Life & Style; Wojo Profile

In this, our first issue of Wojo, we profile Jenny Ellerton.

Jenny is an artist (and currently an MA Fine Art student), a county tennis player and coach,  a wife, mother and grandmother.

Jenny's style epitomises her character; she's fun and vivacious and, though seemingly managing various interests and projects simultaneously,  she has an  attractively carefree attitude that informs her ability to look effortlessly cool whether she's wearing jeans and a jumper at home or art school,  or is dressed up for an opening or event.

When I arrive to take photographs and talk to her for this profile, she's dressed in a ripped shirt and jeans, and wears no makeup;  we take our coffee to one end of a cold barn where she has her studio.  This is work wear, she doesn't wear overalls - "they feel too restrictive".; past work, and work in progress, leans against the walls but her most recent work is currently part of a touring group exhibition:  Vacuum Arts is  a contemporary art collective made up of graduates from Hereford College of Arts  (where she's an MA student) and other schools including Loughborough where the work is currently on show.  Jenny is a founder member of the collective and tour organiser.

Rooted in participation and collaboration, Jenny's own work is primarily curatorial,  she makes work informed by playfulness and games, and by the relationship between the sporting and the artistic gesture; she's passionate about inclusion and adept at organising events. She moved to Herefordshire in the 70's and, while bringing up three children with her husband Tony, a designer,  has run a cafe, organised tennis events and holidays for groups she's coached (as well as playing tennis at county level - she's currently in the final of the intercounty championships), and organised 'Looking Good, Feeling Fine' an event to encourage women into sport in Herefordshire.  Before she decided to study Fine Art, she'd organised open studios, and private views,  for other artists in her area and she uses all these skills for bringing people together - and a real flair for organising events - in her own art practice.
After our first coffee, I asked Jenny to change into something she'd wear to go out. She says that, though fashion isn't something she's especially interested in, or follows, she does like to dress up and has a wonderful collection of jackets that she wears with jeans or dresses.  Slipping on a beautiful blue velvet boxy jacket she says "I never throw much away.  This jacket is from the sixties; sometimes I don't wear something for twenty years and then I bring it out and think it looks good again". The longer, smarter, black jacket that she then slips over the velvet one for more photos (below) is, again, from the sixties - you can ask very little more from your clothes than that they last for over forty years and still look this good.  Jenny's jackets have a history - they've shared a journey with her and could tell some good stories; they're two of her favourites and so have meaning when she wears them and add a dimension to her style and to the way in which they make her feel. 

"I don't think my style's changed much over the years - I've always worn jeans and jackets", in fact, jackets, boots and scarves have been the clothes that Jenny's always spent money on and which she's kept; they continue to work with more contemporary clothes (like the dress she's wearing under both her jackets in these photographs), creating interesting juxtapositions of significance and aesthetic.

She finds inspiration for clothes in other people rather than in fashion images, in the way she sees things put together on friends and strangers.  Her vibrancy is evident in her outfits and she loves colour -  the flash of pink is typical;  she doesn't remember who gave her the pink heart necklace she's wearing - only that it was a gift, and she thought it would be 'fun' to wear; she normally always wears the same jewellery - a millenium star necklace and a silver bracelet.
Jenny's dress in this photograph is one she bought to wear at her degree show - it has balls on it because it echoes her piece for the exhibition: an altered and appropriated ping pong table (appropriated from her own family history and marked by rings left by tea and coffee mugs).  The marks and history made a map of games played, and suggested the placing and making of holes in the table and on the bats.  Invited to play, participants would negotiate the altered and damaged board of the table with similarly maimed bats. Hilariously subverting the normal competetiveness that underpins even the most friendly of games, Jenny's ping pong table was an inclusive gem of profound silliness and her dress "a bit of (​​appropriate) fun"  - my italics but her sense of playfulness and that word 'fun' - again. 

And again, a jacket: she says she's always loved denim jackets and it adds a cool edge, and youthfulness, to the dressiness of the cheerful print.

Pictured sitting with the results of her morning's baking, Jenny says of her sourdough bread making that she has to do it otherwise "the mother would die" and introduces me to two sourdough starters (the mothers) in the fridge, comparing  looking after them to the memory of once having to take care of her daughters tamagotchi virtual pet when she was away many years ago.

By our third coffee, Jenny's back in jeans and a jumper to go out to see the sheep - she keeps sheep, chickens and ducks and includes gardening in her list of passions.  I ask her how she finds time for all this alongside her family (which unsurprisingly heads up that list ), her practice as an artist and playing and coaching tennis:  "I prioritise things" she says, assuming that this is a simple and obvious thing to do, and reveals that she probably compartmentalises these separate areas of her life into "little boxes".  However she does it, it's a formidable achievement and one which she wears, like her clothes, lightly and with grace.  
Back in the house, Jenny shows me a final jacket - one made by a friend of her daughter's - that is reconstructed from a man's - a second hand tweed find, and which she wears, of course, with jeans.  We talk about her belt - bought in Portobello Road in the sixties and how her favourite clothes are the most worn and almost worn out  (those with the most history).  She considers making another similar belt and tells me how she used to make and sell belts before she moved to Herefordshire and I realise that that is perhaps what I most admire about Jenny's style  -  that there's no visible hierarchy in which the new is privileged over the old, or the more expensive and branded over the found and reimagined or remade.  For her, fashion is a verb - a doing word - for she can fashion a belt or a scarf from found materials and can put together a sophisticated and elegantly laid back look in the same way that she can curate an event or an artwork  - with creativity, an eye for detail and attention that seems effortless but in actual fact requires an enviable can-do and positive approach to life.  
Jenny's interests are wide ranging, she's engaged in the world and so is engaging - our conversation draws to a close with a discussion about the frivolity of fashion in the context of fine art practice.  Is it superficial to care about clothes and does it somehow undermine authenticity and the integrity of the artist (not to mention the intelligence of the woman)?  

Admitting that she's vain enough to care about the way she looks but unapologetic about liking clothes, as Jenny answers I realise that my question is disingenuous - I already know the answer.  Though vibrant and easy going,  there is nothing frivolous or careless about Jenny's attitude to the way she looks:  looking after, and loving,  her clothes for 40 years - respecting their history and their very fabric, celebrates resilience and the beauty of the well made and the worn.  Add to this that Jenny plays tennis and teaches and encourages others to do so,  articulates her concerns and passions by making art, and looks after her family and home - all of this informs the way she looks and suggests a depth of character and care that subverts any notions of superficiality.  

Jenny modelling the clothes of textile and fashion designers Helen and Richard Vine in the 70's 
Clothing and personality are, anyway, so closely entwined and what we wear so obviously signifies our preferences and our identity (or identities) - albeit often unreliably, my question was also a little daft - Jenny is a visual artist, she's fundamentally interested in the way things look and what that means; in the context of fine art practice (and elsewhere) there's absolutely nothing superficial about either the way we choose to dress or our consciousness of appearence as a powerful communicator of self.

So, it's hardly surprising that later, driving home, I realise that Jenny's style reflects perfectly the playful but serious nature of her art, and her life, and that the boxes that she - and we all - construct to manage the various compartments in our lives are, thankfully, far weaker than the fabric that connects them.

Jenny was talking to Celia Johnson