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Cambridge artist Jo Tunmer on mastering the art of recovery

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After a difficult 2020, Cambridge-based visual artist Jo Tunmer is now as busy as ever.

Artist Jo Tunmer in her studio in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Artist Jo Tunmer in her studio in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

A regular participant in Cambridge Open Studios, Jo was very unfortunate to have contracted Covid-19 early on in the pandemic, in March last year.

An art teacher and artist facilitator at Kettle’s Yard, as well as a self-employed artist, Jo is still recovering from the ordeal, having suffered from long Covid, though is much better now than she was.

“As soon as I was well again, I got back into the studio and started work,” she says. “I had an exhibition booked in for March just gone with one of the galleries that represent me. It was for big oil paintings so I started work on those and created a new range of prints.

“I’m lucky in that my studio is in my house so I have all my equipment to hand. I really just carried on as much as I could. It’s been a strange year, but everyone’s had a strange year and everybody’s got a story.”

Jo Tunmer's Bend
Jo Tunmer's Bend

Jo, whose oil landscape paintings express a romantic, utopian notion of the land, adds: “I tried to stay focused, always hoping that it [the work and the demand] was going to come back up again, and it has.

“I was doing some contemporary artwork with a fellow artist. We were launching that last year and it’s on hold until somewhere where we can exhibit comes back up again.”

Jo Tunmer's Determination 1/30
Jo Tunmer's Determination 1/30

Returning to the UK after living in the US for several years, Jo studied for an MA in contemporary printmaking at the ARU Cambridge School of Art in 2018, graduating with a distinction.

“It started to take my work into a new direction,” she explains, “because originally I’d always been an oil painter and then a printmaker and a Solarplate maker.

“And by doing my MA it forced me to look at things in a different way, and I began this collaboration. It was just about to be launched last March and we had to put it on hold.”

Jo Tunmer's Hope
Jo Tunmer's Hope

The collaboration, titled eARTh (e-art-h.uk), was with another fine artist, Cathy Faithfull. The artwork has been delayed until 2022.

Jo uses print, oils and installation to “reflect what I’m seeing around me”. Her landscapes are often quiet and devoid of modernity and people, allowing the viewers to reflect, and ultimately accept, moments of personal solitude.

When creating landscapes, Jo, who grew up in London, draws inspiration from a “mixture of things”, in that she sits outside and paints and also paints from photographs. “I tend to paint directly onto the canvas, rather than map out what’s in my head,” she notes.

Jo Tunmer's Work in Progress
Jo Tunmer's Work in Progress

“I’ve got some paintings in Cambridge Contemporary Art at the moment – very big oil paintings. They’re seascapes, because I’ve been thinking about being by the sea so much.”

Originally trained in furnishing textiles and interior design, Jo teaches oil painting and printmaking privately – though she hasn’t since the start of the pandemic – and mentors students studying for academic exams.

Despite still recovering from the after-effects of Covid-19 last summer, Jo still managed to take part in Cambridge Open Studios – or Cambridge Open Windows, as the 2020 edition was called.

“I’ve been doing Open Studios for many years now,” she says, “and I decided to do the Open Windows just because I have a driveway. I live in a little cul-de-sac in central Cambridge so nobody really comes down here, unless they live here.

Artist Jo Tunmer in her studio in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Artist Jo Tunmer in her studio in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

“And I just thought why not? It will give people around here something to look at, something different to walk past and enjoy. So each weekend I took my easels out on to the drive and luckily we had good weather, and I did oil paintings out on my driveway.

“I had a desk with cards and prints, and what I found was that people loved to come and just enjoy seeing the artwork, seeing something different.”

Jo, who is going to do Open Studios again this year – but with “the whole collection” this time – often participates on art competition judging panels and is the main panellist for The City Art Book series, founded by fellow Cambridge-based artist Emma Bennett.

An example of Jo Tunmer's work
An example of Jo Tunmer's work

Jo also does commissions and has work – her urban Solarplate etchings – being currently exhibited at Addenbrooke’s.

“They’ve got some of my prints on display in the corridor until May 24,” she says, adding: “I’ve worked with Addenbrooke’s a lot over the years and it’s always lovely to work with them.”

Much in demand locally, Jo also recently received a print commission for the new central offices of The Cambridge Building Society.

For more information on Jo, visit jotunmer.com.

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