Featured Artist: Jo Howe

Clare Kendal Bate recently interviewed artist Jo Howe at the Trestle Art Base in St Albans.  She was busy hanging work for her current exhibition, called ‘Echoes of Fragrant Voices’, which runs until the 7th February 2014.

JO HOWE - Mixed Media 2d & 3d Artist

Jo Howe

Jo is a paper/book artist, using antiquarian books and a surgical grade scalpel (10a for those interested) to create wry and original work. The cuts, folds and rolls of the literary components are meticulous and her 3D work has a strong sculptural quality. Jo slices out the characters with lines and curves to highlight others, thus giving new meanings to the text.  ‘I consider the aesthetic quality of text and relevance of the book’s title to reconstruct the narrative to the one originally imagined. However, the essence of the book is still contained within.’  

'A Delicate Subject'

A piece in 3D called ‘A Delicate Subject’ is an excellent example of this. Every other cut extrudes, with tiny strands of paper floating and hovering independently; finding their own direction. The remaining fixed cuts create a see through effect from the folded back page. I am very impressed by the scores of painstakingly executed minuscule filaments Jo created. I asked how long the work took to complete and which particular book the page had been taken from. ‘It took quite a while in this case, because if one cut went awry, then the whole work would have to be started anew. As far as the subject matter of the books I use; I generally don’t like to divulge titles as I want the narrative of the piece to be personal to the viewer. I will say, though, that my favourite subject matter is psychology’.  

Jo was born in Perivale, a suburb of Ealing. Around 32 years ago the family made the move to St Albans to be near to an elderly relative. Unfortunately, within two years of the move her father sadly passed away, when Jo was only 13. I was interested to know what other careers Jo may have had before becoming fully committed to her art. ‘When I left school I worked in a bank for a few years, but I did get very bored and left to co-manage a pub. Later I was a local non emergency ambulance driver for about 4 or 5 years, which was a job I absolutely loved.  I also worked in a family travel business and drove coaches for a while. Although that company no longer exists, I still do the morning school run.’

At the age of 30, Jo enrolled on a one year Access course called Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design).  ‘I thoroughly enjoyed the foundation course as it gave me permission to experiment in different art forms to find my personal direction.’ Then Jo signed up for a three year BA Graphic Design course at the University of Hertfordshire, for which she gained First Class Honours. This was closely followed by an MA in Graphic Communication for a year, for which Jo was awarded a distinction. ‘Alan Peacock was the project leader on the MA and I found him inspirational; he helped me enormously. He taught me that the process is important and by not putting full stop in your work, there is never the end, just a pause.’

I asked Jo which artists have inspired her; ‘I love the work of the English artist, Tom Phillips. In particular his piece called The Humument’. There is also an American artist called Brian Dettmer. His book sculptures and animations are extraordinary. I am fascinated by the installation art of Tim Noble and Sue Webster, who collaborate together. I saw their work at an exhibition in London’.

Other work on show at the Trestle Arts Base that I found particularly engaging was the ‘I Bait Tit for Tat’ series. I wondered how the collection gained its name. ‘The title of this series came from the first letter illuminations on the pages I used. They spell out ‘I Bait Tit for Tat.’ When I am creating the cut pages, I purposely don’t read them beforehand. I think I can describe the process of scanning the text for my inspiration as almost trancelike. It always makes me smile as the alternative narrative reveals itself.’       

I particularly liked three works in the series numbered 1, 6 and 10

no 1:
'In the shed
secluded, was the
greatest artist of
this age’. 

no 6: 
The most examples
of self-elevation on record,
strikingly is intended in
honest largeness quence’

no 10:
‘Pop. Alexander
has been questioning
poetry. Pop revolution.’

I love the abundant enthusiasm and dedication Jo shows for her work and we chat about her passion for timeworn books.  ‘I love the look and feel of old editions; each page has a distinct and individual quality, with unique physical imperfections and aromas. They bare the marks and echoes of all the people who have owned and read the book during its lifetime. Lots of people ask me if I ever use first editions. And the answer would be never! I get a thrill from taking old books and giving them a new life and a fresh narrative’.

Jo was kind enough to show me images of her other work and I also visited her website http://howeunique.co.uk/portfolio/ to see more. I loved the fantastically intricate and sculptural work called ‘Shall we know one another’. The front cover is carved out to reveal the beautiful swirling patterns of cut pages beneath.

'Shall we know one another'


Two other pieces also caught my eye; A rolled page sculpture called ‘Arrrghhh’ and an unusual work called ‘Blue Moon’; the material used and title of which I thought funny and inventive – it was cleverly constructed from tampons.

'Blue Moon'

Teaching and other connections:

At the University of Hertfordshire Jo tutored Research Methodology and digital animation workshops on courses related to Hyperfictions, an area she studied on her MA.

In 2008 she became a Fellow of the Digswell Arts Trust in Welwyn and was invited to be their Trustee last year. ‘The Trust is a charity and, via its various sites in Letchworth, Stevenage and Welwyn, emerging artists can rent an affordable space for up to 5 years. It is wonderful to have access to facilities and to be able to work around other artists.’

Jo is involved in school projects and runs arts awards courses for children with special needs. ‘I co run the Funky Pie Company in special needs schools all over Hertfordshire. We are a group of artists from various disciplines across the arts, who love to share our skills and enthusiasm. The children on our courses range from severely disabled to autistic and they all take part, no matter what. We give every individual a voice and the ability to communicate.’   A wide variety of Jo’s skills are utilized on the courses including stop motion and digital animation, photography, mark making and creative journaling.  The company is supported by the Hertfordshire Music Service. http://thefunkypiecompany.co.uk/about/


Jo has been exhibiting her art all over the country since 2006. For a second year she has been invited to exhibit at an event called ‘Turn the Page’, which will be held in Norwich on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd May 2014. This is an artists' book fair and selling platform for those creating work that is inspired by the structural and conceptual properties of the book form.

In 2013, Jo had two works selected for East Contemporary Art: A collection of 21st Century Practice housed in UCS Ipswich "The East Contemporary Art Collection is home to some of the very best contemporary art held in East Anglia. It provides a gateway for anyone who wishes to see some of the finest examples of work by artists of national and international importance living and working in the East of England today." 

As already mentioned, Jo is showing some of her work at the Trestle Arts Base until 7 February 2014.  If you would like to commission a piece, or keep up to date with Jo’s activities pay a visit to her website via the link below.

Mobile: 07884438671

Email:  jhowe0@gmail.com

Website:  http://howeunique.co.uk/