Interview by Lisa Gray
Abi Box is a London-based artist producing incredible portraits and unusual animal compositions that often portray humour. Since graduating she has exhibited and sold work internationally, been commissioned by the BBC and is a member of Contemporary Collective. We were introduced to Abi’s work and instantly loved her depictions of wild animals in everyday situations. Displaying pattern , surrealism and a love of Tigers! Abi’s art is unique and recognisable but not defined by one theme. She has developed a love for both representational and abstraction work, creating stunning pieces that all contain her individual approach to the subject. The future is bright for Abi, her fun and exciting art is making a mark on the art world. We will be attending ‘Floored’ Abi’s exhibition at London Morgan in association with Contemporary Collective and will post an update so watch this space!
Self taught or art school?
I did a foundation year at Glasgow School of Art and then did a BA at University of the Arts London, Camberwell.
Art school’s a strange one, I felt at the time like I was being torn in too many different directions but in retrospect I was learning a lot and it certainly helped to form my current practice and how I now guide my own interest in things. I think it was probably good for curbing my own stubbornness and breaking down all sorts of assumptions I had about what I kind of art I was interested in making. I’m interested in lots of things and being able to decipher which things are most relevant to my practice is something art school helped me to notice, also it taught me to have a much broader understanding of the conversation I’m trying to be a part of.
If you could own one work of art what would it be?
Gosh if I could fit it into any place that I might ever live, Instant Loveland by Jules Olitski, which is around six metres across. I think it’s a fantastical piece to stand right in front of and to imagine being engulfed by its hazy lilac mist. It’s impressively technical too, Olitski’s intention was to explore colour and form being governed by edge and for an abstract piece it has an impressive sense of depth. I think as well that it’s a nice piece to describe and I’m interested in imagery which evokes language.
How would you describe your style?
I paint mostly from photographic and digital image, evoking in my paintings different surfaces and textures. Glossy magazine pages, upholstery fabrics, glowing computer screens, the paint becoming a second language with the translation of each surface taking on a life of its own.
Where are your favourite places to view art?
Up close! Paintings especially – I love being able to zoom in and out of a piece. I went to see Andreas Eriksson at Stephen Friedman Gallery not so long ago and the paintings in this show ‘Coincidental Mapping’ were boldly constructed out of big chunks of colour but from up close there was such a lot of painterly detail. I love imagining how certain parts of a painting are painted, how something might have been brushed or scraped onto the canvas and you can’t appreciate that from a photograph.
I also love seeing artist’s studios – I find it intriguing to see work half-finished. I guess it’s another way of being able to understand how something is made.
Who are your favourite artists and why?
Ah, it’s impossible to have one. I hugely admire David Hockney’s way of looking and John Baldessari’s way of thinking – and the fact that he had Tom Waits narrate ‘a film about John Baldessari’ that alone puts him into a whole other league of cool.
Also many of my contemporaries, painters such as Dean Melbourne, Sikelela Owen, Tahnee Lonsdale, Yuki Aruga and Rebecca Molloy. I not only love their work but also appreciate the conversations we have surrounding our practices.
What or who inspires your art?
I’m interested in making work which might form part of a larger conversation in terms of painting and so often I’m inspired by seeing art by other people which has suggested something which I’d like to respond to in my own work. The most recent piece of work I’ve seen which has influenced me in terms of what I thought painting could be was ‘Workshop’ by Farah Atassi. It was something I felt I hadn’t seen before and has gone on to inform the way I consider depicting space within a composition.
I’m inspired by such a lot. I really enjoy the fact that I do something which involves me paying attention to the things around me. It means I go through most days with an awful lot more interest and intrigue than I think I would do otherwise.
Where’s your studio and what’s it like?
I have a studio in east London within a building full of other studios. Hormazd Narielwalla has a coffee machine in his studio downstairs and so I’m always bothering him for coffee and conversation. My own studio is very much organised chaos, everything is covered in paint. The walls are …actually I do think the walls are beautiful – I tend to wipe my brush on whatever is closest and so over the past four years they’ve developed into this intricate and large scale abstract mural. I also write all sorts on them, notes, ideas, shopping lists, the title of the song which is playing on the radio.
I have a lot of palettes around my studio too – off cuts of canvas which I’ve used to mix paint on – one of these has recently inspired an idea for the way that I would like to return to painting one of my explosion paintings. It’s a very rich group of colours with lots of resin mixed in and after scraping off much of the excess paint, ready to staple up on the wall, you can see that whichever colour had originally hit the canvas first has stuck best. It’s smooth as a surface but chunky in its composition and the areas where the resin has stuck best show through completely which offers a lot of contrast – I’m going on and on about this so I must like it..
Do you have any studio rituals?
“You just got to get to your studio every day and do nothing but sweep up and eventually you’ll get bored and you’ll try not to be bored, and then that’s the beginning of creativity.” – John Baldessari
I agree with the idea that creativity is born out of boredom or running out of other things to do, so I try not to have any distractions in the studio. If I don’t have something specific planned then I tend to start by tidying up and before long I’ve found something to work on. Music is good. It’s strange how quickly a day passes when I’m on my own – my concept of time goes out the window along with my ability to string a sentence together.
What are you working on currently?
I enjoy taking things out of their usual contexts, switching outside with inside, domestic with wild – I love to take furniture outside. I make up a lot of the scenarios in my paintings by making collages on Photoshop using of all sort of found imagery. Photoshop in itself has over time affected the way I think of organising pictures – I imagine imagery in multiple layers and also to be easily manipulated to look either just right or slightly awry.
I’ve just finished working on a series of paintings which continue to be about the content’s context but which also set out to disorientate through their different surfaces, textures, and patterns. Structurally speaking each composition wouldn’t quite work if it were to actually exist and a lot of it looks as though it might fall off the canvas. I also wanted there to be a dichotomy between the flatness of the picture when it is seen as a collection of shapes and patterns and the illusion of it being three dimensional when the contrasts and perspectives are brought into play. Then, the fact that there is more than one line of perspective in each piece should only further confuse our understanding of the space, much of what should rest upon that surface instead kind of floats, as though still within Photoshop where the composition was originally conceived.
I’m now looking forward to working on something which has been inspired by this recent work – continuing to focus on structure and perspective but also simplifying the content involved and experimenting with vanishing points.
What are your ambitions?
I have all kinds of ambitions but really all they come back to is that I’d like to continue to make work.