Androgynous Aesthetics: Interview with Brendan Jamison

For the past seven years the Northern Irish based artist, Brendan Jamison has amassed a significant body of work. Jamison appropriates diverse media including wax, wool, sugar cubes and pins to create a wide range of sculptural outcomes that explore binary polarities. Comparisons can be made to works by artists such as Jim Lambie, Phyllida Barlow, Georg Herold, Thomas Houseago, Mike Kelley and Anselm Reyle.

Angela Darby interviewed Jamison to consider the relationship between his work and the curatorial project The Warning Art Gallery.

AD: What are the central concerns within your art practice?

BJ: As a sculptor, I tend to explore materials and colours with certain distinctive gender codes, seeking to play-off the material of the sculpture against the actual form of the finished work. This often occurs in a fun and playful fashion. With wool, the gentle, non-violent and comforting femininity of the material is often used to transform a formal wooden structure with masculine undertones. The spontaneous fluidity of wax offers an equally seductive combination to soften or animate the harshness of the object, be it a hard-hat or submarine. The same is true of sugar, this time offering a multi-sensory experience. Aside from the sweetness of the taste, the sparkles suggest a magical fairytale quality. This is contrasted to the very formal building block of the sugar cube, referencing the bricks from the masculine-dominated construction industry. In essence, through striking a balance between these two forces within my practice, blurring the boundaries between gender and sexualities, I seek to create non-figurative objects with an androgynous aesthetic.

AD: What influences have played a role in the development of these concerns?

BJ: Ancient Eastern philosophies from Hinduism to Buddhism, Confucius in China and also early Greek writings. Within the contemporary art world, sculptures by Anish Kapoor have been a large influence, as has the edgier works by Tracey Emin, André Stitt and Jenny Saville. Inspiration always comes from works that offer a challenge, both visually and conceptually, to push the boundaries through a fresh perspective that expands the viewer’s outlook towards a greater level of open-mindedness.

AD: Do these concerns inform your curatorial practice?

BJ: Yes. Definitely. Rebelling against institutional and historical conditioning to offer a more liberated perspective is very important. Identity issues of gender and sexuality play a huge part in my curated projects, in particular contemporary feminist approaches such as the video works by Welsh artist Miranda Whall and the drawings by Belfast-based artists Gail Ritchie and Lydia Holmes. On the homosexual front, Hernan Bas and Ciaran Magill’s homo-subliminal narratives offer a refreshing alternative to the male figure. But the complexities of the metro-sexual perspective have now risen to become as equally alluring, as evidenced in the ceramic sculptures by Patrick Colhoun, delicately balancing violence and brutality on the one hand, with fragility and spiritual liberation on the other.

AD: What motivated you to extend your relationship to art from producer to promoter?

BJ: For many years now, I have been engaged in mentoring programmes to assist recent graduates and often find some of our greatest local talent do not get picked-up by the conservatively-safe private galleries. This is because the commercial scene in Belfast is extremely backward, preferring to deal in romantic Irish landscape and very decorative figurative sculpture. Therefore the edgy contemporary art collectors travel to London, Berlin and New York to buy art and bring it back to Northern Ireland. The Belfast art market needs to catch-up with the trends in the contemporary art capitals of the world. This is why I have teamed up with a progressive art collector, Brian Nixon, to run the Warning Art projects and since the beginning of our quest 6 months ago, Brian has already sold many artworks to new collectors, opening up channels to expand the whole ethos of The Warning Art Gallery. This breathes life back into artists working in the studio, generating confidence that they do not need to compromise their edgy style to accommodate the conservative galleries.

AD: Most recently you have been associated with sugar cube sculptures that are formally restrained; how does the confrontational nature of the artworks contained within The Warning Art Gallery sit within your practice?

BJ: The earliest sugar sculptures from 2004 (titled IN-BETWEEN from the MFA show) were a blurring of the boundaries between organic and architectural forms but also between masculine and feminine forms. Phallic towers rose high into the air but instead of a solid bulbous head, they opened like flowers at the top. Another free-standing sugar tower was deliberately collapsed across the floor, as if it had erupted or exploded into a million little atoms. The sides of the sugar sculptures also contained womb-shaped entrances; therefore the artworks at The Warning Art Gallery actually deal with very similar subject matter, and also in quite a fun and playful fashion.

It is also crucial that the shows are curated in an interesting format and as an artist who creates every series of sculptures as an installation, negotiating space and the interplay of different elements is very similar to the vision required to unite the conceptual threads and placement of works in a themed exhibition. A strong rhythm is crucial, as certain works punctuate the gallery, they guide the viewer on a particular route or series of directions. Introducing elements that challenge the audience can also be rewarding.

AD: What projects are forthcoming for The Warning Art Gallery?

BJ: On May 25th, we are launching a major international exhibition of 26 artists, including two from America, Professor Sean Miller from theUniversity of Florida and a recent Masters graduate, Galen Olmsted. Professor André Stitt is travelling over from Wales to officially open the show so it promises to be a very special evening. After the initial group show which ends on June 15, we will be returning to our regular studio visits to continue plans for our second group show on a different theme and also to develop upcoming solo projects.

The Warning Art Gallery, 25/05/2012 until 15/06/2012, The Crescent Arts Centre, 2-4 University Road, Belfast, BT7 1NH.

Courtesy the artist

Text: Angela Darby