Artist, Noir! upstart and go reborn collaborator Jonathan Freemantle gave the 12 Month Town project some early direction when Edinburgh’s streets threw its undercurrent at him.
Freemantle is all about the collaboration. His most recent show featured his response to photographs (with instant cameras he had supplied) from journalists covering the crises in Afghanistan and Haiti.
photography by Christina Kernohan
GR) Please outline your work title and daily work routine?
JF) I’m a visual artist with a leaning towards alchemy.
I like to start the day with my family (normally they begin before me – I’m not the quickest in the morning). Max, my little boy wakes me up and I can’t be grumpy when he’s around. He’s the perfect antidote to grumpiness. Before he was born I was determined to teach him wonder in the world but he’s the one showing me the wonder. My amazing wife, Anna, will normally make us breakfast and we’ll all sit together, chatting, reading the paper, talking about our projects together (like Noir!) and then I’ll go to my studio and work for a few hours. I’m an artist and most days I’ll work on a new painting but some days I just sit in there, or read, or procrastinate. Half the work is getting to the easel, setting oneself up so that the moment of ‘creation’ is untainted. It’s bloody difficult but I love it. Painting for me is a visual language by which I can attempt to communicate the unfathomable. I use it to ask questions of the universe. I’m suspicious of the solidity of things, I suspect that there is far more to this world than the ephemeral physical moment and so my studio is my laboratory where I attempt to puncture the surface reality.
How do you rank Edinburgh as a centre for creative splendour on the global city circuit?
Edinburgh is a magnificent city in many ways. Top 10 in the world in my opinion. It is ancient, yet vibrant. Often heritage cities like Edinburgh are dead in the middle but because the centre of Edinburgh is still full of flats it is populated from it’s core and this is huge. I remember Florence being the opposite, incredibly beautiful but the centre was basically just a museum. I think Edinburghers sell themselves a bit short, perhaps because of the annual cultural heist by shiny foreign creatives but I believe the city has much of its own creativity to offer. There is humility here though, or maybe a reticence, which isn’t a bad thing. I love making work here and am proud to be involved in a small way in the collective creative soul of the city.
And again, but take the festival month of August and the Hogmanay showcase out of the equation. Are we a ʻ12 month townʼ?
I’d have to say no. The Edinburgh of the festival is a very different place to the rest of the year. I arrived for the first time 4 years ago during festival and thought ‘crikey, this is buzzing’ but when September came it totally died. I understand that you can’t keep the party going all year round but I’d like to see a bit more or the festival spirit continue throughout the year. Having said this I love the empty streets, the wide-open spaces, the proximity to nature, the quiet. Perhaps it is the silence of the city that gives it its strength.
With the near collapse of some of the worldʼs biggest financial institutions based in Edinburgh, could this signal the end of the ʻcorporateʼ festival and possibly encourage a rawer city ethos for Edinburghʼs creatives to develop? Or does it already exist?
Id love to see this, I can see signs of it already. Economic crisis is actually good for art in some ways and it certainly prunes the tree. The creatives that keep working through the economic downturn are the ones that are doing the important work. With more space around them, a city that is haven to some real ingenuity, easier access to empty spaces and the beginnings of a collective attitude to creativity in the city there is a real chance that Edinburgh could emerge from its own shadow.