Saturday, 16 January 2021

An Artist In Her Landscape - My interview with Jackie Morris Part Two by Steve Gladwin


In our last interview, Jackie, we spent the majority of the time talking about a specific project, or projects; the need that led to  your collaborations with Robert Macfarlane, and how that project just took of, leading to two very different books and a CD. This month we can talk much more about what led you to that stage and time.

You've already told us a a little about your early life, as well as describing it in details on your website, but I wonder if you could take us back to the actual moment when you decided you wanted to draw?


I was watching my dad. He was hunched over a piece of paper with a pencil. He was drawing. He made a bird land on that paper using a pencil. It was like watching a spell, a magic spell. I wanted to be able to do that.


As we've begun with a bird, it might be nice to pursue the theme of animals, not just as part of your work, but what they mean to you. When I first contacted you many years ago, you kindly sent us some paintings of a white egret and a raven, as well as the  story you'd written about the white raven on Ramsey Island. Apart from having a house full of pets, which are the animals that have accompanied you on your journey, and how?


I've lived with many animals in my life. A great many cats have measured out my days, and some dogs. And always birds, wild in the garden. Foxes at night, singing in the hills. I love the shape of horses too, and there's some wild ones around. Seals now, they sing on the beaches in autumn. When my children were young we would go to watch porpoises rise at the change of the tides, through the skin of the sea. And I love butterflies and moths.




You've talked about how you accidentally fell into children's books. At the time you had a series of 'respectable jobs', How did you make the big change?


I'm not sure what you mean by 'respectable jobs'. I had part-time jobs until I was twenty seven, to pay the rent. But when I was 27 I quit to do some work, thinking I would pick up another when the work dried up. Fortunately it didn't, though there have been some lean times. I did have an unrespectable job once, working for a strip show in Australia, handing out tickerts to pull in an audience on the Gold Coast ----


These interviews start with the idea of landscape and its various different meanings. You chose Pembrokeshire to live, and in 2007 I walked 49 miles of the coast path as a sort of memorial walk for my late wife and the times we had spent there. Before I went I was told it could be a very healing landscape. Is that a statement you agree with?


I think if you take the time to give yourself to a landscape all landscapes are healing. It's that coming out of yourself which seems to help. But there's no healing from grief, is there, just a learning of how to carry it and not break. That's ok. I think 'society' or the myths we make suggest that time heals, that we should get over things. But that's not for everyone. Each person copes in the best way they can and there's no right, no wrong. But to step, one foot  in front of another with eyes filled the colours of the land and sea here, yes, that's helps.



Do you feel that your work has changed depending on the places that you've lived in? You have said that early on you knew you could never be a city dweller. Is it more the lure and particular feel of the country, or more about not being able to create in the same way in a town or city?


I love the liminal spaces, the long lines of the peninsula on which I live. But mostly the distance is between my dreams and those of others. Cities are so filled with other people's voices and dreams.


On of the last themes we explored last time was the form of books themselves. It seems to me that we live in a perfect age for experimentation, where everything has been tried and often repeated with many art-forms, but the possibilties of what constitutes a book are still being explored. Interestingly, in your books, the question of what is possible with a book artistically and design wise, seem to be important. Is that a fair assessment?




 I love design, beautiful design. I love thinking about a book and giving words and images enough room to breathe. I guess I chose a landscape to live in that allows me to breathe and that's what I want my work to do. And also, to leave enough space, give enough respect. for the reader themselves.


What about the timeline of your artistic life? For example, you didn't always write the stories to accompany your pictures, but clearly storytelling is something which you're now very happy with.


I didn't think I could write. I was slow to learn to read and all my writing at school came back heavily edited with the red pen. To be 100% honest I began writing partly because I had a story to tell, but partly because if you write and illustrate you get paid twice as much money, and I was a single parent with two children and a mortgage. Luckily I then discovered I enjoyed playing with the patterns and sounds of words, as much, if not more, than I love playing with paint.



Let's talk about your working methods. You showed us a picture of your desk last time, but having recently seen the film you made to accompany the 'Feather, Leaf, Bark and Stone' project on Unbound, its just as clear that Pembrokeshire is just as much your working space, and what you find in the countryside and by the sea your inspiration. How much of your time do you actually spend outside?


Never enough time, if I'm honest. I promised myself when I had finsihed The Lost Words that I would spend time watching the sea come in, go out. Now here I am deep in another book., with another deadline, promising myself the same thing. One day.


Finally, Jackie, you talked last time about the difficulties of last year and Covid particularly, and the losses involved. There are an awful lot of people at the moment, especially maybe in this country as we begin the post Europe era, feeling real uncertainty and loss of hope. Where should hope lie, do you feel, and where is the best place for people to find it?


I think hope is something you have to work towards, like happiness. It is hard and this year harder than ever. But we owe it to those who come after us to look for it and work towards it and I hope so very much that we can, together, learn from the massive errors we have made, led by the greed of a few, towards a more heartful, soulful way of living. As a nation we seem so divided at the moment. What hope do we have for the future when we create false hierarchies within our own species? We need to learn to understand each other and also learn from the wisdom of the wild around us.

We are an arrogant species, but I do believe that when I look at our young people, that things are changing. At least, I hope so. I'm so very proud of them, and of how beautifully and creatively they stand up to power, chellenge, push, call to account. So proud. My hope is that we stand beside them to ensure they are kept safe, empower them, listen to them, learn from them, grow and change.


Thanks, Jackie, for being so honest and generous with your responses.


Penny Dolan said...

A beautiful second interview. Thank you, Steve and Jackie, for this.

I did like the way the two voices in the interview were set out and the spacing gave Jackie's illustrations enough room to "breathe."

Sue Purkiss said...

Wonderful, and inspirational.

Steve Gladwin said...

Thanks both. Jackie was so wise and generous. And yes. Penny, that breathing space is lovely.