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JON KIPPS / VISUAL ARTS SCULPTOR & CARPENTER



Tell us a little bit about yourself...


I’m an artist currently based in South East London. At the moment I’m making lots of small sculptures designed to hang on a wall which draw on my interests in the design of symbols and visual communication and how we are encouraged to interpret and perceive the objects that make up our surrounding environments.


I take lots of photographs when I’m out and about of all sorts of objects in the built environment from scaffolding to car body modifications, but I’m particularly interested in objects associated with asserting or diffusing power such as homeless spikes, skate stoppers, bollards and other forms of hostile architecture. This collection of photos has become a set of source images for the sculptures and I pull different elements from the images together into sculptural form, trying out different combinations until I reach a grouping that feels exciting.


My idea of making sculpture is that it’s possible to charge materials with a sort of low-fi power. When you invest enough energy into making an object it can acquire a special sort of resonance. With this in mind I often use discarded materials such wood offcuts or bits of packaging, but I manipulate the shapes and surfaces in order to shift the way they are perceived and hopefully give them the gravitas of something more substantial such as bronze or steel.



What made you choose this career?


I grew up in a suburb of Southend-on-Sea, Essex. In my teenage years I played guitar in a punk band with some other friends from school and this is really what ignited my thirst for making things creatively. I found the composing side of it extremely rewarding, working together to make something that felt much bigger than the sum of its parts. The scene we became a part of also instilled in me a DIY approach from very early on.


I was studying Art Foundation when the band split up and I shifted into making sculpture, but the creative approach I learnt from music was key to how I approached making artwork.


Being on stage was never a comfortable experience for me , but displaying artwork in exhibitions felt like a perfect fit for my personality type. I could still enjoy the excitement of working creatively and making things happen without having to be physically performing in real time. There is something really special about working with materials and turning them into objects.


Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey.


Yes I did an art foundation course after college which I absolutely loved. It was an intensive year trying out lots of different disciplines such as graphics and product design, before finally deciding to settle on Fine art. After Art Foundation I decided to go to BA Fine Art course at Nottingham Trent University and then later on MFA Sculpture at Slade which was when I moved to London.


However I feel like formal education only gave me 60% of what I needed to be an artist. It started me off on an overall way of thinking, but a lot of the practical skills I have now were self taught or came from working an array of other roles in different projects and jobs. For example between BA and MFA though I spent 4 years back in Southend helping set up and run Southend’s first artist-led project space in a derelict waterworks. We had studio spaces, a gallery and a small cinema. This was my ‘on the job’ introduction into all the work that goes into organising and creating exhibitions. Everything from how to hang a picture to writing a press release, pitching for funding, designing exhibition posters etc.


I also do a lot of carpentry work which I mainly taught myself by watching YouTube videos. 15 years in I am still learning things and improving my skills all the time. I think the constant personal development that comes with making things is partly what makes it so rewarding.



Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?

Formal education was generally pretty positive. It was all focussed on creative decision making and unpicking your reasons for making things in order to learn from it and make the next thing better - critical thinking. I’m also aware that this approach can also translate well into lots of different disciplines for example some of my peers went into different fields after art school working as curators, or in the music industry, fabrication, carpentry, advertising and some are even chefs.


Unfortunately Art school didn’t teach much about the bigger picture of being an artist - how to survive out in the world and make money etc. Everyone has to find their own way to muddle though that, often working multiple jobs to get by. Looking back I actually think finding my own route and working lots of different roles alongside the making the artwork has been good for me as I’ve learnt to be adaptable and independent. I would be lying though if I pretended this hasn’t also been very stressful at times.



Who inspires you?


There is a famous music producer called Rick Rubin who is known for having a really great approach to creativity, but also being very generous in sharing his approach with others. If you read or listen to an interview with him most of what he says is meant in the context of making music, however it generally translates very readily to other forms of creativity such as making sculpture, writing poems or whatever it may be.


What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?

From time to time when I get a big job or commission or asked to do something that feels a level above what I have generally been doing self doubt or imposter syndrome or a fear of messing up or failing can start to creep in. When that happens I take a minute to try to reframe those worry feelings as excitement and to remind myself that it’s exactly these big moments that I’ve worked so hard to get to, so now it’s my time to shine.



What do you want to change about your industry?


The way recent governments are making it harder and harder for people to access arts education is really problematic. They have deprioritised arts and humanities in school curriculums and hiked the cost of formal, further education so much that is almost impossible for people from non affluent backgrounds to study art at university. I still have an enormous debt from my time in further education which I think I will probably carry with me for most of my life however back then I paid just a fraction of what students are expected to pay now. This situation has ultimately made art education in the most part very exclusive to those from privileged backgrounds. If I was hoping to enter higher education in the arts now I think I would either be looking to join one of the DIY art schools like TOMA (The Other MA) or School of the Damned etc or go abroad where art education in some countries is virtually free.



What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?


Be as active as you can and don’t wait for external validation to do what you want to do . Try to make your own luck by getting involved with as many projects as you can and give everything 110%. Also be generous with your peers, share advice, opportunities, contacts, equipment etc so that collectively together you can make things happen on your own terms.

Back yourself and don’t be afraid to fail because that’s the only way to learn and get better at what you do. If you don’t try it, you won’t know what can be achieved and you won’t achieve it.

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