The Colour Purple…and Other Colours
Twenty-year-old artist Jaz Parkinson hails from Preston and her recent project ‘Colour Signatures’ has received vast amounts of both acclaim and admiration. While there may be pressure on young creatives to conform to convention and make art in the vein of art already out there, Jaz believes it is important to make what you want to make. She spoke to us about her impressive work as an artist and more
How did you first become interested in art and how did your passion for it develop?
Of course it’s a cliché, but my interest definitely started at school – from Primary, through KS3, and into GCSE. I think when I was encouraged to pursue Sciences at A Level and to drop Art, it made me realise how unenthused I would be with college if I didn’t have an art lesson to go to each day. Then as I found myself spending more and more lunchtimes and free periods in the art room, it got to the point where I would only leave for another lesson. Now I am at University, my colleagues and I realise we were all the ‘arty ones’ back at school – there must be something in it.
How has your degree in Creative Art Practice helped with your work? Do you think you would approach art differently had you not done it?
Without a doubt. The most significant way in which Creative Art Practice has shaped my practice comes from one recurring ideology – your art practice can centre on your interests outside of art. When I began at University, I presumed I’d be painting all through the degree; I had always used fine painting as my medium, and had natural skill in painting. Meanwhile I maintained interests in collecting and colour specifics recreationally, collecting things I found curious, ‘keeping’ specific beautiful colours of paint left over from painting etc. At Uni I was not only exposed to more experimental art forms, but encouraged to let my art practice be based on the things I am naturally curious about and excited to explore. For some people their interests lie in line more conventional art forms, such as ‘the human body’, or simply the act of drawing, but for me, being told that my interests are an acceptable form of art was a real enlightenment.
Can you explain what Colour Signatures is and how you came up with the idea?
Colour Signatures was a project which came about from curiosity. My experiments in colour charts came from a bizarre workshop I was part of at University, in which one of the tasks was to record all the food we ate for a week, à la Ellie Harrison. I don’t know what it was, but I was curious to see what specific colours I would ingest across the week. From this, I began noticing the colour in everything, and particularly the spectrum of colours within a confined space – such as a novel. I definitely think happenstance and curiosity are some of the most essential ingredients in creating a fresh and successful piece of work.
How do you decide which books to do colour charts for?
The first one I chose was Revelation, from The Bible, because at that time (around Winter 2012), there was a huge pop-hype about the apocalypse, judgement day, the end of the world! Revelation became instantly relevant, and a book of which I had no idea of what to expect. From then, I charted a few multi-genre ‘classics’ such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and A Clockwork Orange to establish some context for other charts, and also as an experiment to make sure Revelation’s Signature wasn’t so beautiful by a fluke! Since then there have been various reasons for the choices: novels with a colour in the title provoke a curious ‘agreement’ or ‘disagreement’ with the chart; requests from admirers and commissions from authors are always fantastic to receive, and have made some of the most beautiful signatures; interesting comparisons can be made between novels, for example I am currently working on a comparison between Twilight and Dracula, in fitting with Halloween.
What is the process of curating a show or exhibit like? Do you enjoy working in a team with other artists?
It is a really enjoyable and satisfyingly stressful process, that I am so glad I was ‘forced’ into by my course. Approaching a venue to exhibit in can be daunting, but it can really pay off if you can secure a venue for free, rather than not meeting with the venue owners and paying a fee to hire the space. The best part about the process, is working with artists whose work you wouldn’t necessarily have looked at usually, or connected with your own, and working out a way to connect a concept through all the artists’ works. Particularly when you begin curating and organising shows, your only artistic contemporaries are the ones around you at university, whose practices vary massively from performance to large scale sculpture to realist painting. If you are a painter, it can be appealingly obvious to want to put on a show with other painters for example, but often being forced to explore wide practices can be really beneficial in picking apart your own work.
Obviously difficulties can arise sometimes, especially with the larger group shows, to split various costs and workloads equally between people. Similarly when a couple of people have conflicting. but really strong curatorial ideas it can be difficult, especially when the worst thing the group can do is settle in the ‘safe zone’, and curate an exhibition which doesn’t try push boundaries, or create something new. It’s difficult, but always satisfying.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part is probably managing the time to complete the lengthy process. The individual components of my process – reading, tallying, calibrating colour, ordering, Photoshop drawing – are only as time consuming as any art practice, but the culmination of the five can mean that each piece has a large time commitment, especially alongside part-time jobs, written university work, having a social life etc.!
Of the work you’ve produced, which piece do you consider your favourite?
Of all the individual colour signatures, my favourite aesthetically has to be The Little Prince. The watercolour drawings in the book are integrated into the narrative, so I was forced to include the most prominent colours displayed in the drawings, towards the finished chart. The result has such a softness to it as a result, and also, its spectrum flows almost flawlessly. This isn’t always the desirable result though – for example in my chart of The Color Purple, the spectrum is very erratic and divided, despite the colours being ordered into the closest thing to a spectrum as possible. I think this really works with the novel’s subject matter though, with the huge division between ‘white’ and ‘black’, and the more ‘difficult’ order of colours.
How do you stay creatively motivated?
I am almost always creatively motivated, firstly because I consider my art practice as ongoing personal research – it is hard to become demotivated with something I am naturally interested in. Secondly, each new chart I create gives new context and comparison for the others; knowing that my new work will also enhance my old work is really motivating. Lastly, I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I really get a lot of great comments from people online, who are really appreciative of how I have transformed their favourite texts. I think using existing texts has been so successful, because individuals instantly have a connection with my work when I have used their favourite book as a muse. Although sometimes reading certain books can be tiring if it is not one of my personal favourites, I know when the process of charting is complete, there is an individual who will instantly connect with the piece. In this sense, the works have a guaranteed success – I can always be confident that the piece is worth completing.
What advice would you give to young aspiring artists?
Again, I am just repeating my peers, but don’t feel you have to make the kind of art which you ought to make, or have always made. It is essential to find a way to integrate your ‘real-life’ interests into your work, be it cats, fashion, philosophy, science, whatever! Also, it has become very necessary in the past few years to build an online presence in order to exist. I certainly wouldn’t be practicing at the level I am if it wasn’t for building an online presence across various platforms, including Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger etc. Images can be reproduced instantly online, which obviously has its downsides. However, ‘getting your name out there’ often has to go through cyberspace before hitting the real world.
Where do you hope to be in the future and how will you get there?
I am going to take a year after university to be an artist and build experience with young people, in schools, workshops and other opportunities I can find. After this, I am hoping to go into teacher training, with the ambition of teaching Art and Design at High School and College levels. There are a few different routes into it – the TeachFirst scheme is really appealing, working with low-achieving schools, and schools in low-income and deprived areas. There are also higher financial incentives than other routes, but of course it isn’t for the faint-hearted, and only experience will tell if it is right for me. It would be really great to motivate young people in to being creative, and promoting work in the Arts as a sound and valid career path, especially for those who do not currently have the same opportunities as those in successful schools.
Make sure to check out more of Jaz’s work on her website!
Journalist and Press Officer at Youth Arts Online. An ice hockey-enthusiast with a passion for the written word and the depiction of great character development on my television screen as well as issues of social justice.