Interview with... 'Big Jeff' Johns

Job: Artist
Time in Bristol: nearly 19 years
Favourite place in Bristol: Most of my favourite places in bristol are places you can go for gigs – the Louisiana, the Trinity Centre and the Exchange

I’m an artist and avid music fan! I’ve been described as ‘Bristol’s most prolific gig-goer’, ie I have a massive gig-going addiction! I create work that is self-expressive. Art for me is about expressing emotions I can’t explain in another way. My paintings highlight my issues with barriers and hidden anxiety and mental health. I use art as a way of expressing things that aren’t always easy to discuss.

I’ve explored all different forms of artwork, from oil painting to stop motion animation. I’ve been involved with several arts groups, including Art + Power for 10 years, which is a learning disability group based in Bristol. I volunteered with Dancevoice for three years and I enjoyed helping other people feel good through movement therapy. 

I’m currently a member of Art in Motion – a not-for-profit participatory arts organisation in Bristol which provides opportunities for artists with learning disabilities. Art in Motion was started in 2015 with several of the artists I have worked with. We have exhibited at Spike Island, the Arnolfini and a European project with artists in Madrid and Cork resulting in an exhibition in the Crawford Gallery and other venues in Cork.

My paintings highlight my issues with barriers and hidden anxiety and
mental health. I use art as a way of expressing things that aren’t always
easy to discuss – ‘Big Jeff’

I’ve made three imaginative films with Bigger House Films – a company that makes films with, and for, people with learning disabilities. Together we attended the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2017 and Sheffield Docfest in 2018 and 2019. We were in the process of creating my next film when Covid struck. With Bigger House, I have taken part in several online conferences on disability and the arts and I have taken part in a presentation at Reading University. 

Welcome to my World

My upcoming exhibition is entitled ‘Welcome to my World’ as I feel there is a side to me that not many people know about. People see me dancing at gigs – the public version of ‘Big Jeff’ – but these creations reflect a private version of myself. Internally, I sometimes feel completely differently to how I might appear on the outside. 

We’ve been working with a few charities on the exhibition: I will be creating an art piece with Off the Record (a mental health service); Big Buddies will be getting involved with a special private viewing; Talk Club (a men’s mental health charity) is also coming down for a session; and Running Punks will be selling copies of the Big Issue down by the door as you come in.

It has been great to see how much support there is for people like myself, and, hopefully through this exhibition, I will be able to show people there is support out there. We plan to eventually take the exhibition on tour. Details to follow!

Signed Limited Edition prints of 25 and unlimited unsigned prints of each piece will be available to buy via ‘Big Jeff’ Johns’ website

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