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.

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Your Story in 6 Words: Can You Do It?

I went to see my lovely artist friend Sandra Turnbull last week. She had an open house at her North London studio and it was, as usual, an inspiration to see her and her work. One of my favourite pieces, tucked away in a corner of her workshop was this: My Story in 6 Words.

My Story in 6 WordsEver since, I have been trying to come up with mine. I finally got it this morning: Fear, Sorrow, Music, Motherhood, Books, Magic.

My Story in 6 Words

It’s harder than you’d think to do it!  If you send me yours, use the hashtag #6WORDS and I’ll add my favourites to this page with a link to your blog. The #6WORDS can be in any format: Photos, Instagrams, Tweets, Facebook messages, comments… etc. I’ve shown you mine, I’d love to see yours:)
**UPDATE**
Your life stories in #6WORDS have been rolling in… some of my faves so far include:
Mum Older Single Story #6Words
 This from @mumoldersingle LOVE. JOY. SORROW. TRUTH. TRUST. SPACE.
 From @coffeecampari LONDON. ITALY. ANXIETY. LOVE. MOTHERHOOD. KARAOKE.
 @katetakes5 made me laugh with  SEND. HELP. DROWNING. IN. ODD. SOCKS.
 @dorkymum has me intrigued with ISLAND. ESCAPE. BOOKS. POLITICS.  LOVE. LAUGHTER.
 Having had a good ol’ life chat with her a couple of days ago, I’m really feeling the one from @oldermum:    TRAUMA. VINYL. ECSTASY. PSYCHE. FEMININE. WORDS.
 Also love WINE. WHINE. SLEEP. MUNDANE. JOY. SHINE. from @actuallymummy although how a loquacious schoolgirl got hold of booze, I don’t know.
 I love them all… please keep them coming and I’ll add as many as I can X

Empty Orchestras: On Karaoke as Medicine

Music Karaoke Medicine

The room is dark apart from the blue glow emanating from a giant flat screen. The wallpaper is lush and there are velvet cushions everywhere. There is a button on the wall that reads “Booze’. When you press it a young male appears who, enthralled by your mightiness, brings alcohol. I already assume I must be in heaven but it is about to get better.

I love it here. It feels like an illicit womb that I am temporarily sharing with seven sisters. I’m ready for whatever is conceived in this secret place tonight but you should know Dear Reader that usually, whatever happens in a room like this stays in a room like this. Until one of you blogs about it.

It transpires that I am not in heaven but in the karaoke bar above the aptly named Paradise Pub in London’s Kensal Green. Karaoke translates as ‘empty orchestra’ and no phrase on earth sums up the pathos of singing your heart out in a darkened room apart from some unallowable juxtapositions of words like happy/sad, mortifying/liberating or brilliant/awful. Why oh why oh why is singing loudly with your mates such a stress reliever? Why does it feel so damn good that I actually had a comedown the next day?

Perhaps the answer lies in the physiology of singing. Apparently you need a ‘vibrator’ (the vocal folds of the larynx) an ‘activator’ (the air from our lungs) and a‘resonator’ (the throat cavity) to make a singing sound. If this all seems vaguely sexual, that’s because it is. In what circumstances do women let go and allow big primal sounds to come out of our mouths other than in the bedroom or when we give birth or when we sing? The facts are that singing has a balancing effect on the hormones, increases oxygenation of the blood and works muscle groups that only pilates and gynecologists can touch. Singing makes most people feel bloody brilliant psychologically and physically even if the vibrator/activator/resonator alignment is a bit out of whack and the resulting sound is something only a mother could love. All these ‘well-being effects’ are multiplied when humans sing as a collective; if there’s one thing we cannot resist, it’s resonance.

The ritual of karaoke unfolds like this: at the beginning there will be performance anxiety but luckily its pervasive laxative effect can be easily countered by saucily named cocktails. You and your friends will attempt to ignore the huge karaoke screen that glistens alluringly in the corner like a pole dancer’s pants. The two dead microphones lying on the table in front of you will seem impossibly big and way too phallic to handle. Suddenly, several cocktails in, one of you (in our case my mate Polly) will go for it. It’s Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon. “Yoooooooouuuuu, consumed with what’s to transpire…” and there it is. The Banshee-wail of the undervalued, underpaid, overworked mother is something magical. (David Attenborough voice) “At the same time as this siren call of the Kensal Rise she-wolf cuts through the night air her husband, miles away, experiences a mysterious chill whilst watching Police Interceptors.” Such is its power ladies and gentlemen, such is its power.

Once the full force of ladies doing karaoke is underway, it’s like unleashing a hurricane on a Wendy house. My sisters and I were unstoppable for the next two hours becoming increasingly high on singing loudly. In nature, a bunch of females making this much noise would be viewed as sending a signal of either empathy or warning to the surrounding tribe. Judging by our waiter’s increasing reluctance to respond to our booze bell, we were perhaps sending out the latter message. Mind you, if confronted by a room full of wild-eyed women-of-a-certain age screaming a rendition of “Sister’s Are Doing it for Themselves” with the kind of ferociousness usually reserved for the January sales, I too would be scared shitless.

I know the NHS is cutting back, but couldn’t we just have a little singsong session every Friday at the local surgery? If they had karaoke in the waiting room, most patients would self-cure and cancel their appointments after one communal round of Rod Stewart’s “We Are Sailing”. Karaoke as medicine could save the NHS millions of pounds. The ironic thing about all this is that I used to be a singer. For fifteen years I lived breathed and puked music until one day, worn down by disappointment, I decided I’d had enough. I placed my music on the pyre named Thwarted Dreams and simply stopped singing. My Kensal karaoke night was a timely reminder that one can sing for many things other than ambition; for joy, for love, for life itself.