Jo was one of our artists in last year’s Bellamys at Five exhibition. She created five small works – mixed media collage – in response to the five verses of her chosen poem. There was a lot of interest in Jo’s works -we could have sold them several times over.
This year Jo is creating four works in response to four poems – A Vienna Tale, How will I know?, Ministry of Food, and Nuns and Roses.
Introducing Jo Keppel
I am a “recovering” secondary schoolteacher, now returned to journalism and living in the Ahaura Valley on the South Island’s West Coast. Home is a lifestyle block next to Mt Eliot which is almost at the Main Divide and there is a towering moody waterfall tumbling down at the front gate.
I started as a journalist at The Evening Star in Dunedin and studied at Otago University. Later, I taught English and art at secondary schools in Oamaru and Reefton (for nearly 30 years) and have worked on newspapers and magazines also in Oamaru, Christchurch and in Greymouth (totalling more than 16 years). I still work full-time so my snatched art sessions mean I work quickly in my evenings and weekends, producing mainly series of small works in ink and wash, collage, monoprinted, or in acrylic paint – or all of these.
My main job now is writing the articles for The West Coast Messenger but I also do art profiles for the Greymouth Star and I meet many artists through the West Coast Society of Arts and at events like the annual Art in the Park which I have exhibited at successfully for five years.
My surroundings are always an inspiration as is language. I have always been very involved with language in my “day jobs” and enjoy exploring levels of meaning, symbols, associations, humour and word plays and combining these with visual imagery.
Producing work for coming exhibitions and some small commissions, or just because I want to experiment with some new techniques and ideas, means that I am always working on something “arty”. My first solo exhibition in Greymouth was called The Other Side of “Away”. West Coasters speak of anywhere except the West Coast as Away, so the other side of Away was, of course, the West Coast, and the small paintings and ink drawings recalled the many tracks I’ve walked on the Coast to little waterfalls, mountain tarns or elevated views, among the shadowy legions of rugged bush-covered mountains.
I think all of one’s experience influence art and writing. My overseas travel has taken in ancient sites in places like Peru, Easter Island and Turkey and I have always been interested in ethnic art and crafts, while horticulture, entomology and botany are other interests which keep throwing up images into my art.
I am always brimming with ideas for new projects and fill notebooks with ideas to get to eventually. I am constantly exploring and experimenting and thinking, “what else?” and “what next?” My work is quite intuitive and mostly semi-abstract rather than representational, produced in silence or with the “quiet music” of the country (waterfall, birds, wind sounds).
My aim is to produce small works which are affordable and accessible to people who enjoy having them to look at in their homes and feel cheered by them. I am proud that many people buy my works for the fun in them and the quirky thought-provoking images and titles.
I like solo exhibitions where I can present the development of a theme or idea but also collaborative shows where I can see my work in the context of others’ and I always enjoy looking at other artists’ work and talking to them about it. I am delighted to be contributing to the Poems in the Waiting Room exhibition, a wonderful project. Poetry provides me with an opportunity to explore levels of meaning and associations, linking the poet’s language and visual images.
If you’d like to see more of Jo’s work have a look here.