LH: Your painting Linkage III was shortlisted for the 2014 Bankley Open Exhibition by our judging panel for it’s strong composition and striking use of colour. Could you tell us about what inspired this work?
Holly Rowan Hesson is an artist based in Manchester and Leeds. Since completing a practice-based MA in Contemporary Fine Art with Distinction in 2013, she has been initiating her own site specific projects and exhibitions as well as exhibiting across the North. She was selected by our Open Call 2014 panel as first prize winner for her photographic installation Spark.
Holly’s work explores process-led image-making that creates dialogues with material, sites and residual memories. Her work most often starts with a camera and ends in installation. Responding intuitively to her surroundings, she is compelled to alter what she sees, transforming solidity and the real into something more abstract, transient and ephemeral.
Lucy Harvey: I wondered if you could tell us some more about your winning piece, Spark, and the processes behind the work?
Holly Rowan Hesson: Spark was originally made for a group show exploring abstraction held this summer (Society of Island Universes – http://hollyrowanhesson.co.uk/society-u-installation) and represents a departure from the work I was making in the year preceding that. I’d been working in an intense way, giving myself short timeframes, typically just a week, to make, produce, curate and show work in a site specific way, where all the work was made in and of the site where it was to be shown.
With Spark I wanted to challenge myself to make something that worked with the site it was shown in and with the other artist’s work, but actually could have a life beyond that particular exhibition as a work in its own right. I allowed myself to go back to thinking about abstraction in a purer way, in terms of colour and form, going through my catalogue of abstract photographs and experimenting further with materials I’ve been working with for a while for their particular properties that tie in with my core concerns, acetate and glass.
LH: What drew you first to photography as a medium and how has your relationship with it changed since undertaking your MA in 2013?
HRH: I was given a DSLR camera as a birthday gift in 2010 when I was in the middle of my year long foundation course and as soon as I started experimenting with making abstract images I was hooked. I’m really not a classic photographer though – my technical expertise if you’d like your photograph in focus and lit well is highly limited! Throughout my MA abstract photographs were my main outputs but my solo MA final show completely changed that overnight. At the end of April 2013 I gave myself ten days on site in a huge concrete shell of a building to start from scratch with no work and make an exhibition and it was a revelation – what I produced developed my work in an entirely new direction.
Now increasingly I use abstract image making with my camera as the first step in responding intuitively to my surroundings to start dialogues with material, sites and residual memories. I’m interested in transforming solidity and the real into something more abstract, transient and ephemeral and the images I produce with a camera often undergo multiple physical processes using different materials and more often than not end up as installations of sculptural objects.
LH: We know you’ve already got some ideas for your solo exhibition with us next year but we wondered if you could give us an insight into what you plan to develop for the show?
HRH: With an amazing six months to plan and make work in the studio for the solo exhibition as oppose to my now standard seven to ten days on site, anything could happen! I’m always keen to experiment and my first thoughts are that I’d like to use my prize money to investigate working with materials and with scale that I just haven’t had the funds to explore before. So I’m planning exciting trips to builder’s merchants and specialist fabricators. Beyond that you’ll just have to watch this space I guess!
WRAP PARTY – Sunday 26th October
It’s your last chance to catch the Open Call this Saturday and Sunday, 12-4pm. Holly and second prize winner Matt Davies will be joining us to discuss their work this Sunday at our Wrap Party in the gallery from 2-4pm, see our Facebook events page for more information.
We will also be launching out first ever Bankley Residency in our new Project Space on the third floor and our bar will be open, with kind sponsorship from the Levenshulme Pub Company. The Wrap Party + Bankley Residency launch is part of Levenshulme Festival 2014.
by Ian Massey
Though he exhibits infrequently, Peter Seal has over the years built a reputation for his quietly powerful abstract paintings, notable for their chromatic subtlety and beautifully-crafted surfaces. Typically, a canvas might be composed of one or two squares or rectangles, within which are then set one or more subsidiary geometric shapes. Such grid-like structures might suggest sources in the urban environment, but the artist is keen to assert that this is not his intention, and that although there may be subliminal references to the world of appearances, there are no explicit external reference points. The paintings, he says, “don’t have an answer – they are not crossword puzzles.” Their eloquence comes from paint and form alone.
Seal works on a number of paintings at once, different sizes ensuring variety of pace and focus. Each can take six-to-eight weeks to complete, though much of that time might not be in the physical making, but in a process of assimilation, a kind of “settling time”. They are built up slowly in layers of oil paint, each allowed to dry before the next is applied. A grey, painted over vermillion, becomes warmer; a white softer when painted over yellow. This gradual accretion results often in a lapidary intensity of colour. Edges where colours abutt or intersect are crucial. Some are knife-sharp, whereas others are more diffuse, allowing the subtle vibration of a seam of cobalt, violet or alizarin, or of a fizzy penumbra where magenta and orange merge. Spatial harmony is achieved through tonal modulation and a fine-tuning of the scale of each component and its inter-relationships.
Valerie Clarke is a mixed media artist who works predominately with natural materials. Based in Trafford, Valerie has worked in further education for many years and undertakes residencies, schools projects, commissions and collaborations. Her interest has recently expanded to consider society on a wider scale and in the contrast of sociological perspectives, focusing on the intimate, subconscious world of the individual.
Valerie will be exhibiting as part of the Sale Arts Trail which takes place this weekend alongside artists from Sale and beyond.
Q1. Your work brings presence and structure to ephemeral materials such as soil and hay. How do these processes come about and how important is experimentation in your work?
The materials I use may be unassuming yet they are fundamental to the work. I have always been fascinated by growth and decay so this aspect of the materials feeds into the end results and I like the sense of impermanence which reflects our human condition. I explore our connection with the landscape we inhabit and thus the use of natural materials is key.
However, I do sometimes experiment in introducing less obvious materials such as glass and rubber which have a natural base but push the processes in other directions. The process of experimentation is equally important as this reflects the human state; we are shaped by our experiences. Sometimes the effects of a process can be surprising and aspects like the temperature can make a significant difference to the result. I love this part of my work as sometimes it leads to unusual juxtapositions.
Q2. Your figurative and site specific works offers a real sense of intimacy and I wanted to ask how important this connection with the viewer is to the making process? What have you been recently working on?
I like to offer the viewer a new way of looking at materials which we may take for granted as part of our environment. When I work in situ it is important to me that the work is truly connected to that place which involves getting a feel for the place and how people experience it, be that in the present or in investigating the history of the site, which I find particularly interesting. The viewer will draw their own conclusions about the work and I only facilitate a response; each viewer brings their own experiences which will inform a personal reaction.
Recently I have been working on two series; one exploring the traces of possible ‘presences’ in places, be that real or imaginary, and is enabling me to draw on psychological aspects of the human experience as well as the physical. The other body of work concerns the layers of experiences which shape our lives. This second series may take me into the use of man-made materials which will be a possible new direction for me.
Q3. It’s the first Sale Arts Trail this weekend which features your larger scale pieces alongside a whole host of other artists from Sale and the local area. What work are you showing?
For Sale Arts Trail I have maintained the use of natural materials in the pieces. I have been exploring other perspectives of the human experience in that I am also looking at thought processes. This work includes some pieces which abstract the figure and questions aspects of humanity. I believe I was also partly influenced by thinking about war, particularly the First World War and its impact on a whole generation. I had recently been re-reading Vera Brittain’s ‘Testament of Youth’ and I think that this has certainly fed into the work.
Sale Arts Trail kicks off Friday 11th July at Sale Waterside and continues across the weekend at a range of venues, Valerie’s pieces can be seen at Sale Waterside until 28th July alongside a host of artists and makers, including fellow Bankley resident, Lucy Harvey. Check out the Sale Arts Trail page for more information: http://www.facebook.com/saleartstrail & on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/saleartstrail
Marielle Hehir (b.1986) is an artist currently based in Manchester, UK. Since graduating in 2009 with a first class honours in Fine art painting, Marielle has won awards, appeared in various publications and exhibited extensively in the UK and internationally. She works from her studio at Bankley and in September 2014 will start her MA studies in painting at the Slade.
Q1. In your statement you talk about how you draw inspiration from the experience of nostalgia, the precarious nature of the present and our apprehension for the future. How did this side-wards glance at our needs for sentimentality and security come about in your work?
I’m a particularly melancholic person, I remember the past in great detail. The future is a space, which scares and excites me equally. The present is a state of flux in-between these two conditions. The awareness of and lack of control over time passing rapidly whilst I struggle to keep on track is consistently at the forefront of my thinking. There’s a daily battle of my ambition versus current condition.
Over the past few years I have traveled as much as possible in order to experience cultures that differ from the one I have sprung from. Travel is obviously eye opening and a catalyst for change in thought habits, but is also often a humbling experience. Either way it has become crucial to the development of my work.
I think my own sentimentality combined with an appreciation of life in all its forms is the seed here. We are finite and life is precious, fragile.
Essentially, I get a tad paranoid over the old ‘so much to do so little time’ saying. Whenever I start to think along this track, things I need to do start to pile up, multiply even. Be it countries I need to visit, books I need to read, people I need to speak to, anything. It becomes this scary, loud, crushing bombardment of stuff, which if I let it, would cease to make sense. It is this sense of overwhelming that I am definitely trying to convey in my work.
Of course, finding other artists whom deal with similar concerns has only encouraged me along this particular path. Fiona Rae has been a big influence on me, firstly for the way she uses her painterly language to build intense battlegrounds loaded with tensions on her canvases. But her interests lie in what it is to exist now and musings on future conditions.
Q2. Your paintings draw architecture, graffiti, and graphic design (amongst other things) together with anatomical forms. These human references are rather fleshy and sensual but also somewhat concealed in other pieces and I wondered if your motivations were partly psychoanalytical?
Of all the visual codes that find their way into my work, I felt that the introduction of anthropomorphic forms tied it all together somewhat. I want to give a nod to the human footprint and the part it plays in the mess of existence, where consequences can be good or bad.
I wouldn’t say the motivation is psychoanalytical. But I am interested in experimenting with the layers of time, memory and conscious. Whilst painting I’m far too aware in what I’m laying down on the canvas and how the order of ingredients is going to affect the reading of the painting. There’s a whole sense of mischief that comes from this power of control. My decision to manipulate what the viewer is eventually going to see, in what order, in what proportion is essentially me playing. The layering and sometimes deliberated, sometimes accidental act of painting over sections to block out information, brings a sense of freedom to the act of painting. For example I might spend days painting an excruciatingly detailed pattern, only to paint over half of it a week later. I see these transient conditions as a metaphor for the temporary nature of existence.
Sometimes it feels as though the unseen within my compositions becomes more powerful than what is seen. I’m interested in provoking curiosity in the viewer of course, but also a sense of confusion and unease through absurd combinations of visuals, or as Freud would put it, the uncanny. All aspects within my work are abstracted, clues toward a reading, so I was never going to add wholly figurative forms to the picture. I really love Jacob’s Ladder, the film, for its portrayal of Jacob’s grotesque hallucinations. It got me looking into body horror techniques, and ways I could introduce part human forms to my work. Visually these techniques used in Jacobs Ladder are reminiscent of a Francis Bacon painting, and the director has cited Bacon as an influence, as do I. Bacon is, after all the master of a macabre abstraction of human form through painting. Then we’ve got Scott Walker’s The Drift, the feeling of discomfort whilst or after listening to that album is what I want to touch on with my work, (though perhaps not to quite such a horrific level). It’s a bizarre listening experience, with an unsettling rhythm. Walker makes obscure noises in obscure ways, like punching meat for example. This addition of an unfamiliar entity within the composition completely destroys any sense of security we could hope to feel. Because of the unseen, you can’t quite know exactly what’s going on or why, which is what makes it so compelling.
Q3. You’re off to the Slade in September to do your MA which is our loss and their gain. What are you hoping to get out of your time there and what parts of your current practice are you looking forward to taking further?
Well I’m looking forward to relocating in London. That in itself is going to be interesting, as environment certainly affects the process and resulting work. I’m prepared to see my work develop and change. It’s an exciting but nerve-wracking feeling. There is going to be a whole new level of input, which will alter my path. I talk about my work a lot with my peers, but this can be sporadic. I’m looking forward to mixing with a bunch of painters on a daily basis, where conversation regarding painting is constant. Communication and critique is so important to my work. I see the paintings themselves as a form of communication, so without engagement they cease to realize their full potential.
I’m looking forward to experimenting, and to a shake up basically. I think scale wise its all going to get bigger. Past few years my canvases haven’t been to the scale I’d really like them to be, mostly because of my moving around and the limits of whatever space I was working in at the time. It was a challenge to try to work small, which worked to a satisfactory degree but nothing more. But there were times when this has felt like a compromise, so that’s going to stop!
I’ve been working with irregular shaped canvas, it has become a main driving force behind my work. I design and make the stretchers myself, its all part of it to me. Not long ago I was making stretchers using slats from an old bed using a mitre saw on my kitchen floor. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to getting into the wood workshops at the Slade and using the power tools to my full advantage. I think my work will become far more ambitious. I’m interested with how a shaped canvas affects the reading of what is painted on the canvas, and also how the negative space around the canvas seems to interact with it, the borders of the work seem to become ambiguous. These spatial concerns will definitely be explored in my work over the coming months. I see the work moving into other dimensions, becoming more sculptural. Perhaps even installation. Its exciting. Who knows what will happen. Come see me in London to find out!
Beth Rowland is a multi-media artist from Stoke-on-Trent who works in illustration, film and photography. Her work is concerned with the tragedies and comedies of every day life.
Q1. Your practice encompasses illustration, film and fine art photography – I wondered how this diversity came about and whether you developed this after your left your degree in Fashion Photography at the London College of Fashion in 2012?
I was always interested in working more diversely but I had a bit of a lack of confidence with it. Then by the time I finished University I was really exasperated with how prescriptive the course was and because it really wasn’t right for me I felt like I was always getting it wrong anyway, so I was just desperate to get on with doing something else and for it to be as far away from fashion as possible. By then I’d just come back to Stoke had no job or money, so not much to do, I used to go to my Nana and Granddad’s house all the time in the week and I started doing some bits of drawings based on all that. Then I bought a Dictaphone and did some basic animations with recordings, and then I thought I’d have a go at some script writing and from that, film making. My style of working now is just of having a go at stuff and a lot of guess work and if it’s a disaster, just binning it and doing another. It’s really important to try not to beat yourself up to much.
Q2. What motivates and inspires your work?
I think it’s just instinctive really, I always need to be working on something or I get uptight and frustrated; it just feels like the natural thing for me to be doing. The best I’ve ever heard it explained it is in this film about my favourite illustrator, Tomi Ungerer, called ‘Far Out Isn’t Far Enough’. He says when he draws it’s a real need; like when you have to go to the toilet, it has to come out. I’m inspired by loads of stuff: people; how they talk, how they stand, where they’ve been, what they might be thinking, why they might be thinking it, I’m so nosy! I’m interested in everyone and I like stories.
Q3. You launched your production company Chinwag Films with Laura Tombs earlier this year and you recently shot the video for Moscow’s ‘Pack Animals’ single at Bankley. How did the concept for the video come about?
Around Christmas me and Laura were talking about how we wanted do a music video and wondering who we knew who might want one. I’ve known the singer, Nic for ages and was vaguely aware he had a band, so we had a listen to Moscow and I felt like I knew how it should look straight away. I always felt it should be dystopian and clinical, the doctors and the experiments actually came about because I had a broken tooth which I was avoiding going the dentist for (I hate them because of all the poking about in your mouth!) then that led to Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Also Moscow were great to work with, they let us have pretty much free reign with the concept and put so much faith in us from the off, knowing you have that support gives you the confidence to try things and really get the best out of an idea. And it was our amazing crew who made the mechanics of it work, with film you can have the best concept ever but without a good crew you’ve got nothing, it’s all collaboration.
Q4. What’s next for Chinwag?
We’ve just pitched for this amazing project but I don’t know if we’ve got it yet so I can’t tell you even though I AM DYING TO!! Then we’re filming the first script that we started off with in the summer, which will be amazing and surreal. It’s been something we’ve been discussing for nearly a year now and I’ll be seeing some real life people read for it next week, which is so exciting I can’t get over it. Then also we’ve got some short monologues which I’d like to illustrate and a longer script we’re working on with my sister Liv and hopefully some more music videos. We’ll have a go at anything we can get our hands on really!
This year we’ll be spotlighting our studio members and first up we have Andy Broadey from our 1st Floor.
Andy is an installation artist who is primarily interested in the meanings that inhere within architectural structures and the effect of these structures upon the people who enter and engage with them. His work uses art galleries as supports for photographic imagery to create installations that disrupt and comment upon the galleries’ status as privileged sites of aesthetic appreciation.
He has recently completed his PhD at the University of Leeds which examined the relations between Institutional Critique and white cube gallery conventions at the start of the twenty-first century.
Q1. Your recent work has looked at ideologies, from the editorial choices and assumptions of Bulgarian travel guides in Sight Seeing, to the changing political beliefs behind Still and your PhD which explores the conventions of contemporary gallery spaces. What drew you to explore this in your work?
There is a strong focus on conceptual and critical art practice at University of Leeds where I studied, and I think over time a certain force of osmosis solidified ideology critique as key concern for my work. Ideology is the given, the way things go, the assumptions we project onto ourselves and others. Such habits of thought and action endure when passivity dominates. I also don’t believe that we can simply step outside of ideology. It has to be turned, its articulations reconfigured, and its contradictions exposed. In this sense the production of critical distance has become a key objective for my art practice.
Q2. In Still, you responded to the Buzludja monument as part of Water Tower Art Fest, Bulgaria, in a project which explored how this structure has become emblematic of it’s social context and history. I wondered if you could tell us about how this duality of past and present informed the process that led to this piece of work?
Working with WaterTower Art Fest in Bulgaria has allowed me to explore the distribution of political ideologies in East and West Europe. Both are mired in neo-liberalism, yet thought on viable political alternatives is still overshadowed by the spectre of state capitalism. Repeatedly photographing the corridors of the now ruined Meeting House of the Bulgarian Communist Party allowed me to focus upon how this sense of aftermath shapes the here and now of politics in Bulgaria and beyond.
I am very drawn to Walter Benjamin’s narration of the Paul Klee painting Angelus Novus (1920) where we see an angel blown forwards by the winds of history with her back turned to the future. She witnesses the wreckage of the past piling at her feet, yet it is only from these past repetitions that a better future might be forged. Similarly, with Still the two cameras I used perpetually switched positions facing back onto the position from which the previous shot in the series was taken. What has happened conditions the possibility of what can happen.
The A6 project takes place within artist run spaces in Manchester. Such spaces are invariably produced through the appropriation of former industrial sites for the purposes of artistic display. Debris is removed, walls are painted white, and new lighting is introduced. No longer a vacant lot within urban space, the site becomes an arena of display held apart from its surroundings by its capacity to communicate emptiness. Exhibited within such spaces mundane objects, images and activities can be nominated as art.
I am interested in the opportunities that such appropriations of life as art present, and the architectural conditions of separation that facilitate these acts. I will produce a series of works for the A6 project that nominate the gallery space as an arena of political interaction between artist and audience starting at PS Mirabel with the introduction of a series of chalkboards communicating notes on the gallery space and instructions for the audience.