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Meet Our Members: Joanna Whittle

12th January, 2021

We asked SCG member Joanna Whittle to take a look back over her work and practice over the past year – from planning exhibitions under lockdown to making ceramics in her back garden


The last year has been a sad and unsettling one for everyone and there have been some very bleak times, yet somehow I feel artists are strangely well equipped for such circumstances, being well practiced in spending long hours alone and creating something out of darkness.

In 2019 I had a great year, not only in terms of my painting practice but also in the development of my ceramic work, and following strands of community engagement. In the summer of 2019, as part of the Making Ways programme, I worked with a number of groups across Sheffield to use the cyanotype process to express their relationships to the city. Later in the year I was also part of a Site Gallery ‘Altered Places’ residency at Sidney and Matilda Gallery, working with artists from ArtWorks to develop the cyanotype process. In the autumn of 2019, I was really excited to be selected for the Freelands Platform Residency at Site Gallery and ended the year with winning the Contemporary British Painting Prize, so I was feeling very positive about 2020.

Joanna Whittle Portrait Picture
Joanna in her studio

At the beginning of the year I was awarded Arts Council (DYCP) funding to work with the Portland Collection and Harley Gallery at the Welbeck Estate (Worksop). The Harley Gallery had invited me to work with them after I was joint winner of their open prize in 2019 and as my practice had links to ceramics and miniatures in the Portland Collection. This was an opportunity for me to develop ideas of creating narratives from collections and artefacts. Part of this funding also enabled me to collaborate with fellow Sheffield artist David Orme on the curation and display of the final exhibition.

When lockdown hit, the project was postponed but work for the entire exhibition still needed to be made. With my studio at Bloc Projects closed, I was forced to paint in my bedroom and make ceramics in the back garden. It felt like being a teenager and the remoteness of the world fed into the work, a dreamlike ebb of imagined places. Fortunately, I had been lucky enough to be able to visit the Portland Collection and estate several times before the lockdown, so I worked from researched images and memories which seemed to become more dreamlike as the lockdown deepened.

Between Islands Harley Gallery Installation Shot
Between Islands at the Harley Gallery

As restrictions eased, I was able to use the ceramics facilities at the pottery studios at Welbeck and it was beautiful to be driving alone through the gentle countryside of Nottinghamshire with the car rattling with boxes of ceramics. David and I were also able to meet to work on display and curation and had many meetings in car parks with fabrics and artworks emerging from the boots of cars. My car became a makeshift travelling studio. It was amazingly fortuitous that the exhibition was open from 1st August to 1st of November, the period of the year with most accessibility, and I was able to have a small opening on a baking summer’s day with colleagues and friends from Bloc. We had ice cream in the hot sun.

Between Islands Harley Gallery Installation Shot 2020
Between Islands at the Harley Gallery

During the lockdown period I also made a small painting on copper called ‘Sorrowing Cloth’ which emerged from this surreal feeling of abandonment and bereavement. A world out there unanchored. It is a lockdown painting which expresses mourning and memorial, being lost and lostness. I entered it into the New Light Art Prize, wanting it, if selected, to travel around the country, tardis-like, in a way we could not do. A very surprising outcome of this was that I was the winner of the Valeria Sykes Award which left me a bit dumbfounded and overwhelmed.

Sorrowing Cloth  Joanna Whittle Oil On Copper 10 X 15Cm 2020
Sorrowing Cloth, 2020, oil on copper, 10 x 15cm winner of the Valeria Sykes Award (New Light Art Prize) 2020

And then the year tailed off, dimming, with 2021 sneaking in quietly. I think what I have taken from 2020 was that it was creatively one of my best years and I have been extremely fortunate to have been selected for different opportunities and prizes but moreover it has been about perseverance and the resilience of other artists in the community in Sheffield and across the country. I think artists have an enduring spirit and a persistent hopefulness which equips us to withstand many challenges which I hope continues for us all in 2021.

Coming up in 2021

  • I will be showing work in THING Worlds in Kyoto with members of the Contemporary British Painting society
  • The Mitre Owl at Artcade, Sheffield – a collaborative exhibition with David Orme
  • Site Gallery Platform Exhibition – to be confirmed
  • Touring exhibition of The New Light Art prize to Carlisle, Newcastle and London