In Conversation with Jennifer Tarry-Smith

Jennifer Tarry-Smith wants people to have a genuine and unique experience with her work, just like an intimate performance in a jazz club. Her love of music informs her work in a powerful way; the shapes and tones used in each work are inspired by a certain melody and her experience of a piece of music. This intriguing concept, and the fact that we were immediately drawn to Jennifer’s stunning work, had us wanting to learn more about where she finds inspiration and how she takes that to the press with such resolution.

Can you tell us a bit about what led you to being an artist?

I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else. My passions have always been art and music and when they were presented to me, that’s what I gravitated towards. I grew up in a creative household; my grandfather was an architect and my mum is in costume design, so I’ve always been intrigued by what they do and surrounded by books and materials.

'In a Sentimental Mood 2', Jennifer Tarry-Smith. Jennifer's love of jazz music is a huge part of her art practice. She aims to visually represent a particular song through her prints, drawing from the inherent abstraction in music.

What is it that you love about printmaking?

What I love most about printmaking is the process, precision and constant battle in creating something as near to ‘perfect’ as possible. I get extremely nervous before pulling every print and I feel great relief when it works. It’s this feeling that keeps me returning to the press. I also love the chemical processes that take place in lithography. I find it really interesting as this form of print has such a rich history, and now it’s quite a niche artistic form. They have a lovely charm about them. It’s a nice way to create an image; layer by layer.

What is the inspiration behind this collection of work and what do you hope people take away from it? 

The work is an interpretation of jazz improvisation. It’s not necessarily important for a person to make this connection – however this is the basis for this series. The Black Coffee works are different interpretations of the same piece of music, and the other works are based on specific songs. I want people to have a genuine and unique experience with the work, just like an intimate performance in a jazz club.

I get extremely nervous before pulling every print and I feel great relief when it works. It’s this feeling that keeps me returning to the press.”
— Jennifer Tarry-Smith

We know music has a big influence on your work, specifically Jazz. What does music mean to you and how do you use it to communicate ideas in your work? 

Music is something I have grown up with, and loved my whole life. I’ve learnt classical piano since I was young, and also enjoyed singing. I had a wonderful teacher, Mr Bob Sedergreen, who introduced me to jazz when I was in Secondary School and I’ve never looked back. In much the same way as art, music is very personal and allows an individual to express their own freedom and creativity in another form. In the same was as I enjoy the specificity of the technical side of print, I also really enjoy the way chords are built and rhythms are formed.

My works aim to visually represent a particular song I am listening to. I draw from the inherent abstraction in music and its interpretation. My work attempts to transform aural data into visual data. Images emerge from a specific attention to textural ideas, dissolving sound boundaries and emotional responses. The creative freedom in music, particularly the improvisational singularity within jazz, informs and underpins the aesthetic qualities of my art practice.

'Black Coffee 2', Jennifer Tarry-Smith. Jennifer is drawn to the expressive nature of Jazz; she loves the creativity in understanding the chord structures and melody of a piece of music.

What is it about Jazz that pulls you in? Have you spent time producing work based on other music genres?

I am drawn to the expressive nature of Jazz. I love the creativity in understanding the chord structures and melody of a piece of music, and then altering and building on those sounds in an improvised section. It is very personal and you get caught up in someone else’s moment of expression. And as for producing work based on other music – I haven’t yet, however I think that would be interesting to explore in the future.

We love how each print in unique, so no editions. Have you always worked in this way?

I have done some small editions, but yes mostly my prints are single editions. I like to create monotypes which are single editions (hence the name ‘mono’) but I also work in a similar way with my lithographs. There is something nice about an original. An improvised line of jazz will never be played in the exact same way, so I think there’s a nice link between that idea and my work.

She mostly produces unique editions; a reflection of how an improvised line of jazz can never be completely replicated.
The colour palettes ranges from pastel tones to black and white.

Your varied colour palette is stunning. Can you elaborate a little bit on how you choose your colour palette for each piece?

Thank you! The colour palette is based on my experience of the music that the work is based on; I am trying to communicate the mood, tone and tempo of the piece.

With an upcoming residency in Venice, Italy, do you have any particular new projects you want to explore in upcoming bodies of work?

I am travelling around Europe for three and a half months and finishing up with a residency in a print studio in Venice. I hope the experience of immersing myself in new places and cultures will bring about a change in my work. And I am really looking forward to seeing all the art and architecture I’ve spent years studying.

She selects the colour palettes based on the mood, tone and tempo of the piece of music the work is inspired by.

Quick-fire questions!

What time do you get up in the morning?

It varies a lot; I’m not a morning person.

What’s are you listening to at the moment (music and/or podcast)? 

Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, RY X, SOHN, Groove Armada.

What’s your signature dish?

BBQ Snapper with lemon and olives, or canned tuna on Cruskits.

If you could purchase one thing for your home, and money was no object, what would it be? 

A print workshop.

Where to next on your travel destination wish list? 

Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Tamarind print workshop.

Jennifer is interested in exploring other types of music and seeing where that might take her work. Pictured: 'Misty' by Jennifer Tarry-Smith with work by Christopher Jewitt and Ria Green.

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