Can you tell me a little bit about you?
Hey Kate! I am originally from Newcastle upon Tyne. I moved to London 15 years ago to study art and never left. So now I have a BA FA from The Cass and an MA FA from Chelsea College of Art and no Geordie accent to speak of.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
My parents are both architects with a huge appreciation for art-so I was dragged around many an impressive building and gallery as a kid. I didn’t much enjoy this at the time (which is ironic as gallery visits now teeter on an addiction for me) but I imagine some foundations were being laid then. I’d say that the catalyst in realising that I wanted to make art was David Hockney though: My dad showed me one of his books when I was seven and that was me sold.
There were also THE best videos on him (back when VHR reigned). I remember getting my first one on a Day Trip to the Royal Academy with school during my GCSE’s. It was in the bargain bucket with a Gilbert and George T-shirt. I grabbed both and watched it on repeat…probably whilst wearing the aforementioned. He is my dads favourite artist and that side of my family also come from Yorkshire-so it paved the way for some great excuses to detour via Saltaire and its Hockney 1853 Gallery (Salts Mill, Bradford).
What do you like most about working where you do?
I have a Bow Arts studio. It’s genuinely amazing: 14 minutes walk from my flat; Huge windows for natural light and all the other artists are super considerate so I can literally put my head phones in and head down.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
For some years my work has examined the role of painting and the language of display in the face of popular culture. Through the amalgamation of sculptural form and simulacra I’ve tried to investigate notions of worth and allegory. My work still aims to question ‘how do we view a painting?’ (despite the trappings of art history and with feet firmly in the digital revolution) but the stories I am trying to touch upon this year have changed a little. In light of the ‘Me too’ and ‘Gender pay gap’ movements of 2018 there seems to be even more reason and a real momentum for women’s emancipation. I’ve therefore been researching all things feminism. It’s more often than not a depressing read, but happily this global movement also brings with it a feeling of paradigm change. I am making a new series of work called ‘Original Gyal Dem’ in light of this.
Women presently occupy around 0.5% of recorded history. ‘Original Gyal Dem’ discusses the farcical disparity between the genders-in burying women who have changed the course of history in all the gender stereotypes, curb calls and objectification which has condemned them to the role of ‘the second sex’. Jane Austen, Rosa Parks, Valentina Tereshkova and Indira Gandhi were recently exhibited as part of ‘The most powerful women in the Universe’ at Gallery 46 where the canvas frame containing the four heroines became a further nod to the stifling box that women have been placed in for time immemorial. Like this systemic bigotry-these linear restraints were also starting to fracture as symbolism broke free of the stretcher and filled the galleries walls.
What is your process like?
A heap of research, sketchbooks and draft compositions go into each piece I make and they will vary in duration dependent on size and what other projects I have on the boil at the same time. I would also generally have two pieces on the go so that drying times don’t put the kibosh on making.
The themes that I am interested in range from Gender Roles (as talked about previously) and Art History to the throw away nature of British popular culture and the undercurrent of anxiety drifting just below the surface of daily life. Motifs commonly found within my work to express this consumer gluttony are extracted from the 80s/90s overlap of my childhood. At the beginning of the year-in looking at a selection of canvas in terms of curation for a solo show-I realised that I almost always incorporate food in my work. This was a funny (and long overdue) revelation as I had no idea that I was subliminally utilising edibles to assert this over-consumption.
As well as this ‘excess’ I return to the palette of my adolescence as it remains a slower era pre computer, internet and cloud. I appropriate & refashions this paraphernalia in an awkward couple of garish nostalgia and traditional making techniques. The nature of painting further epitomising this construct of time and its suggested worth-in the replication of the fleeting image lest the click of a flash, mouse or ctrl alt delete.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
In the wise words of Morpheus [The Matrix, 1999] ‘Throughout human history we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems is not without a sense of irony’.
That movie blew box office figures and people’s minds and the dystopian future-where the machines takeover-of which he speaks doesn’t feel too far away? When I was younger the TV had to warm up, mobile phones didn’t exist and the internet hadn’t been conceived…and I’m not THAT old!!
We have become worryingly reliant on technology and it is in response to this anxiety that I have spent the past six years competing with said algorithms: I don’t want to be replaced!! This rivalry came to a head in my solo shows ‘Àhhá’ 2017 and ‘ÀhháÀhhá’ 2018 where I tried to emulate how a painting might ‘physically’ feel in lieu of VR technology. This year I’m attempting to extrapolate the principals of this expanded frame in 2D. I am returning to paint, flattening the visual collage and utilising different painting styles and techniques to replicate Photoshop tasks, in a bid to one day outsmart the full Abode Suite package!! Ha
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
I had to sketch in near pitch black, in a coal mine in middle of Siberia as part of a research trip for an art piece commissioned about the owner of the mine in 2013…but then last night I was at the studio late sticking a children’s wooden rainbow and my fingers together…so swings and roundabouts.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I used to be a lead artist for Based Upon Ltd-which is who flew me out to Russia and Siberia for said research trip-but at the beginning of the year I left for a self-imposed hiatus to dedicate more time to my work and more over get my head around and back into paint again. Now I am ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ as a self employed artists: Producing commissions; painting sales and anything which relies on my niftiness with a drill, sander, paint brush or pencil.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I’ve regrettably never had a mentor but I have had a heap of wonderful artist influences in my life. One of the less helpful ones repeated the old mantra ‘Painting is dead’ systematically. This felt less helpful at the time, but I guess you have to hear it if only to decide which camp you are in…or at the very least the big sigh and internal expletives that follow the adage. Happily my mentor drought is soon to be at an end as I have just been selected for the AN mentoring 2019 program. Very excited to see how this support system and critical feedback betters my practice.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
As a painter ‘Painting is dead’ will continue to be shoved down your throat and never more so than in the digital heavy age. Ignore this and just have fun!
What is your studio like?
My studio is at the Bow Arts Trust and a matter of minutes away from my flat. One side of it is almost completely windows and It is South facing so I get the sun in the morning and by the afternoon it is just generally light. It’s real dreamy 🙂
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I usually do some research/’workmin’ at home with a coffee (as my studio doesn’t have internet) for a couple of hours and then head to my studio. I arrive circa 10am and then paint into the evening. I am quite rigorous about this structure as sometimes you will get a last minute job offer which will throw all your studio days out-so when I am there I really try to squeeze every bit of goodness out of it.
I listen to dramas on the BBC Sounds app: I always have a load lined up for when I’m painting, as when my brain is fully immersed it’s easier to switch all other distractions off and make more spontaneous decisions.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
I think my foundation and Masters were really significant to my practice: Foundation was an opportunity to experiment with all the Mediums and enjoy doing a year of ‘just art’, being surrounded by people who wanted to do ‘just art’ too and my Masters embarrassingly was the first time that I really questioned ‘why paint?’ (in the context of-is this the best medium to suit the narrative). Ultimately pretty unnerving as you come out the other end with the world on its head-but it didn’t half change the way
I think for the better. So they were both really brill and the people I met at both were next level!
I would definitely recommend a Masters to all but I think that it’s more of a personal decision? I know loads of pals who’s BA was the best three/four years of their lives and I didn’t get that from mine. Likewise, I know that I benefited from my Masters immeasurably but I know others who didn’t. I think it’s mostly about timing. I waited six years between both qualifications: If you haven’t got a good grasp of what you’re doing or likewise you’re too stuck in your ways it may not be the best time to purse it? Absolute hypothesis there mind?? You do you!
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I think maintaining a professional practice whilst paying the bills is the biggest challenge. I had been lucky so far to find a balance in PAYE part time work-but there always comes a point where you start to plateau in both job and practice once you have pushed both platforms as far as they can feasibly go within that timescale. So now I am amongst many in the land of the self-employed. This terrain brings infinite positives of more studio time and flexible timetable around practice commitments. I am increasingly finding that it also means that during some studio days the ‘head space’ which is necessary for producing work isn’t really attainable for worrying about where the next pay cheque is coming from.
How would you define “success” in art?
Success to me would be having a sustainable practice (and be proud of the work I was making).
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
I am half of SHELF. https://www.shelflondon.com/ SHELF like its namesake-is a simple concept of function, support and display. The mega talent Sarah Roberts and myself set it up in 2016 to help emerging artists.
Back then it acted as a shared curatorial practice. We have a similar aesthetic and just enough difference in our artistic likes and dislikes to create a fun discourse between us and a treat of a show (we think/hope). This developed over the years and we now operate as a nomadic curatorial program; online residency provider, SILF residency provider (our site in Wales) and until this year had a gallery in the North East: SHELF Spanish City Gallery.
What are you working on right now?
I am continuing to work on the Original Gyal Dem series I talked about earlier. I am presently making a painting based on the late Marielle Franco.
If you haven’t heard of Marielle please look her up and whilst you’re at it sign the Amnesty International petition to find justice for her: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/w4r-2018-brazil-marielle-franco/ Due to her legendary credentials, the recent and unexpected nature of her passing it is proving really difficult to make this work as more so than ever I feel a huge responsibility in portraying her.
I am also doing the research leg work for a new project ‘R How Man?’ The title borrows from my regional dialectics and many of the themes in ‘Original Gyal Dem’.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for having me Kate: I’m a big fan of YNG!!