by Annette Wagner
Jasmine Mansbridge is an ongoing contributor and supporter of CWC, and an artist with an upcoming show at Koskela in Sydney this year. In the often intimidating art world, Jasmine would be considered an “outsider artist,” a term used for people who are untrained, without a formal art school education. However, as you’ll read from Jasmine’s contribution below, her training has been gained through mentors and life. And, like many other “outsider artists,” she is generating a swirl of supporters and attention through sheer drive, visibility, and consistent, passionate determination.
With no formal fine art education, you are very much an “outsider artist,” as the industry likes to say. How has your journey as an artist transpired? Tell us about finding confidence and courage in your style, and why painting has become your passion.
My overall naivety about the art business reveals itself to me more and more as time goes on. It was around this time last year that I was referred to by a gallery as an outsider artist. This was the first time I became aware of the term. I think if years ago—when I started painting—I had known what I know now about the complexity of the art world, I would have been too overwhelmed to feel I could ever experience success as an artist.
My desire to be an artist has been built by the practical application of creativity. I became pregnant at age seventeen, and at the time I was living in Katherine in the Northern Territory. There was no internet, no phone, and often no transport. I lived away from my parents while all my friends had typical teenage lifestyles. I was determined to be the best mother I could, so I began painting as a way to channel my frustration and loneliness into something positive. I would be home painting while everyone else I knew was out. My painting sustained me and gave me a way to express myself.
In those early years, I was encouraged by older, established creative people within the Katherine community. This is one reason I love to share with people, because I am proof that creativity can bring so many good things to one’s life.
My growth as an artist has been largely organic. I am big on taking opportunities presented to me. I have so much to learn, but I have always figured I will only learn by doing. I think that the hard thing about being on outside, is getting on the inside!
How did you arrive at your medium? Has painting always been your creative outlet? Expand on finding painting and the specifics of the medium (such as acrylic on board).
When I first started painting, it was with those tiny tubes of acrylic you could buy from a newsagent, and watercolour paper. I still have some of those early works.
I was encouraged to paint by my in-laws at the time. They run an Aboriginal art gallery in Katherine and began giving me linen off-cuts and basic paint colours. This is where my obsession with quality art materials began, because it makes all the difference to a piece.
It wasn’t until I started to sell work and buy it myself that I realised how much it all cost. If you know someone who likes to paint, why not buy her some good stuff? It makes such a difference. I have always painted with acrylics because I’ve always worked within the home environment. They dry very quickly and don’t have the smell that oils do. They also work well with my style and allow me a lot of control. I love to paint on linen as it is such a beautiful product, but I also work on board, and on paper for smaller works. In saying that, this year I plan to experiment with oils to see what they do visually to my style.
With a growing number of solo exhibitions, a book, public murals, and a pending exhibition at Koskela later this year, how do you divide your time while still being present to your family of five?
It is answering this question that led me to write my book, There Is a Paintbrush in My Coffee. In the book, I talk about all the ways I have learnt to work over the years.
You have to be very passionate about something to give it the energy that I give my painting and my family. But the nature of painting—the solitude, the contemplative aspect of it—is quite complimentary to the overall busyness of my life. My family brings its own blessings in that they love me and need me whether I do good work or no work. It is a great balance to the ego having children. I am often reminded of the saying, “Before enlightenment, chop firewood and cart water. After enlightenment, chop firewood and cart water.”
It is school holidays at the moment, so my house is like a bomb site. I have to set very low expectations of what I will get done so I can be happy. I am glad I have the excuse of being a artist so I can ignore the mess and let the kids be “creative.” During school term I use a bit of daycare, do “kid swaps”; I have a couple teenage babysitters, and sometimes I pay my own teenagers as well. It is always a juggle because children’s routines and needs are always changing. Simply put, I am a control freak who has had to learn to let a lot slide. There is a line from the cartoon Madagascar that stays in my head: “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave…. often all you can do.”
This year will see a massive shift with the oldest two (20 and 17) away at university, two in school, and only one (my crazy two-year-old) at home. So I am planning on taking on a bit more this year commitment-wise. Exciting times ahead. My husband has a job that sees him working long hours, especially at this time of year; we are both ambitious in our own way. But me working from home means I am also running the home. It is a challenge, but I have come to accept that it always will be. To be working creatively is a great gift, something I am aware of and grateful for daily.
My greatest asset, I think, is to be able to mentally “turn on a dime” and paint productively in short spaces of time. If I have an hour I use that hour. You have to develop and nurture that skill. My biggest tip would be to get a space to work where you can leave your work—even if it is just a corner in your bedroom (where I worked for many years), or a drawer in a cupboard. Doing this means you are able to maximise your work time and not waste it setting up or packing up.
Being creative is such a wonderful way to relax, to order your thoughts, to challenge yourself, and to express yourself. It is a way to add value to your life.
Your work continues to progress. Who are your influences and inspiration and how important have mentors been to you?
I was a child who grew up without a television and I spent many hours drawing. My grandmother was an artist and she worked in a studio painting portraits, amongst other things. I was always disappointed at how my pictures looked compared to hers, so early on I tried to find my own way of visually representing things. I remember being awestruck the first time I saw mosaics, and I have been obsessed with pattern and repetitive design for as long as I can remember. These elements have always been present in my work in some way.
While still in Katherine (which I left when I was twenty-six), I spent time with established Indigenous artists. Their use of pattern, and their patience and devotion to their work, resonated deeply with me. I learnt a lot about the life of an artist, and how important it is that it be tailored around the work. My life is like that. My life and my painting are not separate but the same. I have always felt greatly moved in nature and had a connection to the physical world, and this—as well as storytelling—are all aspects of my work.
This philosophy has seen me ride the highs and lows of the “career” side of my life well. At the end of the day, I would make work with or without an audience. While commercial success and sales are important because they enable my work—and me—to grow, I often remind myself that to do meaningful, connected work, I have to be meaningful and connected to my work. Otherwise it will become empty, repetitive, and meaningless.
In the last few years, social media has allowed me to connect with a wider audience and has given me some wonderful friends and mentors. I am grateful for this and I definitely do not feel the isolation I once felt as an artist living in a regional area. There are also more creative people living and working in my local area (Hamilton, Victoria). I think we are in exciting times for regional centres as new hubs for creative growth, perhaps due to cheap living costs and the internet making the world a much smaller place.
You mentioned M.C Escher; he is certainly an artist who I have long admired. I also love the suburban paintings of Jeffrey Smart, the Australian artist. They say something about the artistic quality of the man-made world. Of artists working presently, I think Ghostpatrol (David Booth) does interesting and clever pieces, as does Miranda Skoczek. I have a friend here in Hamilton, Grotti Lotti, who is making beautiful work as well. I love a lot of art, but it is the paintings I remember that impact me. That is my measure of good work: the images that stay with me long after I have seen them.
Patti Smith has influenced my thinking a lot in the last few years. Her thoughts on the culture of celebrity have got me thinking about this within the art world, and her simple advice to just “do your best work” resonates with me time and time again.
You have a big exhibition at Koskela in Sydney later this year. How did you secure your gallery exhibitions? What are your top tips for other artists trying to establish themselves and secure gallery exhibitions?
I am really looking forward to showing at Koskela. I remember going to a Rachel Castle workshop there in 2012, thinking how much I would like to exhibit there. Like most things I do, the time between the seed of the idea and it actually happening is usually a long time.
I don’t have time or resources to pursue a broad range of ideas, so I generally pursue only a couple important ones. I actually flew to Sydney this time last year to meet with the art director and show her some work in the flesh. This was after some time spent sending emails back and forth and developing connections there. Anything worth doing costs something, and finding places to show your work is no different. For a long time now, all the money I make goes back into the work, so I am able to make bigger and better things happen. Then, of course, you have to do the work. Every door opens another, so to speak. I want to keep making the work better to prove myself worthy of the next project, and so on. I say this all the while aware that I am not yet where I would like to be career-wise, and knowing that I have to take my own advice and be patient and consistent.
My advice to younger creatives is to get out and say “hi” to your heroes. You won’t connect with everyone, but you don’t need to. Be yourself, but the best version of it. If you want to work with someone, reach out and tell him or her. The world is so small now; with social media, you can chat to almost anyone.
My favourite thought of late, which keeps me going when I am clueless, is this: No one has been me before. It’s very simple—scary, almost, but true. No one has been me. I can only make choices about what I want to do. I cannot follow, emulate, or duplicate another person’s career or life. I can’t live off someone else’s advice or example. It is a powerful truth.
You have only failed when you have quit, so keep working. Creativity is a long game. As I said above, it is inextricably linked with your life. Do your best work and get it out in the world.
Lastly, how important are your support networks? And what is some of the best advice you received when you were establishing yourself?
The Creative Women’s Circle came into my life at an important time, when I was feeling like I needed to link into something bigger than myself. Because I live regionally, work from home, and work in my home as a mother, I can feel isolated. Through CWC, I was able to meet people I would not normally meet. Blogging for the CWC helped me clarify my thoughts on many things, and cement my feelings about being a professional creative. I recommend membership to everyone I meet, as it is an invaluable resource and support system.
To see more of Jasmine’s work, visit her at jasminemansbridge.com. She can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annette Wagner is a designer, marketer, creative consultant, artist, and writer. She is also on the board of the Creative Women’s Circle. Obsessively passionate about the arts and the creative process, she is determined to not talk art-speak and instead focus on supporting and sharing concepts and insights most creative types crave to know.