it is a 3 dimensional thing and you, well there’s got to be a reason, why are you painting on them all the time, why don’t you make it? And that’s how I got to making wall works”. After being stuck between 2D and 3D Jo is really pleased with this outcome as it is a combination of the two. Jo explains “If you’re making a 3d object you’ve got to think all the way round it so with these I can think in a more painterly way”.

On the table Jo has some sketches that she drew when she woke recently throughout the night and observed the moon shining, making weird/strange shapes everywhere. They parallel with the abstract and fantastic looseness going on in her work and she explains how there is not a lot of abstract ceramics going on in NZ but there is internationally and feels New Zealand ceramics is still quite conservative. Jo sees people just buying ceramics for their home d├ęcor and believes that “whether you sell work or not doesn’t mean to say that what you’re making is not good, it’s probably the opposite. It’s probably really good work but people just don’t understand it”. Jo says  she appreciates being able to make for the sake of making and this in turn allows her to experiment, be individual and uninhibited by what other people want or expect. She say’s “It’s important to just be able to concentrate on what you really want to make”.

You can keep an eye out for Jo via Art Week, she has donated some mugs for ASP’s ‘the Great Mugging’. 

S Walker-Holt Sept 2014