Favourite woman artist and why/how has she/her art or life inspired you?
Charline von Heyl for her fiercely playful and unexpected choices, always fresh, fantastic harsh colour, mixing organic and hard-edged shapes, she takes symbols out of context using them for their visual qualities alone. I rate Laura Owens for similar reasons, her tricks and complex wit. I picked up a brilliant zine, The OG #11 ‘Metamorphoses’, by Amy Sillman at her recent Camden Arts show, she timewarps politics, plays with language, image, perception and mythology. Paula Rego, for her brave and unapologetic use of her own fear and the variety of defiance in the facial expressions and poses she creates, women studying/watching women, subverting gender roles, demonstrating power play.
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?
The truth of this starkly remains, but it’s not a barrier I’ve experienced. Maybe because I’ve remained for the most part outside the ‘art world’ showing work in independent and alternative venues. I do support all women shows mainly because I’m looking to relate, to find behaviour that might be familiar, or with which I can empathise or feel uplifted. I went to the ‘Women Can’t Paint’ show at Turps, it was impressive, there was a lot to love. I think changes are happening all the time. Activists, such as Guerrilla Girls, Pussy Riot, The Exhibitionist, keep the conversation going and make people/galleries accountable. It’s important to keep making the work whoever you are, persist, put yourself out there.
When did you first discover art? and when did you realise that you wanted to pursue it professionally?
The idea of being an artist has always been in my head, but my severe social anxiety has held me back. It’s been a long, painful, complicated and continuing education out of hiding. Growing up in Brighton in the 80s and 90s was a brightly coloured assault course. Music was key. Outside of my deeply political family I was surrounded by creative hedonists seeking to express themselves, they’re burnt into my memory.
When I was 5 years old, I was the youngest of 4 kids in the school chosen to draw a design to be transferred onto a melamine plate, it seemed like a big deal at the time. The kudos I received at school was polarised by the odd reaction when I took it home. My first lesson in how the same image can provoke opposing reactions, whatever the intention. That moment seems defining.
I remember sitting outside dad’s broadsheet looking at Steve Bell’s strips and leader slays. The only art at home at that time was a very small repro of Constable’s Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) and a large print of a grey bridge over grey water. The art I saw elsewhere in Brighton was mostly street art or kitsch.
My first experience of Schiele’s work came via an Athena poster, crouched among all the usual men holding babies, cheeky tennis players, bands and film stars. The harsh black isolating lines, sickly flesh and imploring stare were magnetic. I spent countless hours poring over art books after that. I painted and wrote all over my bedroom walls.
In 2010, when I was living in Camden, a friend of my flatmate came over, saw my paintings and unexpectedly asked me to join her art collective. In 2011, I started my own collective. I learnt a lot from all the artists I worked with and the exhibitions we created over the 4 years it ran. The performance artists, sculptors, installation and sound artists were a revelation. My partner is also an artist and he’s a fantastic support and inspiration. It’s taken time to know how to be an artist for myself, but it’s here.
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 studied Art History and English at York University. I’ve pinballed all over London (and a year in Australia) since 2002. I’m at my happiest in Deptford, South East London, with a studio at Art Hub, Creekside. I’ve just been selected for the 2019/20 Turps Banana Offsite Programme.
York was walls inside walls inside walls, endless avoiding-leaving-the-house parties and low-key raves in the old post office and a converted church, sliced through by a neck wrenching art history trip to sunglasses after dark New York. Saw some Warhol, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman at MoMA or the Whitney, or similar. (I’m going back later this year with new eyes). I moved back to Brighton after university then fled to London and bootcamp life lessons during which I wore only black, red and grey.
I qualified as a picture restorer and spent some time in a private studio but decided that path wasn’t for me. I moved to Brisbane, of all places. A year cut off from almost everything I knew. The vast strangeness and audacious attitude of Australia left a distinct mark, everything is new and possible there. After I returned to London, I started the collective which changed everything for me.
I haven’t studied Fine Art, so I’m a self-taught painter. My dad had an insatiable lust for life and new experiences. He didn’t go to university but taught himself 6 languages. He loved to self-educate, he lived life his way.
I start at Turps in September, I can’t wait. I’m also going on an Arvon course In Hebden Bridge this October, Hybrid Writing – writing in unchartered waters, tutored by Tania Hershman, Maria Fusco and Kristen Kreider.
What themes or ideas do you explore in your work?
I’m interested in moments where control is disrupted, moments of change or potential change, notions of inclusivity versus alienation, the human condition and intense relationships, family as society, betrayal and reconciliation, loss and recovery. The micro-macro of it all; the power and optimism in the unspoken language of colour. I use paint to create somewhere and something else within this age of anxiety. I’m addicted to the freedom through ambiguity that abstraction provides and fascinated by ideas or choices where norms are subverted, how negatives, mistakes and accidents can become positives.
Anxiety greatly informs my work. I became interested in the recesses of the brain where memories and fears are formed. Thinking about what the voice of the amygdala and hippocampus might look like, the physical shapes and connections, how unconscious activity may escape and hang in the air between us. How inputs are consumed, filtered and reworked into visual outputs. Artists as catalytic converters. I have an ongoing series of paintings, Limbic sprawl, based around these ideas.
What have been your influences?
I love colour-saturated cinema or films which use colour as a device, human interest/dysfunction, horror, black comedy, and magical realism films. Wim Wender’s Paris Texas. Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch. Kubrick, Lynch. Jorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Lobster). Agnès Varda (Faces Places, One Sings The Other Doesn’t). Joanna Hogg (Exhibition, Archipelago). Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Nymphomaniac, The House That Jack Built). Cronenberg (Videodrome, Naked Lunch), Ken Russell’s The Devils, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. John Waters. Lynne Ramsey’s Morvern Callar. Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes, This Is England, The Virtues). Roy Andersson’s absurdist multi-beige ‘Living trilogy’….
There’s a scene in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest where Harding loses it when he’s being questioned. While he tries to speak about universal truths the other patients spring to life. Chief (the narrator in the book) is the perfect silent, omnipresent but displaced watcher. This scene was used to create an exhibition with the collective, we took inanimate and living sculptures out of context to interact in new ways, with comic and alarming results.
So many artworks. Schiele and Otto Dix, back in the day. Francis Bacon. Von Heyl’s P., Cargo,Corrido and Happy End. R.B. Kitaj’s Cecil Court, London W.C.2. (The Refugees). Laura Owens’s Untitled 2012 from Pavement Karaoke. Janiva Ellis’s cartoon explosions. Tinka Bechert’s cuts and swipes. Elizabeth Chisolm’s surveillance gaze. Jules de Balincourt’s Moving Mountains, Moving Tribes. Tony Oursler’s Self Portrait in Yellow. Paula Rego’s The Betrothal triptych and The Family. Georg Herold’s contorted fetish sculptures. Zander Blom’s rockstar approach to dinosaur ownership. Henry Hudson’s recent nothing sticks to nothing show, an immersive painting without paint. Ben Jamie’s oozing and tearing. The blurb written by David Northedge that accompanied Ben Jamie’s Comfortably Dumb show is bang on.
The pleasure-seeking colours of Brighton have influenced me. The mysterious landscape of my Irish ancestry. And my gran’s place still exists vividly in my mind. I spent a lot of time there drawing, reading, listening to records and Welsh mountain secrets. Her long orange-green-brown hallway, blue rinse, pink nail varnish, turquoise-yellow-red kitchen with twin tub earthquake, tabloid tit rags, bingo cards, Lambert and Butler silver, plain and pearl, stockings and suspenders, pelmets and tiebacks, gladioli heavy with peach, bright green baize and whispers of snooker (Taylor, Interesting, Hurricane, Dracula) in a gold-black-burgundy front room, my uncle’s provocative books and mags, stacks of vinyl, no dust on the needle. It was a haven away from the world.
Books: So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan is a beautifully slow and sad novel, the art of repetition and elevating of small details, a study of lost souls, completely of its time and devastating. I love Brautigan’s psychedelic but earthy vision. Patti Smith’s Just Kids, for her dedication to the art life and honesty. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, peculiar doors of perception. Tania Hershman’s surreal science meets art flash fiction. Caroline Bird’s wise, deft and darkly comic poems. Ali Smith’s Spring experiments with disruption, hope and light. The Late Hector Kipling, Thewlis’s art poke, the twisted inner dialogue of the painter. Interaction of Color by Josef Albers has cheering weight. Narrative is important to me, even though I paint abstractly. I like the idea of an intensely silent protagonist. While noise has colour, colour shouts without sound.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Particularly students/emerging?
Oof. Well, I’m an emerging artist, so this is advice I give myself which might work for others (I’m still working on it). You’ve cavorted under the pier for long enough, swim in the sea before it evaporates. My mum has recently started painting, it’s never too late. Question everything but question and answer yourself first. Accept faults, be supportive. Recognise loops, make new chances. Throw yourself in. Work on what you have rather than what you don’t have, it’s surprising what arrives. When life hurts, use it and rework it. Seriously not seriously. I’ll have an open studio in December, come and have a chat.