Earlier in the summer we spoke with the first three artist residents of Glasshouse, a group residency at The New Art Gallery Walsall and Eastside Projects – Alice Gale-Feeny, Joe Fletcher Orr and Bryony Gillard
Since 4 July, artists Tom Verity, based in Stoke-on-Trent and James Lomax, based in Birmingham, have been undertaking the second part of this residency programme in The New Art Gallery Walsall’s Artists’ Studio. Anneka French found out more.
Anneka French: So, you are roughly half way through your residency …
James Lomax: I think we are both beginning to get to the direction we want to take things.
AF: Before you came, did you have specific aims or strategies in mind or were things more open?
Tom Verity: I had the materials planned but left it quite open. I think you’ve got to with a residency.
JL: I applied with something quite prescribed ideas – looking at two specific motifs in my work – reflections of water which I’d been screen printing on glass and Perspex, and Venetian blinds which have been coming up a lot in my work. I was interested to find out why I’m using these motifs and materials. I think it was 4-5 months between applying for the residency and coming here but through doing a couple of shows in the meantime, I actually worked quite a lot of that stuff out and I’ve decided that these things were isolated to individual works. It’s important to try and find the next motifs that might carry through. My work is specific to a memory, place or situation.
AF: How have you responded to place and context here? Previous works have had a lot of quite domestic reference points.
JL: I haven’t based work specifically on the galleries but I’ve done a lot of walking around outside and inside and spent time talking to people. The way I start research is by walking around a town. I’ve taken lots of photographs but haven’t had any of them developed yet. I have those images in my memory. The mundane experiences become a research tool. I’ve been looking a lot at history books in the shop on Walsall. These kinds of books are written by someone who has ties to the area and they are quite personal things. I will often draw on something within those as a starting point. That has taken me to making these large concertina screens though I’ve decided it wasn’t working.
AF: Tom, tell me about the materials you’ve been using.
TV: Ropes and weights. It’s strange when you invite people to the studio because none of the pieces are finished and I don’t really like any of them. You have to take forward the bits that are working.
AF: It’s a visible context for making. How have you worked with the context of the gallery?
TV: I have previously worked quite directly with that kind of information but I thought this time it might be better to go with the flow. I thought it might be quite boring for audiences otherwise so I’ve left the influences to happen more naturally. It’s probably slightly too early to say how.
JL: I think you have to be quite careful coming into a residency and making work about a place. Someone asked me about the use of leather and of course Walsall has a leather making industry and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind. I’ve been buying chamois leathers from Poundland because it’s right outside the gallery.
AF: So the materials are as much about that proximity as history then?
JL: It’s as much about that and about my own personal experiences and also just working with a different material. I made these angular formal structures using leatherette and I really didn’t like them and now I’m using a way more natural material to make something more irregular and organic and hopefully more anthropomorphic. I don’t know how the material is going to react. I’m stitching together these structures and filling them with expanding foam and they do their own thing.
AF: Can you tell me more about how you are selecting materials, James? There are lots of art technician and DIY-related materials.
JL: All these things are bodging materials, I would say. They are quick fixes and I’ve never used them in an art gallery environment. Part of the reason why I want to use them is because I’m intrigued by them and I don’t know how they are going to behave. These adhesives are new to me. They come out of the tubes in these colours. I try and keep away from art materials because of the language that goes with them. I want the materials to have a domestic reference.
AF: The adhesive pieces have a definite baking reference to them.
JL: Yeah, they are delicate structures and precarious. I made some from a solvent free version and they were hanging from the ceiling. The next day they’d fallen and shattered so it is a learning curve with materials.
AF: Can we talk about colour within both of your works? James, you’ve used things as they come and Tom you have made some more specific decisions on colour?
TV: I’ve selected things like the ropes from the colour options available. I wouldn’t say these colours are fully finished as they are test works. But going back to references, this piece on the wall has a reference to the thing on the back of train seats where you can store objects – I’ve been travelling on the train every day. I’ve been thinking about geometric structures of painting and more historical still life paintings of letters and other objects trapped on noticeboards. The framework allows you to play and swap objects in and out.
JL: Although I’ve been working with things that come in their natural colour, colour is important to the work and I select materials according to their colouring. These pieces could all be pink but I want them to be pink and green, kind of like Drumstick lollipops. The material has a skin and you can press it in with your thumb, a little bit like chewing gum. In the last show I did, I was working with cyanotype processes which were connected to what the work was about.
TV: The materials are representing themselves in my work. Similarly, all the fixings are on the front – there is nothing hidden away, which shows an honesty to the materials and the making processes.
JL: Do you think it’s important to reference the fact that you studied painting? I always frame your work within painting.
TV: Not really but those things come into my thinking. Jeremy Moon’s abstract paintings are influences. I like the lines I’m using to have a use, in that they are holding things to the wall and a use in their visual aspect. They are doing something.
AF: How much have you been here together? Do you think that your works are speaking to each other or being influenced by each other?
TV: We’ve been in at least 2 days a week together.
JL: We cross over quite a lot. I wouldn’t say Tom’s work has fed into mine but I think the way we have used the space has. Tom was using the walls so I decided to do something in the middle of the room. I’m jealous of your speed of working because I have to really build up.
TV: I can work quickly but a lot of it is bad. This is useful because you move quickly through ideas but they are not made as well as they could be and might not have chance to express themselves. I’m looking for the core ideas to be solid before I develop them into something well made. The screen you made had a high production value.
JL: I think that’s the thing I didn’t like about it. Sometimes I make something that I’m not fully happy with. I knew what that screen was going to do before I made it but these other materials are much more unpredictable. I put the adhesive chain together this morning and I didn’t know how it was going to work as a thing. The production value and preciseness of the screen and the fact that I’ve worked as a fabricator mean that I know how those things work and there is no intrigue there. The problem with my way of working is it takes me 2 or 3 weeks to know I’ve got it wrong.
AF: Both works have an obvious tension – things being suspended, objects piercing others – could you say something about that?
TV: I like the work to be physically active. Tension is a by-product of that. Chance and precariousness bring something else to the work.
JL: I’m trying to bring different objects together to create a kind of character around a piece of work. I feel like I am constructing a kind of character through the different materials. I build a picture in my mind of an individual and scenarios that are sometimes based on a specific happening or place. I’m interested in organic forms and a lot of my work is figure-like when I look back at it – more like portraiture. Something more angular is more like a still life, if that makes sense.
AF: Is it important that the person or story is kept secret?
JL: Yeah it is. It’s something I’ve been battling for a while. I just don’t think it’s important for the viewer to know that. I hint at these things through materials and titles. I think it’s more interesting to allow interpretation of the work on their own terms rather than force mine upon a viewer.
AF: Can we talk about your plans for the remainder of your time here and your show within this space. Presumably the door will remain shut during that time…
TV: Yeah, some parts of the room won’t be visible. You can quite precisely set up an exhibition.
JL: The single viewpoint is something I’m interested in. I’ve often made works for shows so that they are directly obstructive of other of my works. I like choosing the way my works are seen. I made work in 2015 that split the space in half and meant you couldn’t see the whole show in one go. There is a curatorial element of my practice from that point of view. I’m still working on the chamois structures.
AF: Will they be hung or on the floor?
JL: I don’t know yet. I could have 10 different configurations. The installation part of it will be the making of the work. I’ve also been using the sun to bleach wood, wallpaper and paper towels. I accidently did some a while ago but the process intrigued me. I haven’t yet worked out what they are yet but they might come into it. The residency has been a great opportunity and it’s been great to be so public facing.
TV: Everything has been more performative with people watching. It’s like being in a zoo a little bit.
JL: I have quite enjoyed that aspect. It’s funny with a group of kids looking in. We’ve had some nice conversations. We’d both like to thank Walsall – they’ve been wonderful.
A public presentation of work made during the residency will be on display in the studio from 23 August – 29 September 2017.