Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
Many of my paintings end up large enough to feel immersive, and tend to manifest either as a reflection of my physical environment, or a mix of that and of the phycological locations that I inhabit and those of which inhabit me.
Generally, the work frames expressions of ‘being’ through an unfolding, wondering, allegoric commentary, whilst they tend to reveal themselves through a Diasporic lens which can often involve a multiplicity of belonging and a sense of difference, often one of ‘otherness’ and displacement. The identity of the displaced positioning is often a paradox between location and dislocation, out of place everywhere and not completely anywhere.
My latest work explores a cast of reoccurring characters that rotate around the outskirts of the house that I grew up in (my childhood home) in Old Isleworth by the river Thames, where I also locked down. There is this woman with big blond hair has become almost a guiding spirit of myself, one of vulnerability and strength in the dealings of uncertainty, instability loss, and grief. She shows up reliably again and again during terrible turbulence.
I spent much of my time during lockdown- observing reflections. There is a surrendering to the reflections and the sublime as an opening for metaphysical thought. This work is in part of a body of work that acknowledges the human and worldly capacity to live at the edge of the precipice. They contemplate the necessity of self-imposed rituals and consolation.
Generally before I start working, I’ll spend time looking, reading and thinking, and collecting varied source material from drawings, life, found imagery, poetry, social media, art history etc, where often in combination as the sources float around me in the studio, become catalysts for generating investigations as quick paintings on paper.
I might do 10 studies or so to figure out a direction before I feel there is one is worth developing further. The studies that do work become a guide for larger paintings, and whilst they don't always stay completely faithful, they are integral to the workings out of mood, feeling, composition, palette etc, that are inherent in the more committed paintings. Using that map, I usually loosely draw the composition on the wall and its then worked on the floor unstretched in sections, I try not to be concerned with the entire image before it reaches the wall again where I see it afresh and in its entirety.
Who are your biggest influences?
I have always had a bad magazine print that I ripped out of a magazine once of Gauguin’s ‘Young man with a flower behind his ear’ 1891 up in my studio, which I can always see in my periphery. I have never fallen out of love with it, or feel that I should put it away. It’s something of the man’s interior world that I always hope to achieve in my own work.
As I’ve been working with the River Thames as a setting for most of my paintings in my upcoming show ‘The Waters of Dwelling’- For that reason more lately [J.M.W.] Turner’s sketchbooks of this same part of the river have been so interesting, I love the sweeping moods. The whole way through making my current show I’ve been looking at [Edvard] Munch, mostly for his sense of melancholy and depictions of loss and grief which I’m nodding to in the recent work. I have also had a beautiful book of [Claude] Monet’s Water Lilies, which has been out in my studio next to Munch. There has been a constant dialogue throughout with these particular artists over the last year and a half. Along with the inescapable Ophelia and Botticelli’s birth of Venus.
Symbolism is present in the river, in objects like shells and in the landscapes which talk about the weather, Sigmond Freuds ideas around ‘The death of Eros’, the Greek mythological characters of Achelous (one of the five rivers of the underworld) and Suda. Symbolic Spiritual influences have appeared within the work too; much like the Chinese philosophy of the Tao, (where the route of water explores the alignment with the elements both within and outside of our bodies), and immersion for purification through the Jewish Mikva have all found their way into the work.
How important is the process of drawing within your painting practice?
The relationship of drawing into painting within my practice is fundamental. Drawing underpins all of my work.
I keep sketchbooks full of workings out for ideas, compositions, feelings, observations. Always starting with less committed, intuitive linier drawings. The stronger drawings often try to become paintings, where sometimes I prefer the original drawings to the paintings. Drawing manifests itself within the paintings too as I draw with paint, the linier is important as it punctuates the more fluid surface.
How important is material in your work?
Source material is important. I am a collector of imagery, photographs, paintings etc, everything that's around me weaves its way into the work somehow, the people, the environment, the inspirations, the world.
The physical materials are important as well, the qualities I often want in my work are an absorbent luminous surface and for the paint to dry fairly quickly.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I have my same go to brushes which I get attached too out of many pots of brushes.
Also A knee cushion at the moment as unfortunately I couldn't work on the concrete floor all day without it! I wish it was more exciting than that!!!!
Radio 4 for background noise.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
Over the years Kitaj’s Diasporist manifestos have been heavily influential on my practice for his explorations of Jewish identity and thought where he embarks on a personal reflection of the Jewish question in relation to contemporary art. Thematically I have drawn from his manifestos, threads and strong connections to my own roots and questioning of identity in belonging.
I have collected loads of beautiful books over the years, I always pick up a catalogue if a particular show resonates.
I was thoughtfully gifted Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha to read by my gallerist more recently, (one of the most influential spiritual works of the twentieth century) which deals with ideas of Indian transcendental philosophy. There are echo’s in my recent body of work about immersion, of the rivers ferryman who guides Siddhartha towards his destiny to the ultimate meaning of existence.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I have my second solo presentation entitled ‘The Waters of Dwelling’ opening physically at Anima Mundi Gallery on the 17/07/2021 – 04/08/2021 Its the most personally introspective and emotionally charged body of work I’ve made yet.
Portrait of Rebecca Harper
The loss of Eros, acrylic on canvas, 210x180cm
The watch tower, acrylic on canvas, 150x180cm
The rivers of dwelling, acrylic on canvas, 220x180cm
What you wished and wished away, oil and acrylic on canvas, 210x180cm
The shell of the sacred water, acrylic on canvas, 130x180cm