Interview by Stephanie Sadler
While I stood in front of Abi’s giant polar bears on canvas at Jotta’s Trafalgar Hotel exhibition, “Into the Wilde” a few weeks ago, I wondered: cute and cuddly or about to attack? The answer is whatever you want it to be. Abi likes a bit of mystery in her work and leaves us to make up the story.
After she obtained her BA in Fine Art from Camberwell College of Art, Abi’s been involved in exhibitions all over London including this year’s Affordable Art Fair and an upcoming Art for Youth exhibition at Royal College of Art this Autumn.
Her portraits have been commissioned by BBC2 and Art House, but Abi’s turned to brighter ideas now, experimenting with neon paint and massive (cuddly/dangerous) wild animals that are now on show.
For this week’s London Art Spot, Abi talks about her infatuation with neon colours, shares her favourite unusual London hot spot for buying art supplies and shows off her latest work-in-progress of a savage little girl on the hunt holding her kill.
LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
I love London. There’s such a lot happening and I really appreciate the opportunities available. Jotta gave me the opportunity to participate in the Trafalgar Hotel exhibition “Into the Wilde”. Jotta is a great London-based organisation that works with both established and emerging artists. I’m influenced also by the enthusiasm people have here and the way that people interact with the city and each other. I enjoy the variety of lifestyles, which leads me to question social convention and that has a subtle influence on my work.
LLO: Tell us about the two main styles of work in your portfolio – these surreal other-worldly neon paintings of animals in sometimes bizarre locations and a collection of detailed portraits that feel very realistic.
I’ve always enjoyed painting portraits, they’re stimulating skilfully and it’s very satisfying when I feel I’ve captured a person just right. The rest of my work is separate from my portraits although it was sort of born out of a need to break away from such a naturalistic and disciplined style of painting. The non-portrait based work I make leans much more towards having complete control over what picture I make, and that with paint I’m not limited by sensibility.
LLO: Where does your fascination with wild animals stem from?
It’s their presence. Big animals, in particular, embody the paintings in an almost protective way. And within the concepts that my paintings explore the animals are partly used as a representation for our basic instincts, our inner savage.
LLO: And what is the significance of the fun neon paint that characterizes most of your paintings?
I partly like that it literally highlights the issues that revolve around looking at a situation without preconceptions. Also, such unnatural colours are another way of emphasising that painting doesn’t stand in the way of imagination. This is something that took me a while to realise my interest in, and it’s now one of the biggest reasons that I paint and make art. And I love bright colours, I like hearing that people find my paintings fun and visually exciting; I think that the bright neon adds to that.
LLO: There is definitely a hint of a story in all of your paintings, almost like freeze-frames from a film. Is this something you consciously consider before planning a piece of work?
Yes, I like for the work to be suggestive of an ambiguous narrative because it encourages curiosity, and I like to be left guessing. I sometimes feel that even I don’t know what my subjects are up to. Everyone forms their own rough opinion which is usually influenced by personal experiences.
LLO: How do you come up with your titles and are they usually decided before or after the painting is finished?
A bit of both. All of the titles are appropriated from other sources, book titles, or quotes from interviews or parts of articles, radio documentaries, all sorts. Although they’re not random, the borrowed text will always refer to a similar theme to the painting. With the narratives and subject matter being ambiguous as they are, I find the titles help to anchor the concepts slightly. It also seems fitting that seeing that the paintings are painted from collages I make from found imagery that the titles can also be an extension of that collage.
LLO: Favourite place in London to pick up art supplies?
I love Whittens Timber Yard in Peckham. The staff are so patient with me. I go in and start asking for wood to cut this way and that and always forget all the angles I need… and then return to book a delivery having failed in my attempt to board the number 78 (the small kind of bus) with a whole tree’s worth of wood.
LLO: Which other London-based artists do you admire?
I’m a big fan of David A Smith (He is also exhibiting at the Trafalgar Hotel at the moment.) He uses neon lights in his work along with sculptured animal forms. I like that his work has an instant impact and that they tread the line between unsettling and seductive. That, and I’m jealous of the neon lights.
LLO: Tell us about your Art for Youth show coming up in October. What can we expect?
I’ve now seen some of the work by the other artists and there are a few others that are interested in animal forms, so I’m excited to see all the pieces set up in the space working alongside each other. It’s great that 35% of all the sales goes to the Art for Youth charity.
LLO: What are you working on now?
There’s a piece I’ve been working on recently that features a little girl who’s been hunting. Here she has replaced the bear; she’s the savage one. Although she’s very young and looks harmless and actually quite serene considering she is standing holding her kill. It made me smile the other day when someone said that the all-in-one ski suit she’s wearing gave her a bulky shape, so she still sort of looks like one of the bears in my other works.