Interview by Catherine Hewett
Camberwell College of Art graduate Abigail Box talks to jotta about showcasing her work in the upcoming jotta exhibition Into the Wilde. Her vivid paintings use neon hues, accentuating the bizarre placement of wild animals among modern interior settings, “a conscious decision for my paintings to be an escape from real life rather than be about it.”
CH: Do you believe your art work reflects the chosen themes of the Into the Wilde exhibition?
Into the Wilde is an exciting name and I think all of the artists who work on the show are suitably adventurous. A lot of my own work explores our own ‘under the surface’ animal instinct and a and sense of the unknown.
CH: Your use of neon colours and animals in your paintings gives a graphic, almost street art quality to your work. Is this an intentional departure from traditional painterly techniques?
I do like the neon and bright experimental colours in street art and fashion. My use of neon started almost by accident, having gone to buy paints with a friend and being insanely jealous that she had a need for neon paint. I ended up buying every colour of neon they had. This coincided with a time where I had been painting such real and serious things and I had made a conscious decision to change direction for my paintings to be an escape from real life rather than be about it.
CH: Many of your pieces feature animals juxtaposed with modern man-made backgrounds. Where did this conceptual framework stem from and develop?
The animals, especially the bears, are something about which I imagine most people have a mixture of associations with. Think of wild bears and then the soft bears from childhood; I like the contradictions in that. I like the play between the traditional man-made interior that is so familiar and the unpredictable wild beast in this setting. It raises questions about civilisation versus nature, the vulnerability of the boundary between the two, which leads me to consider the validity of some of our social norms and conventions.
CH: Do your paintings ever feature narrative?
I’d like to think that my paintings have the vocabulary for a narrative, as if they were stills from a film or animation, but that you couldn’t be sure what has just happened or what will come next. I hope that ambiguity evokes curiosity.
CH: How do you plan the paintings that you create? Do you do preliminary sketches and samples or do you just improvise?
I keep a lot of cut-outs and old books with imagery I find compelling in one way or another, and then I collage it all together with a intuitive approach. I make line drawings from the collages and project them onto large canvases. I’m essentially creating a giant colouring book, which is something I never really intended, but now, come to think of it, I like this comparison. I can’t tell you how much I love filling a white space with a riot of colour.
CH: What are you working on at present?
I’m working with some images I have of young hunters. For ages I’ve had this photograph of a little girl wearing an all-in-one neon snowsuit holding a dead bird that she’s just shot whilst hunting. There’s something compelling about her expression, she looks unfazed by the kill, dealing with death in a very matter-of-fact way. She’s more awkward about having her photo taken if anything – similar to the old paintings of young royalty dressed in armour, more awkward for being painted than for the idea of going to battle. It’s an odd jump going from painting bears to painting hunting scenes, but again it’s where those two worlds collide.