Georgia Peskett is a painter and printmaker, who has been working professionally for around 30 years. She is the Visual Art Tutor at Level and is about to lead our next series of Life Drawing Skills sessions starting on the 20th August.
I was able to sit down with Georgia a few weeks ago (via zoom) and chat to her about her life and practice.
We first talked about her journey, her practice and how it has changed over the years.
“I would say that my work has sort of developed and evolved from my surroundings, the places where I’ve lived it at different times in my life. My work has evolved depending on what I’m personally going through and the kinds of subjects that I want to depict. I began at Epsom art school when I was very young, and at 16 years old, that’s where I started to develop my style as a painter. My career has taken a few twists and turns and diversions en route, so I’ve also worked in schools and with SEN children of different ages and also with Level Arts Centre. I work in my studio quite a lot as well – it’s been a long career with lots of diversions.”
I asked Georgia what she’s trying to say with her work and if that had changed after/during her time working within Special Needs Schools.
“There was a certain point in my life, about five or six years ago, where I began doing Health and Social care work – so I was actually a support worker for around two years. It was intensive work and in fact, it did sort of change my way of looking at the world quite a bit. It altered the way I had perceived things prior to that, which led me to then work more with SEN children and just explore communication – the value of Art and creativity as a means of expression. I think for me personally, I always found that being creative during my childhood was really helpful to me to get through certain things that I was perhaps going through and that I didn’t have any other ways of communicating what was happening for me. So I think possibly, where I am now, it feels like it’s a combination of all of these things – for me drawing was an escape. My parents both traveled quite widely, so we were actually not not with them very much and I was with my grandparents, even though they were working a lot too, so I did spend quite a lot of time by myself. It was an unusual upbringing with two homes but art was the thing that was like my rock really, you know? Art was there for me even when I didn’t have my parents.”
Georgia went on to tell me that her father was an artist who traveled and lived in New York and that her mother was also an artist travelling to Paris. She describes it as a glamorous lifestyle (for them) which inspired her greatly – but only when they were there of course!
It’s not such a huge surprise that she gravitated towards the arts but she told me that it was also how she made sense of the more difficult times – something that has really become a core in her own practice – guiding others to express themselves through art.
“Art was something that I grasped hold of, I see it as a tool somehow, it helps you to transform things and assimilate the stuff that’s going on outside. Somehow you can create your own languages within art and I think that’s what I like to encourage other people to do, so I like to help people to do that in some way if they can as well.”
I wanted to know if the style of her work had changed over the years as well as the subject matter and motivation behind it.
“I’d say over the years I’ve developed two strands going on in my work – there’s one strand that’s about my surroundings and transient moments. So if I’m traveling or if I’m moving around, I’ll try and capture some of that feeling that I’m getting from watching people. I do a lot of people watching and that’s always been there in my work and that goes way back to when I went to live in New York. That was like my thing that I just stared at people and drew and sketched them.
I wanted to get it all down on paper and I was just fascinated by human beings – everything they were doing and their movements – studying people, their figures, the positions that they made. So that’s always been there in my work – cityscapes and street scenes or people traveling, people in transit has always been a bit of a fascination.
The other strand to my work, in the last 4 or 5 years, has been looking at the female identity and how we, as women, are so influenced by the things we are shown and the things that we’re told. I think that’s probably to do with my age. As a woman of 54, I’ve gone through these sorts of tiers of life, so because of where I am, it’s sort of like my interests have changed and my viewpoint has also changed. I see some of the things around me like and I feel bombarded by advertisements and the beauty industry.”
She went on to show me some of her work related to these themes of female identity which you can see below.
We talked about each piece and then discussed some of the trappings of beauty trends such as false nails, nail art and fake eyelashes, Georgia noting that such transient products were marketed to you as something you then become dependent on. We talked about how really unpacking the why behind some of these behaviours has driven Georgia’s work.
“It’s really about how pressured everybody feels, you know to have this perfect exterior.
These strange rituals that will almost trap you in a little system, once you get into doing it you’ve got to keep doing it! People feeling like they’ve got to strive for something and actually, maybe it’s okay just to let it go – perhaps this lockdown has allowed some people to free themselves from these rituals a bit that might have become a burden.
I thought that it was important to focus some of my practice on that. Maybe just as an outlet for myself as well? To work on those subject matters felt a bit therapeutic.”
We talk a lot about identity at Level and how to embrace and encourage people to explore theirs. Georgia runs our Visual Arts sessions on a weekly basis, working with adults with learning disabilities, and as we moved on from talking about the different strands of her work, we began to discuss some of the ideas of accessibility and barriers within the art world, focusing on Georgia’s personal experience and how she has navigated this. I was particularly interested to see if she felt like her gender and age had been a barrier to her success.
“I do definitely feel – and I’ve been reading articles that have proven it to me – that many women, when you get over 40 in the art world, definitely get overlooked. Yes you may not have a new, upcoming art style that people are looking for perhaps, but I do feel like they’re judging you less on your work and who and where you are”
As a rural arts centre, we often find ourselves out of the loop with bigger cities and the buzz of the south, in particular of London, always leads to comparisons and audience battles. We discussed this, and Georgia talked about her very location in Derbyshire being a barrier to her success.
“I’ve actually had another interesting barrier which I didn’t expect. I used to live in London and I moved here to Derbyshire in 2003 and at the time I was being approached by quite a few galleries in London, but then something strange happened with people who were getting in contact after my move. They thought I was still in London because some of my paintings were still of that subject matter, and they were willing to work with me on that basis that I was in London, but unfortunately when I said I wasn’t there any more, they didn’t want to work with me and were actually really open about that being the reason as well. They were really honest and I found that quite shocking that by just being in an area outside of the capital, that it would affect people’s judgment of me. It wasn’t just your work they wanted, they wanted a package, an up-and-coming emerging artist, based in London – living on nothing and trying to make it in such an expensive city.”
Georgia has, despite those setbacks following her relocation, gone on to have many successful exhibitions both here and overseas (visit her website bio to find out more).
Discussing technology with Georgia was very interesting, we touched on social media, digital cameras and printing (which she says has helped her so much) and the use of her iPad to use for photography and for teaching.
During Covid, Level have taken their core programme online, so whilst Georgia hasn’t been in the Visual Arts studio, she has been leading sessions with the group weekly via Zoom. Georgia has adapted her leading style to fit in with the restrictions of an online world and I think she’d be the first to admit, the very idea of running a session on camera, let alone the technical requirements of setting up multiple angles and lighting, were never something she thought she would be faced with. But here we are, four months in, and the sessions have gone from strength to strength. We now have 2 sessions in a day and have welcomed participants from up and down the UK, something we would never be able to achieve within the centre alone. Thanks technology!
Finally, we discussed the theme of Accessibility in relation to Visual Art, and it was really interesting to get Georgia’s perspective on this.
“Yes, I think in terms of people visiting galleries, they have been quite slow to make themselves accessible. Personally, as an artist visiting many galleries I’ve found that there often isn’t good ramp access or audio description. Some years ago in Sheffield, I got involved with a charity event for SENSE (a national charity working for those living with complex disabilities, particularly deafblind people) where some of my work was displayed, but we were encouraging deaf, blind and deafblind people to touch the work along with various audio description, and I think that was such a nice idea, to not be precious about the work – to feel the textures on them and listen along to the audio description. The fact that things were considered in that way was exciting and refreshing… It is really important to consider everybody’s level of ability.”
It’s clear that Georgia really considers everybody’s perspective and ability when she is designing her sessions for Level and we talked about being in the studio with the Visual Arts group.
“I love people to have as much access to looking at work by other artists as possible, so we can just jump on the computer and we can research, find images, get inspiration and really look around at what’s out there. I don’t actually think everything should always just rely on our imagination, I encourage as much access as possible to what’s out there already and what might be exciting for each individual participant. It’s important to talk to people about what they particularly like and then help them discover an artist, material or technique that might influence or inspire them. I think there should be no limit, no boundary, no barrier with exploring creativity, everyone should have access to anything that’s out there that can be made or done.
The more exploring we do, the more we come out of our comfort zones, the better it is for everyone – just trying things that people haven’t tried before and having access to new experiences. I want people to always be developing their learning and trying things out. I definitely think experimentation is the key to my creativity!”
My last question to Georgia was for her best piece of advice?
“To use your mistakes to learn, because you’re not going to make the same mistakes twice!”
If you’d like more information about Georgia’s work or you are interested in purchasing any of her pieces, please visit her website or you can email her directly on: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to experience Georgia as a tutor, she is currently running our Visual Arts sessions for adults with learning disabilities (Wednesdays 11-12 & 2-3).
We are also about to begin a new programme of Life Drawing Skills sessions as a part of the NUDE Project, with the aim of making life drawing more accessible to those who are new to the subject or want to improve their techniques. These will run from Thursday the 20th of August at 7.30pm for six weeks.