Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
My process begins with making model furniture and setting up room scenes. At the moment I’m working with 1/6th scale furniture that I’ve made collaboratively with another artist, and in the past, I’ve used smaller scale items of doll’s house furniture, which was quicker but less satisfying and used more as a starting point.
I don’t have a particular narrative in mind for the scenes, instead I like to play around with different positions and lighting. I’m interested in the shapes and composition generated by the angle of light and different furniture positions, and how this creates various moods within the space. I aim to take a batch of photographs each time to use as reference for paintings. Sometimes I find it easier to experiment without the formality of having the camera set up, so I’ll take a quick photo on my phone and then recreate it later. Once I’ve chosen a composition, the painting stage is quite straightforward, except that I’m trying to create the appearance of clay, which is an ongoing challenge.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
I studied photography at university so most of my early influences were photographic artists, Thomas Demand being the one who impressed and inspired me the most. I also saw a short animation when I was very young called The Sandcastle by Co Hoedeman, it planted a seed that took 30 years to sprout. In terms of my current painting practice, the concepts and motivation driving it come from philosophy - primarily Buddhist ways of thinking, and how that ties in with physics and psychology. I love an empty room, so paintings by Hopper and Hammershøi appeal to me greatly. I’m also a fan of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of her houses at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu.
Personal space and how we inhabit it, both the visible and invisible structures that shape our environment are rooted within your practice, tell us more about this?
I’ve always been fascinated by thresholds and opposites: inside and outside, comfort and uncertainty. I’m captivated by the potential of an empty room and its endless possibilities. I also strive for harmony and balance. I’m interested in the use of buildings and everyday items of furniture as symbols of deeper concepts, they can embody abstract ideas that can’t be pinned down. Tables and chairs are often referenced in science and philosophy as examples of the solid ‘real’ world. Rooms and the interior of buildings often symbolise the mind, so these aspects work together. The notion of home is also a key theme in my work, I think about how it can exist at different scales, from being at home within yourself, to the experience of the building you live in, the planet and beyond. I’m interested in the oneness of everything and the feedback of thoughts into behaviour (from inside to outside), which manifests in the world, and then affects our mind from the outside in. In my early photographic work, I was drawn to quiet, contemplative imagery with reduced detail, and this has carried through into my paintings.
How important is the choice of material in relation to realizing the concept of your work?
I was thinking about this recently, as there are sculptural and photographic elements in my process, while the end result is painting. I feel that photography is almost too 2D for me and sculpture is too 3D, whereas painting sits in-between, as a sort of 2.5D. I like the idea of my work existing between dimensions. I’ve recently started painting on cradled wood panels, allowing me to round the edges and make the panel an integral part of the work. My aim is that the panel itself resembles an object that could exist within the painted scene.
I use oil paint in natural earth colours as I feel it resonates with the subject matter by evoking the literal and metaphysical ground from which everything arises and returns. Light plays a crucial role in my work, illuminating form and offering hope through the darkness. I’m curious about the possibility of making everything out of natural materials, with nothing synthetic, but that’s not a practical option at the moment.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
At the moment it would probably be my camera. If you took that away I’d have to completely rethink my process, maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it would certainly be more challenging. It plays an important part in translating the scene from the model to the painting and is crucial for me in framing and composing the image.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
This is a difficult question because I read and listen to so many that I struggle to remember which ones were the most important to me, they all intermingle in my brain. The Earth Has a Soul: C. G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life is a book with many of my pencil marks in, so that must be an important one. Lila by Robert M. Pirsig is also a contender due to it being stuffed full of post-it notes. In it, he discusses static and dynamic quality, which I found interesting when thinking about the sense of permanence that architecture provides, contrasted with the chaos that might occur within a building. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been listening to talks given by Alan Watts, as well as reading as many of Bernardo Kastrup’s books as I can find. Kastrup is a proponent of metaphysical idealism - the notion that reality is essentially mental.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
Since early 2021 I’ve been working on a collaborative project with artist Matt Pickering. Degrees of Freedom will culminate in an installation incorporating new video and painting work, to be exhibited at NewBridge Project in April. You can read more about the project here: https://www.jilltate.co.uk/-/galleries/works/degrees-of-freedom-2021-22 and keep an eye on the page for updates as the project progresses.