This is an interview with the wonderful Janette Parris, with whom I had the pleasure to sit down with. I met Janette during my Art and Design Foundation in 2019 and since then I have been following her creative practice closely. It was a pleasure to delve deeper and ask her questions about her work, process and artistic progression.
Janette is a multi-talented and multi-disciplinary artist whose work stimulates conversations around every day life, the changing landscapes of our local areas and the creative industries in a fun, light-hearted and intensely satirical way. Through the medium of illustration, animation and performance Janette “highlights conversations, from communities that aren’t necessarily listened to”.
She does this best when imagining up and creating animations which detail the lives of every day people in an amongst their local areas, the funny small talk you have with with friends, neighbours or acquaintances. Janette packages these familiar interactions into wonderfully vibrant and beautifully executed animations. Through taking these regular conversations and integrating fiction, she is able to critique reality, elevating the drama and teasing out the humour in it all and as the audience, you quickly accept this new reality.
The animation ‘Catching Up, 2020’ is a wonderful example of this. Created during the COVID-19 lockdown, this 8-minute animation serves as a response to the “difficult periods in the creative industries” where “…people are making little money”. So, in creating characters who exist within these industries, Janette begins to initiate conversations around “cancelled contracts… not getting taken up by getting acting jobs and not getting teaching jobs” in a unique way. Through these characters you have a small insight into the realities of real people, who are representative of so many. Although created during a global pandemic, it is a timeless piece of work for all creatives.
In asking Janette whether she thought COVID affected her practice she highlighted that: “Oddly enough, no, it hasn’t”. She explained “I made Catching Up during the middle of the pandemic, so I couldn’t interview people in person, but I did have conversations over the phone. My practice relied on those conversations with members of the public and turned those conversations into comic anecdotes.” Due to her already established digital practice, she “actually got busier” due to the lack of adjustment to Covid working style.
The interesting thing about Janette’s work, is that it features characters that you already feel like you know, particularly as a Londoner. This familiarity is something that draws you in. These characters become vessels for conversations around class, economics, and the creative industries. She creates characters that you can see yourself in, characters that deal with professional rejection and stagnation, yet who continue to persevere, something that a lot of creatives contend with. It happens so often, that finding humour in it is vital and that’s exactly what Janette does.
Janette’s work, by nature, relies on the observation and interaction of those around her. I think it would be fair to say that she almost documents societal patterns and behaviours in local areas just by extension of creating her works. It most definitely is a social commentary. Janette expanded on this by saying: “I think a lot of my art is social commentary. I’m sure everyone has those sorts of conversations, so you have to find the funny side in it. That’s what I try to do.”
In asking why she thinks she is drawn to it every day she replied that “maybe I just like the drama in the everyday”. She explains that she has always been intrigued in the conversations people have and the small details, but overall, she jokes: “…maybe I just want everything to be a soap opera.”
This is where Janette’s illustration style comes in and is able to add visually to these sometimes heavy and intense conversations. Janette’s illustration style, and by extension her animation style, is very vibrant. She utilises block colours, black line work and simple shapes and figures to create clear and expressive characters. There is a hand-drawn element expressed visually, although created all digitally. Janette’s quirky illustration style balances out the sometimes intense topics, and brings us back to an exciting, colourful and magical world of her creation, where anything can happen…even a spontaneous musical number!
When I first met Janette in 2019, she was “utilising known popular songs… and putting them in the work”. However, since then she has taught herself how to play multiple instruments, as well as written, sung and produced songs to go alongside her animation works. In asking why she made the step to start writing and performing her own songs she explained that it “…felt the next step to start writing my own songs rather than using others. I found that a lot of known lyrics have baggage behind it, so it’s difficult to get beyond that”.
So now as a result, she creates bespoke songs relating directly to the themes she is exploring. It is wonderful to see Janette’s creativity and scope ever expanding and is an inspiring reminder to creatives to keep on exploring new mediums and forms of expression. Not to be scared of trying something new. She explains that “In musical theatre it’s quite normal for people to burst into song. No one thinks that’s strange, at all. So, which is why I use it”. Perhaps as a way to shift people’s perceptions. The addition of the songs has elevated the humour in her work, allowing Janette the freedom to make large statements without the boundaries of reality.
In asking Janette about any new or upcoming projects, she mentioned she was writing and illustrating a memoir with Montez Press, aptly named: ‘This Is Not a Memoir’.
“The book is about my, just about my relationship to London.” Janette explained that she was brought up in East London, West Ham (and is a West Ham supporter at heart). From there she moved to South London where she attended Camberwell Art School for her BA and did her MA at Goldsmiths. Since then she hasn’t left.
She mentioned, that in the book we should expect witty anecdotes about the ever-changing and fluctuating state of London. Personal insights detailing the fact that the “Co-Op on Camberwell Green that used to be a Kwik Save” or a personal anecdote of why Janette prefers new West Ham Stadium (New London Stadium), instead of the old one, because “you’re not worried about getting your head kicked”. This memoir promises to be a conversation, a unique insight into London through Janette’s eyes, an exciting opportunity to see what stories and memories are weaved into buildings or areas of London, side-by-side with Janette’s usual quirky illustrations. She explains that “There’s lots of sights in London that aren’t seen as sort of landmarks, but they are landmarks to me. Things that are not necessarily beautiful, but they are interesting. This is why I say, ‘This is not a Memoir’ it is more of my own observations.”
As a closing question, I asked what Janette would say to her younger self and any advice she has for emerging artists.
Here was her answer: “I think I’d tell myself to be a bit more confident. Don’t beat yourself up about your work or overthink what you think people might want, do what you want to do. Yes, listen to people’s criticism, otherwise you’ll live in your own bubble, but don’t try and second guess what you think people might want, because you really don’t know! The best thing about having a creative outlet is that you don’t have to wait for people. You can just do it, just make it!… You’ll be surprised what people want [in industry] so don’t try and cater for what you think people might want …you might as well make what you want to make!”
One thing I took away from this conversation is that people will find value in your work if you find value in it yourself. That must be there first and foremost. This conversation is something I didn’t realise I needed personally as a recent graduate and I’m sure is something that resonates with so many other people. I want to thank Janette for taking the time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me. I really appreciate it. Thank you Janette.
If you’d like to see her work in real life, her work is being shown in Whitechapel Gallery from the 14th June- 17th September in Life Is More Important Than Art’. Definitely go and check it out!