Kurt Jackson exhibits his latest work in Bath

PUBLISHED: 12:20 19 January 2016 | UPDATED: 12:20 19 January 2016

Femi kuti on the Pyramid stage, Glastonbury 2010

Femi kuti on the Pyramid stage, Glastonbury 2010

fynn tucker copyright 2014

Leading British artist Kurt Jackson exhibits his latest work in Bath concerned with his own - and our - sense of place

Bathampton wood, tree squeak and weak sunlightBathampton wood, tree squeak and weak sunlight

Suprisingly for such an established fine artist, Kurt Jackson describes himself as an environmentalist. But perhaps this becomes less surprising when he explains how he studied Zoology – and how this has fed into his work.

Enthusiastic and endlessly energetic, 2016 begins with his touring exhibition Place, at Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery – as well as a new gallery in Cornwall, and a new book featuring paintings, drawings, prints, prose and poems surpassing three decades.

“I thrive on being pushed and busy,” he admits. “When your work is about engaging with the natural world around us, there’s no shortage of material – there are not enough hours in the day.

“I need that variety; that eclectic mix in my life. All artists are paranoid that they will stagnate. By changing the subject matter and the media, my approach is changing all the time.”

Bristol rainBristol rain

Place, now on show at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, sees him collaborating with 32 writers from a diverse range of backgrounds and results in a body of work that varies in scale from postcard-sized pieces to large canvasses.

It reveals the physical diversity of the British landscape, whilst providing an insight into the concept of ‘place’ – that collective sense of identity, meaning, longing and nostalgia present within the British psyche – and has been incredibly successful – in its first two days in Bath more than 1,700 people visited the exhibition.

Jackson also opened his Jackson Foundation gallery in St Just – where an exhibition of new work opened on 16 December. Wild Lives: Daily Encounters with the Animals of Cornwall features his rendering of everything from fish and toads to foxes and basking sharks.

“It’s evolved,” he says of his increasing use of wildlife within his artwork and projects. “Zoology and natural history has always been there. I always had two passions: zoology and art.”

Born in Dorset in 1961 to a family of artists, Jackson went on to study zoology, before turning to fine art. Renowned for his painting, he has also turned to a variety of other media, including sculpture, printmaking – and increasingly writing. His poetry has been published and his books have increasingly featured his prose and poetry.

“There are things you can say with words, that are harder to say in a visual language, and vice versa,” he explains. “I find they work very well together. I was known for using text and calligraphy within my work and essentially that has grown and extended. I don’t write critically about my work, it’s either about what I am doing or where, or what I am looking at and where.”

In his new book A Kurt Jackson Bestiary, Jackson re-imagines the ancient art of the bestiary to encourage an appreciation of our natural environment.

“I see myself as an environmentalist. It’s my main concern. It’s the fundamental issue and springboard for everything else in my life,” he says.

Bestiaries date back to medieval times when religious instruction promoted the study and interpretation of animal life, often with the aid of elaborate illustrations. Jackson’s contemporary bestiary extends this tradition, looking closely at both everyday and lesser-known species of birds, insects, mammals and fish in order to stimulate readers’ connections with and appreciation of the world around them.

“The book has got stuff that’s quite historic, the oldest images are 30 years old but they go up to work that’s on gallery walls now,” he says.

He is a long-term supporter of Cornwall Wildlife Trust, he also supports Friends of the Earth and has been artist-in-residence on the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, at the Eden Project and at Glastonbury Festival since 1999, and is an Honorary Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford University.

“Environmentalist can mean all sorts of things to all sorts of people,” he adds.

“Yes it’s about climate change, species loss and habitat loss but it’s also about being aware of how animals and plants in the world exist.”

Despite his ever-changing style, his work is immediately recognisable. “It’s very much mine,” he says. “Whether I am working in an urban or rural situation or in a house or on a fishing boat, they can see the work is mine.

“I have always said that I am happy for my work to be accessible. I hate elitism and people feeling they are divorced from the work or that they don’t understand it.

“I don’t expect everyone to like it,” he tells me of his work. ‘But I want people to notice it and for it to speak to them in some way – I don’t want everyone to ignore it.”

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