The Rootstein Hopkins Foundation: A Case Study
Name JANE HARRIS
Year of award 2004
Jane Harris was awarded a sabbatical to take a six month break from teaching at Goldsmiths College, London, from September 2004 to March 2005, to concentrate on making work for a solo exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut, USA. The exhibition, Jane Harris: New Painting, ran from August 2005 until March 2006 and was a significant milestone in terms of Harris’s overall career. It was supported by both a catalogue and a DVD. Harris secured an additional award of £5000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council [AHRC], in May 2005, supporting the costs of the DVD and catalogue, which give the exhibition a useful afterlife. Harris felt that having a sabbatical award would have helped her application to the AHRC. “I applied to the AHRC before the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation award and was rejected but encouraged to resubmit,” she said. “I then applied following the award and was successful.”
A solo international exhibition of this kind contributes towards a college’s Research Assessment Exercise [RAE]. Goldsmiths was therefore happy to support Harris’s sabbatical and to make up the part of her salary not covered by the Rootstein Hopkins award. “I had the best of both worlds in that respect,” said Harris, “I had the award, which is a very significant thing to be able to say that one has, but I also got the full salary, so I didn’t have to make a financial sacrifice. I was completely untroubled by pressures of any kind.” Harris believed that the stimulation and status associated with her sabbatical would also have had a positive effect on her teaching. “At Goldsmiths,” she said, “I teach postgraduate students, who all have a sense of their own practice. There has been a strong move to painting in the last few years. My position with regard to that has been reinforced by the sabbatical.”
When Harris applied to the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, she intended only to make work for the Aldrich Museum exhibition. However, a show that had been due to take place at Hales Gallery in London was postponed. Therefore, she found herself making work, in effect, for two exhibitions. Some of her new paintings received their first exposure in the rescheduled Hales show, Divine, in April 2005. The exhibition at the Aldrich Museum later in the summer featured six large paintings, five which were made during the sabbatical period. Harris had proposed to make ten paintings during her six month break; she actually made eight. “Producing eight was as much as I could do,” she said, “and they were major paintings as far as I was concerned.”
Harris found that the freedom to focus solely on her creative practice for an extended period benefited the quality and vitality of her work. “The great thing about the sabbatical was that I didn’t feel pressurised,” she said. “That feeling – of a lack of pressure, of not having other duties – meant that I could give the work more breathing space in my head. I could come into the studio every day and concentrate totally. There was a flow to the work that came from the continuity which it is impossible to achieve when you are distracted by other commitments. Someone at Hales said that the paintings had a real zest. I felt they were reenergised.”
A technical development occurred in Harris’s work during the sabbatical: the use of metallic paints. “That has been a very successful development,” said Harris. “The work didn’t change fundamentally, but the use of metallic paints to add a sort of lustre was a significant shift. I was less inhibited because I had time to play with it. The way that light affects the painted surface is important in my work, and the metallic paint has made that more apparent.”
Harris felt that, following a relatively low-key period in terms of significant exhibitions, her two solo shows in 2005 had helped to put her back on the map. “When you are working as teacher as well as doing your own work the balance can get out of kilter,” she said. “I’ve always maintained a strong commitment to practice, but it has been quite a struggle to sustain my profile as an artist.” In the 1990s Harris had quite a lot of international exposure, but as teaching commitments increased that diminished. “Having these two significant shows has put my name back in to people’s minds,” she said. “There was a two page feature on the Hales show in The Independent, by Tom Lubbock. It was my first big solo review in a national newspaper and it was extremely positive.” Harris’s show at Hales Gallery also made it into Lubbock’s Five Best Exhibitions of 2005 in The Independent’s End of Year Review.
Harris felt that without the sabbatical award it would have been very difficult for her to have made and shown new work in two exhibitions. “I would probably have had to postpone the Hales show and just focussed on the Aldrich Museum,” she said. “That would have been a shame because the Hales show was a good lead up in terms of building my profile.” The response Harris received from curators and other art professionals to her sabbatical period paintings was encouraging. “There’s a sense for me that there could well be other very positive things to follow,” she said. “It’s too early to evaluate the full impact, but the signs are promising. Going back to full-time academic life, I realise there is absolutely no way I could have achieved the quality and quantity of work that I did without the sabbatical. The intensity of focus achieved during that period is just not possible to sustain when one is juggling one’s time with other commitments.”
Harris felt that the sabbatical and the exhibitions that followed it could turn out to mark a turning point in her career. “Although I do very much enjoy working with students,” she said, “I’m considering whether it might be possible to work again as a full-time artist. That opportunity during the sabbatical to work full-time was very rewarding. That’s what you set out to do as a young artist, and the potential is now there for me to do so again.”
Jane Harris resigned from her post at Goldsmiths in October 2006 and has moved with her family to France to pursue her wish to become a full-time painter again. “It is clear to me now” said Harris in December 2006, “that the Rootstein Hopkins sabbatical award was the springboard for a much desired shift in my focus and ambition for my work”.