Artist Spotlight: Jenny ChanPosted by: Claudia Downs
When Jenny Chan first picked up clay in 2014, she had no prior artistic education. Now a ceramicist at Yorkshire Artspace, she has proved it is never too late to pursue passion and creativity.
Born in Hong Kong and raised mostly on the small, remote island of Nauru in Micronesia, artist Jenny Chan settled in the UK five and a half years ago, and in Sheffield last October.
Jenny crafts unique and thought-provoking figurative sculptures, with a focus on faces and the stories behind them. As well as sculptures and figurines, Jenny creates wall masks and, most recently, framed wall art.
“I started my clay journey in 2014,” says Jenny, “I am mostly self-taught from watching hours of YouTube! I found working with clay gave me a sense of focus, peace and fulfilment."
"I was going through a difficult situation with my family, as well as coping with the isolation that comes with being a new immigrant. My art became a way to relieve anxiety.”
Without any formal education in arts or ceramics, Jenny believes her passion stemmed from a ‘love of tinkering.’ “From an early age, I was the ‘handyman’ of the house,” she says.
It can be challenging to take up a new craft, especially with limited access to space and materials. But clay proved to be the perfect material for Jenny’s new found creativity.
“Clay is relatively cheap, recyclable, it doesn’t require huge amounts of space, and you can get away with just using kitchen tools. I worked as a cleaner in exchange for free kiln firing service with a commercial studio in Stratford-Upon-Avon. After joining a local artists group there, I realised my work was being quite well-received.”
“I was in my late fifties at this point, and I’d been a stay-at-home mum for sixteen years. To have my work recognised and appreciated grew my confidence not just as an artist, but as a person in general.”
It was this recognition that brought Jenny to Sheffield in October 2019. Awarded a place at the Craft Council Hothouse Programme, Jenny was then accepted at the Starter Studio by Yorkshire Artspace. This two-year programme provides the opportunity for three jewellers and three ceramicists to use a shared, equipped studio, as well as mentorship from Yorkshire Artspace. “I’m so grateful to Yorkshire Artspace for the opportunities they offer for artists, regardless of their race, age and educational background,” Jenny says.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus has impacted artists of all disciplines. “I can’t make my usual sculptures without the space and facilities of the shared studio,” Jenny says. “After many weeks of struggling with the uncertain situation, I started to make use of modelling clay (without firing) to make smaller pieces.”
This is when ‘Standing Together’ was born; a wall piece in tribute to NHS and key workers (pictured below). “They are putting their health at risk every day to keep the rest of us safe,” says Jenny. “I saw this outpouring of support for key workers in our community. They are receiving all kinds of gifts, often things like boxes of food or toiletries. I thought that, alongside this, it would be lovely for them to receive a long-lasting gift, that they can display with pride for years to come."
“We all know someone who is a hero, be it a family member, friend or neighbour. I hope that ‘Standing Together’ is a gift that people can use to show their appreciation and gratitude.
“The faces are made with modelling clay, that is then mounted in a dark grey wooden box frame. I add a handwritten thank you note, with your name and your hero’s name, together with the artwork, and send it directly to them.”
It’s not only a wonderful way to show your appreciation for key workers - in addition, you will be supporting a local artist to keep creating during and beyond these difficult times.