Jemma Powell is best known as an actor with starring roles in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Dr Who, and numerous TV shows. Now gaining a reputation as an artist, she has deep-rooted connections to Oxfordshire where she and husband, Jack Savoretti, have made their family home. Following her recent exhibition at Thyme in Southrop we caught up with Jemma to find out more about her art and how it has become her preferred expression of creativity.
When did you come to realise art was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
When I realised it felt like a more creative process than when I was preparing for or playing a role. I feel like painting is a sort of meditation, it’s a way of connecting to myself and my surroundings. It makes me notice life, and I feel more connected to myself – whereas with acting I am disconnected from myself as I am playing someone else, which is still really fun and interesting, but I felt like at this point in my life I wanted to explore myself further and my place in the world.
I make a mark and then make another mark, and then have a response to that, and keep going. That’s all painting is, it’s just one stroke after the next. It’s about trusting it and going for it. Being bold and making mistakes. I try to trust that my response to something is interesting and that it’s enough.
How would you classify your style? Expressionist?
I’m not really sure, but I like the idea of being an expressionist since Expressionism refers to art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist's inner feelings or ideas. My work is an expression or response to something which has moved me.
In all your work, but perhaps especially your figure paintings, it feels as if room is left for the viewer to fill in the gaps, to have their own response. Is that deliberate on your part?
Exactly – I don’t like to patronise my viewer. There is a theory called Gestalt psychology which is a school of thought that believes all objects and scenes can be observed in their simplest forms. Sometimes referred to as the Law of Simplicity, so if something in a painting seems incomplete our brain fills in the gaps which I think empowers the viewer and draws them deeper into the work.
What lead you to Oxfordshire?
We were tired of London and longed for nature and space for our children and dogs to run around. My grandmother was born in the very village I lived in, and I also lived there when I attended the Oxford School of Drama 20 years ago. It felt like a homecoming!
Can you tell us about The Golden Thread, your recent exhibition at Thyme.
The Golden Thread centred on the idea there is this invisible, fragile, delicate, golden thread that interconnects us all, and our actions have a ripple effect. I wanted to depict the landscapes, people, animals and show them alongside each other to push home the message of our connection to each other.
Finally, can we be nosy? You are married to the musician Jack Savoretti and are obviously both incredibly creative. How does this translate into an everyday domestic setting?
Our house is mayhem…It’s a cacophony of music and paint and our three children and four dogs running around. Both Jack and I like to create our work amongst the noise of family life – we are lucky that our work allows this. We are both quite good at shutting out the noise and getting on with painting/music. Our studios are the bookends of our house with the craziness happening in the middle.