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Stay at Home Comforts: Jo Peel

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Many readers will be familiar with Jo Peel's art. She's transformed numerous walls in Sheffield and across the world. Jo, who usually focuses on "scenes of urban decay and construction", spoke to Now Then about working and resting while Sheffield's streets have been subdued, as well as her creative contribution to the coronavirus response.

Hi Jo. How are you and what have you been up to today?

I'm good thanks. I spent this morning hanging out with my daughter in the garden and this afternoon I've been working on a new painting, after briefly popping into APG Works to check out colour swatches for a new screen print.

If you had to sum up your lockdown experience so far in one sentence, what would it be?

There's so much space and time, nature is beautiful, the birds are singing and I love my job - but I miss my friends.

Are you doing anything in particular to keep your spirits up?

I create work to keep my spirits up. It's nice to do it without the usual restrictions of time and money and to realise the true passion at the heart of it. That, and living in the moment with my daughter. She wakes up smiling and constantly amazes me with her joy for life.

Do you have any music, book, film or TV recommendations you'd like to share?

Well, I read Normal People by Sally Rooney pre-lockdown and loved it, so it was with trepidation that I watched the series - but I was blown away by it, a raw beauty.

Music-wise, I've been creating a playlist for dancing to in fields. It's pretty eclectic but I've been particularly enjoying the track "(Downtown) Dancing" by YACHT and I'm always a sucker for anything by M.I.A. I love a podcast and the latest one with Jerry Saltz on TalkArt is brilliant.

Is there a particular restaurant, cafe or pub you're missing, or a local delivery you've enjoyed?

I miss pubs! In Sheffield it would be The Rutland Arms or The Fat Cat and in London The Pride of Spitalfields. I also miss the cafes next to my studio: Kollective Kitchen and Tamper.

I've not really been getting deliveries as I'm enjoying cooking, but Bragazzis is open for groceries and ground coffee so it's always nice to pop down there. And Pronto Caldo on Abbeydale Road does amazing Italian food for delivery.

You donated your cut from sales of your No Place Like Home t-shirts to the Red Cross's coronavirus efforts. What inspired the design on the shirt?

As we're all spending loads more time at home, suddenly that environment becomes much more important and for some people that isn't necessarily a good thing. Tensions can flare and some people have no means to escape, some feel trapped and alone.

The design is based on a drawing of a building being pulled from its roots as a tree grows from the inside, almost trying to escape. A crane lifts the building away, uprooting it, and the caption reads "There's No Place Like Home" because for all of us, it's important to have a place where we feel safe and a place where we belong.

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As an artist who has worked in many different countries and who creates large-scale works that people can admire outside, what has working from home looked like for you? Have you still been able to find inspiration?

Initially I think I felt a little brain dead. It all seemed quite overwhelming so I just took some time out. Gradually my inspiration has come back and I've started some paintings from photographs taken around Sheffield during lockdown. It's weird - the subject of my work is eerily close to how the world is right now: empty streets with no people, nature reclaiming the spaces which are usually inhabited.

Have you had much connection with other artists in lockdown, as well as punters who would normally visit your shows and buy your work?

I've had a lot of chats with artist friends and it's gone on a similar trajectory for all of us. Initially: "What the f**k?!" Then, gradually: "Oh, this is OK, this is pretty normal, nice even. It's like we've been in training for this all our lives."

I mean, artists work alone most of the time and are pretty adaptable. The light inside is still on and as long as there's a way to scrape by financially we'll always be OK because we'd keep making work, with or without the money.

What's the first place in Sheffield you want to visit once lockdown is over?

Too many to choose from - but definitely a pub!

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