Favourite woman artist and why/how has she/her art or life inspired you?
There are too many to name. Currently, Jade Fadojutimi and Joan Synder. Both of their recent shows were exciting, intense and powerful.
I do have a thing for Niki de Saint Phalle. Partly, it's the psychedelic abandon that excites me, the refusal to conform to boundaries of good taste. The level of anxiety that her work deals with and evokes is fascinating. I think you can see exuberance but her work is highly ambiguous. I like how hard it is to categorize, and that by some, she is considered a marginal figure. She said "I tend to paint things I am terrified of". I see that. She confronted desires, fears, everything; many levels of human experience.
Most recently, Hilma af Klint's work intrigues me, although that might seem a clichéd thing to state, since so many people are now drawn in to her world. I first encountered her work at the Serpentine Gallery retrospective Painting the Unseen, in 2016. A lot has been written about her and her work since, but what struck me immediately was how contemporary her exploration seems, and also, the fearless commitment to it.
I saw the retrospective of Agnes Martin's work at Tate Modern in 2015. I had never really seen her work before, or known much about it. That show has left an indelible and lasting impression on me. I think that, more than anything, what seemed to come across, apart from the bare stark poetry of the work, is a powerful belief in the path taken, often against all odds.
When did you first discover art? and when did you realise that you wanted to pursue it professionally?
I am not sure I discovered art, so much as stumbled upon it. As children, we just paint and make stuff. As time went on, I remember persuading my mum, who had zero interest in art, to take me to galleries to see art, and I recall forcing her to buy me these art books. I think I still have them. One is on Modernist painting, the other a huge tome on Renaissance art. I must have been nine or ten years old then. My interest only grew and felt a bit like a nerdy obsession. I had no idea anybody else shared my fascination.
Can you tell me a bit about you/your background? (eg where are you from/based? What has your educational path been like or are you self-taught?)
I am from the suburbs of London. Neither of my parents are English. My father is Austrian, my mother is Spanish. I think this led to a feeling of being both isolated from and intensely critical of what was surrounding me. Suburbia also led me to spend many hours alone, drawing and reading. I found the intense boredom of nothing to do made me create my own fantasy worlds. I now realise that suburbia is both a milieu and a condition or state of Englishness. I think I was naive about that, but it instilled in me a sense of horror of so many hours to be filled, often with television and drinks parties with parents' friends. In a way, I suppose I rebelled against that.
My mother was or is a pianist. Music was a major part of my life. I played the violin, played in orchestras, played concertos with her accompanying me. That rigour and having to practise every day was probably something that helped, when it came to painting. You have a self-discipline.
On the other hand, my dad was a top chef. He used to take me around the casinos in central London, because he was head of all of the kitchens. Children were banned. I would have to hide behind curtains, sometimes underneath tables. I watched. It was another world. I took it in. So, I knew this other world existed, and it was as far removed from suburbia as possible.
I did my BA in Fine Art at Central St.Martin's, which was ghastly in some ways, but toughened me up in other ways that were, possibly, useful later on. I then completed my Postgraduate Diploma and MA at Chelsea College, which was an experience that pushed me to really consider what I was doing. I had to let go of a lot of detritus, a lot of influences, a lot of stuff that, ultimately, did not really hold my interest.
So you’ve mentioned that you founded an all female art collective called LaLa. Can you tell me more about it? (Why did you found it? Who came up with the idea? Who else is involved? What are your goals? )
I founded the LaLa Collective in June 2018 with the artist Paige Perkins. We have some shared interests. We discussed starting an all-female art collective in my studio in Hackney Wick. Very rapidly, the conversation became intense and quick-fire. We take as our figureheads the Modernist artist and writer Mina Loy and the visual artist Viola Frey. They were influential, but have disappeared in to a strange cul-de-sac. They are probably there now, sipping tea and arguing; a place where quite a few female artists seem to end up, once dead. So, they represent that idea of slipping into obscurity or already being sidelined, somehow.
LaLa sounds like a child singing. This is deliberate. We also wanted to evoke a sound that is a bit like Dada, but more feminine.
We have collaborated or exhibited with some of the other exceptional international artists in the collective before. They are Ulli Knall, who now lives and works in Austria, Christiane Bergelt, who lives and works in Germany, Doireann Ni Ghrioghair, who lives and works in Ireland.
We have constructed, written, pieced together an exhibition proposal for the collective called La La La La La.....We are excited about where this might take us. We may ask other artists to join at a later stage.
What themes or ideas do you explore in your work?
Currently, I am making a whole series of paintings, exploring the unseen world made visible. As a starting point, an alter ego named Juana Ana de Bonbon (part saint, part child, part medium) is instinctively mark-making. She is of her time (eighteenth century) and of her place (Mallorca, in particular, where my mother is from). This allows me a freedom to be something 'other' than myself; to call upon images, instincts, experiences that I do not believe to be completely my own. I find some of the paintings surprising. They are not what I would have expected to make. This creates a sense of anxiety, but also of urgency. I am interested in the poetic; the metaphorical; not the concrete. This is one way of exploring that world of associations, some of them also culled from poetry by Mina Loy, in particular from The Lost Lunar Baedeker.
What is your process like? (Do you do a lot of research? Do you favour an intuitive approach? Do you do a lot of preparatory studies? Do you use photography/digital media? Do you concentrate on just one piece or do you work on several at the same time? How long do you spend working on each piece?)
My process is very intuitive. I often start by using images, sometimes cut out of magazines. I also cut out hand-printed Chiyogami Japanese paper and paper I have painted myself. This paper is often moved about on the canvas. Then, it is pasted on to the canvas; then painted over. Sometimes, I start with an idea, sometimes not. An image often 'becomes' out of a process of accident, alchemy and chance. There are many layers to my paintings, some of them buried. Sometimes, I totally repaint a painting, but what is underneath is important. I do not want to remove it. Maybe a tiny hint of colour peeps through, or a pattern from collaged paper.
Often, word associations play a part. Sometimes, I will start with a couple of words or a line of poetry. I write a lot, so this could be from my own writing. The associative power of those words is echoed by the process. So, for example, years ago, I made a painting, which took as its starting point the opening line of the poem in 'Ariel', by Sylvia Plath; Words 'Like axes, after whose stroke the wood rings, And the echoes!' I cut in to the plywood surface of the painting. T'he marks, the performative gesture of swinging the axe and cutting, the motion, the word associations, all came together. I also make performances, which sometimes confront historical ideas about painting and about poetry.
There are often hidden autobiographical references in my paintings. These are sometimes attached to a separate character, archetype or alter ego, such as in a painting I made called 'Havisham'. Not giving the game away is part of the trick. I do not necessarily want the images to be immediately legible, or to make sense to a viewer.
Could you name a book you would recommend to every artist? (Not necessarily art-related) And why?
Samuel Beckett's Endgame, Sylvia Plath's Ariel, Emily Dickinson Selected Poems and Mina Loy The Lost Lunar Baedeker. Also, William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up? Where/when?
I am working on various curatorial projects at the moment, collaborating on them, including a potential painting show, which I would co-curate, and the LaLa Collective show. I co-curated an Arts Council funded exhibition last year with Ben Westley-Clarke called Frivolous Convulsions at Turf Projects. I have done quite a few performances, and curated live art events. For the Turf Projects show, there was a performance element, and I commissioned the now eighty something year old Stuart Brisley to create a seven hour durational performance for the show.
A couple of upcoming exhibitions of my work are currently in discussion. A recent painting of mine was exhibited in the Creekside Open, selected by Brian Griffiths in June. Also, I was recently shortlisted for the Mother Art Prize. The exhibition of the twenty shortlisted artists' work was at Mimosa House, Mayfair in May. It was an exciting show to be part of, with some truly exceptional artists in it. This was curated by Laura Smith (curator, Whitechapel Gallery), Elizabeth Neilson, (Director, Zabludowicz Collection) and Marcelle Joseph (independent curator, collector and founding director of Marcelle Joseph Projects) and organised by Procreate Project's founders, the pioneering Paola Lucente and Dyana Gravina.
Links for LaLa Collective Members: