Jo Delafons: Integrity First
British artist Jo Delafons creates ethereal, gravity-defying art from her Sussex home. Fibre Arts Take Two had the opportunity to learn about Jo’s work.
Jo Delafons’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
After completing her embroidery degree and dedicating what some would consider a lifetime of sharing art education with others in London, Jo Delafons made a move to a small seaside town in Sussex, near Brighton in the UK. This life-affirming move was a fresh start and the chance to live a different life rediscovering her artistic voice.
With a deep sense of gratitude, Jo has created a stunning body of work. The symbolism of sea resonates in her enigmatic sculptures, as they appear to rise and fall, strong and fragile, whilst offering safe passage across stormy seas.
Fibre Arts Take-Two couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity to talk with Jo about her life and art.
Jo grew up in London in happy circumstances, “I grew up with a very close family and very supportive parents,” she says, “I’m one of four girls in my family. I’ve got two older sisters and an identical twin. My parents weren’t madly arty; they both were English literature graduates and are passionate about education.”
Perhaps integral to her future art was one part of her childhood experience, “Something that probably had a big impact on me,” says Jo, “was when we were growing up, we were fortunate enough to have a cottage in Little Hampton, and we used to go down at the weekend, and we’d walk on the downs and spend a lot of time on the beach. A lot of beach combing. I loved trailing the shingle bank there and looking in rock pools and things like that.”
Jo always knew that she wanted to study art in some form, “I was always drawing and making things when I was little,” she says, “That was the thing I felt I was most at home at, and it was always the lesson at school that I loved and could have done all day.
I still remember things I made in primary school, so I think it significantly impacted me. I think often that’s underrated, those kinds of experiences, I believe that they can stay with you and form you.”
With this foundational love of art, Jo went on to artistic higher education, “When I left school,” she says, “I did an Art Foundation, but I struggled to know which area I wanted to specialise in. I think I was worried about making a living at the time. I wanted to do fine arts, but I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I understood what I wanted to say.”
“In my degree course, we had to do a year of paperwork for textiles, it was very pattern-based, and that wasn’t me at all. In my mind, I hoped to change to the embroidery course. I applied for jewellery and had a fantastic year learning all the basic jewellery skills, but I realised I don’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. Then at the end of my first year, I spoke to my tutors and said I really want to go into embroidery, and they let me transfer.”
A Turbulent Journey
After many years of teaching, Jo had what she calls a breakdown. She had taken on too much for too long, and something had to give, “I would not recommend a breakdown,” says Jo, “I really wouldn’t go through that again. The silver lining is that a crisis forced me to stop, reassess my life and change. Without it i’d probably still be running myself ragged and wouldn’t have stopped teaching and developed my own work. And although I was happy at my job until this point, I think I needed that change, and what’s fantastic about this is I’ve had the chance to leave that life and come here and buy my flat.”
Despite her mental state, Jo didn’t leave teaching altogether, “I went back to work. I couldn’t make that break immediately because it was too close to my heart. But about three years after stepping down from the Head of the Department, I went part-time and suddenly had the balance back. It was amazing how the moment I had more time, my creativity came back. “
As advice for aspiring artists, Jo has one attribute she prizes above all others, “I’d say as an artist it’s about having integrity,” she says, “doing something that you care about and that means that it means something to you. I think it’s imperative not to be too influenced by trends or what other people are doing, and I think it’s tough when you’re first starting out, to have that feeling that you know what your voice is or what you’re about. It takes time, and it takes mistakes. And it’s a case of just keeping going and seeing where it goes. I suppose what’s important is doing something that means something to yourself and that you hope communicates well to others… and that they pick up on that unspoken thing.”
About the artist
After years of working as an educator, Jo Delafons shifted to creating stunning art. She creates ethereal pieces that defy gravity using the skills she learned in her embroidery degree and the inspiration she takes from her walks through her seaside town in Sussex.
Lockdown saw the emergence of yet another incredible body of work for Jo, in what she affectionately calls her Walk Boxes. Here, Jo shares a breath of fresh Sussex air with her following on social media, like sugar cube medicine for the soul. Her repeating cube form echoed the strict confines and routine predictability of empty calendar days that we can all relate to. In direct contrast with the expansive sense of freedom and wonder one experiences in nature.
Yet another testament to the reverence Jo has for nature and her gratitude for being able to live a creative life and share that with others. Just like the sea, life has many ups and downs, and Jo works to mirror this in her art.