"This fragmenting and re-assembling of the image pulls the viewer in and out of the surfaces, absorbing them into its layered history."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did your study?
I grew up in a creative family in Suffolk: my father is a painter and mother an oil painting restorer, who met each other at art school. For as long as I can remember I knew I would also go to Art College. The earliest memory I have of making art is around five years old when I did a drawing inspired from the mosaics I had seen in Pompeii. My mother relays how it was impossible to get the pencil out my hand and how I was very persistent about perfecting everything I made and that if the end result wasn’t as perfect as I had intended, would start again. When I was six years old I produced my first oil painting. My father sat me in front of one of the paintings my mother happened to be restoring at the time and set me the task of transcribing it. I remember the subject was a very green landscape with many trees and was excited about the challenge it presented. I was taught how to colour match and make glazes. Throughout my childhood I rarely watched TV and rather spent most of my free time making art. I have always found creating a private and therapeutic practice, full of possibility. If I don’t have my fix for the day, I don’t feel a whole person.
At ten I was designing and making my own clothes thinking I might go into theatrical costume design, at sixteen I left school to begin a BTEC in Art and Design. At eighteen I began my training as a painter at Winchester School of Art and then the Royal Academy Schools, graduating in 2000. After I went on to do a two year printmaking fellowship at City and Guilds of London Art School. I have since continued to exhibit and curate shows home and abroad.
I remember feeling lucky that I had a head start in the art world because of my creative background. By the time I was beginning my BA I had already a good understanding of materials having had the conservation implications drilled into me. Henry Moore talks about “Truth to materials”, I had become a bit too preoccupied by this to the point that it was beginning to hamper my ideas and creative flow. Through a frustrated and destructive period, which I now see was a very positive time, I began breaking my work down into small components, distancing myself away from its source and figuring out new and alternative methods, embracing and bastardising my understanding of the more traditional techniques. I am interested in making something positive happen through unorthodox means and I like artwork that questions and challenges how it is made.
Your artworks are fragmented, with subtle differences to shade and colour within each square. Could you talk about this way of working and how it effects the overall image?
I make large architectural paintings and installations formed from small-scale drawings of real places, reconfigured into immersive fabrications made from a geometric framework of hundreds of panels. Each section is made by applying thin layers of colour over a long period of time, during which the panels are pinned to the studio wall. Pressure and touch are used to offset the marks between them to create mirror images. These symmetrical dissections are equals and rely on each other to co-exist. My method is a kind of controlled spontaneity generating abstract effects into a figurative ground. Each section has its own personality, so that when the panels are spliced together, harmonies and dissonances arise, forming relationships.
This fragmenting and re-assembling of the image pulls the viewer in and out of the surfaces, absorbing them into its layered history. For me, the creative process is a journey of complementary opposites. I employ actions that are contradicted or opposed until equilibrium is reached. That system may be set up to seek perfection but is interrupted by an interference of incongruous glitches and borrowed light. A scratched, disturbed space begins to emerge, giving clues to some other memory, time and place.
Some of your works depict symmetrical views of doorways and furniture, can you discuss these works and the thoughts behind the subject matter?
Yes, you are talking about my Myriorama Room Series which is based on a 19th Century picture card game, where picture cards of individual landscapes link to the next and can be placed in any order forming a myriad of different compositional panoramas.
‘Passageways’, currently showing in the John Moores 2016, is one of a series of large paintings and etchings formed from small-scale drawings of symmetrical dissections from around my home, it is made from a grid of 88 painted linen panels scaled up to almost life size. Thus the real and familiar becomes curious and esoteric. Other works are Lamp, Armchair, Fireplace I and II each constructed from 44 copper plate etchings offset to form the other half of those objects’ symmetry. In these works the intimacy of this domestic interior is fragmented, and the process applies a further distorting and distancing.
The 2011 major piece called “Dog Kennel Hill” is a house like structure made from around 3000 hand coloured copper plate etchings. Can you talk about this installation and the idea behind it?
DKH is my first installation, which is a walk through structure based on a familiar place now transformed into a mysterious, immersive space. The timber frame, house-like structure stands 240cm high at its center and the inside is lined with thousands of individually hand drawn, coloured and printed etchings, layered like feathers into an arch like structure from the bottom corners at its entrance up to far end apex. The viewer enters an inverted world where the outside comes in, or as if peering out of a glass walled structure onto the glowing night-lit street beyond. However, once inside it becomes apparent that you are surrounded by an illuminated image of a night-lit box junction on Dog Kennel Hill, South London, that is a mirroring of itself and filling the gallery wall ahead. This seemingly familiar, ordinary urban space, takes on a heightened, uncanny quality where car lights meet in ‘ritualistic procession’. Expressionistic and visceral marks combine with hard-edged geometry and symmetry to form an ethereal, Rorschach-like portal where demonic gestures appear and fade. This is a place where opposite meet and elements conflict and collide.
The installation took six months to make from scale models, plan drawings, etching hundreds of copper plates, hand inking and colouring them multiple times, to then cutting each section into their mathematical plan in order to transform the image into its arch onto prefabricated panels. The ambitious work has only been shown once and didn’t receive the exposure it deserves.
A more recent installation is ‘BLEED’, shown in May this year to an audience of 30,000 at Art Athina, Athens. The 56 hand coloured copper plate etchings dominated 7metres of wall space with a spectrum of reds. Graded light forms across its surface from the darkest point at bottom left to lightest, top right. It is based on a body of work called chiral, (meaning ‘hand’ in Greek)
The work investigates enantiomorphism through a single motif referenced from the urban landscape, flipped to form its mirror counterpart. The piece has been produced combining watercolour and etching, where each section uses the same copper plate multiple times, thus forming further mirroring which alters in palette and tone as it repeats and is flipped across the surface. Identical circular shapes are cut from each and swapped over and replaced for their dissymmetric twin. Although these shapes appear surprisingly settled in their new location, it is realised that when they are superimposed it is not possible to symmetrically map them; thus forming chiral symmetry. Using sequence and pattern is a way of controlling and creating order out of chaos!
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
I make my art for myself. I hope that the passion and affection I put in comes across to the viewer. People will take from it what they will. Once I have finished the work my job is done the rest is in the eyes and minds of the audience, whom I hope understand that good art should be good art, and should not need to be pigeon holed.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?
I like heavy metal, I mean machinery. My studio has a lot of cast iron equipment in it. A large Rochat press stands dominant in the middle of the studio floor. A series of different size book presses lean against the back wall, along with an enormous board chopper, these are jointly shared with my bookbinder husband. Around surfaces are piles of books, ranging from Japanese screen painting to Joseph Albers’ Interaction of Colour; Van Gogh drawings to Donald Judd’s sculpture. Plate glass lines the surfaces of two plan chests and a long workbench, these are used to mix pigment and oil media. A 5 metre wall is cladded with sheet polystyrene, I work on this surface when making my paintings. The individual panels of linen are pinned to it as the layers of paint are built up over time.
I spend my day making a mess and losing myself in the unconscious!
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Last night I saw Fernando Meirelles, Daniela Thomas and Andrucha Waddington amazing opening show for Rio’s Olympics. The graphics combined with the 6000 performers was completely mesmerizing.
Last week I went to the National Gallery to see Canaletto’s formulaic paintings of evocative and obsessively painted views of Venice.
The week before I went to see the Sickert’s and Sargent’s at the Tate Britain, both amazing painters.
A while back I went to the NFT and saw Gerry, written by Casey Affleck and Matt Damon. The cinematography is incredible; the night scene in it reminded me of a Bill Viola video installation.
How do you go about naming your work?
The names are often derived in the conception of the work, as this is what informs what it is about. Sometimes I begin with a working title that will change later on. When I am making my work, words pop in to my head and get written down on the studio wall, to then be used at a later date. Sometimes these words will inform titles.
What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I’ve always got something on the go, which is good I suppose. I am Looking forward to building my new London studio combining project space soon. I also have a solo show in London this September.
These Outer Shells, curated by Paul Carey-Kent will be shown at Gallery Elena Shchukina, 10 Lees Place, W1K 6LL from 25 August – 16 September. I am also working on the fifth Collateral Drawing project. This one is co-curated with Julia Riddiough and will take place 2017 at CRATE in Margate. It should be a big one…
Publishing date of this interview: 12/08/16