Courtauld Artist at Work: Jessica Akerman

Our Artists at Work exhibition in the Drawings Gallery is in full swing. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Jessica Akerman, Event Producer for the Research Forum discussing her practices.


Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

My work draws on social history, landscape and I work in a variety of media; it depends on the project. My work is inspired by social history – ongoing themes include military architecture, gentrification and women’s working lives. I’m particularly interested in exploring these in relation to British landscape and culture.

I’ve been working with accessories in the last couple of years. Throughout 2018, I’m creating a suffrage patch each month, celebrating different aspects of the suffrage movement. I’ve also just finished as one of 100 female Lead Artists on Processions 2018, making a banner for the Cardiff procession, a live activist artwork. My banner (and accompanying cardboard armour) was inspired by dazzle ships and the homemade armour of suffragettes. And I’ve been using leather offcuts to make foil-embossed jewellery inspired by surveillance and Early Warning System architecture.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I’m currently working mostly in my home studio in Bristol (where I’ve recently moved). It’s useful being able to carry on working at home in the evenings, and also to be able to make more of a mess than I did when I shared my studio space (on Ridley Road in Dalston)! I’m making small objects at the moment so don’t need masses of space. I send off my suffrage patch digital designs to my embroiderers, Lacemarket Embroidery in Nottingham, and they make them up, send them back, and I trim them. It’s great working with craftspeople who are enthusiastic about the project, and understand the nuances of working on artist projects as well as with commercial clients. (They work for Paul Smith, Grayson Perry and others.)


Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

I’ve just finished working with Made in Roath, a community art organisation, in their shop front studio in Cardiff. Here we made the banner for Processions 2018. It was nice working just off a local high street and have curious people walk past and pop in to see what all our geometric, fluorescent fabrics were about. I use J.T. Bachelor’s and Little Workshop in Hackney for embossing and punching leather. I’m currently programming the Engage conference which is on art, health and wellbeing, and will be at The Whitworth in Manchester in November, so I have occasional meetings there with their inspiring engagement team.

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

When I was studying sculpture at Chelsea I did lots of wood turning, and sometimes made larger structures, because I had lots of space and access to workshops. Since then I’ve worked in smaller studios and at times from home, when my children were very small. That, and having limited funds inevitably made my work less ambitious in scale, but not in concept! I have collaborated with other artists a lot in the last few years, including with filmmaker Abbe Leigh Fletcher and folk singer Frankie Armstrong. Making live, filmed or performance pieces is partially a response to constrained studio space.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

I have a real love of craft processes and materials, and like to use my basic knowledge to experiment with them. My materials work as tools to drive my ideas. Sustainable and waste materials, like leather offcuts, cork, wood veneers and fluorescent papers keep popping up in different guises, such as in cuir bouilli (boiled leather) and marquetry. I’m saving up for my own hot foil embossing machine.

How do you deal with creative block?

I tend to have the opposite problem – too many ideas and too little time! I know from experience that if I’m not working on anything in particular, it’s probably because I’m about to embark on a period of intensely juggling lots of projects at once. Inactivity or feeling stuck tends to right itself. There are always peaks and troughs with the creative process.

Discover more of Jessica’s work:

Instagram: @jessicaakerman 


Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018