Now call me old fashioned, but with the radio on in the background, when I listened to a man boast about his ability to grab a woman by her genitalia on account of his celebrity status, going on to become the president of the United States, Orange 7 snapped into shards as my blood boiled.
I wanted to communicate the revulsion I felt through the means I knew best. Women across the US were acting out their protests through mass knitting of wool pussy hats worn on protest marches, such innovation gave my own cardboard cutout cats emblematic of protest, ideas. They turned pink with rage!
The development of my ideas began the way I begin all projects…through intense research.
The press photo of our very own Nigel Farage, hailed by some as the “Father of Brexit”, lording it in the notoriously famous golden lift standing shoulder to shoulder with Trump, I considered dodgy. Months earlier the Vote Leave campaign had had a surprising win in the 2016 referendum – could there be a connection via the dark arts of cyber metrics using social media and voting manipulation? It was worth investigating.
Politically, both social and mainstream media were getting noisy. Summerhall, Edinburgh’s premier multi-arts venue with a reputation for catching the Zeitgeist and delivering often edgy, thought provoking work, offered me a vast wall space – more than 30 m2 – to turn black and pastel up.
My first port of call of course was Unison Colour. I imagined raised eyebrows and scorched fingers as they packed relentlessly hot colours, the temperature cooled only by a few disarming light reds for the pink wall. Words and slogans however were in a complementary electric blue Ocean Blue 2 with occasional blue green to calm areas with emphasis on the layers of crowds.
But there was one pastel from this order missing. My “punk pastel” Orange 7 that I had no idea had been discontinued. Disaster. I was not an Associate Artist back then and the deadline was too close to plead for its resurrection. But being the “shoutiest” pastel that made the most noise, it was the most needed – essential in fact. My long suffering husband Neville as always got on the case. He searched every art store across the UK for the last stocks of Orange 7 to be delivered with urgency to Summerhall.
For me it had the equivalent rarity value of lapis lazuli to a Renaissance artist.
By using the main thoroughfare that separated two massive wall areas I was able to use the space conceptually linking the one wall: “Pink Pussy Protest” (a satirical work paraphrasing Trump’s grotesque quote ) with the other “Protest Mask Project” representing the screaming mouths of protestors. Cascading down the walls throughout were carefully selected hashtag quotes and words relating to the not well understood but very controversial misuse of cybermetrics.
The walls were so successful with the public often using them for “selfie” backdrops that Robert McDowell, the founding director and owner of Summerhall, asked me to agree to leave the pastel installation as a permanent display and it has now become a dominant feature of the venue.
For or against Brexit, few can disagree that 2018/2019 was a year of chaos. (Has anything changed?) Once again the mood of the country disturbed me to the core and I felt compelled to act. This time Summerhall gave me an entire gallery to myself for their Edinburgh festival programme 2019, with a caveat, however, that no vast pastel painting could be left on walls this time. I believe Summerhall boss Robert, himself an artist, was feeling queasy at the idea that pastels of such quality would have to be washed away once my exhibition “Exit – 100 days of Khaos” was over.
As the pitch of media noise reached frenzied hysteria and emotions across the nation peaked, I imagined this ultimate EXIT, as a metaphorical fleeing of humanity in all of its guises, hurtling like lemmings towards a precipice.
Charting the first 100 day countdown to the supposed day of exit, December 19 2018 to March 29 2019, I created an exhibition that comprised works in various media, drawings, printmaking, maquettes, theatrical masks, sound and superb animations of my images by the talented Canadian animator Georges Eloi Thibault.
I found plywood to be the perfect support for the central piece. The grain of the wood provided the tooth I craved for. By piecing together 4 mm thick plywood panels each 180 x 60 cm, and painting in black gesso, the result filled an entire wall with an enormous pastel frieze 700 x 180 metres.
It was a relief to move away from the hot prismatic colours, this time through a range of chromatic greys mostly interspersed with striking red diagonals. I returned to the same hot colours of the earlier murals in the last two panels which happened to link the work on the other part of the building. Conceptually the screaming heads of 2017 meet and collide falling into the abyss with the fleeing crowd of 2019.
As I use no fixative, aiming always to maintain maximum pigment saturation and luminosity, transporting the work from my studio to Edinburgh was a delicate task. As well as being the Orange 7 huntsman, Neville created a tiered structure so each slim panel could be stacked and safely transported on wheels.
Once fixed on to the wall in situ using panel pins surprisingly little touching up was necessary.
Now that I am an Associate Artist with Unison Colour, and still in awe of some of the fine pastellists out there, I have decided to behave! I’m waiting with bated breath for the arrival of a full set of Unison Colour pastels and plan to dedicate some time for study and development, continuing to work in an experimental way focusing primarily on colour theory using my studio as a laboratory.
I hope to be able to share the results with anyone who might be interested.
Installing the pastel panel mural at Summerhall, July 2019
janefrere.info/video-links A short film about life in a Highland studio and the making of Exit- 100 Days of Khaos (17 minutes)