Jane Wilbraham, artist.
It was a revelation that the Exeter alumnus William Morris was a radical socialist. This led to my understanding that making something beautifully could be a radical political act.
I didn’t apply to Oxford with an idea of it being my destiny. I achieved good A-level grades (Art, English and Geology) and I needed to allay the fears of my parents – neither of whom had had the opportunity of higher education, and who saw nothing but an insecure future of poverty and destitution in my stubborn intention to be an artist. Somehow, I thought, applying to Oxford might be a compromise. For my parents, I would have a ‘formal’ education; for me it would be the chance to pursue the thing I loved. As I had no first-hand knowledge of the college system, three choices were made for me by the automatic selection system with Exeter being on the list.
Summer 1987: I distinctly recall the bundle of papers accompanying my acceptance letter, describing where I would live in college and some of the things I would need for my first term. Included was the startling recommendation that cocktail dresses and ball gowns would be required for dinners. Coming from a rural, working-class background – Dad was a butcher, and Mum was a housewife – I had no experience as to what a ‘dinner party’ actually entailed, let alone a ball, and so this resulted in a frantic visit to the local dressmaker to quickly run up a few frocks.
I lived in college in my first year, but my time was spent at the Ruskin School on the High Street, and my social life revolved around my fellow art students. As we were all at different colleges, I therefore experienced an unhealthily disproportionate number of college bars. The Exeter ‘sweatys’ stick in my mind – essentially rowdy, subsidised booze-fests/old-fashioned discoes held underneath the dining hall where the walls ran with sweat, as the name suggests.
To my twenty-year-old self, it was a revelation that the Exeter alumnus William Morris was a radical socialist. This led to my understanding that making something beautifully could be a radical political act.
After Oxford I also studied at the Slade School of Art (UCL) and the Rijksakademie Van Beelende Kunsten, Amsterdam; I now live and work in South-East London. I do know that being an artist and measuring your own success is an impossible and pointless thing to try and do. It’s a life and a calling, and an ongoing inquiry into what it means to be alive; not a career. My education didn’t begin and end with Exeter. Currently my inquiry includes: how to grow brassicas on my allotment, the nature of materials, foxes, the pottery of Ian Godfrey, fermentation, carving sycamore wood vs carving lime wood, hedgehogs, hoverflies, weeds and their cultural significance…
Hales Gallery in London represent me and I will be showing a small selection of works with Eva Livijn-Olin (Galleri Futura) in Stockholm in October 2019.