Favourite woman artist and why/how has she/her art or life inspired you?
There are so many wonderful female painters, many of them my contemporaries, that it’s impossible for me to name a favourite. Anyway I was a dancer before I became a painter, so one of the most enduring female artists for me is the dancer/choreographer, Pina Bausch (d.2009) Her work looms large in my psyche: it’s dreamlike, uncanny, seductive, visceral, tender and cruel, humorous, surreal and absurd. The adjectives can give a sense of the style, but the only way to really appreciate it is to experience a performance by her company, Tanztheater Wuppertal. The pieces are full of surprising juxtapositions like a stage covered with soil or water, or flowers…an unusual mix of performers, old and young, some not even dancers but each with singular character.Unexpectedly, the performers will sometimes speak or sing fragments of song, which was unheard of before Pina Bausch pioneered a new mode of expression that she called Dance Theater. She was a radical and innovative choreographer who stuck to her vision even in the early days when audiences were booing her off the stage. Sometimes the scenes on stage might appear chaotic, yet somehow the works convey their own inner logic. I love the utter strangeness of it and not understanding on a rational level, but feeling something true inside. This might not be unusual now in contemporary dance, but in the early 1980’s it was astonishing to me. Pina Bausch had a deeply intuitive working method that began with a broad idea but no plan. Instead she asked her dancers loads of questions about their feelings and things connected with whatever the broad idea was, and then collaged ideas together as she went along. I also work without a plan, trying to distill something out of chaos.
Women globally are far less represented in galleries and museums than their male counterparts. Have you yourself found the art world difficult to navigate as a woman or have you come up against any particular obstacles and how did you deal with them? Do you support all-women shows etc..? Why/why not? Have you noticed any changes?
I have found the art world to be confounding and frustrating at times, although that could be true for anyone. The obstacles such as less representation in museums and galleries that you mentioned really do exist for women, despite higher numbers of females coming out of art schools. It’s insane really, and I think it’s even deeper and more nuanced, because women have internalized the gender disparity for so long that we often aren’t even aware when it’s happening. I have occasionally gotten a sense of a ‘boys network’ around some guys with bravado and a ‘clubby’ feeling among certain male artists that makes me as a female artist feel shut out. It’s not a nice feeling and makes me feel uncomfortably ‘less than’. Things are certainly improving now, and I’m a fan of all-women shows and initiatives. I’ve benefited from these, and was recently in an all-women show with New Art Projects at the London Art Fair. I’m also a member of a brand new international female art group called Lala Collective, and of course I’m talking about this right now thanks to Crow of Minerva! I believe positive discrimination is necessary to redress the balance so that a deep and lasting shift in human consciousness can take place.
When did you first discover art? and when did you realisethat you wanted to pursue it professionally?
My first memory of art was sitting on my grandmother’s lap and she drew a picture of a witch for me. It was like magic and I loved it. I did art classes off and on during school years but I was more into dance and had dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. In reality I’d started too late and was not very musical, so I switched from dance to painting at my liberal arts college, but it didn’t occur to me then that I could pursue a career as a professional artist– I thought it was what other people did! I remember feeling like I didn’t have much to say after college and didn’t really know what to do with it at that time. Besides I was living in Manhattan in the early 1980’s and was more interested in the nightlife and Studio 54 than anyart studio. It was ten years later, once I’d become a mother that I had a lightening bolt moment when I decided all at once that I was going to be an artist, no matter what. It was weird actually, but it was a very strong feeling. I stayed up most of that night drawing a self -portrait. It seems that once I’d become a mother I found plenty to say, and was connected to feelings that I’d previously avoided through drugs, alcohol and fast living in New York. Once I’d married and was living in the English countryside, I had some help with the childcare that allowed me some time for art even when my kids were very young. Now they’re all grown and I’m a professional artist. I feel very lucky.
What themes or ideas do you explore in your work?
I’m looking for enchantment and mystery in my work, maybe some lost childhood wonder, so I explore aspects of the Carnivalesque, where ‘normal’ life is upended and the borders between fantasy and reality, animal and human dissolve and absurdity rules. I’m fascinated by the ‘otherness’ of creatures and our relationship with them. We must have a relationship with them. Enchantment and unseen horror, the beautiful and the grotesque also figure in my work, I believe all things in nature have spirit, which makes me an animist I think, anyway I’m interested in magic and energy and pagan beliefs and lore, myths, folk stories and fairy tales.
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?)
I’m very disorganized, I can’t/won’t make clear plans or outlines but I get by in my own way.
Intuition is hugely important for me, it’s strong and I’ve learned to trust it. When I start a painting or drawing I don’t really have an idea of what I’m going to do and if I do it always changes along the way. I work in a low tech, ad hoc way and the only photography involved are the phone snapshots of the work as it progresses. I don’t have a hierarchy of materials, I paint and draw on cardboard, found objects, bits of scrap wood and stretched as well raw, loose canvas. The mix of materials is important to me and I like to play around with combinations of works in various forms. In my studio there ‘s one wall covered with scrappy drawings and sketches, sometimes they will feed into paintings but not directly. I don’t usually make preparatory sketches – too organized! but sometimes I’ll make rough sketches in order to work something out while I’m painting.Everything changes and morphs along the way, the thing is to know when to stop. As any painter knows it’s very easy to get carried away and kill a painting, I’m ace at that. I’m very messy when I’m working but the chaos is important to me, it allows for openness and possibilities. Intuition also guides my research, which is free-range: reading, watching, looking, listening to whatever draws my attention until I become aware of a thread or vein of possibility and I begin to make connections. I don’t really know how I do anything and each time I begin something new it feels strange. I’ve gotten used to that now so I just go ahead anyway and see what happens. It’s great to be surprised, I’d probably get bored if I thought I knew what I was doing.
What have been your influences? (Anything in history? A particular work of art? Other artists? Landscape? Movies? Family/friends? Literature
I’m a cultural magpie, taking influences from a broad range of things. Some artists delve deep into a particular subject, but I have a short attention span and I just need enough to spark my imagination. Landscape is important to me indirectly and loosely through memory and imagination, a kind of personal psycho-geography. Sometimes a memory of a place will come up, Texas for instance, where I lived as young child, and will lead to imaginings of the American southwest, or New Orleans, where my mother and grandmother lived in genteel poverty for a time before I was born. The stories of their lives could’ve been written by Tennessee Williams and probably fuelled my love of Southern Gothic literature in general. So landscape becomes dreamscape for me, and it’s based on a personal or ancestral connection. The first artwork that made a big impression on me was a framed print of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico that hung in my parents’ house. I was captivated by it, the tiny flowers in the garden, the strange and colourful wings of the Angel, the golden ray of light with the dove floating in it … It was magical, and eventually it led me to study early Renaissance art in Florence for a summer. I listen to the radio a lot, and I like contemporary poetry, especially female poets like Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Molloy, to name just a couple, for their rawness and ferocity and startling imagery. I like the writing of Flannery O’Connor for the same reasons. I love Angela’s Carter’s books and short stories and I‘m into fairy tales, folk culture, and outsider art. I like melodrama in films and gothic fiction because it’s ridiculous and I’m attracted to the absurd. David Lynch is hugely important to me, especially the film Blue Velvet, with the best opening scene ever! EdvardMunch is one of my favourite painters and always will be. I like Japanese surreal literature for its strangeness. I‘m attracted by the European Romantic period, and the sensual relationship with Nature during that time. I’m drawn to the romantic myths around music and the personal lives of Robert Schumann and Gustav Mahler, both of whose wives, Clara and Alma, were also talented composers but their careers were stifled by the chauvinism of the period. When I’m working I can’t listen to classical music because it’s demanding, but I can listen to minimalist music like John Adams and lots of Southern blues and rock. It’s important to connect to nature but I need to live and work in the city where you can absorb culture almost through osmosis, even by the advertisements in the tube. It’s a rich mix.
Could you name a book you would recommend to every artist? (Not necessarily art-related)
I wish I could think of something more original, but I’m going to cop out and recommend an art related self-help book. It’s called, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. I would definitelyrecommend it to every artist, whatever stage you’re at. It’s full of interesting stories about the working methods of many well-known creatives, as well as wisdom garnered by Twyla Tharp from her long career in contemporary dance. It’s always inspiring, you can dip into it randomly and usually find something appropriate for whatever problem you might be grappling with at the time. It doesn’t matter what kind of artist you are, there really is something for everyone in this book.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Particularly students/emerging?
I wish you the blessing of a deep and genuine interest in your own practice to sustain you through the vagaries of the fast-moving and fickle art world. Being an artist is a lifelong, slow burning occupation, so we need to be able to withstand the passing trends and weather the rejections until the tide might shift in our direction for awhile or maybe longer. If you’re truly into what you’re doing, all the rest doesn’t matter.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up? Where/when?
I’m in a group show ‘Repurpose/ Reverse’ at Studio1.1 Gallery
February 8 – March 3, 2019
Shoreditch, London, E2 7DJ
In March, ‘Everything’s Wrong, Ain’t Nothing Right’ with Jonathan Lux, Sophie Mackfall, Rae Hicks and Katheryn Maple at the Assembly House Galllery, Leeds, LS12 2PL
March 20th thru April 3rd, 2019
On 28th March I’m having a very brief solo show called ‘Zebra Kitten’ - for one night only!
6 – 9 PM at LUVA Gallery
LOCK UP VISUAL ART – a pop up gallery dedicated to exhibiting diverse contemporary UK artists
Behind James Campbell House, E2 9QE London