Currently exhibiting her sculptures in the Pasmore Gallery (Harrow School) in London, my interview guest this week is British conceptual sculptor Jane McAdam Freud. If the name seems familiar, that is because Jane is the daughter of famed artist Lucian Freud and great granddaughter of psychologist Sigmund Freud. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jane’s artwork is highly influenced by her family history – her sculptures explore similar themes that her great-grandfather first explored, including sexuality, the unconscious and the other psychoanalytic theories. Jane also has an impressive list of awards including being granted the ancient honorary decree on merit of Freedom of the City of London in 1991; and was winner of the 2014 European Trebbia Award for Artistic Achievement. Without further ado, let’s welcome Jane onto the blog… hello Jane!
Hello, I’m Jane. I am Me. I am very much myself as far as my work and my life are concerned. As such I make works that feel authentic to the situation I am working in and to the context I am living in. By that I mean that everything affects us and we are all conduits for that information. My sculpture may inevitably reflect our times and will certainly reflect my particular circumstance on a personal level. So in short my work is my introduction.
Your biography states that you studied “mosaics” in Ravenna before returning to Italy to study sculpture in Rome. What inspired you to study and become a conceptual sculptor?
I have always drawn and made things and consider my first sculptural experience to have been in the sandpit at nursery school. I loved the feel of things, the feel of sand in water and the feel of chocolate powder on the finger and the feel of silk and satin. Working with different mediums and materials was something I got from my various studies. I loved learning about everything and thinking about everything. The combination of the two means that I make works driven by meaning, which is in shorthand – conceptual sculpture.
As a young girl growing up, had you always shown artistic ability or did you have dreams of following a different career?
I knew nothing else from the beginning as both my parents were artists, although my mother has been my main influence. She studied painting and then fashion at Saint Martins, which explains my love of the feel of silk and satin. I remember pulling the wishbone as a very young child and making the wish that my work would one day be exhibited at the Tate Gallery, so the answer to your question regarding ‘art always’ is yes, yes, yes always and forever and with a vengeance! Making drawings and objects was everything I did and everything I dreamed of. Nothing much else existed for me and I don’t think things have changed much, which sounds terrible but the drive is stronger than I. Luckily I went to nurseries and schools that were focused on art subjects and from aged eight till twelve I attended the Froebel Institute which focused on and encouraged creativity and spontaneity. The founder, Friedrich Froebel, is famous for his radical insight that the first learning experiences of the very young influence their later educational achievements. In his book written in 1826, Education of Man, he argued that “the spontaneous play of the child discloses the future inner life of the man” and that for the child “play at this stage is not trivial; it is highly serious and of deep significance”. This was a revolutionary statement made almost 200 years ago but generally accepted now. I owe so much to my teachers and to my classmates who told me so often that I would be an ‘artist’, which was a sort of constant reinforcement. I did in fact win all the art prizes from the infant school onwards and had my first solo exhibition while taking A-level. The show was organised by my art teacher, Robin Dale and was held in Putney Library. I used my mother’s name throughout that period and right up until I was 33 years old when I was awarded the Freedom of the City of London on merit, due to several institutions in the City, including the BM and the V&A having collected my works. I had these early successes in my mother’s name, which I’m totally proud of. Most importantly it allows me to celebrate success in my own right, a very important fact. I love that my main influences were my mother and paternal grandmother and that they made all the choices for my schooling. It is the power of those early forbears, those strong women that define my life.
You have lectured at Central Saint Martins, Morley College, London’s Royal College of Art and Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Having attended the Royal College of Art as a student, does it feel strange to return to teach? What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I just love playing with ideas and materials and to participate in the excitement and joy of discovery, so the thing I like most about teaching is engaging with creative individuals and helping them realize their thoughts and ideas through materials. I am currently artist in residence at Harrow School (the famous public school on the Hill – aka Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School). The residency involves some teaching of the younger years and for the same reasons I love exploring ideas with them too, although I would never dream of teaching full-time.
You have a solo exhibition at the Gazelli Art House from 24 November 2017 – 6 January 2018. How long before an exhibition do you decide a theme? Do you exhibit new work specifically for each exhibition or a mixture of both?
The thing evolves really and always depends on where I am in my head ideas wise, what I am doing at the time, but most importantly is the fact that the theme is a developing thing and depends on what I have done immediately prior and what is coming up after. These things are all connected to each other and grow out of each other, kind of laterally. The exhibition at Gazelli in November follows on from a large body of work I made during my residency at Harrow School, so the Gazelli show will no doubt contain some of those works but will also contain the follow up works I make in the meantime, ie between now and November.
If you could visit any place in the world to get inspiration for an exhibition of sculptures, where would you go & why?
I don’t really go looking for inspiration as I find that inspiration is all around in the immediate events of a life and in the immediate field of vision ie in front of our noses. Having said that, I travel a lot and am looking, for work purposes, to go soon to Rio in Brazil and Timisoara in Romania and also back to Istanbul.
I’m sure every artist has some form of art theme that they just cannot master as well as other themes – some avoid drawing people, others animals etc. What theme of sculpture do you find hardest to recreate?
I don’t really approach my work like that – it is not a question of avoidance but more a question of utilizing the skills one has mastered and of mastering new skills when needed – for example, if a project calls for a video, I have to invest in the kit and learn how to make and edit the video or to make it do what I want it to do. Or alternatively, I might have a go at something new and happen on an accident, which somehow says it all. This way of working can also help in the discovery of new ways of doing old things so as to find new ways of saying ‘said’ things.
Your work has been exhibited around the world – including the Victoria & Albert Museum, National Gallery archives in London, Brooklyn Museum in New York City, British Museum, to name just a few – have you got a favourite venue? Are there any venues/galleries that you haven’t exhibited in yet but are on your bucket list to do so?
This takes me back to my childhood dream, which was to exhibit at the Tate. I also think the National Portrait Gallery could show some of my earlier portrait sculptures. On my bucket list are the following, South London Gallery in Camberwell, Serpentine, Whitechapel, ICA and oh, so many!
When you are not sculpting, do you have any other hobbies?
No…., well reading perhaps if that can be considered a hobby, more a habit I think. Also walking, jogging and a bit of yoga.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
When working I throw on any old comfortable thing and this usually consists of a tunic style dress – often my beloved jeans dress and loose fitting lycra sports slacks with flat shoes or boots. If not working I love feeling tall and I love platforms best. Otherwise I favour my nude colour, pointed mules with a small heel worn with a knee length skirt or dress – for smarter occasions.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
A new wardrobe with loads of summer dresses and really dainty sandals. I think this is a reaction to the recent hot weather but also to the fact that I have been wearing my oldest and dirtiest clothes to make sculpture this last two years.
Boots or Shoes?
I prefer boots but they are so seasonal. Boots feel supportive, can be high and also comfortable and look best under trousers.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about you and your work.
One video I particularly like is called Memories and Reflections https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Adshlx2oJ8
And this Crane TV one
Also the recent video made in the Harrow School Studio
Great to chat to you Jane – it was fab to know that the female side of your family are just as artistic and were the major influence in your life. I loved how you were saying that you used to mould objects whilst in the sandpit as a child …it is amazing how an interest as a child can lead to a similar career choice as you grow older. My middle son has always been adamant from the age of 6 that he was going to be an animator – he is now 19 and studying animation at university. Dear readers, have you pursued a career in adult life that stems, in a roundabout way, from your early childhood habits/games? Did you used to have a “Girls World” model head and played with the hair to later become a hairdresser? Did you constantly make mud pies to later become a chef? Do share your stories, I’d love to know….
All photos have been published with kind permission of Jane McAdam Freud and Gazelli Art Gallery. Photo Credits: Jane’s picture: Jens Marrot; Artwork pictures: Ben Westaby.