I met Jeanne in the late 2000s when she signed up for some of my classes. She made large gestural drawings with not quite enough patience, but with little fear. She also made things happen, curating and collaborating on critically successful exhibitions. Last I heard of her she retired early and moved back to Canada.
But in 2017 she emailed me with the news that hermother had been horrified to discover that she has Neanderthal DNA. Jeanne asked if I wanted to make art, with her, exploring this? Something twigged.
I didn’t have any real knowledge of the Neanderthals. Only the myths. As a child I was teased – called a Neanderthal because of my receding forehead and protruding brow. I was a distracted learner – slapdash and messy. One of my teachers told me there was a simple ancestry test: sit on chair and put your elbows into your hips and your arm over your legs – if your hands fall over your knees, you are a Neanderthal! And mine did.
So I lost myself in things I could do on my own – improvised role playing, drawing characters, creatures and inventing stories, all with a good dose of whatever sci-fi or fantasy I had been watching. Creating comic books, acting, performing and writing songs gave me the confidence that schoolwork did not. I had to make a choice: art won. But, throughout all my art education and career, I have struggled to find an outlet for my improvised stories,characters and voices.
When Jeanne approached me, I was already moving beyond my usual art practices, reintroducing the notions of fantasy, fiction and invention which had reinvigorated me as an artist. Jeanne wanted us to speculate creatively on recent discoveries about Neanderthals. She kept me stocked with images, articles, artworks, maps, and diagrams.
At first, I made simple improvised collages and drawings. I then constructed narratives or storieswhere characters and events emerged and acted out unplanned fragments. Jeanne responded withdrawings of creatures, contraptions and ‘artefacts’ which then found their way back into my work.
The process led to a natural demarcation of work. Jeanne was making sculptural objects and I made large scale pictorial drawings and paintings. Whatwe did not predict was the role that improvisedanimation would play. But a smart phone, an idle evening, a couple of glasses of wine and I began drawing and voicing daft stop-motion animations. I tried it a couple of days later, slightly more seriously. And then again – downloading and testing a whole gamut of animation apps becoming adept enough to bring life to my characters and give thema voice.
For this exhibition I created four large scale paintings, each the setting for an animated story. They reveal the journey of ‘last of the Neanderthals’through the past, present and future with eachpainting’s environment prompting new interactions.
NEONEANDERTHALS has been a labour of love and working with Jeanne has taken my practice on journeys I might never have embarked on my own. Her objects, beasts and artefacts enhance,complement and add depth to the stories we aretelling and questions we are asking through thiswork.
Robbie Bushe RSA