It’s the last day of Jonathan George’s exhibition at The Floating Goose, ‘Dwelling Shells’. I peer into different artists’ studios with a cup of tea, while Jonathan’s daughter, Stella, navigates his works. She is beginning to learn to walk. She pulls herself up, feeling for facets in the sculptures that will allow her the best grip. Her father finishes speaking to the visitors and family and wanders over to me. With his own steaming cup of tea in hand, we begin the interview.
How did you decide to become involved in the visual arts?
Did I decide? I guess I always enjoyed making stuff, drawing, doing things with my hands - that kinda thing. But, before going to art school I was considering studying design. I did a short course in design, Photoshop and graphics type stuff and another at Adelaide Central School of Art as well. From that, I began to feel it was heaps more interesting doing art than doing design.
What’s your most proud arts achievement?
Hmmm. I dunno. Whenever you do something new that’s it. I mean right now it’s this, this show. A year ago it would have been getting a residency; before that finishing art school I guess.
Yeah, it’s tricky, it’s a tricky question. I think it shifts. I am really happy about getting to this point, this show. My first solo show I guess. It’s brought me a lot of confidence.
What are the main concerns of your practice?
Ok, um… the main concern of my practice is dealing with the relationship between the man-made environment and ourselves. So, that’s architecture, city planning, your home, your room. It can be at an intimate level or a grand community level. But ultimately it’s about our place within this world.
So these works are about shells for the body to inhabit. If architecture is a container for the body, the shell is like that on a localised level. So combining those two things, then it becomes architecture for one, made by one.
It’s not a very elegant way of describing it.
It’s kinda like how hermit crabs grow and leave their shell and find another shell. There is a whole system to how it works it’s really interesting! You should look it up. They will grow out of their shell, leave it and wait for another hermit crab to come. Then they swap shells and see if they fit. If it doesn’t fit, they continue to wait. So you might get five or six of them that get together and have a swap meet. So it’s a bit different from building the thing but there is something nice about dealing with previous inhabitants.
So, I relate to that by using furniture rather than pre-fabricated materials, because the furniture has been in someone else’s living space, their dwelling and now I am using it in another way to talk about spaces for living.
Describe your studio…
My studio…my studio…um, can you be more specific? The studio is good, it’s a great group of artists there and it’s a nice environment. I feel having time in the studio is pretty valuable to me so I treat it with respect.
It’s a thinking space but it’s also a making space.
I love the light in there. In the afternoon, the studio gets really nice light and I do enjoy that. When that happens, it’s often a nice time to break, have a cup of tea and just look at the work. It’s like nature tells me, stop and watch your work. I have never been asked to describe my studio before; I’ve never had to articulate that.
Can you describe your making process?
I don’t think I can speak outside of this body of work if that’s ok? That’s just where my head is. So, yeah, for this work the process began with paper models. I would apply fold patterns to these models, which I would improvise and play around with. I would make heaps of these models, right, and from that I would find ones that had interesting forms from both inside and out. But you could never see one without seeing or getting a sense of the other side. So, then I would use those models as a base for these works.
I would apply that fold pattern to the furniture, which I pulled apart and through trying to apply what was done to the paper, to wood. All these interesting, little incidental things happen, where the furniture doesn’t behave. That’s where the struggle comes in - trying to tame this material into becoming something that it’s not. So, that’s where it becomes a puzzle and I feel it becomes more collaborative between the material and me. The material shapes what happens.
This work needed to come from a place where I am on my own. My abilities, or lack thereof, will show through, and that was really important to me. I had times where it was really difficult, physically, to move the thing or hold it up, but it was still really important to me to create the work my own and the struggles that came from that were important.
By the time it’s complete, it doesn’t look like the paper model; sometimes not at all. It takes off in its own direction. So then, what’s left is a result of the process, and the thing itself. It’s the trace of what I have tried to attempt to do, but it’s also a thing in its own right (laughs). Yeah, there’s got to be a word for that.
What about Art keeps you coming back every day?
That element of discovery - that’s a really strong one for me. Through making, the work always grows into something else. I never feel like ‘I am done’. I work, and then more work comes out of that. I guess making work which deals with one’s place in the built environment - you know living in a suburban environment - in the city - there is always triggers for that way of thinking for me.
I suppose, it’s making sense of my place in the world. Ways to pose questions but not necessarily find answers. You know what I mean?
Do you have tips for other artists?
(Laughs) um… I dunno. I don’t feel I am in a position to give tips am I? Ok, um, tips for other artists… I guess, just persevering, and not being afraid to not have the answers in your work. Yeah, be confident about the things that you know are good in your practice. Those are your ways into knowing your work really well and no ones is gonna know it as well as you do.
What artists/writers/and/or creative people are your trophy people?
At the moment I am really interested in the work of Tom Sachs, an American artist. I really like how he makes objects and how he emphasises the way things are made. He doesn’t hide from that. His hand is really present in his works, which is really enjoyable.
Also Sebastien Errazuriz, do you know him? He plays a lot between design, and art. He explores whether a thing is functional or not, about questioning whether a thing is sculptural or practical. He deals with things that are of that architectural furniture world. He’s quite a strong influence for me.
There are a lot more but I can’t think of them at the moment.
I like the writing of Tim Ingold, addressing making and the growth of things, the phenomena of creating spaces for living in. There are also a few architects who I draw from. Peter Zumthor, is an architect who deals with the existential experience of the built environment. So he’s really heavily interested in how the materiality of buildings affect or shape our experience of the built world. So it’s totally up my alley!
Juhani Pallasmaa, he’s interesting and there is that relationship in architecture to pen and paper with people like Frank Gehry. He’s a sculptor but it’s almost like he accidentally went to the architectural school instead.
Do you have a five-year plan?
(Groans) That’s kinda overwhelming. I reckon I have spent the last 10 years trying to avoid those questions (laughs). Um, no, I guess I have loose goals of things that I want to try to do but ‘plan’ is such a concrete word. When I make plans for the work, they get bent and crushed under what actually happens. I guess, the way I approach my work is the way I approach my five-year plan. I have a rough idea and through trying I will find the way. There are a few things I know I’d like to do over the next five years, I’d like to get involved in some public art, push the scale of these things and deal with them out in the elements. I wanna deal with things that exist outside of buildings.
What’s next? (Exhibitions or shows?)
I don’t have any shows coming up at the moment - just gotta keep making. I have some ideas that I’d like to develop. Basically, playing up that relationship between the functional and nonfunctional aspect of the work. Making works that almost be functional, but in an almost ridiculous way. So still using the language of the furniture but yeah…
We both look at the gallery - sculptures strategically placed throughout and the conversation drifts. We talk about my practice, Jonathan’s family, the logistics of making sculptures and transporting them. We run out of tea.
Jonathan George's exhibition, 'Dwelling Shells', was proudly supported by the Adelaide Central School of Art Graduate Support Program.