It’s so great to finally be in your studio! Thank you very much for having me. Can you start by telling us more about your artistic background and where you’re from, including your time at Goldsmiths?
So great to meet and talk John, thank you so much for coming. It’s been a long and winding path that all seems to makes sense in hindsight, but believe me it really didn’t a lot at the time. I did my Art Foundation at Mid- Cheshire College in 1989 (a very magical time to be in the north west with all the dancing and the music, the hacienda and as I always say – the very good hair) and painting in a very physical throwing buckets kind of a way. I then studied Painting at Central Saint Martins from 90-93. I would say now that I was probably a very vulnerable young person at that time, although in other ways I really knew who I was with my shaved head and meticulously curated vintage (second hand basically) 60’s clothes. I was in love with painting, completely madly head over heels in love with it and this felt very much not OK at the time, I did not have the tools to know how stand up to this really and I lost my confidence in many ways. This said I did an exchange to the HdK in Berlin in my second year where I exchanged a tiny room in Brixton for a huge flat in Kreuzberg. This period was a real blueprint for me as to how to live life and I think back on it often. I had little money and was away from my network (though I did have a friend there and we put on a show later in a building occupied by the Mutoid Waste Company – we are still good friends it was a very that bonding cold winter in Berlin) – I painted obsessively and yes I think back to that time a lot with the rigours and routines of trying to make work every day when you are a bit lonely and cold and hungry (lived mostly on yoghurt, chocolate, black bread, cigarettes and beer as I recall).
After St. Martins I worked in the shoe department at Marks and Spencer and was a temping secretary for about 5 years. I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer and went to see Scott King who is an artist now but then was Creative Director at i-D. He told me to see a number of people including Tomato, I was making kind of typographic paintings and drawings and they used some of these for the Underworld Video Born Slippy. Then by someone coming to my flat and seeing some of the printed paintings I had been making, I got the opportunity to work at MTV; to come in at night and learn the kit (the now antique hardware). I was super shy but I did it and my great friend Paul Ayre gave me work and said I was on the ‘team bus” thus saving the world from a terrible PA. I worked in TV and motion graphics for many years and directed and did all kinds of things. I dismissed this a lot for a long time but now realise what a privilege it was, it was highly creative in the 90s and we were a right rag bag of very talented people and we all grew up together really; it was like family and I felt protected.
I had my son in 2000 (best thing in this story) and was providing, I got to make some beautiful things but I had fallen into this field accidentally and it was getting much less free and it was super gruelling; so after some very heavy life events about 13 years ago I started to paint again. I have been showing since that time but in many ways I had not had an education and I did not really understand what I was doing (I just destroyed all the paintings from pre-goldsmiths - it felt good). So yes, Goldsmiths four years as a part timer, it completely changed my life, it gave me a sense of self worth (which is odd because, boy was it tough), the institution “held” me and I was incredibly lucky to have Mark Leckey as a tutor as I think without his psychedelic approach to making work I would not have survived. I met incredible people, I found out I was dyslexic which made a sense of a lot of chaos (and will no doubt explain the haphazardness of this writing) and yeah everything changed; everything got destroyed first but then it was better. I think what I am doing now with the work is that education starting to come out in the space and time that I have had afterwards. I am so grateful for that experience. I only painted at Goldsmiths, that was enough to deal with in there and the paintings changed and became much more fragile and bodily and sensual and raw.
Your work is getting such an incredible reaction recently both on and offline and I’m really interested in the relationship between yourself and your paintings as well as how your paintings are viewed on social media platforms such as Instagram. How does Instagram help your day to day working as an artist and is it a beneficial tool when it comes to expressing yourself artistically?
That is very kind of you to say I have just been living quite a quiet life and having my head down so I don’t really see it like this always. The safe space of my private instagram account, as well as having become personally much stronger over last the few years has allowed parts of me that have only really within the frame of the paintings and in the studio and (on the dance floor as a little raver) to “spill” and to un-contain within my art practice. There are complex reasons for this that are deeply personal and are around trauma and healing from a lot of stuff and a release from control. I suppose I had worked the screen professionally for many years and that often involved an image and a couple of words, having access to Instagram kind of fused that old “practice” with being a painter, the digital is kind of a part of the DNA of me and the work in many ways. It has been an exciting tool I have used it in an experimental way, testing things out and taking risks. It has been intense, it has been urgent and I have tried to be raw and honest and real and un-contain both sexuality and fragility that exist in the paintings.
The paintings have an autobiographical quality they are markers of the time they are made and the titles secretly reference this including sex and sometimes (shockingly) theory. In many ways the photographs I have been taking of myself which though in some ways at first I felt were very political and now realise are a very personal reclaiming of myself and my body and my sexuality also serve the same purpose. They have become autobiographical and the hashtags allude to the times in which they are taken. I suppose I found a way to speak, I am not great at communication other than in my work. Instagram has allowed me to push my practice to hold this home space for my son and be quite quiet and safe which is what I need in order to find the courage to do the work (in this sense I am really interested in ideas around Cyberfeminism). I think an important aspect of Instagram for me is that I am dyslexic and the squares were a way of pulling that out and untangling my thoughts. At first I just started putting down all my influences from queer culture to dance to radical feminist performance artists, hip hop and pop culture, fashion, films and gradually as I kept posting those influences have started to seep into the practice. It feels very new, it feels like the start of something but it has been exciting and it is also extremely scary to think of how I navigate it outside of that space but that excites me too.
This year you were chosen by the wonderful Hannah Perry to exhibit work at Flowers Gallery in London and you have a really exciting show coming up which will see you show paintings and photography in collaboration with the talented Benjamin Whitley and Cairo Clarke at ASC Gallery in London. Can you tell us more about both?
I am to be honest still in disbelief that I have shown my paintings on Cork Street, if I had told my 18 year old self that (there was only Cork Street then in terms of galleries in London, we visited it on our Art Foundation trip) she would have fallen over. It was very personally meaningful, I met Hannah two years ago at what I now realise were very pivotal times in both our lives. We met through honesty (and no doubt the shared northern-ness, and Peckhamness has a part to play) she is someone I have the utmost respect for both as an artist and a woman, she is a staggering person. To be chosen by her to do that was really something, like I say I am still processing it to be honest. I had met Matthew Flowers earlier in the year when he put me forward for the Bryan Robertson Award, which was really incredible (didn’t get it, still really so bowled over to be chosen by Matthew) so after that it was really meaningful to show at Flowers. I showed paintings and I did a talk with Andrew Renton who is the Head of Curating at Goldsmiths and has been really supportive of the work, which was also the greatest honour. Andrew and I had previously had a really long discussion about my work in the studio and he had uncovered and pushed at things in the paintings that I had not yet seen myself. My son came to the show and that was so important for me.
Regarding the show at ASC this is a very big leap for me. Robin Klassnik came to the studio and said that I needed to have more courage with the photographs I have been taking (which up to now have really only existed in the safe space of the private Instagram account) and he was right. At ASC the images will be released into the gallery space and I have worked with Benjamin Whitley and Cairo Clarke who is a writer and Curator to think hard and long about how this will occur. I have the most respect for both Cairo and Benjamin and there is trust there and there are personal bonds, it is a special thing to get to work with them. As well as the photographs I have been taking of myself I have also worked with Benjamin who has photographed me, thus introducing another gaze which is different in both gender and generationally, as well as other things. We are great friends and we just had a day in the studio under the lights talking, actually I cried that day, drinking a bit, hanging, dancing. What happened was quite amazing really, it was much more of a performance a further “spilling” and a moving forward with the work and without doubt also personally.
Benjamin captured some things that move my photographs on and exist alongside them, they are beautiful the images he has taken, intimate and real. The paintings have also shifted immensely, they are performative, more and more often realised in one act. They are like wet traces of the body, spills, like a dance or as a couple of people have said like orgasms with the sensations all at the edge. Their freedom and flow of the paintings feel in line with what is happening with the “spilling” in other aspects of my practice and my life. I am excited to see it all in the space. There will be a publication to accompany the show, which is supported by the amazing Marcelle Joseph’s Girlpower Collection and this will include essays by Cairo Clarke and Stephanie Moran. I will also be in conversation with Jon Sharples who is an amazing person, and as obsessed by painting as I am, he has been very supportive of me and the work. I am quite shy, despite my Instagram presence and find especially my own private views quite terrifying so I will wear a garment by the artist Nora Hansen that I have painted on which fits in with ideas I have around the protective/magical qualities of my painting clothes, of using paint to protect when outside of the safe space of the studio and her ideas around garments having superpowers – which I am seriously going to need that night.
You recently gave a talk at the University of Reading, how did it go? And what advice would you give an artist who is currently over-thinking the work that they are producing?
That was really such an honour to be asked to talk there by John Russell whom I have a huge admiration for. That department has some incredible people involved in it and having the poster of my talk amongst the other Artists that have spoken there was actually quite a moving moment for me. It went well, I hope, I am always searingly honest as I feel that I would have benefitted from that on my BA, there was not enough of that or not in a positive way anyhow. It was also really useful for me, the work has moved forward really rapidly and intensely and it was good for me to look at it and assess where it’s at.
I bring this up in every interview but my talk begins with the official version of quotes that Mark Leckey says which are “art comes through the body and the life experience” and “use your body as a vehicle for your obsessions” -so the talk is about my life and the work the inevitable intertwining of those things. At the moment the work is ahead of me, it is like a feedback loop and it does things that I have not done yet and then the personal follows; it’s pretty overwhelming to be honest. I have to paint in order to live, and through that and through a lot of mistakes I have pushed through into what feels like the start of something.