Internationally renowned artist, Marie Jonsson-Harrison, has exhibited her Contemporary Naive artworks all over the world, and this SALA season, she will be at Victoria Square with her art collective, A Bus Full of Art. In our latest spotlight, we learn about Marie’s creative family, where she’s exhibited and her SALA project.
Q: Hello Marie! Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I was born in Sweden, my grandparents were famous circus artists and my father is Adelaide based sculptor, Ted Jonsson, and my brother Matt is also a visual artist (he’s also known for his band, The Clowns of Decadence.) We immigrated to Australia in 1972, and I embarked on a highly successful career ‘diversion’ as an international model. Picked up on peripatetic life of my forebears, I lucky to enjoy success as “Miss Summer Spain”, “South Australia Model of the Year” and “Australian Model of the Year”. Eventually, I returned to Adelaide and married my childhood sweetheart and began painting while pregnant with my son. Within two years of that, I started to exhibit firstly in Melbourne (I felt too shy to show my work here), and then I got my big break with Elders Fine Art Gallery (who in those days were one of the main galleries in Adelaide). We added a daughter to the family and bought a farm in the Adelaide mid north where we lived for eighteen years where I painted full time and exhibited all over the world as well as made quite a few public sculptures – the largest of which is fourty-four metres across at the entrance of Balaklava. We have now had a seachange to Hallett Cove.
So far I have been incredibly lucky in my art career, starting out with sellout shows in Japan some twenty years ago and then progressing to exhibitions in the USA, and these days concentrating on Europe. This year alone has been incredible for me with exhibitions in Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen, Katowice, Saumur, and coming up later this year is St Junien in France, SALA – A Bus Full of Art – Victoria Square, Adelaide, South Australia 31st July to 6th July, Odense, Quebec and Dubai!
Q: Who inspires you? What inspires your art?
A: I have of course always been influenced by my father, sculptor Ted Jonsson, who encouraged me to paint and bought me canvases and art materials and made me a wonderful wooden box to store it all in. Although we are polar opposites when it comes to our art style, my father’s art is macabre and dark and often made from junk and sometimes animal carcasses! My other influences are Grandma Moses who became famous at 78 as a naive artist and Henri Rousseau (felt very privileged to have been invited to take part in his 100 years anniversary exhibition in France) and the British humorous naive artist Beryl Cook.
Everything inspires me to paint, I love painting my surroundings, the wonderful vistas from the outback to the sea and everything in between, in my naive style of course with lots of things going on (Where is Wally Style, lol)! We lived for many years on a farm in the Adelaide mid north which also featured strongly as does our most recent sea change. I think I have also painted most of South Australias major festivals such as The Festival of Arts, The Fringe Festival, Opera in the Park, Christmas Pagent, Carols by Candle light, The Skyshow to name a few. Many other tourist attractions and events, celebrations and iconic images like the Pie Cart and the Port Adelaide light house. We travel a lot so I paint our travel memories and as I exhibit a lot overseas that suits their markets too.
Q: Do you have a preferred medium?
A: I have two equal preferred mediums, acrylic paint on canvas/linen or canvas board and handmade ceramic (clay) with mosaic for sculptures and wall hangings.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: Contemporary Naive – My naïve style reflects not a child’s view of the world as is often suggested, but rather a witty dialogue between the artist and the viewer on the foibles of life and the humour to be found everyday situations. I fill my frame with detail reflecting the business of all our lives and suggesting that even the most commonplace subject is worth a closer study. The human condition is an inexhaustible pool of creativity.
Q: Can you please describe your artistic and creative process i.e.: from lingering idea to putting it into practice?
A: Iconic places often feature in my work, but the real inspiration is how people use these spaces and what may happen in the passing parade of life. People watching is a great start and I store these cameos in my mind’s eye and bring them out later in a painting. I always have two to three artworks on the go and start by doing a quick sketch – but I see the whole artwork finished in my own mind so don’t worry about planning it out too much just put the background down and start in a rush – although as it is so detailed watching me paint is probably much like watching grass grow! I do a lot of commissions too which I love as that broadens my subject range and I get to paint people and things I would not perhaps think of myself – always in my own style though of course.
Q: Where do you see your art practice taking you in the next five years?
A: I would love to make inroads into the Chinese market. An image of mine on a chocolate tin has apparently been very well received in China, the Chinese are very fond of Hans Christian Andersen and as that image also featured the famous sculpture “The Little Mermaid” that helped. It came about because I had been chosen to be the artist for Danish chocolatier SV Michelsen’s limited edition chocolate tin, with the first tin always presented to the Queen of Denmark and as that image was set in Copenhagen’s Nyhavn and also featured the famous sculpture “The Little Mermaid” (Hans Christian Andersen) it sold very well in China.
Q: If you could recommend one artist, who would it be?
A: Easy – my father Ted Jonsson, sculpture of Junk Art who is an incredible creative artist creating sculptures from the things other people discard. Objects which he is able to transform into intriguing new forms, strips of metal cut from old pressed tin ceilings are woven and clad and assembled with other unlikely objects making for leering funpacked manifestations that might shock and surprise.
Q: What is your favourite gallery?
A: Szyb Wilson Gallerie in Katowice, Poland. The gallery itself is the largest privately owned gallery in Poland and I would be surprised if that is matched anywhere else in the world. The building used to be a bus factory – so you can just imagine what size it would be to do that. The outside area of this building holds a sculpture park as well with art as far as the eyes can see, and only ten minutes to the city. The owners are incredibly generous and take all the 100 artists and their partners who have been invited from all over the world to take part in the Naive Festival Exhibition out to dinner and pays for everything as well as many other activities!
I must also add that this mobile gallery that I am part of, A Bus Full of Art, has to be up there as one of the best and most unusual galleries in the world, in my opinion. It is such a fantastic adventure to be part of bringing art to the streets – to people who often never has set foot in a gallery as they thought it was too high brow – but then find that they really enjoyed the experience and are prepared to go again.
We toured all over with the Fringe on Tour – from Goolwa to Port Augusta, Glenelg to Salisbury, the city and Port Adelaide and now for SALA, we will be stationary smack bang in the city at Victoria Square for seven days and one day down a Brighton on 21st August. Can’t wait to see where we will turn up next. Everyone welcome!
Q: Where can we find more of your work?
A: Currently at Glenelg Art Gallery in The Stamford Grand and soon for SALA, A Bus Full of Art at Victoria Square, Adelaide, South Australia 31st July – 6th July and, of course public sculptures in the towns of Balaklava, Jamestown and Port Pirie. Otherwise you may have to go overseas – but I would be delighted if you joined me on Instagram and Facebook.
Q: If you could be a member of any famous band from any musical era, which one would you choose?
A: Oh hard question – I of course love my brothers band the Clowns of Decadence, and Cat Empire but my all time most favourite bands would have to be The Rolling Stones and AC/DC so let me go on tour with either of them and I will die happy!
– Masya Zabidi