Hester Reeve

Senior lecturer, fine art

Hester Reeve is an artist based in Sheffield. Her work encompasses live art, philosophy, drawing and photography.

For the last 20 years she has been exhibited in venues around the world, ranging from Chicago and Vancouver to London and Hull. Before joining Sheffield Institute of Arts, she taught in various contexts, most notably in prisons.

Hester Reeve

When did you first realise you wanted to be an artist?

I was always very creatively involved with materials and the world. I remember a decisive moment when I was eleven, when a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. At that point I hadn't seen 'artist' as a professional career; I just knew it was something I was.

When I said, 'I don't know, I might be a nurse', she said, 'Don't you realise that the art you do is also something you can take as a professional career?'

I remember running home that day very excitedly to my mother and saying, 'Hey, guess what? I can actually be an artist forever.

You've spent time teaching art in prisons. How did that come about?

I was living in Lancaster, where I had just graduated from my masters in philosophy. I responded to a job advert looking for an art teacher and discovered the job was in HMP Lancaster Castle.

At the time the prison was based in an ancient castle in the middle of the city, which I'd always been fascinated by - the fact that it wasn't a tourist attraction; it had real people living inside. As an artist, I was excited to get inside and see what it was all about.

Working in a prison ended up being one of the best things I've ever done. It really taught me how to teach. You have to teach people why they might want to learn, before you teach them information, facts and skills. And to do that requires a human-to-human interaction that is fundamentally creative and about communication.

How do you approach your teaching here at the institute?

First and foremost, I am here as another artist. My long experience of making art, theorising art and questioning art is incredibly useful when working with the students, because those are the processes they are starting to develop themselves.

Of course, I teach practical skills, and how to write an essay, and presentation skills, but I am also here to engage and support the students in working out why they want to be an artist and what kind of artist they want to be.

I'm also very keen to experiment with different ways of teaching.

"First and foremost, I am here as another artist. My long experience of making art, theorising art and questioning art is incredibly useful when working with the students, because those are the processes they are starting to develop themselves."

How do you do that?

Well, on one hand I'm a great traditionalist - I really believe you need to stand in front of students and unpick a piece of writing or an artist's work.

But the other part of me wants to completely explode that and innovate. So, for example, with my art philosophy students I do a 24-hour lecture in a local gallery. For 24 hours they're not allowed to leave, and neither am I. As well as an academic experience, it's an art experience.

Last year, I gave a lecture at 1 in the morning, at the request of my students. That was an unusual (and giggly) lecture and discussion, but also quite profound.

Do you involve your students in your own art projects?

Yes. My students recently performed in my project Ymedaca, a one-day experimental academy which was the culmination of a two-year project at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

I needed a human archway to spell out Plato's phrase 'Let no one enter who doth not know geometry'. I knew they had to be young artists so I paid seven of my students to greet people with protest placards that spelt that out. They were also invited to the evening symposium with all the other artists.

The students get an awful lot out of seeing artists at work and watching us involved in our own research.

Photograph by Jonty Wilde

Ymedaca project

What do you think of Sheffield as a place to work?

Sheffield is the perfect place to work as an artist. I have a very busy life interacting with students and the intellectual community here at Sheffield Institute of Arts. But as a maker and a thinker I need to feel quiet. I need to be in my studio, I need to go for long walks in the country.

Sheffield allows me to have both. It's a big city with an incredible art department, wonderful local galleries and a big art community, but it's also surrounded by the countryside. I can feel private when I need to, in a way I couldn't in London, and that really helps me create.

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