"Each painting begins as a response to the previous painting, taking something I found along the way."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I live and work in London. I moved to London in 1994 after finishing my degree at the Ruskin in Oxford. I got an ACME studio (Carpenters Rd) with some friends who’d graduated the year before then 6 years later did my MA in painting at the RCA.
After that, a group of us from the RCA and RA Schools set up some studios and an artist run gallery in Hackney called Rockwell which we maintained for 5 years – we lived and worked there – founder members were Alex Gene Morrison, Reece Jones, Gavin Nolan, Chris Davies and Brian Jones. We showed a lot of artists and despite the rather organic nature of it’s initial development it is something that we look back on as something very special and something to be very proud of. I’m glad to have been able to be part of it - https://therockwellproject.co.uk
I grew up with both parents in art education; went on every school extra curricular art trip and it felt like I visited almost every art gallery, chateau, cave painting and museum accessible at the time in Britain, France, northern Spain and Italy before I left home and never once considered doing anything else other than art.
I currently teach at City and Guilds art school. Teaching is really important to me actually, it is often a reciprocal process, I keep learning from it.
You currently have a solo show at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON titled "Studio Face", Could you tell us a bit about the show and the meaning behind the title?
‘Studio Face’ has been the title of a few of my paintings over the last year or so. I think a lot about how making paintings today could be considered a ridiculous and self-indulgent thing to do and is actually quite hard to justify doing it in any wider sense. This is increasingly what I think about, so the act of painting itself often recurs in my work as a motif.
Each painting begins as a response to the previous painting, taking something I found along the way. This might be the ‘picture’, motif or image that I use as an initial structure to hang the painting on; and this is usually the idea of how something might look - like a painter painting a landscape, the painter in their/my studio, having insomnia or different states of mind (autobiographical), something in front of me or remembered. Or most often it’s a formal thing; like a colour or mark.
Studio Face (as a painting) evolved initially from a linear sketch that I made of a studio ie: rectangles or potential paintings hovering within the edges of the actual painting and I then made marks to include the ‘painter’ - a face; a nose, just 2 fast lines, an eye - a neat circle and a ‘paw’ or hand suggested by further shapes/lines and so it goes on..the painter and the studio as one. Silly really but these thoughts are just a place to start.
I think with hindsight I nicked that composition from a memory of a Kandinsky painting I saw in a book blended with a Klee (portrait of an equilibrist 1927). But they’re just lines and shapes and surface. Anyway I felt that that particular title, for this show, covered the main gist.
As I paint I think the process leads me to take on, momentarily, the identity of others. A mark suggests to me De Kooning for example so I have a think about that and then I try to disrupt it, own it or move on and find myself thinking about a Matisse line or a Picasso squiggle.
I believe in throwing a spanner in the works regularly – it’s the only way to find new things. I often destroy something to bring it back with something new. For this show I had about 50 paintings to edit down from 3 months of painting – it was quite hard to do but I think the edit was a good selection, divided into 2 spaces of work from the earlier stages of the 3 months to the work from the last 4 weeks, the main contrast being a difference in palette –the last ones in the main room were purposely more muted. I like, within a group of works to offer notable changes to refresh the looking process it’s like looking at a painting (when making it) in the mirror just to see it differently.
Your work is full of shapes and structured marks, with the odd face or outline of a figure appearing amongst the lines. Could you tell us about your work and what influences you have?
I draw a lot, line is an important part of the work. There is always a linear composition that I have in mind when I begin and it’s usually some sort of ‘image’ however abstract the final outcome becomes it always begins as a readable ‘thing’. I still see the ‘thing’ even when it’s totally obliterated during the making; the paint, surface and marks and relationships within those formal aspects become the central concern.
As I said before, each painting begins in response to the previous one or a couple of previous ones. It might just be a colour or a way of putting the paint down that I want to concentrate on or at least intend to. I repeat some paintings if I like the composition but feel there is more to be gained via shifts of application of paint and surface.
There is a personal logic and a sort of rhythm to the way I work. I can paint over and over many times on one painting until things come together and make a few fast ones directly after, then the pattern repeats.
With some paintings I end up obliterating the original motif and make abstractions of it. Sometimes I will leave out or remove any figurative references to ‘the painter’ (hands with brushes, backs of heads, the canvas etc ) and for example, give myself permission to paint, say, an imagined landscape.
Notions of identity, authorship and alter ego interest me. The paintings by Matisse, Picasso. Munch, Velasquez etc of themselves holding brushes or palettes resonate, the acknowledgment of the activity itself.
When I pause or get frustrated I have a few well thumbed books I go back to over and over – my Matisse book falls open on the ‘violinist at the window’1918, this painting is one that encompasses so many aspects of what I think about when painting; the line is varied from those that are tentative, the corrected ones and the assured, one hit, just right, fluid and decisive ones. The figure depicted is funny, human and simple; it’s awkward yet symmetrical and the colour doesn’t always meet the line. The painting is divided into segments of colour.
My Munch book falls open on one of his sun paintings. I began mixing a colour that I took from the raw canvas or dirty ground left visible in those sun paintings in order to use it in my paintings and have an active ground that can be left in between everything else..these are some of the things I think about.
My work usually turns into conversations with other paintings by other painters. Painting for me is ultimately about creating structures within which i can try to paint in all the ways i want to and establish an ongoing dialogue with the history of art, the behemoth of art history to the present. I normally don’t know how the painting will look at the end before I start.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I don’t have a regular routine as the days I teach are inconsistent, sometimes 2 days, sometimes 4 days a week, different days of the week, there is no ‘set’ schedule. About 2 years ago I had to give up my studio (they were turning it into some living space) and as I needed to save on outgoings for a bit I decided to work from home - a small box room, it was the first time since ‘94 that I didn’t have a ‘proper’ studio.
The upside was not having to travel to get there and I could use it at random times of the day or night and managed to make a load of stuff. Obvious downsides, paint gets in the rest of flat and the space was far far too small, things got cramped and paint fumes are probably not great to live with 24 hours a day. You have to be much more disciplined in terms of tidying up, cleaning brushes and getting rid of dirty rags when the space is small and in your home.
My routine once in the studio is kind of frenzied I make a lot and paint quite fast, so, unless I’m teaching I am painting. I find it hard to switch off from it so until I run out of canvas/paper I pretty much keep at it.
My husband artist Alex gene Morrison and I have just recently moved into a huge new studio in Edmonton, a complete contrast, we are lucky to have been loaned this space by an artist and dear (very supportive) friend for the foreseeable future. It’s in the middle of an industrial sprawl with mountains of junk, a real apocalyptic landscape..so a different set up entirely. I’m now excited about being able to work on a larger scale.
How do you go about naming your work?
Rather boringly just what I’m thinking as I’m making and what I refer to it as in my head – ie: landscape with ‘blue edge’ (as it has a blue edge) or ‘insomnia’ as the initial drawing began as a sketch about insomnia, ‘red circle’…or ‘Plein Air (munch sun)’ cus I kept thinking about how great those Munch sun paintings are and how he had looked at that same sun.
Once I had hung this recent show JP Stonard came up to talk to me about it and after our conversation he wrote a great text for me. He managed to pinpoint key things and edit brilliantly from my mess of too many, too fast words – ‘image-propositions’ he wrote, I like that – go to CSL website to read it - http://charliesmithlondon.com/kiera-bennett-studio-face-2018/
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Actually I’ve pretty much lived like a hermit these past 6 months making work for 3 art fairs and this solo show along with teaching plenty so have seen very little art in the flesh – plenty in reproduction as usual (ruining all my books) so I’m planning on a big catch up.
The last memorable thing was my second ever visit to the Prado at the end of last summer. Goya did the usual – made me want to race home to paint and give up all at the same time! Velazquez, Picasso, all the usual men painters that you grow up with..ahh Madrid! I’ll go and see the Vic Miro female abstract painters show next and the Picasso for starters then get around the rest…
Apart from the CHARLIE SMITH LONDON show, Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Actually it’s been so busy in terms of making things for things I’m looking forward to just painting in the new studio and getting going on all the next paintings that are brewing in my head. Every time I finish a painting I am thinking about the next one. I am definitely up for a shift to larger scale painting as this will inevitably create further problems to solve and hopefully lead to unexpected outcomes.
"Studio Face" at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON will be on till 12th May 2018.
All images courtesy of the artist and CHARLIE SMITH LONDON
Publish date: 30/5/18