Introducing Artist Jo Fairfax

Wed 17 Feb 2021

When we reopen we’re delighted that our first Main Gallery exhibition in our newly refurbished centre will be Jo Fairfax: Play. As part of the exhibition, Jo has created work inspired by NCCD’s history and former home at the Pearoom in Heckington, and all of Jo’s work celebrates the idea of play.

We asked Jo to give some insight into his work that will feature in the exhibition and his life as an artist.

How does your latest exhibition relate to the history of NCCD?
When I was asked to make a piece specifically for the NCCD exhibition it gave me a wonderful opportunity to look into the galleries history. I explored the Lincolnshire Archives and was strongly drawn to a couple of photographs like when one goes to a pet rescue centre and somehow an immediate connection is made with a small animal who will become a much loved member of the family. I had this feeling when I saw two photographs of women posing either side of a pea sorting machine. It was full of stories and imaginative possibilities and an exciting machine.

What’s been the most surprising or interesting discovery while researching NCCD’s history?
Oh the pea sorting machine and the amazing cultural journey from that community to the wonderful new NCCD and the large cultural and creative community that it has created.

What drew you to the pea sorters from the Pearoom in your Pea Run artwork?
I love machines and unusual machines in particular. Seeing the pea sorting machine was like venturing into the attic of the imagination and finding the most exciting machine under a cotton sheet. It was easy to imagine those peas jiggling along the moving conveyor belt and dropping off the end whilst the workers chatted – and so did the machine!

The influence for your work seems to span lots of varied topics, from sports to heritage to literature and more. How does your creative process draw from all of these influences?
I think life is a treasure trove. I am excited to open the door to most aspects of life and rummage inside for inspiration. I really like it when an area of life also connects well with our emotions and I enjoy trying to make an engaging bridge between a subject and a viewer’s emotions. I like the idea that no door of inspiration or thought is locked.

How does the idea of play help to shape your work?
I see play like a volcano of creativity. Within play normal life rules can be suspended. Play is the imagination at work connecting and disconnecting ideas and thoughts in fresh ways. Pretty much anything becomes possible. What a wonderful world that is! We can talk to fish, we can live in a bulls mind, we can see Henry the eighth just before he married Anne Boleyn, we can go to Mars and eat a boiled egg in a building made from red dust. Then this play needs to mesh with the physical world and the laws of physics and imaginative alchemy takes place.

What are the benefits of making your work playful?
I think the questioning of categories and definitions is very beneficial for creative vitality and being playful helps that questioning. If categories or definitions of thought are questioned then history becomes a library of lively knowledge and inspiration rather than an anchor constraining and repeating activity.

What do you think or hope the reaction will be from visitors in response to your exhibition?
Naturally I hope that people really enjoy the exhibition. It is quite varied in content so I hope that most people will find something stimulating, engaging and or inspiring; that would be tremendous. I hope that some nice memories and moments are made for people.

Has Covid impacted your practice or shaped any of your work?
Yes, Covid has definitely impacted on my work, and in a very positive way. Firstly it gave me more time in my studio as I couldn’t travel to meetings and secondly it gave me time and space to think more about things including my practice and how to improve and how to be as creatively vital as possible.

Has the pandemic changed the way in which you will work going forward?
Yes, I think it will. I think that many more meetings will now take place via zoom or equivalent, which will save time. I also think that I have a clearer view on how important it is to be creatively idiosyncratic. Each one of us has a physically unique fingerprint but we are encouraged to be in creative groupings in thought and action. I want to listen to the gentle unique voice inside me more and hear its whispers.

How do you feel about your exhibition being the first in the new look centre following its major refurbishment?
I am so excited. It is such a privilege to be showing at the NCCD and to be part of the launch of the major refurbishment is a huge honour and I am very grateful to be so fortunate.

You work in flexible clusters, who have you worked with that has had the most impact on the way you work?
Everyone that I have worked with or played with! NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Art and Technology) has had huge impact on me. I feel so lucky to have been awarded a NESTA Fellowship. After receiving notification of the Fellowship they contacted me saying that I had to undergo a risk assessment and naturally I thought that they were going to say I was too much of a risk and to get a proper job. But at the meeting they said that it would be a risk not to support me. This blew my mind as a creative persons life often seems to be a constant challenge of validating ones odd thoughts and showing potential funders that you can do the job.

Also Matt Little has helped so much with the world of electronics and programming. I see him as a magician and he gives me electronic recipes and potions that I can then play with.

Some of your artwork reimagines history. Do you feel it’s important to capture heritage in art, and if so, why?
I don’t think it’s always important to capture heritage, it depends on the artwork being created. Most public art projects benefit from dovetailing with the history and culture of a site. In these cases I think it is important to connect the artwork with the location and people’s relationship with it.

But if a studio artwork is being created then it is a blank canvas and one can make up the rules of reference.

What has been the most unexpected thing to happen in your career?
I am surprised to have made a living for decades from it! I always wanted to create, always wanted to make things, always wanted to invent. It was and is my dream that I would be paid to think and create. I am not sure that is a career but it amazes me that this is what has happened and I am extremely grateful that my life passions are my work. I don’t have a work - life balance, I have life. This is unexpected because my careers advisory officer at school encouraged me to fill tins of peas at the local Smedley pea canning factory in Reading as my job. How wonderful it is all these later to have this show and be showing the Pea Run, a different tribute to pea’s!!!!

How do you become an artist?
All my family were creative one way or another. My father was a poet my mother a dancer and writer and they encouraged my brother and me not to get a job. My uncles, aunts and grandparents were painters, architects and writers. That is partially why it was a surprise to me when the careers advisory officer suggested that I get a job at all. I had never considered that as a possibility! I played and invented as a child and I’ve never stopped!