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'I am a proud outsider', Fabienne Jenny Jacquet

Fabienne Jenny Jacquet is a painter and writer. She also started this blog and we thought it was time to turn the tables and ask her about her own practice.

Why art?

I am one of these outsiders who sought and found refuge in creativity. I grew up in a small town and art and reading became an escape from my surroundings. I was always drawing as a kid, mostly angry, twisted figures with red faces or no face at all. I was that weird-looking, very withdrawn kid with ugly glasses who everyone bullied. I was looked at with a combination of pity and suspicion, so I literally started creating and living in my own world. From a psychological point of view you could say my future was either artist of serial killer (laughs). Going to art school was not a possibility and when I got to the age of 20 or so I thought ‘I have to get out of here’…I started travelling and drifted quite a bit. Music replaced art for a while and I played in indie rock bands, I worked as an ‘exotic dancer’ (laughs), I spent time in California then settled in London. I came back to art when I reached 30. That was a big turning point for me. I felt like I needed to get myself together mentally, rebuild my confidence and find a sense of purpose. I can still remember when I picked up a brochure from the City Lit which is a place in London that provides education for adults. I sat down in a coffee shop and I just stared at the application form thinking ‘I am doing this’, I was so excited. I started taking painting and art classes there, then I enrolled on their fine art course, which was like a foundation. They were really supportive and that led to doing a Fine Art degree at Central Saint Martins in 2003. I worked part-time for various charities to finance that. Art school was not always the best fit for me as they were still very much into conceptual art, video and installations rather than painting, but I just carried on with my own journey. With painting I had finally found something that finally gave me a voice and a healthy emotional outlet. After that I took part in as many group exhibitions as I could, developed my art practice, sold work online , Saatchiart have always been very supportive and they have helped raise my profile, and I found collectors who connected with my work.

How did you develop your style?

I am a rather messy painter! Layers and textures play an important part. I like smearing paint with my fingers, throwing it on the canvas or paper and seeing what happens! I work fast, often on paper rather than canvas, and I have that physical relationship with paint. I like to have an element of danger and unpredictability to cultivate these ‘happy accidents’ that can sometimes make or break a painting. Everything I do is a bit surreal and/or macabre but it is essentially figurative work. I like painting unusual, odd-looking people, outsiders, rebels, people like me maybe (laughs). Music, films, popular culture in general are always a big influence.

But I also like painting slightly more ‘traditional' or peaceful scenes like cafes or the seaside because they are a great microcosm of life and there is such a tradition, of French painters for example, depicting these locations. I am one of these people with multiple cultural influences. I am French, British and my time in the USA had a big impact on me. That all feeds into my work, which is great but it also gives me a sense of not really belonging anywhere (especially post-Brexit). I always say the only places where I feel I belong are the canvas and the studio.

I think with painting you just have to keep learning and developing every day. I am always a bit suspicious of artists who find a ‘formula’ very early in their career and basically then keep painting or drawing more or less the same composition for the next 40 years because that is what their gallery is telling them to do to sell work. Yes, you need to have a recognisable style and 'brand' but you can't just stunt your growth like that...

How and why did your start this art blog?

A couple of years ago I had some really serious health problems. They took a while to be diagnosed and then I ended up having major surgery. I was house-bound for a few months and being active on social media was a lifeline.

My art practice in general is a way to cope with those set-backs that life throw at me, so I thought I would start the blog to keep a dialogue going when I could not really visit exhibitions and meet people face to face.

Also, I was getting a bit frustrated that there were so many interesting artists and curators out there, but no one was really talking about them or showing their work. So, the blog would be a chance to help a little bit.

We even got a group show off the ground that included some of the artists featured in this blog. That was a really fascinating experience.

You are not always a big fan of the art world, are you?

It is a tricky one because I love art and I like interacting with people who are really passionate about it, but I don’t like the so-called art world much. I think, like many creatives, I am happier making work and doing shows rather than having to market myself and schmooze. The industry, it seems to me, is very much based on who you know if you want to get ahead and I find it rather elitist. Often, I look around a gallery or an art fair and I only see one type of people. There is not a lot of diversity and that concerns me. If you don't have that, everything becomes really bland and stale. Add to that the fact that tuition fees have made it really difficult for many students to afford to go to art school and you create an environment where only a certain type of people can afford to become artists and sustain a practice. Still, there are curators and artists who are trying to shake things up, to leave all the artspeak and general snobbery behind. I think the internet and social media are making the process a bit more democratic.

I also don’t get the way the Arts Council of England funds art projects. They have this opaque and convoluted online application system. It is the same whether you are an individual artist or a big art organisation that can employ professional fundraisers with a lot of experience of putting together funding bids to get them through the process. They also won’t accept applications if you don’t already have some funding in place. So, they are basically excluding those people who are most in need of support from the start. Also, it is no longer about artistic innovation, It has become a tick-boxing exercise based on irrelevant criteria.

When I started writing an ‘How to’ series for the Jackson’s Art Blog, and the feedback and messages I get from other artists is really interesting. Some tell me they have been contacted by such and such gallery or organisation and could I help them look into it, and it turns out to be a scam or a very exploitative proposal. Artists struggle to make a living at the best of time and you get these vultures trying to get them to work for free, sign dodgy contracts or to pay for pointless art competitions.

So how do you keep yourself motivated?

To some degree I create my own art world. I surround myself with positive and supportive people and I generate my own projects. An artist friend of mine said something that really struck me recently about how we should not just focus on seeking outside validation for our art but instead just keep making work and taking on projects we feel excited about and see the whole thing as an adventure. I think she is so right.

I have had this experience so many times when I try to briefly speak to a gallery owner or a curator and you can see their eyes glaze over and they start looking over their shoulder and scan the room for someone more worthy…(laughs). Here I am. This small, odd-looking woman with a funny accent.

You do need a thick skin and you have to just keep going. After a while you just start thinking ‘sod it’. That’s me and that’s my work. You like me and my work, that’s great. You don’t, that’s fine too. I am a proud outsider these days.

I like getting feedback from people on social media too. It is a nice way to test if a painting resonates with people or not. Although I also think you need to be careful not to push yourself to post new work all the time and not to be discouraged by a lack of engagement. Painting takes time and reflection. So I also often share posts about the exhibitions I see, the books I read and the general health of my rescue cat (laughs)...I don't want my social media platforms to just be commercial and about pushing work to collectors and galleries. I also want them to show there is a human being behind it.

Are you a feminist?

The older I get, the more radical I become. Not so much in a political way but in the sense that I care less and less about what people think of me and I am learning to simply say what’s on my mind. I think as women we have been for too long told to focus on being nice, pleasing to look at and ‘caring’, rather than praised for standing out for ourselves and our needs. It has been a long road for me to build some self-confidence and be comfortable in my own skin. My upbringing, although we were fiancially comfortable, was not the supportive kind and in many instances it was violent and controlling. It had really long-lasting, negative effect on the way I view myself, my body and how I am able to relate to people.

I think it is so great that young girls and women speak out so much more these days and they know their worth. We are still a long way from equality though so it is an ongoing struggle. I think often male artists have this great confidence from the start even if their work doesn’t always justify it…(laughs) while women will doubt themselves more and all too often need to work twice as hard to be recognised.

Where you find your inspiration?

In general? Punk, rock and indie music and fashion, old gangsters’ movies, 50s film stars, girl bands, sex workers, cats and anything dark, doomed and mysterious (laughs). In term of artists and writers: Bacon, Freud, Dumas, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Abramović, Basquiat, Orwell, Burroughs and Bukowski.

But mostly I am inspired by people who don’t let obstacles stand in their ways, those who had to fight to get anywhere, the oddballs. I love the American art critic Jerry Saltz. To me he is fascinating because he is funny, outrageous and passionate about art and he is able to communicates what he sees and feels in a way anyone can understand and relate to. He is a guy who was a truck driver and became an art critic in his 40s. It always makes my day when he comments on what I do and reads the stuff I send him. I am also very fond of the painter Lincoln Townley. Again, someone who is straight talking, an absolute joy to deal with and who did not have an easy ride in life. I always like that 'no-bullshit' attitude in people.

What’s next for your art practice?

I want to do more shows and continue to produce as much work as I can. I have started a series of paintings called ‘Decadence’ which I am quite excited about and I am looking for a space to show it.

I am also in the process of moving out of London and finding a bigger studio to paint. I have started to feel all that I am suffocating here…the noise and the constant stress. It is not what I want anymore. I miss the countryside and the sea. As an artist you need access to fairly cheap studio space and the time to focus on your practice. London is not really a place that gives you that anymore. So, I am joining what is looking like an exodus of artists leaving the capital. I also think that with the internet you can be based pretty much anywhere these days and still find a platform to make your voice heard. I will still be close enough to be involved in the London art scene but I fancy being that crazy, vegan, cat lady who grows vegetables in her backyard while listening to the Cramps, goes on walks wearing old zebra print wellies and campaigns for badgers’ rights or something.

Fabienne is showing work at the Unfold exhibition at Espacio Gallery, Bethnal Green, London, between 3 - 8 March 2020. More information about Fabienne's practice can be found here

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