Investigating Authenticity in the Digital Age | Jo Berry
Jo Berry’s fascinating painting practice investigates the idea of authenticity in the digital age. A process of editing and re-photographing found images enables Jo to decontextualise and distort the meanings of the original photos. The paintings that follow then invite the viewer to draw their own conclusions on the nature or possible narratives of the imagery.
In this post we’ll be delving into Jo’s process as well as sharing her latest paintings with you.
Jo uses found images, often the least popular images on stock photography websites, as a starting point for her paintings. Her subject matter usually incorporates an element of unreality, such as fancy dress costume packaging, 3-D bookmarks and packaged scale models. Such photos are often used for advertising purposes and Jo is intrigued by the insincerity of these images.
“I’m interested in the stock photographs that are just sitting there with no one looking at them and giving them a new life as a painting.”
The removal of the original image from its former context of selling a product or idea, allows new meanings to surface. In ‘Untitled 2013’ for example, Jo’s search term of ‘health’ led her to find an image of a woman lying in a field in the sunshine. The way we read the resulting painting is not so straightforward however, and is open to interpretation. Who is the figure? Is the figure alive? What’s just out of view? There is an overwhelming feeling that something has just happened or is about to happen. Jo’s paintings rarely have titles, but instead use the label ‘Untitled’ followed by the year of creation, adding to the ambiguous nature of the works.
Untitled 2013 | Acrylic on Canvas - nominated for the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize in 2014
It is in Jo’s extensive process of re-photographing, cropping and editing her found images before translating them into paintings that brings new possible narratives and meanings to the work. Jo is interested in the unexpected visual characteristics that crop up throughout her process, such as the lines of distortion that appear when you take a photo of an image on a computer screen, or the glare on the screen that partially obscures what you’re looking at. By including these details in the painted work Jo adds another layer of curiosity and abstraction. Jo uses an airbrush to produce her paintings, a tool that allows the subtle blending of colours and creates a blurriness that gives the work a dreamlike quality.
Untitled 2017 | 80 x 60cm | Acrylic on Canvas
Jo’s 2020 paintings mark a shift away from using stock photography images and instead focus on urban landscapes sourced from ReCAPTCHA photographs, the ones used on website logins to establish whether a user is human.
“I’m attracted to the quality of these images and the artificial yet very familiar nature of them. They have little relationship with the natural world yet are a big part of our everyday digital existence.”
The photographic image and its use in the contemporary world, along with the theme of authenticity are still the driving forces behind Jo’s practice. However, the 2020 paintings are beginning to examine the idea that the image is less an attempt to represent something and has become more of a tool to begin a transaction.
Untitled 2020 | 45 x 45cm | Acrylic on Canvas
“In all my work the process I undertake with painting is perhaps an attempt to pause and slow down the barrage of digital images we are exposed to and give some of them a new life or create a new narrative.”
As with her previous work, Jo’s latest paintings strike a delicate balance between representation and abstraction. There are flickers of familiarity amongst a disorientating ambiguity. It is as though we have stumbled across a still from a film and it is up to us to decide what happens next.
Untitled 2020 | 55 x 55cm | Acrylic on Canvas
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Jo Berry Biography
Born in 1970 in Halstead, Essex, Jo studied BA Hons Fine Art (Painting) at Manchester Metropolitan University and now lives in Cardiff. Jo's paintings have been nominated for the John Moores Painting Prize (2014), the Welsh Artist of the Year (2013) in which she received the Highly Commended Award, and she was also included in the Hot-One-Hundred at the Schwartz Gallery in 2013. More recently Jo was selected for the Into a Light (2018) exhibition at Saatchi Gallery and the Beep Painting Prize 2020 at Elysium Gallery.