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An Interview with Hamley Jenkins

Hamley is currently undertaking a residency at Jazz Live at The Crypt, a live jazz venue in Camberwell that has been going for 25 years. Held in the crypt of St Giles’ Church, a building which dates from 1844 and features a stained glass window designed by John Ruskin.

How did you get the residency at Jazz LIve at The Crypt?

When I was pregnant with my first child there was a theory that jazz or classical music played to the unborn child might help develop their language skills. Rather than sit at home, my partner and I looked for a live venue; Jazz Live was very local, the acts were inspiring, the audience were of all ages and cultures – it became our regular haunt whilst I was gestating! When looking for live music acts for drawing practice last year, I came across the club again and remembered how good it was. I took my sketchpad along to a free jam session and Russell Occomore, trustee for the club, invited me back to sketch again. When I came back, he invited me to have an exhibition in the club itself – exhibiting paintings of jazz musicians in the club where they perform struck me as the visual version of a concept album, so I leapt at the chance to have my Open House event there. The residency allows me to experience the huge range of performers and instruments, develop pieces inspired by the unique architecture of the crypt itself and soak up the atmosphere. I have also taken the opportunity to have a retrospective of my work, as this exhibition mark a decade of showing during Dulwich Festival Artists’ Open House, so there are landscape paintings, more experimental shadows paintings and my Jazz Live sketches for sale at the show.

How did you hear about the Artists’ Open House?

I took up painting when both my children went to school and another parent told me about the Open House event on the school run. Then I kept bumping into the event Co-ordinator who also had children in the school. When I first exhibited at my home, I had been painting only a year and was very nervous about the reaction the work would get. It was exploratory and spontaneous – but I was also keen to get some feedback. My biggest piece was purchased! Since then I’ve never had a year where I haven’t sold something, and my first buyer now has three of my paintings.

Are you a professional painter?

This is a tricky question because like most creatives nowadays, I do a range of things to generate an income. Prior to having a family I graduated with a degree in Design and Illustration from Bath and pursued a career as a model-maker, and I still occasionally do model-making. I was the Roaming Sketch Artist for Wilderness Festival for five years in a row; last year I won a commission to illustrate Black Beauty for the Folio Society, a collectable book that came out in October, and every now and then someone will buy one of my live sketches straight off the board!

Why is sketching live so important to you?

Drawing is both a physical and a mental activity and in order to maintain hand/eye co-ordination you need to practice regularly, like a professional footballer or an opera singer. Unlike photography, drawing requires you to edit – you can’t include every detail, so you only include what you find visually interesting. When you add time pressure, in my case sketching live performances that occur only in that instant, then by necessity the editing process becomes more streamlined and the drawing solutions you come up with more inventive. Developing large-scale paintings from my live sketches has taken my work in an entirely new direction so what started as target practice has now become an essential part of my creative process.

What medium do you use?

I sketch in Wolff’s Carbon and white pencil on grey paper – the carbon is very black, much easier to see under the low lighting conditions in the club. I paint in acrylics on canvas; with children in the house I didn’t want to use oils because of the fumes, acrylics are water-based and dry rapidly, which allows a piece to progress very quickly. In the past I have used watercolour, gouache, egg tempera, and pastels, but acrylic is now the medium I know best and I prefer the texture of canvas to board.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline?

There’s always something! I have a dream of publishing a children’s picture book, I have written several and am currently illustrating them. Recently I moved into a studio in the Bussey Building in Peckham so my next Open Studio event will be there later this year.

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