Interview with Henry Jones: The one and only ArtOtter

Henry Jones is an artist and member of Artists for Brexit. He is known to his many followers on Twitter as ArtOtter (@LordOtter)

What path did you take to become an artist?

I have drawn and painted since childhood. My first foray into oils was enhancing (defacing) a portrait, commissioned by my grandparents, of my father. Art was the only subject at school in which I showed a modicum of talent, so naturally focused on that, eventually getting a place on the excellent and stimulating foundation course at Bath Academy of Art. From there I chose to pursue sculpture, and after three rejections from Chelsea, Brighton and Wolverhampton, ended up at Winchester School of Art where I was tutored, amongst others, by Cornelia Parker. I continued practising as an artist, organising shows with people who are now quite successful, and working from a studio, whilst making a decent living as a carpenter. This lead to a decline in making sculpture and a two decade career designing sets for TV and film until the winter of 2013/14 when for some reason I began to paint watercolour, and I have not stopped.

What media do you use to sell your art?

I began selling in 2014 on I’ve also sold a significant number through Twitter, perhaps owing to the engagement with people on the platform, building a bit of background as an artist. I sell through a gallery in Cologne and I’ve organised solo exhibitions as well as being in a number of group shows, including some at the Mall Galleries (RI Watercolour Open and Sunday Times Watercolour Comp). These small things add up.

In what way have political developments in recent years informed your work?

There is now, and for many people, an element of keeping quiet about political views if they in any way deviate from “sanctioned” ideas. I have deliberately rejected political influence, preferring my painting to suggest the mundane life of the everyman, their daily drudge. If you do make a statement, it should be done well. My friend Paul Brandford includes political characters in his painting without being political, successfully mocking with wit, everyone who might assume power over others. This a stark contrast to the on-message hand painted slogans of Bob and Roberta Smith.

How did you feel after the referendum result?

Elated. For the first time I felt that ordinary people had been asked a question, and, in spite of enormous pressure to vote remain, voted for what they felt was right. The snobbish attitude of those who would accuse anyone not in favour of the EU as a parochial racist appeared almost overnight after the vote, and brings to light a nasty side of so many we thought reasonable.

Have you found that being an artist but also a Brexit supporter has impacted you negatively in any way?

Yes, as with people in many other areas, from teaching to property development to hedge fund management, we feel we have to keep quiet if career progress and job opportunities are to be kept and made. I have encountered unexplained exclusion from social and career events because people know I voted to leave. The moral superiority presented by those who support the EU is as irrational as it is unjustified.

How do you feel about colleagues in the creative industry who feel unable to openly express that they voted to leave the EU?

I sympathise if there are financial implications but feel that the sinister 'groupthink'

inflicted on those of us who simply exercised our right to vote should be challenged.

There are fears about mobility, trade and funding in the arts sector once we leave the European Union. Do you share those fears and if not, what reassurance would you give to other artists?

No. This is another element of ‘Project Fear’. Any money donated to arts organisations by the EU is ultimately UK money funnelled through Brussels. Free trade is bigger than the EU, money and business succeeds in spite of political interference and often influences it through lobbying.

What opportunities will Brexit bring for the creative community?

Without the burden of EU interference opportunities will appear on a global level, with the UK able to present itself as a creative force. From fine art to online gaming technology we have a large talent base and a young generation ready to take the UK forward. There is also satisfaction in removing the behemoth of a burden which is the EU from our national decision making.

How do you think we can help to create a great post Brexit Britain?

We need to push confidence in what we have here in the UK. So much of the Remain argument has been irrational, emotional, lazy and negative. When asked for positive reasons to remain, I’m often given rather more selfish, arrogant reasons; that holidays will be more difficult, cleaners and builders will be more expensive and so on. We have in the UK a history as a global nation; creative, agile, tolerant and resourceful. Now is the time to build on this, and encourage our younger generation to take pride in their country, and engage with the world.

You can contact Artists for Brexit about purchasing ArtOtter's works.