Words by Mercedes Smith
Jasmine Mills is an emerging young artist whose focus goes beyond her work to the creation of a powerfully independent community of inspirational talent.
Last year at Penryn’s Enys House I attended what turned out, unexpectedly, to be the best art show of the year. I attend a lot of shows - a lot of big name, big venue events - but this was different, and frankly, so much better. Curated by recent Falmouth graduates Jasmine Mills, Lillian Thomson and Eleanor Lee, ‘Island’ demonstrated a totally new approach to selecting artists for exhibition, and woke me up to the startling ‘new order’ of emerging arts management.
When I meet Jasmine Mills at her Krowji studio she is relaxed, confident, and already planning to curate her second multi-artist show, all at only 23 years old. While hundreds of artists graduate each year from Falmouth and other universities, only a few will go on to commit to the full-time career of a painter, and fewer still will hit the scene with the ability to pull off a highly successful twenty-artist exhibition featuring artists from as far afield as London, Scotland, Cypress and Barcelona.
The traditional hierarchy of fine art has always been artist at the bottom, with gallery and curator at the top, selecting artwork according to their own criteria and giving it legitimized ‘space’, both literally, and metaphorically in the contemporary art market. But now that space is changing. Serious art shows are popping up in all sorts of non-gallery spaces, and the artist/curator is now the recognised authority in their field. This brings with it all sorts of freedoms for new artists, who no longer have to wait to be selected by galleries, and it is fostering a strong community of creatives intent on helping, informing and supporting each other. Jasmine is one such example, a new graduate who recognises the importance of an interconnected art community and has begun her career on that basis. “When you start making work outside of education,” says Jasmine of life after graduation, “you are almost starting again. You suddenly have no restrictions after having a fairly structured experience at university. Initially it was a bit of a shock, because at Falmouth I had a great studio space, amazing people around me, and a lot of supportive conversation and feedback.
Everyone understands what you are doing, then all of a sudden you completely lose that support. Conversations from that point on are only with yourself. That was the hardest thing for me.” She is speaking, of course, of being thrown into the career wilderness, an experience we all felt at the end of our art training, myself included. It is one of the reasons so many people quit the arts early in their career, because they quickly realise that, to succeed, they will have to sustain their self-belief for all eternity - without help or encouragement from anyone else. Some however, cannot quit, not when it “comes down to how much your art is a part of you,” says Jasmine. “For me, I felt I couldn’t exist without painting.” Of course, being selected by a gallery is the encouragement and validation most artists seek, but newcomers can wait a long time for that break. So, what if there were an opportunity for support, encouragement and validation, and an early opportunity to exhibit outside the traditional parameters? This is the concept that Jasmine and others are running with. “Our priority for the Enys House exhibition was inviting artists at a similar stage in their career to us,” says Jasmine. “We wanted to create a show around newly graduated and early career artists, in the hope that we could translate that first show into long term, mutually supportive relationships, not just for now but into the future. It can be tough being an artist working alone in the studio each day, and we need to support each other and build strong networks.” Accordingly, the criteria for selecting works for the exhibition was not by theme, but by selecting “artists we felt would benefit most from inclusion in the show, and artists whose contacts and experience would enrich the network. It felt so positive to select people that way, and it gave us a hugely diverse collection of work to exhibit, including painting, drawing, installation, video art and so much more”. Pop-up shows in extraordinary spaces like Enys House, a crumbling mansion with “an amazing aesthetic, an amazing history, and lots of hidden rooms” are now not the only curated space in which to see new work in this newly democratized art scene: as we talk, Jasmine tells me about her involvement with ‘Circle Triangle Square’, a new web venture set up by friend Edward May which exhibits her work, and that of many others, and “provides long-term engagement and support for artists and collectors within the field of emerging contemporary art.”
Left: 'Midsummer’s Eve' | Right: 'Hunter’s Moon'
“I guess the art world, the art ‘business’ and all those scary definitions, is changing drastically,” says Jasmine, “and I think it has to. There is so much art online now that dependence on galleries will eventually become a thing of the past. There are all these platforms where artists can be part of a community. It’s really exciting to see artists working to help each other, and to build independent networks that didn’t exist before. I want to bring people together. That’s just something that’s really important to me. I want to be able to do things for other artists, and also for myself - to just go for it and put on a big art show in a great space. Otherwise my career will simply be a process of waiting for a gallery to be interested in my work”.
'Followed by my Shadow'
Her own fascinating and deeply enigmatic work is all around us we talk, and has a scale and confidence to match her curatorial ambition. Jasmine refers to it as “abstract landscape, with lost or anonymous figures. I paint about a sense of place, somewhere with some sort of historical link to me, where I have memories, like my childhood home in Norfolk, or Cornwall [where she now lives and works], but in my paintings they become unknown or even fantastical places. My work is about storytelling, about people leaving their mark on the landscape through time, and nature’s endless ability to take back. I think there is something very important about reflecting on memory, and on the past.” Further proving her point about the value of artistic support and encouragement, she tells me that both her paintings and her career choice go back to the influence of a strong cultural background at home. “My mum loves 18th and 19th century art. We spent a lot of time in museums and looking through art books, so I was raised on art. My dad is a restorer and antique dealer with a real appreciation of cultural things, and of stories in particular. He taught me that there is not enough reflection on the things that have been left behind, or on people’s stories and the way they have impacted on ‘place’. As an artist, that’s an idea I always come back to.” Her paintings strike me as psychologically profound, I tell her, and have something of Edvard Munch to them in their brooding palette and twisting lines. “Munch is one of my favourite artists,” she tells me, “and my work is often defined by my emotional output, which I think keeps it moving forward. I hope I will always be in the process of developing my work, but just as important is simply sharing my art with people, and communicating with other artists, and encouraging conversation and allowing people to look at art and be freed by it in whatever way works for them.”
See Jasmine’s work at Open Studios or by appointment at Krowji Studios, Redruth