This interview was originally published on May 17, 2011 for Winking At A Girl In The Dark.
Jina Wallwork studied art at Staffordshire University where she received a BA(hons) degree in Fine Art. She has exhibited her artwork in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. In January 2011, as part of a project by the artist John Baldessari, Jina’s name appeared in lights across the Australian Museum in Sydney. She has also exhibited with the Turner prize winner Grayson Perry, Jeff Koons and Yoko Ono.
We were honored to be able to spend some time talking with Jina for this week’s Spotlight Series interview.
CM: Your bio says that you were born an artist. When did you first realize that was true?
JW: Drawing and painting have been a part of my routine for a large number of years. As a child I would express behaviors that suggested I was an artist, but I wasn’t choosing a label and then being defined by it. I was adopting a set of behaviors that were expressions of who I am.
CM: Did you come from an artistic household? What was your environment like growing up?
JW: It was a very nurturing and creative environment. I remember when I was in my teens, my brother’s friend had a car that he was going to race in a competition. My brother came round with the vehicle and asked me to decorate it. My family has always found me some really great outlets for my creativity. When I was younger I created artwork on my bedroom walls, and it made me comfortable with creating large scale work.
CM: How did being that artist set you apart from others in your early childhood?
JW: There was this one occasion at school when everyone was asked to draw their favorite things. Therefore, most of the class asked me to draw for them. I spent all lesson drawing the same cartoon character for different people, and then break time arrived, and my work was unfinished. The teachers made me stay inside to finish it. They purposefully sat me in front of the window so I could see everyone playing. Then they pointed out how much better my own work would have been if I hadn’t spent my time drawing for others. I didn’t do it again.
CM: Christianity played a strong role in your life in your younger years. What influence did your understanding of God at that time have on your art?
JW: I used to go to Sunday school at church and we would create religious drawings and it was something I really enjoyed. Christianity was speaking to me through art and this made the concepts very accessible to me. There is a beautiful side to all religions and I still enjoy looking at religious images from different faiths. Often the most beautiful part of a religion is the part you teach to a child.
CM: What sorts of things were you painting and drawing then? What first caught your attention?
JW: My subject matter was very broad. I would draw from books, magazines, objects, and I would also draw from my imagination. Although I didn’t realize this at the time, drawing from reality increases your technical skill level; drawing from your imagination increases your ability to construct images and abstract them. It also aids in your ability to express your feelings and ideas.
CM: As you moved into your teenage years, you realized you were gay. How did coming out change the ways in which you experienced spirituality and the world around you?
JW: Spirituality became more dominant in my beliefs than religion. I couldn’t believe the Christian perspective on homosexuality. I also found it difficult to believe that God’s love is conditional. When I feel God’s love it is constant and unchanging. Feeling that love is a powerful personal experience and I believed that it was the centre of my religion. When Christians were telling me that the centre of religion could be something other than love, I knew that wasn’t going to be true for me.
CM: How did it affect your art?
JW: I stopped focusing solely on technical skill and began to explore art as a way of expressing my thoughts and feelings. Art is a really powerful tool that allows you to understand yourself, and it was at this time I began to realize that.
CM: Would you say that love serves as an inspiration for your paintings?
JW: Yes, I would. Love is a person’s inner truth. The closer you get to your inner core the more love you will find. Express that inner core and you will automatically express love, as a part of that process.
CM: You also feel that you were born with the gift of clairvoyance. How did that first reveal itself?
JW: I had a friend that had just received her first pair of glasses and she started to comment on things that she could see. Her mother asked, why she hadn’t mentioned that she was having trouble seeing. She replied, “I thought everybody’s eye sight was like mine.” This is how I felt about the things I was seeing. I thought everyone’s perception was the same, but it was somehow not socially acceptable to talk about it. I was more surprised when I realized that wasn’t true. I then started to develop with other mediums and it got much stronger.
CM: Is that gift what ultimately led to your book, “Death and Rebirth?”
JW: Yes, I was delivering messages from those who had passed. Then people started to talk about what it’s like in the afterlife. I was listening to everything and I learned so much. They were all really patient with me because it was a long process of learning. When I was learning and drawing the diagrams of the universe it made me really appreciate the perfection of the design. It was a really magical experience.
CM: How does perceiving the spiritual realm so strongly impact your art? Both the process and the finished product?
JW: I have had many conversations with Spirit about time not existing outside of the universe. When I am painting I often feel that a piece already exists and I am bringing it into manifestation. I don’t think this is specific to my work alone. Without time, every possibility simply waits for an opportunity to exist within a time-based manifestation (The Universe). This is something that I often think about when I paint. Painting often helps me to organize my thoughts and process information on a level that I wouldn’t normally be able to achieve. It is a part of my learning process.
TSI: What was the inspiration behind, “I Can’t See You Anymore?”
JW: The drawing raises question of how we are seen by others. The eye in the image is prominent but it is also obscured. The lines that obscure the eye also change the structure of the face. They are a part of the person. Someone can only see who you are in relation to their own vision and understanding.
CM: Your Artists Portrait Series is quite wonderful. When did work begin on the Series? Is it still ongoing? How do you determine who “makes the cut?”
JW: I began the series in 2010. They are mainly expressionist artists and the blaue reiter group is well represented. I don’t know if I will continue the series. If I do, the concept and style will alter because I feel I have already explored certain themes within the existing series and I would be drawn to other concepts.
CM: I was really struck by “A Second.” Can you talk a bit about that piece?
JW: “A Second” is a part of the “Death and Rebirth” book. It features in a section that explores the feeling of grief. The passage explores the value of second when it is spent with someone you love. A small passage is-
‘What I would give for a second with you. I allowed them to pass so easily without a thought. If I had known how precious they were I would have fought each one to become a minute or an hour.’ —taken from “Death and Rebirth.”
The image is reflective of the death of a second and its connection with those who share our lives. Grief causes a very different understanding of time. People want to pull the past into the present, and they can only let go, while being thankful for what they had.
CM: Is your art something you are comfortable talking about or does dissecting it somehow alter or diminish its meaning?
JW: I enjoy talking about my art. A painting isn’t just an image. It is a thought process and a passion. There are layers to who I am and therefore there are layers to my art.
CM: You’ve exhibited around the world with some very impressive names. Can you share some insights into what those experiences were like?
JW: When I sent my work to the Usher Gallery in Lincoln, I had no idea who was exhibiting. I just saw an opportunity and went for it. Then I received the private view and press release information, which stated that artwork by Grayson Perry, was in the exhibition. It was exactly the same when I exhibited with Jeff Koons and Yoko Ono. I had no idea until closer to the time of the exhibition. It was very much treated like routine by the galleries. I really didn’t expect it.
CM: Has there ever been a defining moment where you thought, “I’ve arrived?”
JW: I hadn’t believed that certain things were possible and then I would experience them. Moments like this have tended to cluster together or gather momentum, and from the centre it seems surreal.
CM: Apart from your materials, what three things do you need to have around you in order to begin painting?
JW: Other than materials I don’t need anything.
CM: At this stage in your career, does being an artist ever feel frightening?
JW: It feels exciting but within that excitement is a small amount of fear. A lot like a roller coaster.
CM: If those that you connect with on another dimension could understand one thing about Jina, the woman, and Jina, the artist, what would you want those things to be?
JW: Do you mean those in the afterlife? “Dimension” makes it seem so far away. I often wonder how much they understand because all knowledge is accessible there. However you can only understand what is relative to the growth of your own soul. I would rather learn what each individual is capable of understanding rather than telling what I want them to understand.
CM: Do you feel that today, in 2011, we’ve reached the point where we need not be defined by our sexuality? In other words, can you be just a painter, or just an author, or does it feel more like you have to serve as a voice for contemporary Lesbian artists?
JW: When I was in my teens there didn’t seem to be many adult lesbians in my social circle. Maybe they just kept that aspect of their lives to themselves and I wasn’t aware that I was surrounded by people who understood some of the things I was going through. At that time I became interested in prominent lesbians in the media talking about their story. I talk about my sexuality not because I feel that the lesbian community has ownership of me and my work; I talk about it because I admired those who were honest and made me feel that I belonged. Perhaps I am emulating some of my heroes from when I was a teenager.
CM: What do you know now that you wish you’d known “then?”
JW: I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made. I wouldn’t want to change those experiences because I value them a great deal.
CM: Tell us about your current projects and exhibitions.
JW: I have a few exhibitions coming up both in United States and Great Britain. Including a solo exhibition at Ripley Arts Centre in Bromley, London, Great Britain. That takes place from the 31st August. It’s a really great location with beautiful gardens.
CM: What can we hope to see more of in the coming years?
JW: I feel as though I have just scratched the surface.
CM: What’s the one thing that fans of your art will always be able to count on?
JW: I will always be passionate about creating art. It is a part of me.
For more information on Jina’s body of work, please visit her website, at www.jinawallwork.co.uk.