Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide
Arts: Leeds-based sculptor Jill McKnight
Leeds-based artist Jill McKnight is one of 40 recipients of an award from the Henry Moore Foundation. She speaks to Yvette Huddleston about her work.
Last month in response to the Covid-19 crisis the Henry Moore Foundation announced that it had allocated more than £60,000 of funding to award grants to 40 artists across the UK to help them through this difficult time.
For Leeds-based sculptor Jill McKnight, the news that she was one of the recipients was totally unexpected but very welcome. “We were nominated by professionals in the art world, so it was a complete surprise to me to receive the email about the award,” she says. “It is really lovely and so encouraging. It has been such a hard time for everyone but within the arts sector in particular.”
After having projects and exhibitions postponed due to the pandemic, McKnight says that receiving the grant has been very motivating. “It’s allowed me to be ambitious and to experiment a bit. I have been inspired to work with new materials and try out new ideas. It is so encouraging to have the support of such a prestigious institution.”
Originally from Sunderland in the North-East, McKnight was always interested in drawing and painting as a child and, with encouragement from “a really good art teacher at secondary school”, she realised from an early age that she wanted to pursue a career in visual arts. She went on to study at Goldsmiths in London, graduating in 2013, after which she spent a couple of years in the capital combining her own arts practice with working in galleries.
“At university I had friends who had studied at Leeds College of Art and many of them were moving back there to live. Lots of interesting things were happening in galleries in Yorkshire and it seemed like an affordable and exciting place to work as an artist.”
In 2015 she made the move to
Leeds, finding a studio and quickly establishing herself in the city.
She has been impressed by the vibrant and nurturing visual arts scene in Yorkshire. “There are brilliant exhibitions that are really inspiring and the institutions are so supportive. Places like the Tetley, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Henry Moore Institute all take an active interest in artists working in the area. I have artist friends in other cities where there is a bit of a disconnect between the galleries and local artists. Curators here really make an effort to find out what’s going on locally.”
Last year McKnight was one of five local associate artists with Yorkshire Sculpture International (YSI), the UK’s largest dedicated sculpture festival, a collaboration between the Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery, the Henry Moore Institute and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The YSI launched a digital online sculpture network during lockdown to keep artists connected. “It’s been really helpful to have those conversations with other artists in the region, especially now,” says McKnight.
She is a great admirer of Henry Moore as an artist and feels an affinity with his connection, as a miner’s son from Castleford, to the industrial heritage of the North, something she also explores in her own work. “My family all worked in shipbuilding and I am interested in how sculpture is a hands-on form of working; I see comparisons with my dad working in the shipyards.” Themes she returns to in her work include labour in a post-industrial world, authenticity, inherited ancestral wisdom and the home as a site of production. “Those are things I want to record,” she says. “I like the way in which art can capture stories that might otherwise be lost or remain hidden.”