The fine detailed illustrations of Jennifer Argo are really quite something.Rock types, geological formations, twigs, interconnecting branches and geometry are all present throughout Jens current body of work along with explorations into sculpture and architectural design.
For her illustration works Jen uses geological elements set off by stark white backgrounds, bringing out the detail in each piece. which when mixed with the natutal elements and perfect geometry create a fine balance. With her work covering illustration, sculpture, photography and architectural design I thought it would be a good time to delve a little deeper and find out first hand whats going on behind Jens impressive portfolio of projects and to find out whats coming next!
So firstly, a large portion of your illustrations represent geographical elements, rocks and strata, where did this intrest of rocks come from?
I have always been fascinated by natural phenomena, my dad is a geologist and I used to collect minerals when I was little, reading National Geographic and having spent a great deal of time outdoors growing up. I read a lot about Romantic art as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution during my studies at Grays School of Art, while it was a very melancholic and perhaps naive movement, the issues the Romantics were passionate about still apply to today, if not even more critically.
Environmental, social and economic stability are issues that are being addressed in more and more creative ways as the urgency to do so becomes more prevalent. I wanted to create work that reflected the beauty, complexity and strength inherent in geological networks and community dynamics. I want to try and refrence connectivity in a way that seems immense, spreading over a great distance, to recall that we are all part of a much broader community, natural system and timeframe. I wanted to refrence biological patterns that are a part of us all and much broader systems of time and space, as well as approaching themes of chaos and order in a way that was delicate and cathartic.
Thats a pretty deep starting point and certainly throws some great context to your work. What kind of research if any have you done into geology? Your instagram is a treasure trove of old images, do you search out old books or just scan stuff online?
As my dad and nana both studied geology we have always had beautiful old books on mineralogy and geology in the house, which I began to read as I got older. The diagrams and graphics are always incredibly cool and inspiring, probably because they are mostly direct examples of complex projected geometry, fractals and the golden ratio! Whenever we went on holiday my dad would try to explain the different interactions that took place in the earth, or different rock compositions that resulted in the structures and rock combinations we can see today. I have a friend who studies geology and he is also very enthusuastuc and breathless when he explains the different geological wonders, and it is exciting - the complexity and shear amount of energy that it took to create the wealth of variety we see today, I find it all incredibly beautiful!
I visit sites of geological intrest when I can and buy any interesting books I find in second hand bookshops and in libraries. I am also interested in ecology, physics and other areas of the natural sciences, and the dynamics that take place within all of them combined.
Thats great to have access to experts and some first hand experience of your subject. The attention to detail on each piece is also pretty incredible, how long does each piece take and whats your favourite size of paper to work on?
The scale of each piece usually depends on the type of structures or natural systems I'm refencing. If I'm drawing intricate microstructures I might want to draw at a larger scale (A2+) to create greater complexity and variation. If I try to show delicacy however I might stick to a smaller size, or for more simple line drawings where the focus is on natural structures of stength and durability, I like more room to work with (A0+) to create vast sprawling structures, which appear to be flexing, contracting or growing.
The time depends ont he amount of detail in each drawing, an intricate A2 drawing might take a few weeks (I try to go between different drawings in this instance to take a step back now and again), whereas a big line drawing might take a few days to complete, and much smaller delicate pieces usually take between 5 hours and a day.
That seems incredibly fast for the amount of work that appears to go into each piece! Also the lack of colour really makes the images pop off the paper, is this a conscious decision, is there any other significance to the blank backgrounds?
I wanted to work with graphite as its a natural compound that in itself references broader universal environs. I also wanted to keep it as simple as possible to allow the focus to stay on the structural formations themselves.
Your eye for detail is almost draftman like which plays into some of the other projects you've undertaken such as the design and layout for the Remarket event space with Recoat Gallery and the sculptures for the Art in the Clay Pits project. Do these tie in with your illustration work or do you have defined boundaries between projects and art forms?
The Remarket project was actually just something I assisted the architect Lee with, we had previously experimented with building installations in that style at a pop up workshop in Edinburgh for an event with Saltmarket Design. I studied technical drawing (graphic communication) at school which I think feeds into the style of both my drawing and sculptural work. I try to reference technical styles, or replicate it by building up layers in my drawings and using geometrical structures. It probably also contributes to the careful and often laborious way that I tend to work. I was always too slow at technical drawing.
I hold fond memories of being
frustrated during technical drawing, trying to get each line perfect! I
remember you were a keen participant in the pop up art village a few years ago
and you devote part of your time running various workshops across Glasgow. How
do these kind of activites benefit you as an artist and have you had any
revelations working with children?
Of course! I think running workshops
is great because you have to think about new ways your work can be accessible,
interesting, or exciting for other people to engage with. I think it has made
me think of ways art can also be practical, creating installations that can
create useful environments or resources for example. I’ve been working on
sanctuary spaces with Lee Ivett, and this collaboration began when we were
building prototype sculptural entranceways for a nature reserve in north
Glasgow with a group of young teenagers from the area. If an installation can
be stimulating in a physiologically and psychologically positive, or peaceful,
relaxing or productive way, or incite communal activity, then that is something
I’m interested in developing more. Workshops are a great way to extend or
expand on these experiences or ideas in a diplomatic way.
I also sometimes host workshops
in community gardens and I'm interested in creating sculptural planters and
shelters with kids. It’s interesting to see how they expand on ideas or
approach new materials and tools, it makes you think you can try anything! I
try to look at subjects or work towards outcomes that bridge different
disciplines, show kids that art can also be about engineering, agriculture,
design, architecture, science, mathematics (amongst a whole host of other
things!), that they are interchangeable. Hosting workshops and working with Lee
has taught me that being creative in a socially responsible way is perhaps more
important, or exciting to me at the moment, than creating sculpture that can
only be engaged with in a gallery context, if it can create proactive
experiences then that is something to aim for.
At the Mobile Village I was
working with a group of three brothers, the youngest was about 4 years old. We
were playing with playdough, and he asked me how to make time. He created this
multi-coloured vortex/whirlwind type structure and said it was time in space. I
didn’t know what to say, it’s still the coolest thing I have ever experienced.
His brothers (and myself) were making willies, trees etc, and someone vomiting
guts… (I was definitely doing the trees..) It was very humbling to meet someone
that intelligent, creative and open-minded at such a young age!
I definitley remember you rolling
out a few sausages Jen, its incredible what the mind can concieve when its not
been filled with pre-ordained ideas! Really great stories Jen and thanks for
Finally, with a host of
exhibitions under your belt and a fresh selection of prints for sale via your website
what’s next for you, what’s the next big project or idea or holiday?
I’m currently working on a large
series of textile samples for a collective who will showcase them at an
upcoming textile fair. It involves creating a broad series of different styles,
which is great as I’m used to working on larger-scale pieces at the moment so
this is good to be churning out ideas quickly!
I’ve currently got a small show
on in a café called McCune Smiths in Glasgow, and I’m beginning to apply to some
more international projects with my architect friends too.
I’m also taking part in a group
show coming up in January, hosted by Somewhere-To, a great start-up collective
who help young creative to instigate any shows / projects / workshops or any
ideas they would like to pursue. The exhibition will be focusing on the theme
of perception and will take place in a temporary exhibition space in Irvine
from the 9th - 16th of January; I will be showing a sculptural piece
and some large scale drawings and prints. You can find out more about it here!
So a huge thanks to Jen for
taking the time to answer some questions and some really great insight into her
work and where its coming from! It's great to see an artist from Aberdeen
cutting her own path and making connections which go beyond the surface,
something I'm always trying to do with the blog whether its highlighting whats
going on, making a short film about someone or taking a few snaps at openings,
its about engaging with people and making connections. I can't wait to see Jens
work up close and will definitley be adding some prints to my private
collection once the festive drain is over! You can check out more of Jens work
via her website and you too can purchase a selection of items from
tote bags to prints and custom plant pots via her online store, have a look and finally keep up to speed on
projects via her facebook page!