Artist of the Month: Rebecca Jewell

We are delighted to introduce September’s Artist of the Month, London-based print-maker and collage artist, Rebecca Jewell.

Rebecca’s intricate drawings of artefacts and bird specimens, and her unique feather collages, are inspired both by material culture collections in museums (traps, cages, bird specimens), and issues around the contemporary hunting and trapping of birds, particularly in the Southern Mediterranean. Using a technique she has perfected for printing images onto feathers, Jewell collages these feathers into assemblages representing headdresses and capes.

Rebecca’s vivid, textured work has been a big hit with ARTIQ clients, seeing Rebecca work on a number of bespoke commissions including a recent project for Hans’ Bar & Grill, a new restaurant set within the 11 Cadogan Gardens Hotel.

Jewell has a PhD from the Royal College of Art (2004) and is artist in residence in the Oceanic department of the British Museum. Her work is held in the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the British Library, the Linnean Society, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the National Maritime Museum, as well as in many private collections.

We sat down with Rebecca to hear more about the inspiration behind her work, exploring the influences and activism which informs her stunning printmaking and collage. Read the interview in full below and catch her taking over our ARTIQ Instagram channel from the 10th-14th September, as Rebecca gives us an exclusive look behind the scenes of her ideas, process and works in progress. Follow ARTIQgram for more.

How do you see your art as a part of our society?
Birds have both spiritual and cultural meaning in almost every society. There are over 10,000 species of birds and many of these are endangered or are on the verge of extinction. In my work, I try to address both the beauty of birds and their vulnerability.

What is the most memorable piece of art you have produced?
Probably my ‘Songbirds Mist Net’ installation. This has been on display around the world – shown at many Art Fairs by the gallery owner Rebecca Hossack, and it is now on display in Canada at Alcheringa Gallery, British Columbia. It is made from a large piece of very fine netting which hangs between two willow sticks. On the netting I have sewn many feathers, printed with song-birds. It is about the plight of birds trapped in these nets by hunters – particularly in the Southern Mediterranean. Hung against a white wall, the feathers create beautiful shadows, and the net sways slightly as people walk past. A few years ago I sold two similar nets, one in Melbourne, and one in New York – people seem amazed by them.

How has your work developed over time?
During my studies at the Royal College of Art, I was making very detailed watercolour drawings of feather headdresses and bird specimens. I was also making monoprints using feathers. However, over the last few years I have developed a process for printing directly onto feathers, and collaging has become my main process.

Has any place or environment affected your work?
Yes – the Pacific. When I was 18 years old I lived in Papua New Guinea for a year, and that experience had a profound impact on my life and work. I became fascinated by the birds of the Pacific, the wonderful feather headdresses and capes and artefacts, and I have since worked with the Oceania collection in the British Musem, where I have held a residency for several years. I visited the Solomon Islands with the British Museum and worked with artists from Melanesia. My PhD at the Royal College of Art was on the ‘Exploitation and Veneration of Birds’ – something which is still very much a theme in my artwork today.

How does material/medium inform your practice?
My material is feathers, and my practice is printmaking and collage. Everything about the feather informs the artwork – the colour, shape, design, meaning and symbolism. The material informs the practice, and the practice informs the material.

Take us through the lifespan of creating a work of art.
For example – when creating the ‘Dürer’s Roller Wing’ – I first laid out all the white feathers I was going to use, then mixed the inks to make the correct range of colours (I use intaglio oil-based etching inks). I then decided on the images to be printed onto the feathers, and cut out the photocopies to match each feather. I inked up the photocopies (this is the paper litho method) and placed each feather onto the paper plate. This was rolled through the press (I have a Hunter Penrose No. 8). The printed feathers were then pressed and dried over several days. They were finally arranged into the wing shape and stuck down with archival glue onto archival mountboard. The whole creation took several weeks.

What artists have influenced your practice?
I am very much inspired by the early natural history painters – the work of Maria Sybilla Merian and Sydney Parkinson, and the beautiful detailed drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, and Albrecht Dürer (his Large Piece of Turf, and Roller Wing). I also particularly love the boxes and cabinets of Joseph Cornell, the mobiles and installations of Alexander Calder, the paintings of textiles and objects by Matisse, the bottle-top hangings of El Anatsui and the museum installations by Mark Dion.

What’s the last exhibition you saw that made an impact on you?
I was bowled over by the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum last year. I went to see it at least three times. There was so much to take in. Hokusai made his greatest work during the last few decades of his life, and many of these were on show in this extraordinary exhibition. His exquisite woodblock prints, ink drawings of cherry blossom, waterfalls, animals and birds, and of course his iconic The Great Wave were all on display. I wish I could see it again!

Tell us about your dream project.
My dream project would be to have an exhibition in Malta where millions of birds are hunted (mostly for sport) every Spring and Autumn as the birds migrate over the island. I would like to show work to raise awareness about this atrocity and my dream would be for the Maltese government to make the hunting seasons illegal.

What would you do if you weren’t an artist?
I would like to have been a zoologist, doing field work studying chimpanzees in Central and West Africa.

What art do you, or would you, collect?
I’ve liked to collect work made by my artist friends – usually we do ‘swaps.’ But mostly I collect feather art and natural history specimens and curios. These include vintage hat feathers, a lion’s skull (which my father brought back from Kenya), a sperm whale’s tooth with scrimshaw, and many varieties of feathers from the tiny blue Jay’s feather to the Giant Argus Pheasant tail feathers, over a metre long.

What do you do in your spare time?
I spend time with my family – my husband, three (grown-up) children, and my beautiful tri-coloured English Setter called Sylvie.

What is the one thing you cannot live without?
I have been lucky enough to grow up in London, but also to visit Cornwall every holiday where my parents bought a cottage before I was born. I still go there at every opportunity, and love it so much. I would hate to live without Cornwall in my life – the sea, the wildlife, the cliffs, the sunsets, the storms and the light house at Godrey.

What advice would you give a younger you?
I would say find your niche in the art world, aim high, and work extremely hard to achieve your ambitions. When something fails, don’t give up, but keep trying.

Follow ARTIQ on Instagram for Rebecca Jewell’s artist takeover, 10th-14th September.