1 What is/are the primary reason(s) for you to make work in the first
It’s that age old question, which is usually answered by something cheesy like why do I eat? or why do I breathe? therefore difficult to answer, but yes I just do. It’s certainly not for the glamour or the money! I want to express an idea I had, a mood that I am in, the colours that I keep on seeing, a film that I saw etc, and in my case art, especially painting has always been my most articulate form of expression.
2 What do you intend your work to convey to an audience?
Subtle humour, an awkward beauty, for there to be a certain empathy or curiosity for my painted girls that may hint at further narratives. For maybe there to be more than initially meets the eye.
3 Why do you work in your chosen medium and format?
Oil painting has always had some kind of romanticised pull for me. I love it for its rich, slippery consistency and the different things that you can do with it. Choosing a tube of oil colour is like choosing a beautiful dessert from a patisserie window. I also work in clay which is equally seductive and gives me that childlike enjoyment in the making process. The format of the paintings allows me to work pretty much life size; a larger canvas for a stretched out figure, a small scale for an intimate cropped portrait, as I think giving these characters relative human scale heightens their awkwardness and confirms their familiarity.
4 Technically speaking how do you go about constructing your work, that is the image or object itself? What devices do you employ?
My paintings are essentially portraits, although not of real people, their distinctive faces being born from a literal or imaginative cut and paste of features. Often I make clay or plastecine doll sized, three dimensional models which are then found appropriate eyes from glossy magazines, giving them just the right amount of humanity. I will then paint from these either from life or from a photo of them that I have taken helping me to sort out composition and structure. They are then lit by artificial or natural light and placed on coloured or patterned backgrounds and I paint! I try to capture the general mood of the model which has by now become a personality, and sometimes the paintings are a quite faithful representation of what I see in front of me, and other times the painting that I am making will only vaguely resemble the initial maquette, using it only as a guide and seeing where the painting takes me. Other times I paint from imagination, but with the faces of my previous painting in mind and a hybrid is born. The models that I make also exist as sculptures in their own right and sometimes are never used to paint from.
5 Which period(s)/artists/specific works of art are you influenced by and how directly? How does this manifest in your work?
This influence can depend, but for example I went to Madrid for the first time in 2005 and went faithfully to the Prado where there was an exhibition of Spanish painters through the ages and I came back with a renewed passion and awe for Velasquez, Goya, El Greco and Picasso. These images were so powerful and beautifully painted, and the predominantly solemn faced portraits were really inspirational. I liked the sexiness of Goya’s naked ladies, the glowing faces of Velasquez’s pious men and the huge evangelical eyes of the El Greco’s etc. I came back to my studio and made a painting called ‘Lying Back Thinking of Spain’, which was my own version of a nude, sensuous- nearly, awkward –possibly, large eyes imploring to her audience. Even now all my portraits have a wide eyed stare, and they are all influenced in some way by previous painters or paintings. A reclining nude or a head and shoulders portrait are always going to remind me and the viewer of a vast art history, but I don’t find this overwhelming it is a constant resource. I came back from New York hugely impressed by Picasso’s rose period subtlety, and moody blue period coldness and loss. I also love Frida Khalo, Balthus, Manet, John Currin, Degas, Dana Shutz, Karen Kilmanick, Cranach, Gainsborgh, Cindy Sherman and many, many more that I won’t list now as it will be too long. I also seem to go for pictures of girls with cats of which I have several postcards from various artists, some kitsch, a few menacing, and an extra pair of eyes staring out.
6 What stimulates/informs your work from the world around you?
I have a magpie eye and can’t help but be inspired by ‘pretty things’, which may sound shallow and possibly is, (although I don’t see my work like this, a touch of frivolity certainly), nevertheless that is what informs my work. Cherry blossom on the trees in spring, white snow making a monochrome blanket, rows and mounds of Italian Ice Cream, overly glossy American TV shows, people watching out on the street, literature especially women authors like Margaret Atwood, walking in the woods, looking at lipsticks and shoes lined up in shops looking like a Lisa Milroy, random things you find in foreign shops like sinister mannequins and fluffy cat key rings.
7 What stimulates/informs your work from your own personal experience?
I think growing up as a twin girl in a little village in the 1970’s and 1980’s informs my work but not consciously, it just seems more apparent the more work that I make. The women/girls in my paintings are always isolated or in pairs, and I wonder quite a lot recently whether that is because we were pretty much each others sole playmates in this rural world most of the time we were growing up. Playing with Sindy dolls in the back garden, and making up our own worlds and other imaginary characters to populate them, which I guess I am doing now by making little figures out of clay which I manipulate, give personality to and then orchestrate into a painting.
I also think that all the art that I ever made is somehow evident in my paintings now, fashion plates of naively hewn lollipop headed girls when I was a kid; searching, angsty self portraits when I was a teenager; and abstracted patterns of colour on my degree.
The conflicting interests and emotions that go into making a work also seem to inform the finished painting itself for me at the moment. The self doubt and shyness coupled with the buoyancy of stubbornness and self-belief. For example when I started painting all these reclining or static figures, I was wondering about why they were lying down or rooted still, they were characters inspired by those of the old masters but they weren’t a muse in the traditional sense as they were painted from small inanimate objects, and I didn’t want them to have the passivity of a nameless model, so I started imagining these more as a kind of self portrait, once or twice removed; a ‘portrait of the artist’. Their languid poses were perhaps a mirror for my own lounging, avoidance of actually painting tactics, as it seems to me that half my time as an artist is taken up by thinking about the painting that I am making or about to make. Lying awake at night agonising about ideas, sitting in the chair in the studio wondering for a disproportionate amount of time about the few brush strokes that I had just made, or hopelessly inactive at times of rejection or failure. All things that are sometimes true but also struck me as funny and ridiculous and a cliché of the tortured or idle artist, and I wanted to get that humour of self pity and contemplation across, hence calling paintings things like ‘Lazy Artist’, ‘Naked Procrastination’, and ‘Underneath The Covers’.
8 From where do you derive your other visual source material (i.e. non art historical) and how do you implement this material within your work?
I am also very inspired by film, the vivid Technicolor of the 30’s and 40’s, brooding black and white melodramas, expertly choreographed classic musicals. It is not just for the look of these films or the iconic characters in them, but for the general mood that they give, the way I watched them on a Sunday afternoon with the curtains closed when I was small and the memories that these times evoke. I went through a phase of working from film stills directly, but what I liked about these paused moments in fake time, was never as interesting directly replicated in a painting. I realised that it was much more interesting to me to make up my own painted moments, a seconds pause within a changing narrative. I also use images from magazines as I said before, using collaged elements, or borrowing a pose or a lighting effect.
9 What are the main problems that you face in making your work?
As I said above, sometimes reaching an inertia with the work through over thinking and therefore not doing. This can be compounded if I don’t have a good stretch of time in which to make the paintings if I am working at a job and you cannot get in the studio that much. I am sure though that pretty much everyone has this problem!
10 Where do you intend to take your work from here?
Just do lots more of it, the more I do the happier I feel, and natural paths of progression seem to come as I am painting, a particular tangent or train of thought will take you on a series of works which just gradually evolves. I am really enjoying working with these tertiary colours of mushroom and mauve and soft grungy aqua’s, combined with acid drop yellows and vivid magenta pinks, which in itself can determine a whole look and direction of a painting. I also like working on very dark backgrounds and would like to do some more paintings with figures partly submerged within these colours, a white cuff or a shiny face or twist of hair gleaming out of the gloom. I am also a fan of soft off whites, monochromatic figures and backgrounds, i.e. Gwen John’s barely there women close toned and contemplative. I think simplicity is becoming the key, less is more and all that, seeing what I am able to convey in these made up faces and bodies of paint.