Inspiration 2015

Where do you find your inspiration?

I'm really inspired by nature, landscapes and spending time around coastal areas. I'm quite sure that I wouldn't have produced my latest collection 'Second Self' if I'd not moved my studio to the South East Coast.

What is it about the coast that inspires you?

The sea, the cliffs, the big sky. The colours change daily. Nothing is ever the same down on the beach, sometimes I feel that nature gives me permission to be different every day too.

Is the sea in your new collection?

Yes, it's in there somewhere. It's there in colour and essence. The work is abstract, and what I am exploring is how I experience myself in this new environment. The vastness and enormity of the white cliffs jutting out into the sea makes me feel small. I think that's why I've chosen to use such small canvas. They're just 7cm x 7cm. That's quite unusual for me as I really enjoy painting on very large canvas, over 2m x 2m.

How do you start a painting? Where does it all begin?

First, I start with colour. I think about what colour I'd like to work with and what would feel good. I work from my imagination, so I think about the colours I've seen on the beach, or a combination of colours I've seen in the water, the rocks, colours inside shadows, and how they play against other colours in the sky, for example. At this stage I'm looking for a feeling about what the colour does to me, and then I'll make the colour.

Does that mean that you remember a colour, and you mix it from memory?

Yes, that's what happens. I remember the colours I've seen when I'm out walking on the beach, or up on the cliffs. When I feel connected to nature, the experience stays with me.

What happens next, once you've found the colour you need and it's mixed?

Once I'm happy with how the colour feels I'll start work on the canvas. I start working with plaster to create texture, form and structure. I rarely know what's going to happen at this stage. I place a small amount of plaster onto the canvas and use a palette knife to move the plaster around, scrapping off, reforming and shaping. I'm very aware at this stage that time is limited as the plaster slowly starts to dry and flake. But as I work, I'm also reminding myself that this should be fun! It's art. I take risks, and I try not to get caught up in liking one part of the canvas and trying to make further movements fit around it. I challenge the process. I want my work to be true, not contrived or formulaic. And I'm much better at recognizing the moment when my process changes and I become focused on expectation and the final result, rather than enjoying and trusting what will happen.

What do you do when you reach that point of expectation?

I scrape off all the plaster and start shaping it again, reminding myself not to get attached to the outcome and stay with the experience itself.

You said it was fun. That's sounds like work!

It is fun, but yes of course, it's also work. I'm getting to know myself, finding new parts of me. That's the point of it.

Going back to the plaster work, do you know when it's fully formed and finished?

I don't always know, but most of the time I'll sense that the shapes and textures feel good, and I'll leave it to dry for a few hours. If a canvas doesn't feel right I'll let it dry and then apply more plaster, although I've only done this once or twice.

What happens next?

I start to use my paint. I rarely sand down the plaster as it's usually very fine. This stage is often harder when it comes to letting go of the outcome, as I've already come so far with my canvas. I'll start to use the colour I've mixed and see what happens with the textures, and how the colour responds to the fine details and grooves I've made with the palette knife. I don't look for shapes or try and see something I can recognise from past work, but instead I try and stay with what unfolds, in the here and now. This is where the colour also becomes the therapy. Working with oils is incredibly flexible because they can be removed, replaced and reshaped several times. I sometimes use turpentine to bleed the colour and water it down inside the textures. Again, I'm still trying to stay with the process and not hold on to small parts of the canvas that I become happy with. I continually turn the canvas when I'm painting, so there is no 'right way' to view it. The plaster helps create different tones, so it might look like three or four colours have been applied, when in fact I've only used one.

How many colours did you use in the paintings for 'Second Self'?

Most of the paintings have two colours, some paintings just have one. The second colour is always gold.

Can you say anything about your latest collection 'Second Self'?

'Second Self' is an exploration of the 'other'. The 'self' I'm in relationship with. The 'other' that exists within me. I'm painting my processes as a visual dialogue of who I am right now.

I'm curious about what looks like netting on some of the pieces, what does this represent?

I love collage, and what I'm exploring in these pieces is power, and where the magic happens.

Where does the magic happen?

I think the answer will be different for everyone. For me, it's where two meet. Something about being known.

Does 'Second Self' lead on from your 'Masks' collection? Is there a link?

Yes, the two collections are very much woven into each other. I produced 'Masks' in 2013, and at that time I began to explore the psychology of masks to understand how they support us, but also how they deny us of a fuller experience of who we are. Again, it's another visual representation of my personal discoveries and experiences.

I'd love to know more about 'Order and Chaos' in your 'Masks' collection.

This piece is a drawing of the right side of the face. I deconstructed it by cutting it into small squares. The idea behind it is about holding on to more that one experience, belief or process. I'm trying to convey the possibilities around choice rather than division, rejecting the 'either this or that' kind of thinking.

One last question before we finish, what's next? Do you have any plans to exhibit?

Yes definitely, and I'm currently viewing galleries to find the right space. I'm planning to show a selection of my 'Masks' drawings and the 'Second Self' collection. I'd love to exhibit towards the end of this year, or early 2016.

Thank you Vanessa for answering my questions - you can read more about Vanessa in her biography and of course view the 'Second Self' and 'Masks' collections here.