BETHAN JAYNE is an artist and founding member of Round Lemon. Her work uses the motifs of comedy, naivety and surrealist humour, presented through performance, paint and plaster of paris. Jayne’s work captures the essence of commedia dell’arte - the Italian form of outdoor play in which improvised dialogue is crafted around the scaffolding of a familiar plot. Allowing actors to make sly comments and bawdy jokes that would otherwise be censored. But also, don’t take it all that seriously, sometimes things are simply as they seem and in Jayne’s work it would not be out of place to see a teletubby in a conga line with Alison Hammond, in fact you can see that if you head to @bethan.jayne_ right now… Or maybe after you read this interview, promise it’s a good one.
Q: Hi Bethan. Looking at your work you seem to be playing with artist jokes and comedy quite a bit. Would you be able to talk a little about your personal relationship with humour?
Let me take you back about 16 years. I was about 5, maybe 6, and my mom took me to a Cancer Research charity shop in Lichfield on Market Street. She picked up a copy of The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer complete box set on VHS and bought it for me. I don't know why, and I have honestly never asked her, but it became one of my favourite possessions. I remember sitting up against the TV, watching and memorising all of the jokes. I can't even watch it now without repeating every line Vic and Bob say, and if I don't know the line don't worry, I own the book which contains the script of the first series. This love of comedy never really stopped. My favourite film of all time is Drop Dead Fred, I binge watched Rik Mayall TV shows (Bottom, The Young Ones and Filthy, Rich and Catflap) on my study leave for my GCSE's, I listen to comedy music alot (Tim Minchin, Bo Burnham, The Midnight Beast, The Lonely Island), I love going to live comedy shows. Vic and Bob will always be my first loves though. I have managed to somehow see them live every year since I was 15, you can even see me in the audience of some of their newer TV shows! My life kind of revolves around comedy, but I did not realise just how much until I started writing this interview.
Q: I love Vic and Bob, I think that's a great influence to have had at a young age. The sense of performance has obviously had a big impact on your work and I can see how the comedians you mention all have a really good kind of goofiness and underlying surrealism too. Do you feel like art can take itself too seriously?
Yes, definitely. I once told another artist that I wasn't serious about my work and they got very concerned that I was not taking my work seriously, but to me they are completely different things. I take my work seriously in the fact that I believe in myself as an artist and the pieces that I make but I don't think too much about the deeper meaning of things. If you as the viewer want to look at the painting about me falling in to a yoghurt and say that it is about consumerism or the dangers of dairy consumption (supposedly if you have too much then Ant and Dec will appear and terrorise you), then please feel free to. But to me, it's just me falling into a yoghurt and nothing more. My work is probably not going to change the world and that's not what I'm trying to do. I am just here to hopefully make someone laugh.
Q: There’s a sense of warmth and openness to not taking things too seriously. The things you make kind of become someone else’s once you’ve made them, through whatever they might want to see in it. Do you think that you are drawn towards particular materials because of this sense of playfulness?
In terms of material, there are kind of three main areas I work in. Painting is something I have done ever since I began my creative journey and I remember being taught to use acrylic paints at school. It's a material I always go back to because I know I can use it and it's just there. Sculpture, particularly papier mache and plaster of paris, is something I find myself constantly returning to. I love the playfulness of it, the way it works, the control but also lack of which I have over it. I have a slight preference when it comes to plaster of paris. It dries quickly and so I can move on to the next step quicker. That speed and ability to work quickly keeps me on my toes, which is good because I usually have lots of ideas in my head that I don't want to wait to make. Video is also something I work in from time to time. I say I work in video, but it tends to be something which no one ever sees because I tend to doubt how funny I am. I think that I find myself funnier than anyone else does!
Q: Your papier-mache masks remind me of the history of touring entertainment and open air plays. Kind of like classic Shakespearean character archetypes and also punch and judy style pop up tents. Is that something you’re consciously thinking about?
I don’t think that’s something I’ve ever thought about consciously, although many may say that the quality and depth of my work puts it on the same level as Shakespeare. Schools used to teach about Macbeth, but now they tell the story of how I travelled through my wardrobe and ended up on the set of Eastenders.
Q: Well, speaking of Eastenders! I wanted to ask you your thoughts on community? Both specific communities like that in soaps which are tied to locations and also more the nebulous, abstract kind.
Eastenders really makes me think of my art collective, Round Lemon. Round Lemon is just like Eastenders, minus the murders, affairs and general despair that you get from watching it. Community is something which is very important to me, and Round Lemon came at a time where community did not really seem possible. Myself, Carmela Vienna, Andreea Pislaru, and Ryan 'Dyson' Asbury created it at the start of the pandemic due to frustration over the lack of opportunities we could access and the lack of community we felt due to the closure of our art school. We were stuck in our homes feeling quite distant and decided to create a place which not only championed the emerging creative but also created a place to come together. It began entirely online, but we now thrive on creating a hybrid of online and physical to allow it to be accessed by everyone. I love the idea of being able to connect with creatives from across the world and provide as many people as possible with free opportunities, which is what we have done.
Q: It’s great to have formalised artist-led stuff in the cultural ecosystem. What advice would you give to any artists who might want to go ahead and build something similar in their own area?
Are you asking me to give up all of my secrets?! It's weird because it has been such a learning curve for all of us and it was never something we could really prepare for. If you want to start a group similar to Round Lemon, I think it is important to do it with people who you get on with and trust. Without that, it is never going to work. You are going to spend a lot of time having meetings with these people so you have to at least like them. I have gotten to work with some of my most wonderful friends, and I am so lucky in that respect.
There are a few things I wish I had known before starting the collective, which I think everyone else should know:
It is going to take a lot of your time. We started out doing this during our degrees in the pandemic with a lot of time, now we all have so much going on. I work full time and Round Lemon, alongside being a creative, takes up most of my free time. I love doing it so much, but I don't think any of us were truly prepared for how much energy it would take.
You will have to get used to doing work for free. We were not paid for at least the first year, and even now it is not consistent. There have been some amazing opportunities given to us because of the collective and I feel incredibly lucky for it. But, if you are thinking of starting a group similar, you have to really be passionate about it.
It is so important to be open minded. You are going to disagree on things - that just comes with working in a group. Listen to what everyone has to say and if they don't like your idea, don't take it to heart.
Enjoy it! This is what I struggle with the most because you put so much time and energy into something and it does not always play out how you want it to. Be proud of what you have achieved.
Q: Thank you for being so gracious with your secrets. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about any thinkers, artists or people generally that have influenced your perception of community and working classness?
The idea of the working class is something which I think is always so looked down upon. But I think despite all the bad things that come with being working class, like worrying about money and the way people perceive me, I think it’s made me more generous and appreciative of what I have. Being working class has never held me back, and I’ve never been particularly resentful about it. It’s why I gravitate towards papier-mâché: it’s cheap and easy to get hold of. I honestly think that the biggest influence has been the Working Class Creatives Database, as cheesy as it may sound. Joining the group was the first time I really consciously thought about being a working class artist and what it actually means to be one. How it’s always going to be slightly harder to break into the industry. How I had to save up to buy my first ‘posh paints’ (Wallace Seymour). But then I think it makes it all the better when you succeed because you can really see the work you’ve put in.
Q: I feel like you’re describing the generosity of working class communities and the sense of achievement around successfully creating/making work. Ok last question, if money and time were no object what would you make?
If money and time was no object, I think I would make an entire reconstruction of Crinkley Bottom (also known as Blobbyland) but it would also feature life size sculptures of my paintings of my real life events as a new attraction. There would even be long legged Noel Edmonds, but he would be about 10ft tall sat on a large toadstool. I am sure people from across the country would flock to see it. Maybe I’ll even do meet and greets with Mr Blobby.
Sounds like the dream.
Check out more of Bethan’s work [here] and [here]
To see more about Round Lemon you can go [here]