Our July Manc of the Month is the wonderful Jason Carr! We were lucky enough to have Jason’s work on display at our recent ‘In Manchester’ exhibition at Saul Hay Gallery, and his piece ‘The Ghost of You’ was voted the public’s favourite, plus, someone form New York spotted this painting online and purchased it! Originally from New Zealand, now based in Manchester, Jason is a portrait artist who works predominantly with oil paint. His work has sold globally and his artistic career is only becoming more and more successful as time goes on. We had the pleasure of speaking to Jason about his practice, his day to day life, and about the winning piece – read on to find out more!
Cotton on MCR: Please introduce yourself and your art to our Cotton On MCR readers.
Jason Carr: ‘Hi my name is Jason Carr, I am originally from NZ but have lived in the U.K for over 20 years now. I left my full time job 6 years ago and moved from London to my husbands home town Manchester to become a full time artist. Since then I have completely devoted my life to my practice and never looked back, I’ve exhibited all over the UK now and have collectors here and internationally. I have a foundation in Visual arts and a Degree in Character Animation however I discovered oil paint 10 years ago and have been hooked ever since.’
COM: First, how does it feel to know the public voted your piece ‘The Ghost of You’ as their favourite at the ‘In Manchester’ exhibition?
JC: ‘I was so elated to have my work voted the public’s favourite, the Cotton On MCR exhibition was the first show I’ve been in for a year so it was a wonderful way to restart the world again. I had so many amazing comments and feedback from people that viewed my work. It means a lot to get positive feedback and is such a good motivator to keep on keeping on. There are always times for artists when things are feeling rather gloomy and you feel like packing it in so things like this go a long way in ensuring an artist carries on. It’s not the easiest road to take but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
COM: You say that the themes of your work ‘circulates the light and dark of life’, what is it that draws you to this?
JC: ‘It just depends on where I’m at spiritually and mentally as to what I paint. With the work I made over lockdown I was listening to what I was feeling and soaking up how everyone was feeling as well. I created 3 works over that time one about having the time to reflect on who we are (Freedom in the Falling). Another was about how many queer people had lost their jobs and homes, a lot had to return to homes or communities that were unaccepting of their gender, sexuality etc and how that affected them (The White Picket Fence). Then the painting of the boxers (the Ghost of You-Part 2) that was in the Cotton On MCR show was about that internal fight with your inner demons that intensified for me, I have always suffered with depression and anxiety but have had the tools to manage and accept it, however lockdown started to break down those tools as I’m sure it did for many. So in short I have to tell a story, or share an experience through my work and often they are very real and raw.’
COM: You work exclusively in portraits, what is that attracts you to portraiture?
JC: ‘I love portraiture and my work centres around it because I feel passionate about telling other people’s stories or telling mine through the sitter and the environment we create together. I do a lot of commissions which I also adore as they take me out of my comfort zone, I’ve painted a priest, grandmothers, actors, etc who all have their unique stories to tell. With portraiture I love that I am capturing a moment in time that they and their close ones will always have.’
COM: The pandemic has hit creative industries pretty hard, how has it affected you and your practice?
JC: ‘Im not going to lie it’s been tough not being in any shows and the art market really slowed down, I sell a lot of work in the states and all of that stopped. But I’m very blessed that I have a really supportive husband, Mark who always encourages me to carry on. I managed to knock out more paintings in a year than ever before and I got involved with the NHS Portraits for Heroes which is now a beautiful book. I painted three NHS workers and it felt like the best thing to do with my art was to give back to the people that were giving up so much for this country.’
‘The Cotton On MCR show was the first I had been for over a year and it felt so good have my work on show again and be around other creatives, since then the art world has started to open up again and I have 3 more shows this year and I’ve sold some work so I’m feeling really positive about the future.’
COM: Do you have a favourite piece of yours?
JC: ‘I wouldn’t say I have a favourite because each piece means something different to me, I always get emotionally attached to my work, it’s actually really hard saying goodbye when they sell. I probably have a couple of pieces that just didn’t work for whatever reason and they will never see the light of day while I’m around. I’ve painted portraits for my personal collection of my mother, grandmother which are really special but my most personal piece that I’ll never sell is of my husband and called ‘Coming to terms with Forever’’
COM: What do you want people to feel when they view your work?
JC: ‘My biggest drive is to evoke some sort of emotion from the viewer and the biggest compliment is when they find it relatable. I work a lot on themes of mental health, inner strength, vulnerability… so when people tell me their versions of the narrative and it’s exactly what I was conveying it’s just the most rewarding feeling. But then on the flip side I really enjoy when someone sees something in the work that I’ve not and it can change the whole story. My favourite quote about my work that really resonates is by Javier Melian from Chrom Art, ‘I can see how art is a therapy of sorts for him, but also for the viewer, as for me his paintings shout ‘you are not alone’; they are unexpectedly reassuring and comforting. Mysteriously, I feel hugged.”
COM: You’re originally from New Zealand, what’s different about the art scene there and here in Manchester?
JC: ‘My home town of Whanganui only has a population of 50K but has always had a very strong art movement and is well known for that in NZ. We have over 20 commercial galleries including the beautiful Sergeant Gallery which is undergoing a multi million dollar upgrade. Plus we have NZ glassworks, a strong pottery community and annually there is an open studio tour where you can visit over 200 artist studios in and around Whanganui. I’m super proud of my home town as it nurtured and encouraged me to be an artist. Manchester has a wonderful art scene, I love MAG, Saul Hay Gallery, I also work two days a week at Manchester Craft and Design Centre which is full of really talented makers. There are artist-led studio communities like Paradise Works. And of course great opportunities for everyone to get their work shown with open calls like the Cotton On MCR and Home MCR open exhibition, which really show the diverse talent this city is brimming with.’
COM: Away from art, what are your hobbies and interests?
JC: ‘I actually live and breathe art so when I’m not working I like to visit shows and get inspiration, I have recently started collecting art so I feel like that could get quite addictive. I have a real thing for glass work. To de-stress and clear my mind we spend a lot of time at our family caravan in beautiful Anglesey mostly spending time by the sea with our cocker spaniels.’
COM: Finally, if you could live in a piece of art, which would it be?
JC: ‘It would have to be Bill Hammond ‘Fall of Icarus’. Bill Hammond was a New Zealand artist who was part of the Post-colonial Gothic movement at the end of the 1990s. This piece is about NZ before man came and destroyed so much of its flora and fauna, it’s a dreamlike piece in the midst of a turquoise rainforest with ghost like bird men awaiting the new arrivals, it reminds me of the feeling I have when I’m in the rainforests at home and I hear the unique NZ bird sounds. It’s my version of heaven.’