Nottingham artist, Joy Pitts, agreed to display her work in our shop celebrating the Queen and her milestone 90th birthday. We caught up with Joy recently to find out more about her and her work.
Queen Elizabth II by Joy Pitts (88 x 72 cm)
Hailing from Nottingham – like your dedicated M&M blogger – Joy Pitts is a unique artist in that she works with clothes labels to create her art pieces. These labels can either be branded labels – such as Paul Smith; Savile Row tailor’s, or specifically produced name-tapes to illustrate names of those fallen in battle. It is with the latter that Joy created the Queen art piece that is currently on display in the Meyer and Mortimer window.
Joy had previously been a civil servant but returned to university to study fine art masters degree at Nottingham Trent University. For a while, these two aspects of her life continued together but she is now a full-time artist who has had her work displayed across the UK.
Being Royal Warrant Holders for the Queen, it is with great pleasure and pride that Joy agreed to display the Queen art piece at Meyer and Mortimer to commentate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It’s a great piece of work and has certainly generated a lot of interest from passers-by.
Over a cup of tea - when Joy was last in London - we got down to the business of finding out about her life, her work and of course, the Queen.
Hello Joy, thank you for joining us today and also for allowing us to show your work to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday. Can I start by asking, had you always wanted to be an artist?
I’d always wanted to be an artist but my parents – at the time – didn’t encourage it; they said it wouldn’t go anywhere. I was advised to get a safe job in an office and that’s how the civil service came about.
Which department did you work in?
First of all, I was at the Land Registry for about 15 years, then had a break to start a family, then went back to work at the HRMC.
So from the tax office to being an artist; that’s quite some change.
It is a bit odd but art was always going on in the background. After I had the children I thought, I’m going back to college. I did a couple of OCMs and a GMVQ and the teachers said to me, you are going to university aren’t you.
Had you thought about that at the time?
Not when I started out. I just wanted to be creative.
Joy outside the shop after setting up
It is fair to say you are known for using labels in your work; how did that come about?
When I first did my GMVQ I was obsessed with using materials and would use and experiment with garments themselves in big installations. The first piece I made with labels was called Shopping Bag. It was literally just a plastic carrying bag covered in labels. It went on to win the Slug & Lettuce art prize here in London while also winning a lot of locals ones too.
Did you work with any other materials?
I did. When you’re at art college you work with a lot of different mediums but I always kept going back to the labels. Every piece I made won a prize so it kind of lead me really in that direction.
It is quite a unique medium really; do you know of anyone else who uses labels in this way?
You sometimes see people make little craft like bags with them but not to the degree I do.
Haven’t you also done some work for Nottingham born Paul Smith?
I wrote to him to ask for some labels to use in my artwork; at which point I hadn’t got a website or done any work that was recognised. He replied by saying no you can’t have any but I do want to commission you to do a piece for me.
What did you do for him?
It’s called Red Rabbit and it hangs in his Covent Garden studio.
The Queen & Her Royal Warrant
So you’re becoming known for working in this medium, using labels, but how do you choose the subjects for your pieces?
Although I do work with labels and textiles there is always an idea behind a piece. I’ve built up a number of categories now: the used labels were mainly animal based – not because I wanted to do animals as such – because they all have this link to identity and image. For instance, I did a long-horned bull piece. They are bread for the good looks and their ability to win prizes. Their existence is based on what they look like. It’s the same with ourselves in that we want to look good in the clothes we wear. However, that was work I did with used labels but I’ve done a lot of work now with new ones and name-tapes which have a different idea behind it.
In what way?
I watched the Queen’s 2014 speech which was all about reconciliation and peaceful end to war and I just got this idea that I’ll make a portrait with the names of men who gave their lives to crown and country. So I’ve moved on from the idea of identity and image to each piece now, having its own idea behind it.
So how many labels went into the Queen piece?
I’m not exactly sure on the number but it took 136 hours to make and I used 125g of dressmaker pins. For the labels, I use a company called Cash’s and they’ve been making labels forever and are based here in the UK.
And what are your thoughts on the Queen at 90?
I have a lot of respect for the Queen. I’m very supportive, definitely. She is an amazing lady really and I sincerely hope she makes to a 100. I got a lot out of doing the piece as I used name-tapes of people who appear on the Derbyshire War Memorial. For me, it’s a thought-provoking portrait reflecting on her sixty-three-year reign and long dedication to our Armed Forces.
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