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Jem Bunce: “In a remote place, you become smaller — everything seems bigger around you.”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to Cornwall visual artist Jem Bunce. Sputnik’s Jemma Mellor spoke to Jem about his new opportunity voyaging to the Outer Hebrides, with a plan to develop new artworks and see what other inspiration happens along the way!

Often the financial risk gets in the way of artists saying “yes” to the unusual and even life-changing opportunities that may come their way. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help artists to take risks and detours like this one, building their craft as they go.

Jem, who are you and what do you do?

I’m Jem – I live in beautiful Cornwall, and I’m an odd-jobber and an artist!

Can you tell us about the project you’re about to embark on?

A friend of mine invited me to sail around the Inner and Outer Hebrides for two weeks. I’m just going to take my sketchbook, I’m going to draw. When I do any drawing, I don’t really know where it’s going, but I’m going to record – not just places I see, but my experience. I’ll get back with piles of paper, and maybe turn them into prints, paintings, and so on. 

It’s an experience, which I’ll record visually. And it’s apparently an incredibly beautiful place, and very remote. The plan is — if we can — we’ll go to this remote island, St Kilda. There’s now no population there. Four-hundred metre high cliffs; a huge bird population. It’ll be quite dramatic – even just the journey there!

Your work often begins with sketching on location. What particularly drew you the Scottish Isles, and the potential extremes there?

We live in a remote-ish part of the country anyway. Cornwall is absolutely beautiful, and we live right in the middle of it. Having lived in towns, in London and other places – when you live in a remote place, you become smaller because everything seems bigger around you. The sky seems bigger, the landscape seems bigger; there’s something about your connection, understanding what you see but also yourself in that environment.

Hopefully being in the Outer Hebrides will be like that, to the next degree. I think the subject matter is “me”, and the experience of being there.

You’ll sketch locations but then bring it all back into the studio. Is there something that changes in that transition?

It’s an open-ended journey when you start out on a drawing. Sometimes I make things difficult for myself — or arguably easier — I set myself targets: ”five drawings in twenty-five minutes” or something, where I don’t have time to think. So I’m making intuitive, quick marks —and then the sketchbook will lie closed for a few months, maybe a year. When I come back to it, I’m reacting to that drawing, to the marks I’ve made. 

In terms of art and faith, where does that come in for you?

Creation is, certainly, completely extravagant. God is just this extraordinary creator; everything’s just crazy and intricate and diverse. And then God says ‘I want you to create, as well’… we’ve got something of his creative nature in us. That in itself is a legitimate reason for being. At a basic level, that’s where my faith comes into it.

Also, painting is really hard; I genuinely go into it saying “God, will you help me..” When I’m looking at nature, I can actually talk to the person who made it — that’s crazy! This amazing relationship with the creator, this glorious sense of connection — that informs my work.

Follow Jem Bunce on Instagram, or see his website.