Artist Sandra Turnbull: Sense and Sensuality

Catching The Comet'sTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail hosts artist Sandra Turnbull.  A group show,”I Love You Because,” featuring 40 artist’s interpretations of Elvis, opens next week in London and includes Turnbull’s work. Prior to becoming an artist, Sandra co-managed the band Eurythmics and, after many years of nurturing the creativity of others, she has finally come to honour her own talents. A disclaimer: Sandra introduced me to my husband and once painted a picture of my bottom; two things I am immensely happy about. Check out this website to see the full scope of Turnbull’s vivid, sensual work.

Sandra Turnbull

Photo of Sandra Turnbull by Robert Goldstein

Sandra on creativity…

“My creativity  usually resides in my guts but it changes. When I was working on All About Eve, an exhibition about girls who work in the sex industry, it was in my gut and my nether regions!  My current body of work, The Buddhas, is in my heart and soul.

I reckon I channel. Thoughts come from… who knows where?  The muse visits me in surprising ways; in my sleep it leaves an imprint of an idea to paint. I wake with a vivid colour  and often a finished painting  just floating behind my eyes. After the idea, I look for a model to make it real. My best friend Jay has a great body and has made many appearances  in my work. My mate Jane also  crept into  several early water paintings. My partner Robert [Goldstein, ph0tographer] has a striking face, perfect to paint.  I don’t take too much credit for what I do. I put in the experiences, then some divine force charges through me and spews out images – it’s a compulsion – I don’t have a choice.

‘A Painting is never finished, it just stops in interesting places,’ my Godson Mickey said to me  a few years ago and I wrote it on the wall of my studio in black felt tip as an inspiration . My creative process has no censorship .

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early artistic influences?

“I was sent to dancing school most days from 2 years old. My parents didn’t know what to do with all my energy and dancing  became an obsession .  I ran away from home at 16 to join a dance troupe and that became my life. When I gave up  professional dancing,  I took up painting to fill the  creative void .  It was at this time that Hyper Kinetics was born and I became  one half of the management team for Eurythmics.  My dad, Annie Lennox, Joan Rhodes, Picasso, Robert Goldstein, all made me think I could do anything, either by example or by encouragement. So if I had a creative idea, I just went right out and made it happen.”

Please describe how  you put together the piece for the Elvis exhibition and say a little about solo projects you’re currently developing.

“The curator Harry Pye asked me to get involved with the Elvis show in early 201.3 I threw myself at it and finished the piece in March. It is almost as I envisaged it . That’s how it works for me . I conjure up a colour  get the ground prepared and then imagine what the finished painting looks like and go from there. In parallel,  I am working on the Buddha Series so I could only see Elvis as a Buddha, crossed-legged with the American flag pressing through his face. I loved painting Elvis. It made such a change from the Buddhas.  Before I paint, I do lots of visual research so I looked at every photo ever taken of Elvis and a lot of his impersonators… How do they get away with it ?!

Good Luck Buddha

One of Sandra’s Buddha Series

“I went to China in 2010 and came back needing to paint Buddhas. I was surprised how Buddhism is treated like superstition. Catholicism is the new religion there, crosses have replaced the Buddhas. I have painted 23 or 24 Buddhas. I sold a few and now I make prints and sell those so I can save the originals for a show next year.  I have another idea on the go too; Cut and Paste  which involves a central life-size image, surrounded by  collage. I am now obsessed with collecting magazines and own 10 pairs of scissors in all sizes… it’s my Blue Peter moment.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I can kiss the lips of my painting – that’s when I know it’s finished. Weird I know, but it’s a fact. ”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what is guaranteed to kill it?

“I am inspired by vivid colour, sexy bodies, music, wide open spaces, depression, dreaming, and I’m uninspired by tiredness, idiots and anger.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore and what do you do when you feel blocked?

“I have never felt painting is a chore, thank God . A challenge yes, often, but that’s half the fun .

If I am ever blocked I paint pictures on boxes. My friends save boxes for me;  chocolate…shoe…biscuit…soap… any old box, large or small,  and I paint naked people on them … that usually gets the juices flowing and opens a few portals.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work or do you prefer to create alone?

“I work alone, I’m not keen on input. Robert might make a suggestion for a painting and I kindly suggest he might like to do that himself. I have been know to take the odd title he suggests for a piece of work though 🙂

Sandra Turnbull StudioPlease talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create. 

“I have my studio at The Chocolate Factory N22 and have been there since 1999. I only paint there and it is my favourite place (see left).

My  heavenly studio is set up so I can walk in and not even bother to take my coat off and start painting . I’m usually working on 2 or 3 pieces at the same time so, whichever grabs me first, I start. It’s compulsive behaviour. Sometimes I am so into it that I forget to put music on. Other times I walk in, put a track on, start painting and play the same track on repeat all day. Sometimes I cry to the music I am playing and that affects the work. I eat a lot of crisps when I’m working. ”

Do you have a daily routine when you are painting and what is it like?  

I’m a daytime creator.  I plan my diary so I have carved out times to paint. I switch on during the drive to my studio.  My life is like an army manoeuver: I teach pilates full time, I’m a governor at a local special school, I train in marshall arts, yoga and weights, and this is apart from relationships and responsibilities with the home, family and friends. I have to plan or  it would all go pear-shaped very quickly.

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process…

Sandra Turnbull TalismanHere are three objects (see right):

1. My iphone doc…music is a driving force.

2. The palette of Joan Rhodes. Joan was the first person to encourage me to paint . She just said ,’Do It Sandra, put your work on the wall.’

3. The saying of Tom Waites: ‘You must risk something that matters’ – how true.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master? 

“Acting … I love acting . I did a course through Central St Martins in London and then a performance  at The Old Red Lion last year and, by all accounts, I was very good .  It was completely exhilarating and I will definitely do it again.”

 What are you working on next?

Buddhas – lots of them.

ElBuddha

ElBuddha by Sandra Turnbull

“I Love You Because”, a group show featuring 40 artists interpretations of Elvis curated by Harry Pye and Chloe Mortimer opens with a Private View on July 18th 6.30pm – 9pm at the A-Side B-Side Gallery, 5 to 9 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT (The gallery is open Thurs to Sun, 12 till 6pm).

To find out more about Sandra, please visit her website, follow her on Twitter or check out her Facebook Page.

Musician Amanda Palmer: Spontaneous Intimacy

This week’s Catching the Comet’s Tail interview features musician, artist, and all-round creative maverick Amanda Palmer who is currently in the UK with her band Grand Theft Orchestra. You may know Amanda from her inspiring TED talk on The Art of Asking and if you want to hear a song about relationships that will bring you to your knees, check out The Bed Song. Amanda’s latest album ‘Theatre is Evil’, is available now.

Amanda Palmer

Amanda photo by Tracy Graham

Amanda on creativity… do you have a muse?

“I find it incredibly hard to be disciplined when there’s not an immediate reward in the form of a connection. Blogging and tweeting have contributed to the death of my songwriting, because I can present the same images and ideas that I used to squeeze into songwriting into immediately presentable images for an immediate crowd. My desire for spontaneous intimacy and instant gratification is the muse itself. I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to turn that driving desire back into art now that I’ve become a full-time comminucation-holic. If I had to name the part of my body which contains the art-making fire, it’s in the touch of the hand of another person. I feel most inspired when I feel the most connected.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who or what were your early creative influences?

“I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to grow up to be an art-maker of some sort. It was there at the beginning.My creative adventures were absolutely encouraged even if they weren’t understood. My household was very literal: my mother was a computer programmer, and my step-father was a physicist. The only time the family stereo was played was at Christmas.

My sister and I created worlds of sound behind our bedroom doors. She cranked Rush and U2 and Guns N’ Roses and tried to learn drums and I listened to The Beatles, The Legendary Pink Dots and Nick Cave and fiddled with my four-track. Learning about metaphor was what I craved; I felt very isolated at home and at school and tended to gravitate towards anything that looked artistic, different, outside. I still feel like the people who influenced me most weren’t the ones who taught me the craft of making art, but those who taught me the art of being human. The craft of songwriting mostly came to me through records and tapes, copying, listening, attempting. My college years were infamously dark, and I stopped writing for the entire four years, but I was lucky enough to be exposed to some wonderful things; German culture (where I lived for a year) experimental music and performance art (I’d never heard of Robert Wilson before college) and an expansion of the idea of art itself.”

How long did it take to write Theatre is Evil? Can you recall the first spark of inspiration and is the finished work what you originally envisioned? 

“Every time I make a record, I look at the collection of songs in my drawers that I haven’t recorded yet. Most had been written within the past few years, but some were ten years old (like Berlin, I wrote when I was in my mid-twenties). I’ve never attacked the making of a record as a single project in itself (with the exception of Evelyn Evelyn, which was a start-to-finish concept record). I usually look at the making of a record as a bucket landmark into which I dump everything I’m currently doing. And when I look at the pile of songs that are going to land in the bucket, it dictates a series of choices. Band or no band? What kind of tour? How to put it out and promote it? Every single one has a different path, and I don’t plan it ahead of time, I chase after it.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity, no matter what? And what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“Being in front of people inspires me to want to make things for them. If I’m in isolation for too long, I forget the purpose of making art, which is (for me) to share it. Usually, when I haven’t written music in a long time, it’s a show or event that will kick my ass into writing, because I’ll be inspired by the idea that I can immediately share the work. I make fast, and I share fast, and that’s the way I’ve always liked it. Long projects with delayed gratification are harder for me. I don’t like to perfect. I don’t like to wait. But I’ve also tried to harness that as a power, not a weakness.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore?

“Creating things is ALWAYS a chore. I’ve always been terribly undisciplined at finishing things, ever since I was fourteen and started writing songs. And the songwriters and book-writers that I know will usually agree with this: work is work. Work is not fun. That’s why it’s work. I love having written. I love the feeling of having created something great. And I’ll often even love the high of penning a good lyric and tapping into the kind of creative mood where the chords and words flow easily and it doesn’t feel difficult. But getting my ass in the chair has NEVER been easy. That’s why having deadlines, constructs, albums, and demands from the outside is good for me. That forces me to sit and focus.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? 

“Collaboration depends on the project. When I’m writing the structure and lyrics of a personal song, I have no desire to collaborate. Not with another songwriter, not with the band, not with an arranger, nothing. But once the skeleton is locked, I’m very happy to collaborate and give the skeleton a new wrap of flesh or a new gender. As long as the internal structure keeps its integrity. Making the Evelyn Evelyn record with Jason Webley was a fantastic departure for me, because we literally penned the songs sitting side by side, discussing changes, lyrics, ideas, lengths, and the sorts of things I usually never share with another brain. It was really enjoyable.

When I was making Theatre is Evil, I brought the songs as solo piano tunes to the band (Michael, Chad and Jherek) first, and we worked out the arrangements for all their instruments over a long series of rehearsals and shows. Chad would program a synth sound and I would tweak it. Michael would try out a drum rhythm and Jherek would move it to the left or right. Everybody weighed in on the sounds and feel of the instruments. This was something I would have found almost impossible to sit through ten years ago. The nature of my songs is so personal that I used to feel the need to control every single detail of the presentation. Now I don’t feel as attached to a song once I’ve written it, and I can hold it at arms length and view it as a malleable piece of art. But it took me years to get to that place.”

Please provide a photograph of and talk a bit about the environment you most like be in to create… do you prefer the city or the countryside?

“The Dresden Dolls went to the Catskill mountains to track our second record, and I have never been quite so freaked out as I was that week. The isolation of being on a mountain in the woods brought up something very dark and lonely for me. I woke up early every morning just so I could drive 45 minutes to Woodstock in order to sit in a cafe listening to sounds of humanity, just so I wouldn’t go crazy for the rest of the day. Everyone else was happy as a clam to be in a nice, isolated retreat spot. I just wanted to escape. I think I thrive on the energy of humanity and when I detached from the sounds of life, I wither. I was like that as a child, as well. I split my time as a kid between the quiet, woodland suburbs of Boston with my mom and my dad’s Manhattan apartment.

Amanda Palmer writing space

In the suburbs, I had terrible insomnia and couldn’t sleep because the silence terrified me. In the city, with the window open next to my bed and the sounds of traffic and sirens and yelling floating in through the window, I felt utterly calm and at peace. That being said, I like going to the countryside to recharge and think, and some of my best song ideas have grown out of retreats to the wilderness. But for actual living and working, the city wins. I also have a very hard time with cold weather. I avoid it like the plague, because it just ensaddens me and drains my will to live.

Here’s a photo (see right) of a tomb in a graveyard near the house I grew up in. I went there before visiting my parents for their birthdays, took my ukulele, and tried to write.”

Do you have a daily routine around your creative process?  

“I’m much more of a mid-afternoon and evening person when it comes to creating. Late nights my brain tends to be very fried. My best ideas often slide in upon waking and I make sure I have a paper and pen by the bed at all times to catch stray thoughts and lyrics. But in general, I have no routine at all. I try to carve out time when as song hits, knowing that my ability to be disciplined is going to mean the difference between the song either being born or vanishing.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it. Perhaps you have a talisman of some kind that connects to your work? 

Amanda Palmer lucky note“I lose things so easily that I can’t have a talisman. Objects of sentimentality tend to only cause me pain in their loss. But I do like this piece of paper I keep taped above the piano in my apartment. (See below right). It was mailed to me from one of my best friends after he went off to college and I was still in high school. We’d had long rambling talks about discipline and writing and frustration earlier that summer. And he mailed me a letter that was just a white piece of paper with a single line written on it, in white pen that said:

“Amanda, it is saturday morning, and I find myself wondering: are you composing a song or having a bite to eat? Joshua”

He’s now a tenured professor of philosophy at Yale. He didn’t bother with eating. I did.”

Which other creative art form outside the ones you are known for do you wish you could master or do more of?

“I’m not a bad visual artist and I sometimes wish I’d spent more time synthesizing my own artwork into my album art. I may start doing that more.

For the album Kickstarter, one of the backer levels was called “I Sharpie You”. I’d already been playing a game with the fans where they’d upload a black and white photo of themselves and I’d pick a random one, draw it in sharpie within 15 minutes and upload it back to them. About six people ordered this level on Kickstarter and the results were beautiful. I really loved being able to draw people and turn on that part of my brain. So I may spend more time refining my drawing-hand. I’d also love to learn how to play the piano for real. I’ve been meaning to do that for YEARS.”

Please tell us a bit about the upcoming UK live shows and say which environment inspires you more, the studio or the stage?

“They’re both inspiring in different ways. The studio is all about blocking out the outside world and focusing focusing focusing on the songs and the sounds with a microscope.

This tour we’re about to embark on is a postponed tour – it was supposed to happen in the spring but I wound up cancelling it because a friend of mine stateside got sick with cancer and I wanted to be with him during treatment. The last tour we were on, right after the album came out, evolved over the course of a few months and we started with a lot of bells and whistles that we gradually dropped because they were either too expensive, too cumbersome, or just plain unnecessary. By the time we got to the last leg of our last tour, we were extremely tight as a band and pretty much taking the stage with no frills, screaming and wailing with a minimum of distractions. The stage is a good place for me, I feel totally comfortable up there. But I also tend to overdo it and exhaust my reserves pretty quickly. After thirteen years of touring, you’d think I’d figure out how to pace myself, but I’m an idiot that way.”

What are you working on next?

“I can honestly say, and it’s sort of overwhelmingly wonderful, that I don’t know what I’m doing next. I have missed working on theater, and I may turn back to my roots and work on some theatrical projects. I miss that world. I’m also very interested to see where my songwriting takes me and I think I’m going to follow it instead of force it. I’ve been writing less and less songs over the years and I’m not sure if that’s a sign that I need to kick up the discipline or let go of the notion that this is the main way I make art. I may just rent a little flat in Camden, close enough to a good cafe and bar, and see what happens. Maybe sitting and waiting for something to appear is the best path when you’ve spent too many years running with two suitcases in each hand…”

Theatre is EvilTheatre is Evil is available now on Amanda’s website. You can follow Amanda on Twitter or check our her Facebook Page.  European tour tickets including July 12th at London’s Roundhouse are on sale here. Go, go go!

Graphic Novelist Glyn Dillon: Access All Areas

Catching The Comet'sTailThis week’s Catching the Comet’s Tail features graphic novelist Glyn Dillon. His book, The Nao of Brown, tells the darkly beautiful story of Nao, a half-Japanese woman who falls in love with a washing machine repairman. Dillon’s illustrations are stylistically diverse and sublimely coloured, making Nao one of the most exquisite tomes I have on my bookshelf. Earlier this year, Glyn was awarded the Prix Spécial du Jury at this year’s comic book equivalent of the Oscars, the Angoulême International Festival Of Bande Dessinée. I was curious to discover whether Glyn’s creative process differs whether he is writing or drawing. Here’s what he had to say…

Glynn DillonGlyn on creativity and the creative process.

“Is creativity within me? Hmm… I’d say there’s something somewhere, I don’t know where, like there’s an ‘ideasphere’ and that’s where all the good stuff is. When you’re tuned in to that, things just  flow, both with writing and drawing. So it’s a case of trying to get an ‘Access All Areas’ pass for that. But really that’s only the half of it, because there’s also a lot of cliched crap. I’m the ‘ideasphere’, so once I’ve got whatever it is I want down on paper, I need the editor part of my brain to come in and sort it all out to re-write or re-draw it. Being truly productive for me, is when I’m able to get those two very different ways of working to dance together in time.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child?

“Absolutely. My dad and brother are artists and my mum and sister are both very creative too. My brother was probably the biggest influence though. He was already drawing comics professionally having started aged 16. When I was 17, I met and became friends with Jamie Hewlett (creator of Tank Girl & Gorillaz) who inspired and influenced me in other ways, especially in his work ethic.”

How long did it take to put together The Nao of Brown? Can you recall the first spark of inspiration and is the finished work what you originally envisioned?

“The original idea for The Nao of Brown was sparked by my eldest boy. When he was about 18months old, he was scared of our washing machine – not when it was on and whizzing round – but when the door was open. He was scared of that dark hole. That led to the inspiration for Gregory, the washing machine repairman, and in his story, Nao was going to be his  love interest.  At the time I was learning to meditate, which also coincided with me learning my wife had suffered with OCD as a child and into her late teens. All these things combined over a weird three day period and the major elements of the story fell into place. Nao upgraded herself to being the main protagonist after it became obvious that she should have OCD. I wanted to learn as much as possible about the condition and this seemed as good a way as any.

Those early ideas were bubbling up around 2008 and I finished the book in May 2012. I had to take on storyboarding jobs as well so I wasn’t able to work on Nao full-time until the last seven months when I worked seven days a week, 9.00am to 3.00am, which was pretty tough going.

How did you know the book was finished?

“Well, I guess when I was high on drugs, in hospital because of my back, but was still going over the wet proofs for the dust jacket… even after  I was discharged, I was still being picky about things when I got home. I guess I found it difficult to let go. But I suppose I knew it was really finished when my publisher handed me a fresh copy out of a box that was full of them. That was a great feeling.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“Travelling is always good for inspiration because suddenly all the usual things, the everyday, commonplace things are a little different (or very different depending on where you are).  I find this visually exciting and inspiring, the senses feel that bit more heightened. Also, architecture inspires me – having a new sense of place sparks my imagination.

In terms of writing, I find solitude a necessity. Ideas are elusive, slippery things; you have to listen out for them carefully so you can’t afford to have any other voices in the room. With drawing however, it’s not always the same. Once the layouts have been thumbnailed, it’s possible to listen to the radio or music with lyrics and work at the same time.

I have to be able to create a safe bubble. If outside worries or stresses intrude, it can become impossible to work and those things will need sorting before I can carry on.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore? What do you do when you feel blocked creatively?

“If I’m creating new things for myself, whether it be a book or a sandcastle with the kids, then no. However, if I’m working on a film and I don’t quite have that ‘taste alignment’ with the director, then yes, sometimes it can feel like a chore and I become fully aware of my ‘gun for hire’ position. I sometimes have to look hard for something in a bad idea that can hold my interest for the duration. But some twisted part of me enjoys that challenge.

I’m not a real believer in writer’s or artist’s block. In my experience, if you’re having a bad day where nothing is flowing, you just have to keep working, even if you know it’s shit. Eventually you’ll turn a corner and it’s all the more satisfying knowing that you’ve worked your way through it. Maybe what people are talking about when they say ‘writer’s block’ is either fear, or even depression – but that’s obviously a different thing entirely.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? 

“Storyboarding film and commercials have paid the mortgage over the last seventeen years, and that’s quite a collaborative process. What I enjoy most about it is that my job isn’t the end product, it’s just part of the process. Once used, it’s disposable; only a handful of people get to see it. This is a very good exercise for the artist’s ego. It freed me up a lot, so when I came back to comics, to doing Nao, I think I was much freer than I had been in the past with regards to my work.”

Please talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to write. 

Glynn Dillon's Desk

Glynn’s ‘messy’ desk

“We’d just had our attic converted when I started on Nao, so that became my workspace. When writing, I shifted my days around so that I was working through the night and sleeping in the day. I wrote the whole book before I started drawing. I wrote it in a film script format, with no page breaks, and went through six drafts before I felt I could start thumbnailing. It took three months of nights to get through those six drafts. I saw more of the kids during the week because I would wake up around 4pm and not start work until they’d gone to bed. This was great, except weekends were hard on my wife because I was sleeping in the day. I consider myself very lucky in that department; my wife and family were completely understanding and supportive of me. I know it wasn’t always easy on them, so I’m very grateful. So, getting back to the question, my ‘environment’ was, and is, my family. And when that relationship is good and supportive, it makes the work so much easier.

When writing I only listen to wordless things – lots of soundtracks or foreign language stuff – 60s Bollywood soundtracks are a particular favourite. In the early stages of note taking and gathering ideas for Nao, I  listened to a lot of music that I thought Nao would like. A lot of this was stuff I wouldn’t listen to myself, but it really helped with the building of her character.”

Did you have a daily routine when you were writing/drawing Nao

“After the writing stage of Nao was over, I returned to daytimes and stuck quite rigidly to working 9.30-6.30, six days a week, and then sometimes I’d work in the evenings as well. I always tried to get out of the house to eat lunch and read the paper. Otherwise those four walls would quickly become oppressive. Luckily, my ‘commute’ was only upstairs so if I felt the need to see some smiling little faces, it wasn’t far to go.

I’m definitely more of a night person, always have been, but having small children isn’t conducive to that lifestyle. Once they’re teenagers I’m sure I’ll edge back more towards what feels like my natural state.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it. 

Daruma Netsuke

“This is something my wife gave me and I can still remember the shock felt by both me and my eldest son when I first opened it. I tipped it slightly and his eyes popped out!  It made us both really jump. It’s a Daruma Netsuke [miniature Japanese sculpture] and Daruma is a direct inspiration for Gregory [the washing machine repairman in Nao].”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master or have you mastered another that we don’t know about yet?

“It would be nice to play a musical instrument but I never seem to find the time. And I’ve always fancied the idea of a bit of topiary in my retirement years (if they ever come).”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“I think it’s safe to say it made me work harder. I was nervous because our second son was due at the same time I was due to start on the book. I had no idea how that was gonna work out. The saying that goes, “It’s never the right time to have a child,” could just as easily apply to writing a book. You just have to get on with it and deal with things as they come up.”

Please say as much or as little as you’d like about your next creative project.

“At the moment I’m working on a film, as a concept artist in the costume dept. I’m also at the fun stage of a new book project. Trying to remain alert and aware of everything going on around me that might become a part of the book. So far I have a setting, a protagonist, a theme. I think I’m going to try a more improvisational approach with this one, I just need to get hold of that ‘Access All Areas’ pass.”

Nao of Brown Glynn Dillon Glyn’s graphic novel The Nao of Brown is available now, published by Self Made Hero.  Follow Glyn on Twitter or find out more from his website www.naobrown.com.

Next week’s Catching the Comet’s Tail features musician KT Tunstall talking about her creative process.

Artist Ylva Kunze: Chance and Control

CatchingTheCometFinalWelcome to Catching the Comet’s Tail, a series of interviews with writers, artists and musicians discussing creativity and their creative process. This week,  I spoke to Swedish contemporary artist Ylva Kunze during her first London show, Artist in Residence. Her canvases, informed by the woods and lakes of her childhood in Småland, are deeply affecting, filled with kinetic fervour.  It was no surprise to me to discover that her name, Ylva, means ‘she-wolf’ in Swedish.

Ylva KunzeYlva on creativity and the creative process…

“For me, creativity is an urge that I have to act on. It’s a total body feeling, something I get if I see something that inspires me. I immediately want to act –  to experiment – there is a sense of urgency about it, like with everything in my life!  I don’t know where the urge comes from, but when I’m involved in the process of making a painting, I do sometimes wonder where the feeling begins. If, for some reason, I can’t get to my studio when I have the urge to create, I can put the feeling on hold and tap back into it. It’s a sense of wanting to try – like I am desperate to start the journey, the process. For me, creativity is about ‘finding out’ and the origin of it is not in my brain but my body. The urge might be to explore colours or experiment with the medium I am putting on the canvas. I never feel any fear around my process as it’s the actual doing that makes me creative –  it’s the doing that makes me discover new things.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early inspirations?

“Creativity was all around me as a child, for example, my dad made all our furniture. It’s a very Swedish way I think, this idea of making things; you don’t employ someone, you do it yourself. In school we studied textiles and woodwork from a young age. My mum has a studio and still paints. My childhood home was full of paintings, and my grandma, who was from Vienna, went to art school in the early 1900s. Her father was an architect who the worked on Vienna’s famous opera house and mixed in Art Nouveau circles.

However, I never thought I would be an artist ~ perhaps it was something to do with being in Sweden in the 1970’s, but I just didn’t see art as my path and didn’t discover it until I was in my 20s. I was traveling a lot, living in Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and  Gothenburg before I came to London. I was living in a squat with musicians and meeting artists, and decided to start a foundation course in art at Chelsea. That’s when I painted for the first time. I still have my first painting. It was a dead animal project; three pig heads!

My grandma was one of my earliest artistic inspirations but I also remember, when I was about 10 years old, being blown away by the vastness of the paintings in the Louvre in Paris. It was the sheer size of them that took my breath away – a strong bodily sensation that I remember very clearly.”

How long have you been working on Artist in Residence and is the final result what you originally planned? 

“I found my painting voice about ten years ago. This process of placing canvases flat on the floor, using buckets and buckets of paint, mixing the paint with glue and the way I drag the paint across the canvas has been with me for some time. This show, Residence, took around two years to complete. A few paintings came about at the last minute and were still wet while I was hanging them.

It’s important to me to know the space I am showing in because I plan canvas sizes and the way I want the finished show to look. Hanging the pieces is a very important part of the process for me, and original concepts will change according to the space.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I get a gut feeling when a painting is finished. I feel exhilarated. It makes me excited and that feeling is the whole reason for painting in the first place.  A painting is done when I feel a sense of unity with it.”

Who, what or where always inspires you?

“Walking in the the vast, raw woods in Småland inspires me; the beauty of the heavy snow glimmering on the tree branches; hearing my footsteps crunching the snow or swimming in a lake with just the sound of the birds and my arms stroking the water. That tranquillity, emptiness and space, rawness and simplicity, is a necessity for me. Being separated from it influences my work. To create, I have to sweat and get my whole body involved so the worst thing for me is to be still. I often do body painting where I’m heaving paint around physically, it’s very kinetic process for me.”

Is there a collaborative element to your creative process?

“When I am painting, I am a very private person so I never have anyone watch me while I paint, but the hanging of a show is a different matter. I love having people to bounce off at that stage and having my representative (Sarah Smith) has been fantastic for me. I needed that support otherwise I’d probably still just be in my studio not showing anyone anything! I am confident as an artist but wasn’t that confident about showing my work in London until I started to collaborate with Sarah.”

Ylva Kunze: Overalls and ClogsWhere do you most like to be when you paint and do you have a routine?

“My time is limited because I am a mum, but generally I turn up at my studio and plan what I’m doing, then I mix the paint which is a very meditative part of my journey. Painting grounds me, quietens me down. When the actual painting process begins, I like to have loud music in the background, XFM radio playing indie rock. I find the energy of London more conducive to painting than the Swedish countryside although my work is completely informed by the latter. The first thing you are told as a child in Sweden is, “Don’t go out into the woods because you will get lost like Hansel and Gretel… you will disappear.”

In my studio, I need complete freedom to make a big mess. I use so much paint, there are huge puddles of it everywhere. The photo on the left shows my overalls and my clogs literally clogged with layers of paint. My environment allows me to lose myself, just like I was warned not to as a child, in the smell of the paint, the music I play, and the paint itself.

It can be frustrating having to stop painting to pick up my children, but I have to look at it positively. I am a daytime person now but before children it was different. I have bad days and good days, but I can bring it on… I can bring on the she-wolf!”

Please share a special object that connects with your painting.

Boken om Lyckan

“This is a book my grandma gave me in my late teens when I was on a journey in my life. She was a fantastic person; at 85 she was wallpapering her own walls, a total inspiration. She wrote a special message inside it and it means a lot to me. Boken om Lyckan means ‘The Book of Happiness’. It makes me feel like my grandma is still here and reminds me of her inspiring character.”

Are there other creative art forms you wish you could master?

“There’s nothing I want to do other than paint, but a nice singing voice would be good! I used to dance a lot… that and horse-riding are other art forms I love.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“Becoming a mum made me much less self centered. It changed my work in that I didn’t care so much about what people thought. I was less afraid to try new things once I had been through childbirth.  I did some of my best work when I was pregnant and have photos of me, huge, in my studio painting frantically. I did some really key pieces at that time. John Cage said, “When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas…” Motherhood gave me perspective, it helped me leave all those voices behind.”

What are you working on next?

“I am just breathing right now. I am going to carry on where I left off, ideas are brewing. I definitely have things that I need to do.”

You can find out more about Ylva on her website www.ylvakunze.com.

Motion II Ylva Kunze

Motion II

Ylva Kunze: Artist in Residence is showing at the C99 Art Project Gallery, 99 Chamberlayne Rd, Kensal Rise, London NW10 until 9th May.  Open Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturday 10.30am – 5pm, Sunday 4pm-7pm. Contact 0208 969 6154  Furthermore, a limited edition range of clothes using Ylva’s paintings from British label Me and Thee is available from www.lovekr.co.uk.