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Jelly Green: Artist in the jungle

PUBLISHED: 11:51 18 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:09 19 May 2017

Moss and Leaves, Puzzlewood, 2016, part of Jelly Green's exhibition at the Alde Valley Spring  Festival. Picture: DOUG ATFIELD

Moss and Leaves, Puzzlewood, 2016, part of Jelly Green's exhibition at the Alde Valley Spring Festival. Picture: DOUG ATFIELD

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Adventurous artist Jelly Green loves disappearing for months at a time to forests around the world. 
Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to her about her renewed love of the natural world

Final touches to the Spring Festival directed by Jason Gathorne Hardy are underway in Great Glemham.
Jelly Green's  studio at the festival. Final touches to the Spring Festival directed by Jason Gathorne Hardy are underway in Great Glemham. Jelly Green's studio at the festival.

Rising young artist Jelly Green, a student of Maggi Hambling since the age of 16, is swiftly making a name for herself with her energetic and immersive paintings.

Her first exhibition was dedicated to arresting portraits of cattle belonging to her uncle and grandfather. These were then followed by images of dancing reed beds captured rolling in the wind between Snape and Iken. Now the tangled majesty of forest life has captured her imagination and the result of two years work is currently on display at The Alde Valley Spring Festival. Jelly’s paintings capture fecund plant life wrapping itself round one another with powerful trunks rising from the leaf litter and twisting branches reaching out for the sunlight, high in the canopy.

Jelly’s artistic trips have taken her from residencies here in Suffolk, to Puzzlewood in Monmouthshire to the rainforests of Brazil and Borneo. The exhibition in The Old Threshing Barn at White House Farm, Great Glemham, focuses on her work in the British Isles with pictures drawn from Tunstall, Rendham, Walberswick, Minsmere, Staverton, near Butley, and various locations around Wales.

Over the years, as her confidence has grown, along with the size of her canvases, as her subjects have increased in scale. Her cow portraits were intimate and personal. These forest landscapes are epic widescreen paintings which try and grapple with the all conquering power of mother nature.

Autumn Bracken, Tunstall, 2016, part of Jelly Green's exhibition at the Alde Valley Spring  Festival. Picture: DOUG ATFIELD Autumn Bracken, Tunstall, 2016, part of Jelly Green's exhibition at the Alde Valley Spring Festival. Picture: DOUG ATFIELD

Depending on the size of the work and whether Jelly is working in situ or back in the studio, she works in both watercolour and oils. She also produces a variety of drawings which range from a series quick impressionistic lines to incredibly detailed pencil studies. The scale and the detail in the large oil paintings give the finished works almost a 3-D quality. As you stand looking at them you find yourself being swallowed up by the vegetation.

Although, it’s part of a larger annual event at Jason Gathorne-Hardy’s north Suffolk Art Farm, Jelly says the exhibition in the largest barn on the estate has the feel and scale of a solo show.

So, what triggered the change from cows to trees?

Artist Jelly Green, who is from Saxmundham but has a studio in London, has been successful in capturing bovine subjects in her pieces and is now moving on to figure pieces. Artist Jelly Green, who is from Saxmundham but has a studio in London, has been successful in capturing bovine subjects in her pieces and is now moving on to figure pieces.

JG: “It was something I wanted to do. I was living in Brighton and doing a lot of portraits and nudes and I read this quote by Constable which said: ‘nature is the fountain’s head, the source from whence all must originally spring and should an artist continue his practise without referring to nature he must soon form a manner...’ and I was in my studio and I was aware that was what was happening. I felt my work was becoming mannered.

“I wanted to go somewhere completely new and just paint from nature. I had no idea what I wanted to do but, I had just been given the first Felicity Cranbrook Residency Award and went off to do some woodland painting both here and in Cumbria, and it sort of started there. I followed that with my first trip to the rainforest.

“I lived in a treehouse in the rainforest for two-and-a-half months and there was nothing to do there but paint. For the first few weeks I just wandered about looking at the beautiful new flowers, just taking it all in and then suddenly a whole new body of work started.

“The interesting thing was that when I came back home I started seeing the local landscape with fresh eyes. I no longer took Suffolk or the British landscape for granted.

Banyan Tree, Columbo, 2015, part of Jelly Green's exhibition at the Alde Valley Spring  Festival. Picture: DOUG ATFIELD Banyan Tree, Columbo, 2015, part of Jelly Green's exhibition at the Alde Valley Spring Festival. Picture: DOUG ATFIELD

“I showed my first woodland pictures at last year’s Alde Valley Spring Festival and in the last couple of years I have spent quite a lot of time in various rain forests around the world, mostly Brazil, but also Shri Lanka and I have just got back from Borneo. Actually I spent a long time in Mulu national park which I think Jason’s father helped map out, so there’s a nice link there.

So is it very different capturing forest life in Britain and in Borneo and Brazil?

JG: “Not really. It’s just a question of looking and capturing what you see. People have said that my paintings of British forests look like jungles, they are so rich and lush, but is because I think they are looking at forests in Suffolk which tend to be sparcer and grown on sandy soil. Elsewhere British forests can be equally as lush and colourful. But, as far as Suffolk I love drawing those creepy looking trees. They look like haunted figures in the landscape. But, several of the large paintings in this exhibitions are from the Alde Valley

So what struck you most about your experiences in the rain forest?

JG: “It was such an alien landscape. The vines were amazing, twisting everywhere, the flora was extraordinary. My eyes became accustomed to seeing the curls of the branches, the twists in the leaves and when I came back to Britain I found myself discovering a similar level of detail here. I found I was looking at the world with new eyes.

Have you been inspired to explore the forests of the UK now?

JG: “I have just converted an old BT van and I have been camping out in Wales drawing forests there. I say converted, only very loosely, there’s room for my mattress and shelving for my paintings and art materials but it gives me a base. I have spent two-and-a-half weeks in Wales driving around and living in it.

Do you paint on location or do you spend your time filling notebooks with reference drawings which are converted into finished paintings in the studio?

JG: “Both really. I tend to do the watercolours in situ and the oils in the studio, simply because the oils take so long to dry. I did a lot of the drawings in this exhibition in January. We had these beautiful sunny days in January and I just went out to Minsmere with my notebooks and just spent all my time drawing. It was absolutely freezing but the light and the sunshine was gorgeous. I do studies of ferns, leaves and branches and eventually elements of these drawings find their way into the bigger pictures.

As part of the exhibition festival curator Jason Gathorne-Hardy has placed sculptor Lawrence Edwards bronze figures adjacent to Jelly’s forest scenes and as you make your way through the exhibition it looks as the figures have arisen from the leaf litter and are making their way through the undergrowth, perhaps in search of lunch?

Jelly’s Forest exhibition, part of the Alde Valley Spring Festival at White House Farm, Great Glemham, runs until May 21.

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