Published January 31st, 2019
For years, the tri-citizenship’d, New Zealand dwelling Georgia Barber has been creating surface design, and her work is flowing at a rate of knots. The Plum Jam Design's instagram feed is a pulsating experience. Completely self-taught, Georgia left school at 15 and spent 12 years in the textile industry before setting up plum jam designs where she has done short runs of tea towels, cushion covers, duvet covers, quilts, furniture and clothing as well as pictures. We chatted over messanger as she was doing the National Invasive Ant Survey* and we were setting off on a trip into North Wales.
PINK SANDS -- You live near Nelson on the South Island of New Zealand, where you have your studio in Founders Heritage Park, but it sounds like there’s been a lot of moving from place to place and back again in your life.
GEORGIA BARBER -- I am a serial mover I guess. I am Maori/Pakeha born in Australia and have lived in all three countries throughout my life.
Then I met Tim (AKA The Ultimate Love of My Life) who lives in Seattle, soon I will move there to be with him which is a whole new exciting adventure.
Although I relate mostly to New Zealand, I consider myself a citizen of the world, a cultural sponge. It is an extremely fortunate disposition.
How is lovely Wales? Funnily enough I just bought tickets for Cate Le bon in Wellington. She should be anointed queen there, ha!
PINK SANDS -- Grey, ha ha, it’s good. I like it in the moody off-season. Actually, now that you mention it we started listening to John Cale probably more or less as we crossed the (psychological?!) border.
You work mostly in linocut and gouache, right? So there’s a strong physical sense, but is there a digital element in there somewhere?
GEORGIA -- I approach lino carving with a lot of gusto and energy in general. Gouache is a far gentler act. The energy of the designs carry elements of Pacifica and English mostly - Kowhaiwhai meets William Morris. But I have sometimes gone through phases of African, South American and at present, Japanese influences. I am obsessed with Ikebana at the moment- Japanese flower arranging and am creating small and large collages with my pattern designs that have been printed on Kinwashi hemp paper. That has a whole new energy for me, it’s exciting. The act of cutting the patterns up, chomping away at forms. But I do like to keep the human aspect in my work. I have owned Illustrator since CS1 and have purposefully never learned to use it except to primitively crop, drag and drop into a pattern basically.
I love imperfection and rawness of lino. I feel there is still very much a place for that.
* the National Invasive Ant Survey's programme's objective is to detect new infestations of invasive ant species in high risk sites such as ports, airports, devanning sites and transitional facilities.
"Heart Resuscitation" Plum Jam Designs.
PINK SANDS -- You’re designs are incredibly prolific, with new designs appearing on your Instagram daily. They seem quite free wheeling too.
Do you reuse parts or physical elements from design to design?
GEORGIA -- Now that I have a library of designs I can draw from, I have been combining the old designs with the new. Finding new life in a design carved 15 years ago by combining it with a design carved yesterday is lovely. It’s like meeting old friends again and resuscitating them. I do try to create designs that have a happiness to them, to make the ornaments feel like they are having fun, that uplift. Some designs are based on good luck or spreading love around the world, some are a gift for a friend, others are my songs (there are a lot of ‘B Sides’ amongst them and there is a distinct difference!).
Designs can pour out in flurries and I have so many ideas for them with products I would like to allocate them to. I hope to meet and collaborate with more people in the future, mentors, fellow artists, investors, whoever would like to play.
PINK SANDS -- I realise it may not be possible but can you go any further into how life events make their way into the elements of a pattern?
GEORGIA -- I have never really thought of this before, how or why, it’s just a feeling. An ornament I create just feels like whatever is going on. My life has been and continues to be far from dull. The need to find relief and get things off my chest is a huge part of it. I call it ‘Creative Masturbation’, sometimes you just have to get it out of you or risk getting blocked up creatively, get it off your chest.
I use ornament as a language and colour plays a big part too.
In the early days I used to pretend to myself, I’d say ‘Charles Rennie Mackintosh is coming over at 4 pm today and he wants a design!’. That seems laughable now. Now it’s what’s happening in the day, a friend having a difficult time with internet dating, the homeless people around my studio, maintaining a long term relationship with someone who lives across the other side of the world, everything comes into play. I also find creating pattern very calming. It has always been a fascination from a young age, studying wallpapers and carpets in houses and public places trying to figure out where the pattern starts and begins. It was soothing to me when I cracked it. I also like to study life patterns in the same way. Finding the cyclical. Breaking bad patterns of habit and introducing better ones. Questioning yourself why certain experiences reoccur in life and what we do to encourage them into our lives. Once you start to look at those patterns you can begin to improve your life and take responsibility for your experiences. It’s like a study within a study. It is therapy.
PINK SANDS -- Can I ask about your titles? Which are evocative and sometimes abrupt or confrontational. They are great! They feel free. How integral are they to the pieces?
GEORGIA -- At first the names were just a way of me cataloguing the designs. I didn’t think anyone would actually read them. Then I noticed people would comment on my posts about the titles. I do absolutely feel they are an integral part of the design, they are sprung from what is happening in my life, something I want to express and the title is a part of that expression. I love words and word play. I worked in the textile industry for 12 years, sometimes I would have to come up with names for the new textiles we had coming, they were so drab. It’s nice to be able to call my own whatever I want to, especially if they make someone laugh. They may not be conventional but I enjoy coming up with them as much as making the design.
PINK SANDS -- I’d like to go back to Ikebana, I had a mild obsession with it for a while from a viewer’s point of view. I never tried to learn it although a couple of times we picked bits from the street and people’s gardens on our way home from the pub and there’d be all these drunken arrangements around the house when we woke up. That was really a nice thing.
I think I liked how it respected or maybe even treasured the erratic and thoughful/playful nature of being drunk with friends. Because with Ikebana I think about it’s delicacy and how contemplative it is. It appreciates the bright and full of life but also things that have the marks of living and age on them. Like it does both as a way of offering up contemplation of heaven and earth and life and death even!!!
Without being goofy do you feel like each design you make is for contemplation? They certainly contain history and culture and the marks of their making.
GEORGIA -- All art is created for contemplation I guess. I hope I have captured even the slightest essence of the contemplation you get from a real life Ikebana.
I try to keep to the traditions, the elements, that feeling of contortion mixed with grace. There are so many rules of scale, combinations of arrangements and philosophies involved. I love the consideration of air when it comes to the choice of vase. I am always aware of the air within my designs, how much positive and negative, how much space to allow. To use my patterns in cut structures such as vases also itches a scratch to see my designs on pottery in some strange way too.
I love the name Ikebana - To Make Flowers Alive. Which is a bit a paradox really when dealing with cut flowers. I love the intent of Ikebana, the representations of appreciation - like you say, offering contemplation to heaven, earth and death. The will to preserve life.
I also love the sense of discomfort it can give, the act of breaking ,contorting and moulding the cut stems, they give me such a feeling of unease, almost physically painful to observe like a fifth floor accident.
But ultimately the purpose of Ikebana, the meditation it brings when finished. To sit and admire from every angle and appreciate, which is how we should truly be living, in a state of highest appreciation for what surrounds us. That is the ultimate achievement, if art can give you that, then it has done its job well.
PINK SANDS -- You earlier mentioned investors and collaborators, if the opportunity presented itself, would you send digitally assembled designs to print?
GEORGIA -- To see your design on something tangible is the biggest thrill so yes, I would love that. The beauty of pattern or surface design being so adaptable is a wonderful thing. Though I am not greatly digitally minded or trained so my 'digital assembling’ may need a little further education!
At the moment I am having a tri-fold screen prototype made with the Kinwashi prints and also making lampshades from the same, something I’d love to expand when I get to America.
The chance to learn more and collaborate with amazing people is always a welcome prospect.
Even bigger is the chance to keep creating and improving my designs, to spend more time doing them and incorporating them into new ideas. That is one big bang of passionate ambition alone, right there.
On the side, I always pretended Cate le Bon was John Cale and Nico’s lovechild! Ha! Are you still enjoying Wales?
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