A chat with the Jens

Jennifer Binnie and Jenifer Corker are two artists who are coming soon to the Blackshed Gallery in Robertsbridge. I visited them at Jenifer Corker’s idyllic beachside home in Normans Bay, where in a cosy sitting room with their two whippets lounging companionably on the sofa, they told me about their work and passions.

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Photograph by Phoebe Corker-Marin

 Did you know each other before this exhibition?

Corker: We were involved in similar groups in London in the 1980s, so we vaguely knew of each other. Jenn’s sister Christine was a life model when I studied at Ravensbourne Art College.

Binnie: We were both part of a very vibrant Art and Fashion scene in 1980’s London and had some of the same friends in that world, people like David Holah and Stevie Stewart from ‘Bodymap’, the dancer Michael Clark, Nick Knight from SHOWstudio, Andrew Logan, Cerith Wyn Evans, John Mabury  and Grayson Perry, but we hadn’t actually met – we met when my dog ran off with you…much later, when I had moved to Jevington, East Sussex.

Corker: That’s right; I went for a walk on the South Downs and this spooky looking dog with wild wolf-like eyes attached himself to us and wouldn’t go away. But I found a number on his collar and I phoned up and asked have you lost a dog?

Binnie: We started to be friends after that; this was in the late 80’s/ early 90’s so we have known each other for nearly 30 years but we didn’t see a lot of each other until about five years ago when we met up again after a long break.

Corker: I had been living mainly in London and Sweden but when I started spending more time in Norman’s Bay we got to know each other better. I introduced Jen to Kenton because I admired her work and thought he might be interested in it too. Jen had a show of her paintings at The Blackshed in 2013 and then, last year, he asked us to do an exhibition together.

Do you think you have influenced each other?

Corker: We talk about the things that interest us both – about nature, about dogs, about spirituality and about women’s energy. We’ve both read Women Who Run With The Wolves. We walk; we talk and then we go away and dive into our own little worlds. The threads come together but not in a conscious way.

Binnie: I like to work on my own; I get in the zone; I find it hard to have the radio on let alone another person. But we have a lot of connections, for instance there is the Swedish connection; Jen lived there; I have been to Sweden twice in the last two years and found it a very inspiring place, both times I have come back and made art about it.

Corker: I love the snow and ice-skating on frozen lakes in winter and swimming in them in the summer. Then there is our interest in animals – we both have the same kind of dog.

Binnie: Except yours is a proper whippet while mine is a mongrel lurcher; the dogs are the same but different, like us. They are great friends too.

Corker: When I say, ‘Roxy is coming,’ Ransome goes all tail-waggy

Binnie: When we started working on this show we focussed a lot more on talking about work and I think it made us realise how different we were, rather than how similar; our execution is very different.

Tell me a bit more about that.

Binnie: We both engage very strongly in the actual process of making things, we enjoy making.

Corker: I was introduced to stitching by my aunt while I was at school and I started to use it as a medium. I call my approach ‘Corsutura’ (Corker-sewing) I have taken the beginning of my surname ‘Cor’ and added ‘sutura’, which is the Latin for sewing. It also is a Sanskrit word for string or thread,and I use it as a tool, just in the same way that Jen uses paint as a tool.

Binnie: I’m interested in painting on different surfaces, canvas, wood and found objects. I’m interested in the transformative power of colour and paint. Some of my work is on canvas hung from or framed by branches, I have always enjoyed finding alternative ways of framing and presenting my work. It sometimes seems a shame to box things in.

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Binnie: Lady and Unicorn

Corker: Jen works on these solid, thick, lumps of wood, while, I’m going finer and finer working on silk and silk organza. Someone described my work as ‘controlled energy’. Even though I work with very fine materials, silk has an incredible strength.

Binnie: I’m more into layers; I like lots of layers. I also like pattern and colour.

I almost hate to ask the question but to what extent do you consider being women has influenced your art and do you regard yourselves as feminist artists?

Corker:  All Artist’s works are expressions of how the world impacts on them, so, of course, being female and mother, that will inform our work in some capacity. At college I was asked to do a self-portrait and I started with a question to myself ‘Can One Ever Be A Good Mother And A Great Artist?’ and here I have put it in the form of a word-search.

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Corker: Wordsearch

Binnie: I had some success with my painting in the 1980’s when I lived in London, soon after leaving Art College but I always longed to live in the country and moved to Jevington to have a different kind of life with a child, a husband and lots of animals. It was very idyllic at the time and I always carried on with my painting and art making but I discovered that it was hard to sustain the success with galleries and art dealers once I was out of London. Now I am focussed once more on my work and spend a lot more time in London and things are starting to happen again.

Corker: I have hope with the generations coming up, I see more respect in people towards the feminine and masculine sides to personalities and an opening up of celebration of the differences.

 Jennifer Binnie and Jenifer Corker are showing at the Blackshed Gallery from December 10 until the end of January. Russet Farm Redlands Lane, Robertsbridge East Sussex,  TN32 5NG

Susan Fynes at blackShed

Susan Fynes, whose work is currently showing at the blackShed Gallery in Robertsbridge describes herself as predominantly a system based artist but, looking at her work last night, I wondered whether that emphasis might slowly be changing. Fynes  was in the year below me on the Brighton MA Fine Art course and  impressed everybody by her painstaking geometric compositions. You would be forgiven for wondering whether they might be computer generated, but there is no technology  involved. Amazingly, they are all done by hand  in pencil and acrylic paint. The larger ones, which can measure  50 inches square, can take months to complete.

If like me, your working habits tend towards messiness, you cannot help but be awed by the precision, the care and concentration needed.  Imagine having just a few tiny triangles to complete, when you knock over your cup of coffee, or you shift the paper to fill in another area before noticing that your thumb has picked up a liberal coating of yellow paint. Fynes clearly has the self discipline to avoid such disasters and to keep track of which colour comes next.  Stand in front of some of the painting and you can sense that there is a system in place but try to work out the code and you are likely to be puzzled.

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Susan Fynes: May You Be Free From Suffering

Take the work above,  one of a series of three in the exhibition; you sense that the  pattern is not random; distinct bands appear out of the complexity but your eyes are likely to go squint before you work out whether there is a repeat pattern let alone what it might be. In fact, the answer lies in the title: May You Be Free From Suffering. Fynes told me this phrase is repeated in the work and that each letter has its own code, but, even knowing this, I cannot trace out the mantra in the painting or in either of its companions, May You Be Well, or May You Be Happy. But I liked the idea of the good wishes being woven into her works.

Much of Fynes’ work has this spiritual element; she considers herself a Buddhist. Increasingly, she appears to be allowing herself a freer rein in the way this spirituality is portrayed..In Faith, shown below, there was no formula,though oddly it looked as though there might have been one. In fact, the process was intuitive and started with filling in triangles of one colour and grew from there.

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Susan Fynes : Faith

Emerging too are more fluid pieces where squares and triangles give way to curves and the resultant bands appear to move and vibrate.

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Susan Fynes: Untitled XV

In the exhibition there were some pieces which did not appear to rely on process at all, like this perfect little drawing which was sold even before the private view,

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Susan Fynes: Untitled Study V

and this larger piece which is clearly a free composition.

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Susan Fynes pictured with Path of Least Resistance

It will be interesting to see whether, in future, works with no underlying grid slowly get larger and larger.With the increase in size; the technical challenges must surely grow. In the early days, she told me, she used to cover up part of the work to concentrate on the area on which she was working.  These days, with the looser interpretation, it is vital for her to be able to see the whole composition all the time, even if it increases the work’s vulnerability to the notorious gravity-defying properties of paint.

Susan Fynes is showing at the Blackshed Gallery,Russet Farm, Redlands Lane, Robertsbridge
East Sussex, TN32 5N Robertsbridge,  until 3 September.