Jill Smith: Writer, Artist, Performer – Ritual Walks and Sacred Journeys

Jill Smith

Tuesday 16 May, 2023 – 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Yudowitz Room Woolfson Medical Building University of Glasgow University Avenue G128QQ

Creative Writing, University of Glasgow co-hosting with From Glasgow to Saturn

Life, Performance, Journeys, Art

A performance of Jane Goldman’s poem ‘The Manifestations of The Obsessions and Fantasies of Bruce Lacey and Jill Bruce is a Solo Exhibition by Bruce Lacey’, followed by an artist’s talk and presentation by Jill Smith based on her book The Gypsy Switch and Other Ritual Journeys, which details all of Smith’s performance, artwork and journeys since the 1960s.

Jill Smith Biography

Born in London, Jill trained as an actress at RADA, and was later known as Jill Bruce. In the 1970s and early 1980s, she was a Performance Artist in partnership with the late Bruce Lacey. For five years they received funding from the then Arts Council of Great Britain.

Evolving through science fantasy and alchemy, the performances were spectacular, largely outdoor, ceremonial, ritual celebrations of the turning cycles of earth and cosmos.

Jill evolved her wonderful costumes as a form of living sculpture, wearing them to evoke the spirits and energies of the elements and forces she was honouring.

The performances were at venues all over Britain: at fairs, festivals, art centres, colleges, art galleries; and alone at ancient sites – the documentation of these being later exhibited with installation and Performance at major exhibitions, including two at the Acme Gallery and one at the Serpentine.

Moving to an old farm in Norfolk and living the real cycles of nature for the first time, Jill realised that her Performances had been a self-initiation into her woman-magic and deep Goddess spirituality, and she received further profound teachings from all aspects of the natural environment.

Known once again as ‘Smith’, she gave up the Performance and went off on her own into the sacred landscape of Britain – for days on end in all weathers and at all times of year – receiving more teachings from the Ancestors and Grandmothers whose spirit still inhabits the long barrows, cairns, wells, springs, stone circles, mounds etc of this ancient land.

She made several lengthy landscape journeys, including “Awakening” in 1982 from Lands End to the Hebrides and “The Gipsy Switch” – a year-long journey around England, Wales and Ireland in 1984-85.

An Arts Council Performers Training Bursary enabled her to visit Australia in 1984, including a month spent at Uluru which profoundly clarified her understanding of the inter-relatedness of cosmos, human and earth and the patterns they interweave together.

She moved to settle for ten years in Gravir, Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, where she honoured the turning cycles at the ancient sites and sacred landscapes of those magical islands. The Ancestors of these places honoured her with an even deeper understanding of the integration of past, present and future.

This high spiritual experience was mellowed by the day-to-day, year-by-year tasks of turfing, cutting, drying and getting home the peats for her winter fires; continual red-and-grey-oxide painting of her corrugated roof and walls; living the cycles of dark and light with no electricity; surviving the gale-force, storm force and sometimes hurricane-force winds; keeping a neighbour’s sheep off her saplings and vegetables (largely unsuccessfully!) and home-educating her youngest child.

Here she developed her pastel art-work and poetry, exhibiting each summer in her own beautiful hall and taking part in local Craft Fairs, as well as occasionally touring Scotland and England with her slide-shows.

In 1996 she moved from the Islands to Glastonbury in Somerset; needing electricity for a while, less of a physical struggle, a time to pause, reflect and digest the experiences of the previous 15-20 years, and to write her (so far) two books.

Glastonbury had always felt like her ‘second home’, spiritually linked to the Islands, and a place to gain a perspective on life’s journeys.

Here she held many of her own exhibitions and slide shows, as well as exhibiting annually as part of The Goddess Conference and in the Somerset Art Week.

The Hebrides, however, remained her spiritual and heart home; much of her work still involving the ancient sites and sacred landscapes of the Islands, and now the time has come and she has returned to the Isle of Lewis.

Jill is the mother to a Water, an Earth, a Fire and an Air and grandmother to Hazel, Alice, George, Alfie and Rachel.

Image: Jill Smith with Sleeping Beauty Mountain on the Isle of Lewis

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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