Art meets jewellery with ‘Motley Curators’, where we speak to luminaries about the Motley that’s caught their eye, their favourite art and more.
Jo Baring is an art historian, curator and writer. Co-host of the highly commended ‘Sculpting Lives’ podcast, which explores the remarkable work and lives of female sculptures, as well as being director of The Ingram Collection, Motley was lucky enough to glean some of her art world knowledge. Here, Jo shares her love for modernist sculpture, the tactile simplicity of Breon O’Casey’s work and the extravagance of Eileen Agar with us for this Motley Curators feature.
What’s your favourite Motley?
What do you love most about it?
I love it’s versatility; I don’t like being told how things ‘should’ be. I enjoy the ability to change things up and the fact that you can wear this piece in different ways appeals to me. I adore sculpture and love the physicality of objects – this piece appeals strongly because by doubling it up you can make it chunkier, or more delicate by hanging it singly around your neck. It changes depending on how you interact with it, like many of my favourite sculptural installations.
What piece of art does this remind you of?
The motif of the bird in the charm reminds me of a sculpture I have at home by the artist Breon O’Casey, called ‘Handle Bird’. It was one of the first pieces I bought and I could barely afford it, but it’s always been one of my favourites in my collection. The tactile simplicity of its form is poetic and beautiful. Breon was a prominent member of the St Ives school of art, and began his career working as a studio assistant to Barbara Hepworth in her incredible studio home and gardens in St Ives. He was the son of Irish dramatist Sean O’Casey, and we had our Irishness in common. I visited him a lot at his home in Cornwall, and he actually made a sculpture of me called ‘Johanna’. In fact he was one of the very few people to call me by my full name. He was also a painter, printmaker, etcher, engraver, weaver and jeweller. He likened his art to the ways of a fisherman, going about his work in a patient, hopeful manner; he said “To paint is to wait and watch, to try to listen to the picture, to chance a stroke, to hope for the best”.
Which artist would you most like to have dinner with?
Eileen Agar. Agar was a photographer, collager, painter and sculptor, and one of the few women to be included in London’s 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition, next to Picasso and Max Ernst. For Agar ‘Surrealist’ mean ‘the element of surprise, in whatever you do’, although she didn’t want to be pigeon holed as a surrealist – she was a highly original and independent imaginative artist. She eschewed the wealthy lifestyle she was born into (her parents sent a Rolls Royce to pick her up everyday from the Slade School of Art which she refused to travel in). She had an intensely passionate affair with Paul Nash which influenced her life and work, she holidayed with Picasso, knew Ezra Pound and had a short affair (“some delicious days and nights together, brief but exciting”) with Paul Eluard. She took pleasure in elegance and in what she called “the juxtaposition by us of a Schiaparelli dress with outrageous behaviour or conversation”. There is a beautiful photograph of Agar aged 85, modelling clothes by Issey Miyake, photographed by Snowdon. “I’ve enjoyed life, and it shows through. Like a transparent skirt”.
If you could own any object from any time, past present or future, what would it be?
I can only narrow it down to anything by two artists I particularly love – Barbara Hepworth and Bridget Riley. I love how Hepworth’s art is primarily about relationships, between humans as individuals and how we relate to one another, but also between the human figure and the landscape, and our experience of nature, colour and texture. Bridget Riley is all about our perception, and the undefinable connection between our feelings and our experience of the world. She has spent six decades examining colour, pattern and perception and wrote in 1965 that: “Ultimately the degree of visual sensibility is the vital agent in transforming a concept into the undefinable experience which is presented by a work of art”. I would happily live with anything by either of those artists.