YardEdge Talks to Artist, Fiona Godfrey
Fiona Godfrey has been commissioned to do a huge 75ft mural for the Montego Bay airport. YardEdge talks to Fiona about what it takes to accomplish this mammoth task and about being an artist in Jamaica…
YE: Why are you an artist?
Fiona: I am an artist because it’s something that comes naturally to me. As a child I enjoyed drawing or doing anything creative, and as I realized how expansive the world of creativity was, I wanted to explore in it more than anything else. This world is still compelling to me, and the combination of the aesthetics of interesting marks and lines, the subtleties of palette, the tension of composition and the opportunities of communication and expression through images is always present in my thinking.
YE: When did you first realize that you were an artist or wanted to become one?
Fiona: I’m not sure that I had an ambition to ‘become’ an artist; it was the natural option as I left school as it was relatively effortless for me. Art College seemed to offer the promise of exciting projects, technical expertise, and a range of possibilities with no limitations. I often wondered what the greater meaning of it was, though, and that search for meaning was not answered within the structure of College.
Although I worked in Design and painted for many years, it was not until later in life and I had lived through maturing experiences on a personal level that I found my ‘voice’. It was only when I began to express my own inner journey through paint, a blending of my aesthetic sensibility with my personal story, that I felt I had ‘become’ an artist. My profession, my skill, became integrated into my ‘sense of being’ as a person.
YE: How would you describe your work?
Fiona: My work is always figurative, but it works better when there’s an abstract quality to the paint application. When the marks are looser and I exert less control, and the paint begins to lead the way, the piece in general becomes more pleasing; this is a constant challenge! I enjoy working with line and glazes these days, and am moving away from the more traditional mixing of colours and the painting with flat strokes that I’ve used for years. I work in oils and acrylics mostly. In my subject matter I try to capture a feeling of humanity, of sensitivity, of inner space. The human spirit is my muse.
YE: What other artists have influenced you and how?
Fiona: Matisse for his fluidity and use of colour; Frida Kahlo for her soul; Van Gogh for his passion; Botticelli for perfection; Fra Angelico for his quiet palette; El Greco for line, madness and insane composition. Of Jamaican artists I love Albert Huie for adept paint application, Carl Abrahams for his visions and sure lines and shapes, Eugene Hyde for his luscious paintwork, and Roberta Stoddart for her sensitivity. All the early Russian and Greek icon paintings are a source of awe, as are many of the Renaissance portraits and Madonnas. I always go to galleries and museums when I travel and will often be struck by a piece by a relatively unknown artist, and am equally open to flaking paint on an old door or sign, or light on a landscape, or the crashing of waves. There is beauty everywhere.
YE: What other interests do you have outside of creating art?
Fiona: I suppose my main interest is what it is to be human… and all expressions of that, so I love good music, good film and good literature, good food, dancing, interesting conversation ….and most of all I like being outdoors, by the sea or in the mountains, and walking. I have a regular yoga practice which has led me to explore life in a more metaphysical way, and to this end I read extensively the writings of spiritual teachers and try to incorporate their teachings into my life.
YE: Where are you from originally?
YE: Where did you study art?
Fiona: In Cork and Dublin in Ireland.
YE: What inspires you?
Fiona: Life. Living is a constant unfolding of miracles – in all the ‘ordinary’ encounters. The perfect natural harmony throughout nature, the magnificent perfection of the interwoven fabric of this physical world; the dignity and humor and lovingness of people one meets from day to day; the infinity of the world of discovery; the synchronicity of events that unfold to lead us on our journeys of growth. Life is a laboratory, and if we can witness what is without projecting our personalities onto everything, it is a constant source of inspiration.
YE: What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
Fiona: Probably what I’m working on now, a 75’ x 8’ mural for the Montego Bay airport. It’s big…
I’ve never before worked on anything so big, and the scale of it is demanding a whole new approach, so I’m currently on a big learning curve ( a favourite place to be!). I can no longer stay up close to the piece and share a small space with it: I’m having to step back 30 feet every time I make any marks to see if the impact is what I want, and then to see if it’s working in relation to the other forms on a 75’ stretch. Because of this I’m taking a long time to establish the composition…and the palette is changing too, having started with bright colours that looked gaudy because there was SO much!
Each panel measures 8’ x 4’, so I found the muted palette allowed for more impact when colour is introduced… and then of course there’s the quality of the line – it’s had to become a lot more dramatic and definite. So, not only is the size of the mural challenging, but my whole approach to it has demanded that I grow and develop and rise to all the challenges presented. It’s one huge problem-solving experience, but every now and then I have breakthrough and I love it! For example, I’ve painted so many scenes that just don’t ‘read’ with everything else and have had to be painted out with a big house brush loaded with white paint – and after a few such white-outs, a surface of texture is created which is just lovely to glaze over. So I am developing a new style that excites me, and that’s the biggest challenge of all.
YE: Do you enjoy doing art as a “business”?
Fiona: I am very undeveloped business-wise. I teach a course, Young at Art, to many adults and children, and this is the only way I know how to be business-like, as I’m paid once a term and don’t have to think about money again. When it comes to my own work, I just paint. There’s no guarantee it’ll sell, and chances are if I really like it I won’t want to sell, so that’s not very business-like….
YE: How have you handled the business side of being an artist?
Fiona: If it’s commissioned illustration work for magazines or products, it’s straightforward.
Same with classes. Personal work is something I do without thinking about money. My intention from now is to be more focused on this aspect of things as I’d like to always have work, and that will involve a determined effort on my part regarding the business-side of things…
YE: Where do you get your ideas from? How do you begin?
Fiona: If it’s commissioned I work with a loose spec. and develop with the client. If it’s personal it usually comes to me and it gets developed somewhat as I paint. I begin with sketching, always.
YE: Has your style changed at all through the years?
Fiona: Yes. I hope it’s getting looser, and less colourful, and hopefully a little more confident.
YE: How would people who know you describe you?
Fiona: I just asked my daughter and she wants to know if it’s a multiple choice answer….
Then she said , ‘Free’. Others have described me as joyous, spiritual, fun-loving, compassionate.
YE: If you could be doing anything you wanted, what would that be?
Fiona: Swimming in the deep blue sea.
YE: Do you have a favorite artist?
Fiona: Kids – all kids’ work.
YE: What makes you happy?
Fiona: Being with good friends, and being in nature, and with my family, and listening to great musicians play. And when kids – either my own or others – are happy. And laughter! And seeing my students enjoying their potential, developing their gifts, and discovering their own limitness. And dancing, and yoga, and funny conversations!
YE: What makes you sad?
Fiona: Poverty, violence, injustice, corruption. Man’s inhumanity to man.
YE: What really irritates you?
Fiona: Deception. Power-tripping. Hidden agendas.
YE: What are you working on now? Tell us about your upcoming show…
Fiona: The Montego Bay Airport Immigration Hall mural. A very big painting of a beach scene with cameos of Jamaican life throughout. In the background are Jamaican towns and countryside, hills and mountains, and typically Jamaican sights, such as goats, coconut sellers, boys fishing and so on.
YE: Anything else you want to add?
Fiona: Jamaica has given me so many gifts.
It is here that I raised my two beautiful daughters, homeschooling them in Mandeville in a gracious old house situated in a sunny garden. From that foundation of joy they are growing into strong young women and are great companions to me.
I have met marvelous people here and have developed life-long friendships.
The beauty and the variety of the land is awesome, from Treasure Beach to Portland to the North Coast.
And the people! I have learnt so much about the Art of Living from the Jamaican people; their humor and resilience, their gentleness and strength, their faith and humility, their creativity and expression and style. I came to Jamaica to teach in a Place of Safety for Boys At Risk (street kids, abandoned and abused young boys), and I give thanks that this was my entry to Jamaica as I learnt from them the gift it is to be alive, even without all the things we take for granted, like loving parents, a home, an education, and opportunities. Their vitality and openness will always remain with me.
You can contact Fiona at firstname.lastname@example.org.