Joella Wheatley, Between Two Modes, 35cm diameter, Oil, acrylic and pen on canvas on board, 2014
Joella Wheatley was the first winner of the Platform Graduate Award in 2012. Her solo show will open at Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth tonight (6 June) entitled Forgotten Lines and marks a return to the venue where she first showed as part of its Platform exhibition in the same year.
All the galleries involved in this year’s Platform Graduate Award (Aspex, Modern Art Oxford, Milton Keynes Gallery, Turner Contemporary and De La Warr Pavilion) are currently selecting for this year’s award at the graduate shows of the 16 participating art colleges in the South East. The winner of the Platform Graduate Award is announced in November every year and the winner receives a bursary of £2,500 plus a year’s bespoke professional development delivered collectively by the CVAN South East partner organisations.
On the eve of her first solo show Joella chatted with Amanda King from CVAN (SE) to reflect on the experience of winning the Platform Award and the effect it has had on her career.
AK: It’s nearly two years since you graduated from Bournemouth University and received the first Platform Graduate Award. Looking back – what do you think you’ve achieved over that period?
There were some key things that I wanted to ‘tick off’ by the end of the Platform year and the main thing was to have kept working and I feel that I’ve certainly managed to produce a lot of work since graduating. Building up confidence and trusting my own judgment has been important – you get that from experience. I’ve realised that it’s good to keep making work whether its just for yourself or for something else that you’re involved in. Making work for this show at Aspex Gallery (Forgotten Lines) has been a great motivator for me. When you’ve just left college you’re faced with having to fit everything in, making work, doing other jobs you need to do for money, and its really hard, you can easily lose your motivation.
Joella Wheatley, Abstractions 2013, Oil, acrylic and pen on canvas on board, 35x35cm
AK: What you say really chimes with the positive feedback we’ve had from all the artists involved in Platform. They felt that it was really useful to have something to do immediately after graduation; to have the next thing to work towards and help keep the momentum going. Do you think you would have continued to make work to the same degree without support?
I would have hoped so, but it was really useful having the Platform support over the year. Every time I met up with you or Jonathan (artist Jonathan Parsons from Aspex Gallery who worked with Joella as part of her professional development programme) I wanted to have done something to tell you about. I felt that you chose me to receive the Platform Award for a reason and I wanted to live up to that.
AK: Do you think you were prepared for the first year of being a professional artist? Did college prepare you ?
Yes – if you listened! Our tutors at Bournemouth warned us about what it was going to be like, we sometimes felt that they were trying to put us off, but in a good way. We were given lectures about how to approach galleries and curators and what was professional but they also drummed into us that we wouldn’t make it without trying and that it takes a long time. When you come out of college, even if you’re quite determined to be an artist, you completely question yourself because you know that there’s so much involved and you really don’t know if you have the kind of work that people will respond to or even like and you don’t know if that’s enough. Although you’re determined to be an artist when you leave college you’re also not sure how to be one. For me this year has been a time of testing out that idea.
AK: You were recently included in the De La Warr’s painting show “I Cheer A Dead Man’s Sweetheart” alongside artists such as Frank Auerbach and Lisa Milroy, how has that been?
The experience of being in the De La Warr show definitely made me ‘step up’. I knew that I needed to ‘step up’ my practice in that company. Also working with the tech team on site as part of the process meant that I had to put myself out there, working with new people – you really learn a lot by doing that, it really makes you want to do more when you see the results in an exhibition.
AK: Do you have any advice for this year’s graduates and Platform artists ?
To keep working, obviously you need a break but after a few weeks get straight back into working and making a plan of what you want to do and where you can get support from other artists. I didn’t really stop working because I went onto the Platform show and even if I didn’t have the Platform show to do there were lots of graduate competitions that I could have applied for in July. You need to make yourself do that, make the next opportunity for yourself and keep the momentum going. I just took up every opportunity to continue to work is the priority.
Joella Wheatley, The Isometric System’ (Web image) 35x35cm, oil acrylic and pen on canvas on board
AK: I agree, I think to be still maintaining your practice two years out of college is a massive achievement; the statistics for Fine Art graduates that give up are pretty high. What about making contacts and working with other artists, is that important?
I think this happens organically, I’ve kept in touch with artists that I’ve met where it makes sense and I develop those relationships. I’m involved with a painters’ crit group with someone I met when we were both in an exhibition at the Islington Arts Factory in London and that’s really useful. When you’re just out of college it’s difficult to make the right decisions about your career . You’re aware that some decisions can be make or break and that makes it hard to decide what opportunities to say yes to, so it’s really useful to ask the right people and in that respect contacts are important. I was approached by a commercial website and David Rhodes (Curator at the De La Warr Pavilion) advised me against having my work included on it. If I’d had nothing coming up then I’d have been very tempted to say yes out of desperation.
AK: Looking ahead, what’s next for you?
After “Forgotten Lines’ opens I am part of an exhibition in Rennes, France as part of an international cross disciplinary collaboration involving graduates from Bournemouth, opening on 24 June. But in the long term, I need to work towards keeping a balance between making art and earning enough money to allow me to do that. After the last two years I now know that I’m 100% sure that this is what I want to do and its now about how I find a living that gives me more time to make work. It’s not about the money, I want to make a career out of it and find the right people to sustain me in my career. I’ve got so many ideas for my work that I run out of time, so I need to focus on making it happen.
AK: That’s great to hear. For all the galleries involved in Platform and CVAN South East that’s ‘job done’! We’ve held your hand during the tricky transitional period between graduation and working as an artist. If you’d got discouraged or sidetracked as so many young artists do in the early stages of their career then we wouldn’t now be seeing your beautiful paintings in Aspex Gallery and we look forward to seeing much more work in the future. Thanks Joella.
Joella Wheatley, Parallel, 40cm Diameter, Oil acrylic and pen on canvas on board 2014
Joella’s first solo show Forgotten Lines opens tonight (6 June) at Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth and runs until 20 July.