Justine Smith is a visual artist, creating collage, sculpture and prints. She grew up in Devon and Somerset before moving to London to work for her degree at The City and Guilds of London Art School. She has exhibited her work in galleries and museums internationally, with recent notable commissions including a sculpture to celebrate the 325th Anniversary of the Bank of England, a limited-edition Swatch Art Watch, and textile designs for Liberty X Nike. Her work is held in the permanent collections of The British Museum, The British Council, The British Library, The Bank of England, The Royal Mint Museum and the UK Government Art Collection, along with many international corporate and private collections.
We approached Justine to create a one-off masterwork piece and limited-edition print to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 95th birthday. Here she reflects on her creative process and inspirations for the pieces.
Hand-crafted from History
“I usually work with banknotes in some form in my work, but in this instance a different approach was required. In October 2019, I was able to visit The Royal Mint Museum, where I spent a great deal of time researching and reading about The Queen, as well as taking an extensive look at online images of coins and medals. The images and history of coins and medals at The Royal Mint is an incredibly rich source to draw upon for inspiration.
I looked at some early Elizabethan gold coins, called Angels. I liked their free, hand-drawn quality. I also studied the coins and medals struck during the reign of Queen Victoria, in addition to those of Elizabeth II. The coins of these female monarchs, each with exceptionally long and successful reigns, began to coalesce. The imagery on these coins mark a powerful statement of nationhood and power, yet they are simultaneously beautiful and quite often very feminine.
As I make a lot of collages, I began to think about the idea of deconstructing the images on a coin, and from that create a new work that would include an image of The Queen. After looking at several different portraits, I made a drawing of The Queen as she appears on the Machin Coronation Medal. I find it a poignant image; a semi-idealised portrait of a beautiful young woman, with a huge crown, the weight of the state and her future upon her. I then made further drawings of different elements from other coins that had classic national symbolism, such as the Tudor rose, shamrock and thistle, alongside lettering and heraldic symbols such as the lion.
As we almost always see The Queen in a formal role, I wanted to find a counterpoint with something more simplistic, human and humble. As part of my working practice, I collect and press a lot of plants. I like the idea of them being preserved at a particular moment in time, and how they are changed by that process as they get pressed into a different shape and dimension. I decided to include some wild native flowers, so added in the daffodils, to represent Wales, alongside the primroses, celandines, daisy and wild roses. The wild rose has a fallen petal to mark the passing of time. These drawings were then used to make the print edition and re-done a second time and cut out in gold leaf on paper to make the collage version.”
A Golden Touch
“The use of gold for me has a similar resonance to my use of banknotes in my work– it is a symbol of power, a store of wealth and a means of exchange – as well as being opulently beautiful. It serves as the ultimate embellishment and, in art history, a traditional medium for paintings of icons. ‘Icon’ is a term often over used, but in the case of Her Majesty, I think it is true to say she is one, so it is a huge honour to be asked to create these special works for her 95th birthday.”