Received Wisdom x Rachel Jefferson

This blog post was written in April 2020 amidst the peak of COVID-19.

Following on from the Arts Council Collection x University of Sunderland School of Art and Design Instagram Takeover (13-19 April 2020), Artist Rachel Jefferson introduces her creative practice, responding to John Newling’s work ‘Value; Coin, Note and Eclipse’ (featured in Sunderland Museum & Winter Garden’s Received Wisdom exhibition), and reflecting on the climate in which we are currently living.


I am an artist from Sunderland currently studying for my masters degree in Fine Art at the University of Sunderland. My recent work explores endangered wildlife and environmental damage – themes that have been highlighted as a result of the global lockdown measures. I use a mixture of coloured and metallic ink to create paintings that put endangered and extinct species at the forefront. My aim is to draw attention to the preciousness of these animals’ existence – an existence that, with continued human interference, will be reduced to only pictures and memories.

Rachel Jefferson, Northern White Rhino, 2020, Ink on paper, 150 x 85cm. Courtesy of the artist.

When I visited the Received Wisdom exhibition, I was most drawn to John Newling’s pressed and gilded Jersey kale plants. His way of using the natural world to represent the economic system, reminded me of the destruction happening in the Sumatran rainforest. This inspired me to paint a Sumatran Orangutan as it is an animal which has become critically endangered due to its habitat being torn down for palm oil.

John Newlings, Value; Coin, Note and Eclipse (detail), 2011-12, Pressed and gilded Jersey Kale plants, 78 x 60 cm each. Courtesy of the artist and Arts Council Collection. Photo: Colin Davison.

Rachel Jefferson, Sumatran Orangutan, 2020, Ink on paper, 56 x 76 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Recently we have all been forced to stay indoors due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Something of notable significance, which has arisen from the Lockdown restrictions has been the abundant return of wildlife, such as lesser seen birds, wild boars roaming Venice, and lions sleeping on main roads in Africa. Perhaps this pandemic will help us learn that we should care for each other and to strive to conserve wildlife before it is driven away once again.

These restrictions have made life difficult for all of us, but social media is allowing us to continue through these challenging times. Throughout the lockdown, I have seen others re-exploring their creative hobbies which they once had no time for. I have also seen people caring for each other more and helping those in need, and even though we are distanced from one another we have all become more connected than we have been in a long time.

There have also been some who have taken advantage of this situation by showing their greed and disregard for others who are less fortunate, but luckily the good is outweighing the bad. These times will be remembered as a point in history, where strangers across the world, worked together to overcome a global pandemic.


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