Interviews with Artists

Jagjit Kaur

Interview by David John Scarborough


Published in April 2022


How would you like to introduce yourself? 

My name's Jagjit Kaur. Um, 25. Artist. And have a studio at Two Queens. Graduated with my BA in 2019 at DMU,  Fine Art.

Ghost, 2022 at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. Oil on canvas. Image by Homespun Projects

So when and how did you start making art?

I think you just make random stuff growing up, and it sticks. I loved painting my nails and random other stuff that kids  do. You know when they let you collect leaves and put them through a laminator. All that stuff. That was so good. But I  failed GCSE art. They wouldn't let me take A-level art. So I did textiles and photography. So I'm like, "Anything else?"  So I just did a foundation and carried on. 

You consume a lot of visual culture, and when I've talked with you, I've often been challenged by how much  you see, process, and fluently speak about. Alongside this, collaging and layering seem like two core  methods in your studio practice. What would you say are the things that inform what you make and how you  make things?

They're like diary entries. So what you're consuming, I guess, can shift your energy and your mood. So if you're  watching something super intense, you might feel drained. But if you're watching something happy, that bleeds over  into what I make a little bit. And I think you pick what media purposely you're consuming depending on what mood  you're in as well. So I think it's all just like a loop cycle. 

Harbans, 2022 at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. Embroidery thread, pencil, acrylic, cotton rag paper. Image by Homespun Projects

So what are some of those things that you're consuming, or how do you decide what those things will be? 

I think it's like if I'm feeling super sad, sometimes I might want to wallow. I want to watch like sad stuff. But sometimes  when you want hope again, like, I used to binge-watch 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' or 'Yes Theory'. Just very hopeful  things, things that will have a happy ending. That has that aspect maybe of a bittersweet trial but will leave you with  some sense of reassurance. 

Is there anything that informs how you make it?

YouTube, Instagram, everything you see. Like, happy, weird accidents. I was bored, and I melted crisp packets and  kept them, and now they're in the show because you liked them. And just a completely random mix of things, from the  shapes of media you're consuming to colours, things linked to memory. And how they all come together and then kind  of make an artwork or a painting for me, I guess.

When you look into YouTube, is that intentional or "Let's go down the rabbit hole and see how it goes"?

It can be a bit of both. A lot of fashion theory, mixed with art history and gallery curation. Reviews on fashion  collections, and then scrolling through Depop, finding a vintage Prada jacket that inspires that painting's colours. And  then looking at Rothko and depth and Francis Bacon and all of these other things. I had Goya just stuck up on my  studio wall, like, a really bad printout. But everything is just like a loop in my head. There's a spiderweb. It will connect  somehow, and if not, it's stored away to be used at a later date. 

Butterfly Display Case at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. From the Leicestershire Museums Collection. Image by Homespun Projects.

Our current Modern Painters, New Decorators programme is about collecting and collections. Would you  describe yourself as a collector?

My mom calls me a rubbish collector, so let's say yeah, if not from my words, hers.

And how does that manifest itself?

I started when I was really little. When you go to Indian weddings, the women will have beautiful, heavily embroidered  outfits. But if a thread comes loose, beads will fall out. So I used to go around after the wedding when everyone was  eating, pick up the beads, and put them in tissues. I have this weird collection of mismatched beads. For a while, it  was postcards. I used to keep the bags from Holland & Barrett and cut out the old blue butterflies that used to be on  them. Anything of my grandmother's. A napkin from a meaningful dinner with a friend. One of my collages I scanned in my mom's x-rays. She broke her tailbone. And just colour inverted that, and I had that texture. People love random  stuff. I try and scan it, upload it to Pinterest, or somehow organise it, so it's less chaotic. But I have over 40,000  pictures on my camera wall, so my phone doesn't like me. 

Balloon, 2022 at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. Balloon, darts. Image by Homespun Projects.

As part of the development process for this exhibition, Lost In The World, you visited the Leicestershire  Museums Collection. How did the research process and a visit to the Collection impact your work?

Oh, like, completely. It changed the show because I think you remember talking to me before-visit and post-visit and  just the shift of focus. So I went in there thinking, okay, I'm going to look at their fashion and their flower books, and I  picked out some really nice vintage Dior lace outfits they had and stuff from like the 1920s and 1850s like gowns. And  then, walking past their natural section, they just have taxidermy, but not how you normally see it. Like when you go to a museum in a glass case or posing as alive. It was kept in its bag to keep the insects out and tied with the pink  ribbon or just ribbon. So it just looked… suffocated, but for its own protection. And then I was asking Alison (Senior  Curator at the Collection), "Would it be okay to have them in the bags and how they sit in the Collection?" So if I'd  seen them in a museum, I wouldn't have probably looked twice. But the Collection shifted the show completely.

We've both commented that this exhibition feels like a new season for you. What triggered that departure and  development?

I'd never experienced loss. Like no one ever. So I was really lucky, like, you only hit me at 24. But like no one had  passed away. And so, I guess that memory is kind of in this collection. 

Installation shot of Lost In The World, 2022 at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. Image by Homespun Projects

We've talked a lot during the many conversations about colour and atmosphere. And although your palette changed, those two ideas still feel like a constant in your practice.

There's just something. Like you go into someone's home, you experience the atmosphere of the home, the way you  feel surrounded by their things. Listening to a song or watching a movie when it surrounds you. It kind of just draws  you in. I think that's why I try and create. When you stand in front of some paintings. And they just hit you. Like it's a  gut punch. And it's so strange because you almost don't expect it. It's such a good feeling to be so connected to  something you maybe know nothing about. Empathy might be the right word. Because you don't know anything about  the artist, but you're relating to them about that painting or that movie because it's connecting to something in you.

Meta Angel, 2022 at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. Oil on canvas. Image by Homespun Projects.

And how would you say those ideas of colour and atmosphere related to the work in this exhibition? 

They're based on memories and feelings. So that blue is the blue in my grandmother's house, was, from the inside.  And silvers just something. When I was a baby, my uncle got me my first bracelet, and it was silver with bells on. And  I'm not sure if they're linking to that or just random stuff. The Shiny Show that was on CBeebies. Covering everything  in foil. But this sense of bittersweet, maybe like nostalgia. But mixing it in with current things you're going through. It's  about balance. And the painting has to be visually balanced. I will change a full painting if I don't think it's just sitting  correctly.

lightbeamers, 2022 at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. Spray paint, pencil, acrylic on canvas. Image by Homespun Projects

What were the challenges you faced in making this new work? 

I'm a very slow worker in terms of paint. But when it clicks, it's like, "Oh, okay, that's what I have to do". You start off a  painting thinking it's going to go somewhere. I'm like, hoping it works out. But then it kind of fails, which is pretty  normal. And then, I get stuck. And I'm like, "What do you need? Just tell me. And I can finish." It is annoying. Because  I don't always understand how to finish them. And then one day, I'll come in and be like, "Okay, I'm going to try this. It  might work. I might have to cover it and start again or change it completely." But sometimes it works, and sometimes  it has to keep on growing. Perhaps it's just like an evolution. 

You've described your art as being like making a diary entry, but most people don't showcase their own personal journals. What has this experience been like for you?

But they don't know what it means. I think it's like a code. It's not scary for random people. It's just the people that  already know you may be seeing it and scare you. Like a family member or parent is like, "Oh". Like random people;  "Sure you don't know me?" So it's okay. But, those people that I respect, I don't want to let them down.

I show my sister everything, as much as I want to keep it a surprise. "What do you think of this?" And she'll, like, be  over my shoulder critiquing me. "That. That doesn't work." And I had a little cousin come over. She's five. She saw a  draft mockup. She was like, "That's so awesome." And, you know, kids don't lie. So when a kid's like, that's awesome.  Oh, my God. So that's the only feedback I've gotten that was, wow. So I think if you can impress a five-year-old, that's  pretty solid.

Snake, 2022 at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough. Gloss and white glaze, stoneware ceramic. Image by Homespun Projects.

So looking forward then, where do you go from here do you think? How do you see your work developing? 

I mean, this show was meant to be pink, David. I don't know. I'm sorry. I just let the work decide, really. It's so weird. I  have an idea for one painting. But that's like a, maybe it will stick, maybe it won't. It's temperamental.


Jagjit Kaur is an artist based at Two Queens, Leicester.

Lost In The World runs at Modern Painters, New Decorators, Loughborough from 02 April - 14 May.

David John Scarborough is Team Leader at Modern Painters, New Decorators (MPND)


If you like this why not read our interview with Li Heidi 李黑地.


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