Jo Peel: “It all makes sense where it comes from – Sheffield is my work”
Exposed meets the modern-day makers plying their trades in the Steel City. Spread out across art, music, film, theatre, clothing, photography and more – we find out what makes these local creatives tick.
Jo Peel is a Sheffield-based artist who spends her time observing and documenting moments of change in urban environments around the world.
Could you tell us a bit about your path to becoming an artist?
I’ve been working as an artist for about 15 years now. Before that, I was an interior designer down in Cornwall, where I went to university. I’ve always worked creatively and for myself really, so when I moved to London I was working on interior design projects but also drawing and painting in my spare time. People saw the work I was doing and encouraged me to put it in exhibitions, which I eventually did, and bits started selling. It was a bit weird because I’d had work in a lot of exhibitions in Cornwall, but nobody really engaged with it as much.
Why do you think that was?
I think it’s because a lot of my work has always been about regeneration, gentrification and urban environments. I suppose that’s always going to resonate a bit more in East London than in a more rural setting.
Did you find that moving to an urban environment stoked the fire a bit more in a creative sense?
Yeah, at that time the inspiration was everywhere and the things happening just outside were very relevant to my work: the building you’re living in is getting gentrified, there are cranes and redevelopments everywhere – it just brought my work alive. It also gave me more opportunities to show it.
How nailed down was your style in those early exhibitions? Has it morphed much as you’ve moved around the country?
It’s not changed much style-wise. I spent a long time trying to find a unique style, a lot of time not looking at other people’s work and trying to find my own voice in terms of the line and the style. My subject matter has always been the same, though. I didn’t go to Cornwall and suddenly start drawing the beaches.
So, then it was moving back to Sheffield from London – another melting pot of gentrification, industrialisation and urban/rural settings.
Yeah. It all makes sense where it comes from – Sheffield is my work. It was quite interesting coming back and seeing how similar bits of the city are to East London, with all the old factories and the changing look of certain areas.
Why did you make the decision to come back to Sheffield?
Everywhere I lived was being renovated and doubled in price, so it just became a choice of continuing to make the work I wanted to make or moving onto more commercial projects. It didn’t seem feasible to be an artist and not take on big advertising jobs in London, so I thought I’d give another place a go.
Does inspiration come from literally walking around a certain area of the city? Or is it all bit more fragmented than that?
Some days it’s more visceral than others; I’ll just be walking down the street and suddenly I’m obsessed with the details of some mesh wrapped around a building or some scaffolding.
… the building you’re living in is getting gentrified, there are cranes and redevelopments everywhere – it just brought my work alive
Have you always had this intrigue in urban settings and narratives – even when you were young?
Yeah, I was always interested in the cracks in the pavement rather than finished things. I like the idiosyncrasies I guess. I’m always intrigued in how in a manmade world we’re constantly trying to make everything look perfect… but always failing.
You recently released ‘Gravity’, a short film combining live action and animation. Can you tell us a bit about the seeds of that project?
It came from a classic lockdown story of rifling through old stuff. I found something I’d written as a teenager in an English lesson. I’d held onto it because I felt it had something to it. I rediscovered it in lockdown and it really struck a chord; it felt like an opening to the rest of my work. It’s about a girl who loses her house and about how personal identity is so tied into where you live. There’s a lot in there: gentrification and displacement, but also renewal and positive change.
What else have you got coming up?
I’ve got an art fair in London this month. It’s like a show within a show, a big immersive experience, so I’ve created a few new artworks for that. I’ll be at the upcoming Hedgerow Market in Sheffield, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m also writing a new film too…
Oh, interesting. What can you tell us about that?
It’s still a bit under wraps at the moment, so I can’t say too much. It’ll be set in a café…
We’ll keep an eye out for it. Final question: why do you think Sheffield is a good city for creatives?
I think the space itself is great and the fact that it’s relatively cheap to live here. That massively helps. Because if your rent is low, you can afford to take risks. Making art is all about being able to take risks.
Jo Peel’s short film ‘Gravity’ is available to view at jopeel.com
Hear from more Sheffield makers and creatives here…