If you’ve lived in Sheffield for a little while, you will probably have seen some of Jo Peel’s artwork on your travels. While primarily a painter and muralist, she also works with film and stop-motion animation to express ideas about urban decay and renewal.

Jo’s current exhibition runs at Millennium Gallery until 11 October, exploring parallels between Sheffield and Pittsburgh, two cities with roots in steel.

What got you started as an artist?

I can’t really remember ever not making artwork, but most of my art was just made in sketchbooks or channelled into other creative projects, until I moved to London from Cornwall and was spotted by Ric Blackshaw of Scrawl. He put a few of the screen prints I’d been working on in a gallery and they all sold. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some fantastic people who believe in me and over time it’s turned into a real job.

Tell us about your current exhibition.

The show is called Steel City, City on the Move and looks at the parallels between Pittsburgh and Sheffield. I’ve been fascinated for ages about the idea that the heritage of a place can affect the psyche of the people who live there and that the present personality of a city can be shaped by a parallel heritage.

I never usually include people in my artwork, but this exhibition has allowed me to experiment with a new medium, which is exciting. For the first time, I have been able to make a film, which focuses on the people using the spaces I paint and draw.

Why did you choose Pittsburgh as a city to compare and contrast with Sheffield?

There are lots of steel cities across the world and I would love to continue the research and visit them all. Pittsburgh jumped out as an obvious choice because of the fact that they are still so proud to describe themselves as a steel city.

What differences did you find between the two cities?

The one thing that really set the two cities apart was I think the national identity. American people – the ones that would talk to me, anyway – just seemed to have so much more confidence when talking about their lives and their city, especially when on camera. A lot of the time the points that the people were making were the same, but the delivery was where the difference existed.

The themes of demolition/dilapidation and construction/rejuvenation are central to your work. Why?

I think that cities have personality and that architecture tells the story of change and how communities engage with and are shaped with their environment. Demolition and construction are the life and death cycles of a city, a work in progress. The crane is made purely for function, but in my opinion ends up being quite beautiful, carrying huge weights above scaffolding which covers the next big development, which will soon be a new part of the daily landscape.

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You’ve done a few stop-motion animations, where walls appear to paint themselves. They look like they would take a while to plan and produce. How do you go about it?

I always start with a story that I map out, usually quite abstractly, as I don’t have a really strict storyboard or anything. I like to be influenced by what’s around me as I paint. When I get to the wall, I just start painting and capturing each frame with a camera. It’s an intense process – a three-minute animation can take three weeks to produce – but I really enjoy being so immersed in a project.

Good advice you wish you’d been told earlier?

Don’t listen to what other people say about your work (unless it’s nice, then you should say thank you!)

Steel City, City on the Move runs at Millennium Gallery until 11 October.

jopeel.com

Sam Walby