The Catlin Art Prize, founded by Justin Hammond in 2007, is an annual award and exhibition featuring the most promising emerging artists in the UK one year on from graduation.
N.B: You graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2011 with an MA in Fine Art Photography, how do you feel your work has progressed in the subsequent year?
J.B: I feel my work has become more intuitive, I am more feeling in my approach than I used to be. I think when I was at Art College I used to over think things too much.
N.B: Your work is undoubtedly highly autobiographical, how long have you used your parents as your subjects?
J.B: 8 years, it just feels right.
N.B: Tell me about the work you are exhibiting as part of your involvement with the Caitlin Prize.
J.B: I am exhibiting new work created specifically for the show, three photographic pieces and a sculpture. With these works I wanted to push my visual vocabulary further than I had before and to do something different.
‘Toe’ is a bronze cast of my dad’s little toe. My dad suffers from circulation problems which have meant that some of his toes have had to be amputated; ‘Toe’ is a modest monument to him.
‘Comfort Object’ is a photographic montage, featuring me wearing a prosthetic mask of my dad’s face whilst at the same time cradling his head in my lap. This piece, for many people evokes the Pieta, referencing my Christian upbringing, however, it also has to do with the boundaries between self and other, with loss and separation as well as with the question of what is real and what is fake. The title of my piece, ‘Comfort Object’ is a metaphorical term used by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott to describe the point at which, when we are younger we grow attached to a transitional object, like a comfort blanket, in order to cope with the subconscious realisation that we are not in fact, part of our mothers, that we are, as it were alone in the world. In my work the mask then becomes the comfort object, blurring the boundaries between myself and my dad.
In ‘Un-seeing’ I photographed mural paper depicting a woodland scene in the woods at the back of my parent’s house. My dad appears in the far right hand section of the image, I painted his face grey to blend in with the mural paper backdrop. This piece refers to a current trend in art towards hyper-reality. People assume with this piece that the image has been digitally manipulated when of course it hasn’t; I have made the real look fake in a subversion of this trend towards the hyper-real. ‘Un-seeing’ encourages the viewer then to un-see what they think they see and to think in new ways, to revert back to a credulous child-like way of seeing and in so doing to escape restrictive adult assumptions.
‘Regeneration’ is a photograph of my mother curled into a foetal position, cocooned protectively in the blankets my siblings and I used to wrap around us when we were ill. I see it as again quite a religious piece, the fact that the feet are visible and that I have chosen a diamond shape references the crucifixion. There is a tension too between safety and harm, the edges of the aluminium on which the image is mounted seem sharp enough to cut yourself on. The blanket I’ve used also reminds me of the body, it is flesh like in colour and the tears in it appear wound-like. My mother’s body beneath the blanket also seems to me rather meat like, organ like, her feet the valves and her body a beating heart.
N.B: Tell me a bit more about your work in general.
J.B: I feel like my work has opened up a new mode of communication with my parents. Looking at my representations of my parents within my work I see them as an amalgamation of them and me. Each work for me is like a stepping stone along this journey of self-discovery that I have embarked on. Whereas other people often find my work disconcerting I find it incredibly positive, progressive, I feel with each completed work that a weight has been lifted from me. I find the process of making my work childlike, intuitive and liberating.
N.B: What are your parent’s reactions to your work?
J.B: They are stoical and supportive. It is a kind of role reversal, when I was younger, they showed me how they saw the world, and now that I am an adult I am showing them how I see the world.
N.B: Tell me about the piece you are exhibiting at the Saatchi Gallery?
J.B: I am exhibiting ‘Portal’, a photograph of my mother within a domestic scene painted in black gloss. My mother wears a mask of her own head, up-scaled so that it appears disproportionately big, a large head to body ration reminiscent of how babies look when they are born. It is a highly ambiguous work, at first glance my mother appears camouflaged, and again the image looks fake. She looks quite androgynous too, a theme which keeps cropping up in my work.
Jonny is currently exhibiting in ‘Out of Focus’ at the Saatchi Gallery (Duke of York’s HQ, Kings Road, London) and as part of the Catlin Art Prize (Londonnewcastle Project Space, Redchurch Street, London) until 25th May.
Upcoming London exhibitions include, ‘Courtship of the Peoples’ at Simon Oldfield Gallery, 21st June- 28th July and a solo show also at Simon Oldfield Gallery from 5th- 28th September 2012.