Artist Lucy McLauchlan opens Unfold at Centrala this evening, an exhibition that explores her response to place and thoughts around documentation. We find out more about her future plans and wider practice.
Can you tell me how the exhibition Unfold came about?
I make the majority of my work away from my home town of Birmingham. Recently I made a conscious decision to change this and so my ongoing explorations began. It started in an urban woodland area which I was surprised has not changed for many years, a green oasis within the concrete. The city has undergone massive redevelopment, particularly in the centre. I decided to take some large 9x3m rolls of canvas to the woodland and a part of the city that was in the middle of change and that personally I connected to more than any other; the Central Library of Birmingham and its immediate surroundings. I had painted this building many years ago. It’s a John Madin design that personally I feel should have been listed but it’s a love/hate building for the city.
Back to the woodlands – I dragged the canvas around the site with my sledge full of paint to capture imprints to create a permanent record. These then developed into a larger commission for The New Art Gallery Walsall titled Not Forgotten.
Can you explain the relationship between your murals – often exterior and sometimes temporary – for which you are best known and the works on display here?
I come from a mural painting background, where I fully enjoy the ephemeral nature as a new life for the painting takes hold. But witnessing the fast paced change of my city encouraged me to make these more permanent manifestations and so my practice evolved, whilst maintaining the same approach and ethos I have to mural painting; both are very physical and spontaneous. But this is a way of capturing that moment in time, to document the surface I’m painting and the places I’m seeing …
Since the woodlands, I have paddled the waterways of Birmingham to create similar works. In between I have still been creating many works abroad – installations and murals on display for other places. It was high time for me to bring these together and present them back in Birmingham with this show Unfold.
Each of the works presented holds a memory for me since they were each created on site in a different location, under a different scenario. I see these paintings and prints much like a group of old friends coming together to share their stories. And this is what I intend to do. Normally I let the work speak to the viewer individually without my verbal input however on this occasion I shall be hosting walk throughs to expand on each piece.
In the show shall be the canvas work Under Bordesley made at the Bordesley Junction of the canal where the Ring Road crosses the rail line in Birmingham. My more recent path led me along the Grand Union Canal, Digbeth branch. Documentation of this journey culminated in the ‘Birmingham By Pass’ exhibition and zine; sharing the encounters as I met the fishermen, day trippers and gongoozlers.
“In those hours spent painting a mural I see and hear things I would’ve missed just passing by, I get to chat and get to know the place a little better … For me it is not the finished mural that is my driving force, but the process of painting, giving me time to re-appreciate my surroundings from a new perspective.”
Can you say more about the influence of site upon your work, be this the canals of Digbeth or urban forests in Moscow?
The site influences the finished work on not only an aesthetic level and within its physical make up; be that a specific colour choice, a particular material incorporated, the dirt or soil gathered into the painting, the wind or rain playing their part … But also beyond this with the foundational reasoning behind why that particular location was chosen. Once there I let chance and intuition take over, much like my approach to painting the murals – allowing the space and environment to dictate, freeing the brush marking to take over with a rhythm of action and reaction. The paintings develop as I am painting, as I absorb the situation, the conversations surrounding me. I glean a new perspective from being there physically present in that setting, this intrinsically feeds back into my work.
The set of 3 canvas works I made for my installation at the Moscow Biennale (that will be part of my Unfold show) are an example of how the site influences me. I was invited to exhibit new work for the Biennale and the theme was ‘Offline’. I began to explore the city with open eyes and no internet/phone to guide or distract me. I took my canvas across the city but my attention was lost amongst the homogenised abundance of shops and shoppers. After a few conversations with locals I discovered a much more interesting side to the city – Moscow’s real hidden treasure of its inner city Losiny Ostrov National Forest. Getting out of the touristy centre I got a better view and could see the layout of city, the concentric circles of ring roads and the clear divides of wealth. This day trip also gave me time with our local guide (who had never visited and was unaware it is the world’s third largest inner city forest) and gave me a chance to hear the views of a young person growing up in Moscow. All of this ultimately fed into my final designs.
What are your aspirations for your practice? What are you working on next?
I’ll be looking at Coventry next, creating new works for the group show Wonder at The Herbert.
In general, I shall continue working outside be that on murals or canvas. I enjoy the challenges and the unknown encounters you get when you put yourself in that situation. It also allows the freedom to work on much larger pieces and engage with people I may never have met otherwise.
These are what initially led me to paint outside; avoiding the studio isolation and size restrictions. Painting in certain outdoor spaces is free with open access that can facilitate big brush movements and encourages an immediate response and interaction from passers by (both good and bad). There’s also a community, family aspect to it, spread across the world, of other like-minded people painting together.
I want to also develop my printing practice. I originally started making my own screen-prints as an affordable process and result. This is when Banksy had just set up Pictures On Walls and invited me to join POW and later his group shows. This led to being represented by Lazarides Gallery when it set up in London and later Studio Cromie in Italy. They all shared the same ethos encouraging this form of public art – ‘art for all’ with a strong DIY attitude.
I was recently back in Puglia with Studio Cromie to head back to walls I’d painted years ago with the intention to capture their surface and turn into prints which we’ve just released.