By Jasper Price, Second Year Theatre and Performance Studies
If you’re into the Bristol music scene, chances are you know who Big Jeff is. Jeff has gained a cult following for his prolific concert-going. He estimates he’s been to about four thousand shows or about one gig a day for thirteen years. He’s an ambassador for independent venues, a seasoned DJ and Bristol’s biggest music fan. However, there is another side to him, one that people are less familiar with.
“I’m known for going to shows, but this is a chance for me to say as well as doing this, I also do this” he tells me, as we walk through his new exhibition. It’s called Welcome to My World, a collection of thirty-four original paintings that highlight the relationship between music, art and mental health.
Each piece presents a feeling or emotion, from joyful to distraught. He points me towards a piece entitled Build, showing a self-portrait in bright pink with the word ‘build’ written down the side. “This was me lifting myself out of a really low place”, he says, “build is such a strong and positive word, and I decided to paint it”. He talks about feeling like he doesn’t fit into the world, and how painting is an escape from that. “They’re about dealing with the unexpected”.
Other paintings, like the banjo player don’t convey such deep emotions. This one shows a man playing the banjo, the brush strokes here are more gentle and fluid. “This one’s just nonsense, I was just playing around with shapes”.
I asked Jeff about his influences, and whose art inspires him to pick up the brush. “I’ve always been surrounded by creative people, I guess it rubbed off”. He told me about his grandmother who was a brilliant weaver, and how he would sit with her at her loom and watch her work. He also talked about what he hopes his art will accomplish. “I’m hoping it can start conversations, I think art is a way of reflecting mood, and that’s what I try to do with these”.
Of course, music also plays a big part in these pieces, whether they are of a musician that has inspired Big Jeff, such as the trumpeter Pete Judge; or the emotion of going to a concert, being surrounded by dazzling strobe lights and deafened by sound. Jeff captures these moments with enormous depth and fluidity. He told me that when he paints, he sometimes goes in with no idea what he’s going to do. “When I don’t know what to paint I just start and see what happens” he says, “the hardest part is knowing when to stop, I feel there’s always more that can be done, more colour to be added more depth, but I have to tell myself that its finished”.
The colour and vibrancy of the paintings is enchanting, and Jeff has managed to combine dark and meaningful messages and innocence in each one of the pieces.
Big Jeff's artwork will be on display at Bristol Beacon until Sunday 23 May.
Featured image: L: Rags by Big Jeff - photo by Jasper Price | R: Big Jeff photo by Ania Shrimpton
Entry to Big Jeff Johns debut exhibition, Welcome to My World, is free when a ticket is purchased for Bristol Beacon's Super Cool Drawing Machine exhibition.
Tickets for Super Cool Drawing Machine can be purchased HERE.
More information about Big Jeff Johns art available HERE.