Maker and Observer, Glassground, 2017

When Jeremy starts a new residency, it can be days, weeks, or even months before he starts painting. For some period of time, he spends time walking around, a sketchbook in hand. So what’s he doing in that time, if he isn’t painting? It’s simple, really: he’s looking.

That’s because before he has committed paint to canvas, Jeremy wants to find a fresh perspective on whatever person or institution is the focus of the residency. When we think of a historic site such as Windsor Castle, or an iconic sporting event like The Olympics, we immediately conjure up a picture in our mind’s eye; we probably feel that we have a pretty good idea of what goes on at Wimbledon from years of following the coverage on TV. But by immersing himself in its daily life, Jeremy tries to forget these preconceptions and find a new way of looking at a place. By taking this time to really look at a place, and form an impression of what makes it special, Jeremy is then able to create artworks that give the viewer a new way looking at that place.

In this way, his role as an artist is to become what you might call a “prototype viewer”. A prototype is a test version of an item, produced in order to try it out in the real world before it is released to the public. Everyone from car manufacturers, to artists and toy makers, creates prototypes, in order to understand how their product looks, feels, and functions, so that it’s perfect for when it is released to the public at large.

When Jeremy is in that initial period of immersing himself in a residency, he’s doing something very similar: observing his own responses to the place he’s at, so he can give others a taste of this when they look at one of his paintings.

In 2017, Jeremy undertook an ambitious project to put these ideas to the test: Glassground, his first “at home” residency. Using an abandoned greenhouse, Jeremy created an artistic experience that encouraged people to adopt the kind of approach to observation that he uses as a resident artist.

A key word for this project was “immersive”. When Jeremy is taking part in a residency, he is absolutely consumed by it. While documenting Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup attempt in 2017, Jeremy ate, drank, and slept nothing but sailing. When he spent two weeks on a madcap dash around the Alps to celebrate Aston Martin’s 100th anniversary, he only got three hours sleep a night – the other 21 hours of the day were completely taken up by classic cars, mountain passes, and Alpine villages.

Glassground aimed to give the viewer a similarly immersive experience. Drawing on architectural and art theory, Jeremy wanted to explore how our perceptions are shaped by the space we inhabit at any moment, and to encourage Glassground’s visitors to do what Jeremy does throughout his residencies: simply, to look.

A disused greenhouse near his home in Worcestershire provided Jeremy’s canvas. Although it needed to be altered to exactly suit his purposes, Jeremy saw that the greenhouse would encourage the viewer to adopt a different approach to looking, because of the inherent qualities of the building, and in particular, because of the unique ways that glass changes our perceptions.

Glass is transparent – but only imperfectly so. When light passes through a pane of glass, it changes direction, and the image we see is distorted to a greater or lesser degree. If you’ve ever tried on a pair of glasses belonging to someone with a strong prescription, you’ll understand this. So when we step into a greenhouse, we can see the world outside, on the other side of the glass – but only in a distorted way. On top of this, the metal framework holding the glass in place fragments the view, and weather effects like condensation and frost will further change our perception of the outside world. Depending on the time of day and how the light is falling, we’ll be able to see reflections in the glass – including our own.

These “distortions”, though, aren’t necessarily a bad thing; if we’re alive to them, they can be quite beautiful. This is something that Jeremy explores in his work. In his flamingo paintings, he represents the birds in the way he subjectively experienced them in South Africa: as they whirled past in vast flocks, they were reflected in the water, creating colourful patterns and imperfectly repeating forms. In the same way, if the conditions are right, you might walk past a pane of glass at a greenhouse that’s half-covered in frost, and catch a glimpse of yourself that is a little different to what you might see in a normal mirror.

However, the greenhouse itself was only the starting point. Jeremy wanted to find ways to use the space so that the viewer would pay extra attention to the effects of light, colour, and movement that make a place unique. This was the start of an exciting period of experimentation, during which Jeremy tried many different approaches. He created sculptures from scraps of wire and rubber around the site. He hired a digger and piled earth at one end of the greenhouse. He used a drone to document the site from above. But still, he hadn’t unlocked the approach that he wanted. Then, finally, a puddle of water gave him the inspiration he needed.

Artists throughout the ages have recognised the beautiful effects that water can lend to a work: think of Monet’s Water Lilies, or Turner’s views of the Thames. In the case of Glassground, Jeremy observed how the greenhouse’s structure, the sky above, and the landscape around it, were all transformed when reflected in water.

He therefore created a 25,000 gallon pond, covering two-thirds of the greenhouse’s interior, and lined with black rubber to create the kind of reflections he wanted. A walkway surrounding the water encouraged participants to move around the space, allowing them to observe what happens when different natural phenomena collide: the ripples of water; the shifting qualities of light at different times of day; and their own movement, reflected in different ways by the water and the glass.

Every participant at Glassground had their own unique experience, depending on the time of day they visited, and how they choose to spend their time inside the space. In this way, they themselves became a “prototype viewer”.

To see further images of Glassground follow this link.