Studio work by James Lomax

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-FeenyJoe 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.

Studio work by James Lomax

 

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.

Studio work by James Lomax

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.

Studio work by Tom Verity

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.

Since 4 July, artists Tom Verity and James Lomax have been undertaking the second part of the Glasshouse residency programme in The New Art Gallery Walsall’s Artists’ Studio. Anneka French found out more.

Image credit Alice Gale-Feeny

Artists Alice Gale-Feeny, Joe Fletcher Orr and Bryony Gillard were selected for Glasshouse, a residency devised by The New Art Gallery Walsall and Eastside Projects, with the aim to strengthen relationships between artists and galleries across the country. The three artists, based in Nottingham, Liverpool and Bristol respectively, spent time in May and June undertaking research, making and developing new conversations about their practice.

Anneka French spoke with them to find out more about their experiences at The New Art Gallery Walsall just prior to their studio presentation.

 

Image credit Alice Gale-Feeny

Anneka French: Maybe we could start with what it’s been like being in this artist studio space …

Joe Fletcher Orr: I think Alice should talk about that as her work has been about the space.

Alice Gale-Feeny: I guess my work has been more about the space. I was really interested in responding to this situation of being on show, being watched and being able to watch bodies in space. I’ve explored that by being in the building, not just in the studio.

Bryony Gillard: I think what’s different about working in this context is that the boundary between process and presentation is more permeable. I think we’ve all thought about what the space looks like when we leave which is a different way of using a studio to the usual. Here, it’s been possible to leave things up to test and people will see these things.

JFO: Maybe we should have left the door open. It probably looks more like an office.

AGF: Last week I had a good conversation with a man who came in to speak with me about the slide projector I was trying to mend. It was something about the old technology that invited him in. It was a talking point.

AF: Is the interaction important? There are maybe more similarities between Alice and Bryony’s practice but Joe, running Cactus, this interaction must be pretty important to you?

JFO: Yes it’s really important. My plan at the start was to have conversations with people and build relationships.

BG: This has happened well with the staff.

JFO: I’ve had a lot of conversations particularly with Zaynul, one of the gallery assistants. He’s really nice and the curatorial staff have been very supportive of course. We’ve had the whole care package.

BG: All the staff are very warm to the artist studio programme and people are really curious. This has been a great aspect of the institution.

AGF: I think they’re interested in the process of us being here which is not something I’ve experienced before.

AGF: Working with other people in this space has been a really interesting challenge. It frees up your own practice.

JFO: I’m used to hanging around with artists who have the same approach. But Bryony and Alice don’t really have the same approach as me. It’s challenged me a lot which is good because I haven’t been challenged much since leaving university I guess.

BG: We’ve all challenged each other and we’ve had intense conversations about our work and politics and process and this has been really productive. I’m experimenting a bit more without having to do loads of theoretical research – I feel I have more of a license to try something maybe even without a really strong reason to do it.

Alice Gale-Feeny and Bryony Gillard. Image credit Emily Warner.

AGF: We’re all on equal footing even though we are doing different things.

AF: Alice, how have you been using the building?

AGF: I’ve been photographing parts of the building mainly focussing on the staircases and aspects of the architecture that suggest movement to another part of the building. I’ve been thinking about how a space is designed for a public and how you get people to navigate a space and building things for different bodies. I’ve taken a lot of slides of stairwells and stair cases before I got here and I want to combine these in a slide carousel with the new ones in a reading and some kind of movement. It’s been nice to have a building to be in and use. I’ve enjoyed being out there and distilling things in here.

BG: We are doing something informal as the residency was programmed without any events. Both Alice and I might be showing some performance and we will be inviting people along.

JFO: I didn’t realise how short a month was. It’s gone so fast.

AGF: I’ve felt like I’ve been on residency even when I’ve not been in this space which has been really useful. Even on the train.

BG: Because none of us live here, everything is new and there is more time and space.

AGF: It’s about getting out of habitual ways of making and thinking.

AF: How much connection have you had with the gallery before?

JFO: I’ve not been here before but I’ve seen lots online. I don’t know why I hadn’t been, I’ve got no excuse. I went to the Leather Museum around the corner – there are places where I live like that that I’d never go to so it’s given me a different approach.

AF: Like being a tourist?

JFO: Yes and trying to research and learn.

AGF: It’s been a way of making the most of a place and the experience.

AF: How much of the place is coming into your research, Bryony?

BG: Nothing I’ve made is overtly related to the building. I’ve been working with dancers while I’ve been here who I’ve found through networks that Alice had. This is a site-specificity because I’m working with people from the area with whom I wouldn’t work otherwise and we’ve been working within this studio and the room next door. The physicality of the spaces have influenced our movements. It’s been obliquely connected to Walsall but not any historical information or anything like that. The residency was about having time and resources for me. I don’t think there are many programmes like this in the UK that are like this.

JFO: I want to make some works with leather, a long list of works that are related to the area but I’ve not made them yet. I wanted to figure out work for a solo show and group shows coming up that I can activate. I’ve made a good list to carry me through the year. I make an endless list and go through this. Alice thinks I’m not interested in process which is probably true and something I need to deal with head on.

AGF: I hope you didn’t take it as a criticism. I noticed our different ways of working.

Joe Fletcher Orr. Image by Alice Gale-Feeny

JFO: I always just want it to be done and do it again – everything else frustrates me. Even if the works made are about Walsall I can still show them elsewhere. I brought some footballs with me. I usually get artists to sign them but I’m going to do it with the gallery staff and leave it here. I was in an exhibition in Rome where all of the artists were quite famous conceptual artists and I took the role of the fan and got them to sign the football. I knew that them signing it would make the value of the work much higher than I could ever make. I’ve been asked to do it lots of times but I’d like to work with the staff. It’s not so much about football as memorabilia, signatures and value systems. I use a plain white football that looks like an art object – there is only one manufacturer of these. Teams are too loaded. I’ve thought about endless works about leather and footballs? I’m attracted to leather for loads of reasons though this is bad. People who’ve signed them usually want them.

AGF: It’s like looking at mirror of yourself.

AF: Can we talk about next steps? You have an open studio upcoming?

AGF: We have been like silent interlopers and we will leave this presentation but have not had so much interaction with the public.

BG: We are putting ourselves under public scrutiny.

AGF: More public scrutiny is good.

JFO: I’d really like to work with Walsall leather. Though it doesn’t matter if it is here and sometimes when I show things abroad and tell them local stories it has more of a mystery maybe. Sometimes it adds to the work if I take it completely far away.

AGF: It’s interesting to think about making something in one place and showing it elsewhere.

JFO: I think the photographs you took, Alice, could be shown anywhere. They are not too loaded with this place.

AGF: I want to take away recognisable features and to be more about public space. I hadn’t really thought about it as a collection that grows – about making something site-specific or general that means it can speak about other public places. I was looking at some of the architectural plans for the building but I like the way that it can be a bit more malleable. I’ve also been filming at a Quaker Meeting House in Bournville. They’ve let me film twice now and I hope that footage can become something though it might not be about Bournville exactly.

BG: The work I’ve been doing with the dancers is something new. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with more than one dancer at a time. I’ve used my materials budget to pay them which has felt like an enormous privilege – this has allowed me to improvise, play and take risks. I’ve learnt a lot from interacting, directing and working from them and I have lots of footage and experience to draw on and make something else. This has also been a good chance to push an existing project in a new direction. I wanted to explore my relationship to choreography and performance and this has completely moved things on for me. The dancers I worked with were so brilliant that I’d like to continue to work with them.

I’ve never spent any time in the Midlands before but I feel really excited at the thought of coming back here and developing relationships. It feels like a really exciting place to be. I think this would be great to accumulate and extend networks with Joe in Liverpool, Alice in Nottingham as well as within the West Midlands.

 

Glasshouse 2 will see James Lomax from Birmingham and Tom Verity from Stoke-on-Trent take up residence at The New Art Gallery Walsall from 4 July – 22 August 2017.

Alice Gale-Feeny, Joe Fletcher Orr and Bryony Gillard were selected for Glasshouse, a residency devised by The New Art Gallery Walsall and Eastside Projects, with the aim to strengthen relationships across the country. Anneka French spoke with them.