Art is a massive part the life of Jo Gibbs. Simone Richardson talks to her about influences, pollution, South London and the joys of Brixton – which include some of her own public art
“I’m proper Sarf London,” says Jo Gibbs, who was born in Beaufoy Road, Battersea, around the corner from her dad John Gibbs’ birthplace Ingelow Road.
Her Mum Pauline was born not far away in in Earlsfield, as was Jo’s older sister Sonya.
She has grown up to be a gifted artist who now works and lives near Brixton with her son Ruben Von Lingelsheim.
Despite enjoying English, drama and art, Jo says she found school very difficult and was told that “I wasn’t clever enough to go to university.
“I was dyspraxic and dyslexic, but nobody got diagnosed with anything like that in those days.’’
It was Jo’s gift of art that gave her confidence in herself
“I always loved art from a very young age,” she says. “It seemed to be the only thing I was good at.
“My mother encouraged me a lot and I remembered winning several competitions for drawing and painting.
“I used to get the bus on my own around the age of nine to Battersea Arts Centre every Sunday, where they had free puppet-making workshops. I loved it.
“I was often the only kid there, so got one-to-one attention.
“I made a witch puppet out of bits of old rubbish, heavily influenced by The Wombles – still am, and I remember winning a prize for that too, which I was very proud of.’’
Her personal influences in art over the years include the Belgian surrealist René Magritte, Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, and a recent favourites at London’s Frieze Art Fair, Deborah Roberts.
She also cites a film by Noémie Goudai – Below the Deep South 2021, and an artist known as JR who, Jo says, “has such humble beginnings and is now at the top of his game”.
Jo began to believe in her art after she was diagnosed with dyspraxia/dyslexia. She was helped by Leda Dadkhah, now a great friend.
“She encouraged me to apply as a mature student to do an MA in textile design at Chelsea College of Art. I would never have thought to try otherwise, but I got in and left with a distinction. I loved every minute of it.’’
Love also took Jo on her trip to Italy at 19 years old. Initially it was for a boyfriend, but her love of art and Italy kept her there even after they separated.
“When I was working in Italy as a textile designer most of my clients were haute couture. The industry in the UK is very different: it’s mostly mass production so it’s impossible to make a living ethically.
“The textile industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world, causing water pollution in rivers, lakes and seas.
“I didn’t want to have any part of that, so when I went to Chelsea I made use of all their amazing workshops and very knowledgeable technicians – experimenting to find new ways of making my imprint on hard surfaces, looking for ways to reuse and upscale existing and or unwanted materials.
“This meant I could continue making art works without feeling guilty about the environmental damage I was contributing to, while also hopefully spreading that message.
“I’ve made work for Extinction Rebellion and have recently been working on projects inspired by the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy.”
Jo’s art helped her through the lockdown. “Initially, I was very disturbed by all the death and destruction,” she says.
“In terms of my art work, I’m fortunate enough to have a home studio packed with found objects and materials and unfinished projects to work on. but several shows were cancelled and I was concerned how I was going to survive financially.
“I also stopped using all social media as it was filled with Covid stories, and I only went back on to Instagram very recently to advertise Lambeth Open, which I enjoyed taking part in.
“Just as my anxiety levels started to rise, I was contacted by a lady in Chiswick who had seen my work through a local landscape gardener.
“She was the perfect client as she loved my work and wanted my input on how to make a narrow dark area of her garden brighter.”
She was assisted by metal worker James Garner and landscape gardenerRebecca Heard.
Jo is hoping to get more sculptural outdoor work, but loves to make work for inside too.
“I really enjoy creating challenging bespoke pieces for clients.
“As much as I would like to be represented by a gallerist, it’s hard to find the right fit,” she says.
“One can end up being forced to churn out the most popular pieces, which can really stunt your growth, although it would be lovely to have someone else take on the publicity and money side of things, which I really don’t enjoy.”
Jo now works and lives not far from Brixton with her son Ruben.
“Cable Cafe, Portuguese fish cakes and pastel de nata, the 198 gallery, Simply Fabrics. The wide mix of food from different cultures in the market. The flower stall by the entrance to the Tube. Barnardos and Traid – I’ve found some real treasures in Brixton,” Jo says.
Then there’s Acre Lane Timber, “where I found beautiful discarded ply packaging with an industrial stamp of a tiger.
“They just bin it, so I used to it to make a series of artworks featuring the tiger in different environment.
“Brockwell Park and watching hundreds of parakeets swooping down to nest at dusk,” Jo adds. “Brixton has real character and a community spirit.”
She has contributed to the ambiance herself. “In 2017, I made an interactive installation called Hypernormalized.
“You can still see it on Pope’s Road on the bricked-in railway arch opposite Pop Brixton.
“It’s a row of mirrors that reflect market traders and locals as they go about their lives from dawn to dusk in one of the most bustling parts.”
If you want to feel inspired, refreshed or rejuvenated through Jo Gibbs’ art check out her website and socials.