Interview by David McLeavy
Published August 2015
Lauren Keeley uses methods of layering and a reduced style of composition to create works which are both traditional but definitively contemporary. Keeley's work stems from the act of painting but manages to span multiple genres with her trademark minimal approach to making work.
There is something beautifully traditional about your work, yet you are producing it in a contemporary context. I was wondering if you could talk about your work and why you choose to use facets of landscape as a point of reference.
The work is very much a mixture of past and present, both in terms of the content and the production. The imagery mostly starts from looking at artworks and visiting places from the past, and the production aspect of the work is a complete mixture of the handmade and the digital that spans from past craft processes such as weaving and marquetry, to contemporary modes of production such as laser cutting and 3D rendering. I really like how these two opposites - the handmade and the digital - affect each other. That the digital is so precise and makes you think in a very flat, graphic way and the handmade is full of imperfections which you have to think about in a very material, physical way. I really love what happens when this is all mixed together. The graphic, flat, digital aspects are there in the imagery, but the work also has a real physical presence. Because we now very much operate in both a real and digital world, I wanted to encompass both of these spaces, hoping that the work could present itself as a surreal depiction for the viewer to drift into but that is also very physically present in real space.
Garden (Trewyn), sapele, acrylic and linen on board, 2015
The subjects and motifs I use in my work are by no means new, a figure, a landscape, a window, but I hope that they are handled in such a way that feels a little different, and that a viewer today could engage and connect with. The facets of landscape are used to create a vastness, a great distance in the scenes, to contrast with the closeness and comfort of an interior or figure to the viewer. My work is a lot about playing with space, closeness and distance which is why there is often an interior and exterior, and the threshold between these two domains is what I enjoy playing with most. I use cropping in the work to allow the foreground parts of the image to feel very immediate, like they could almost spill into the actual space, and then I hope that the landscape beyond feels like the opposite, distant and remote.
Installation view, Supplement Gallery, London, 2015
To take a look at your most recent works for your exhibition at Supplement Gallery, I am interested to know how you decide what is included in the work and what the works are based on. I was wondering if you could talk a little more about that selection process.
The works are complete composites, they mix together photographs I’ve taken myself, fragments from historical artworks, found imagery and renderings that I build in 3D modeling software. The composition for a work is initially drawn up on the computer and it is during this time that I decide what will be included in the image, there is a lot of shifting around and editing until I think the composition will translate into physical form in an interesting way. The initial idea for a work usually comes from real life, where I might see something or go to a place that has a setting or feature I think would be interesting to explore, and from this a more complicated picture is constructed.
Last summer I did a residency at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, which has been really influential on the work I have made since. Visiting Barbara Hepworth’s studio and garden was particularly special, and is a space I have based some of the works for my show at Supplement on. The painting Garden (Trewyn) and the screenprint Trewyn are loosely modelled on the conservatory studio in Hepworth’s garden: the painting depicts a viewpoint from inside the studio looking through the glass panels out onto the garden, and in the screenprint this viewpoint is reversed. It’s a very simple starting point but I think a degree of simplicity is really important in the work, once the various fabrics, print patterns, relief and wooden inserts come into the mix it all gets quite complicated! The painting Balcony that is alongside the St Ives works in the show explores a similar idea, using the framework of wooden windows and doors to dissect the composition into the immediate foreground, the glass panels that screen the landscape behind, and then the opening out of this space into the background.
For the main space at Supplement I decided to create a series depicting the same view of a room but at different times of the day. For these works the space was entirely fictional, the framework for the image being a rendering I had made in Cinema 4D. I liked the idea of the framework of the room being fixed from which other elements change and shift around so there’s a sense of movement and time passing: the window opening and closing, light moving across the room, clouds forming and moving, a figure wearing and hanging up a jacket. Working across a series is something I would like to continue with, I felt it created a really useful constant so that other things could open up in the work. Because of how the images are created, I often worry that they might become too arbitrary and to a degree they are, they are quite fanciful in their making. Making a series felt like a good way to hold the work together, within which all these different patterns, characters, and elements can move around and change in a more purposeful way.
Balcony, ash, sapele, acrylic and linen on board, 2015
A lot of your work sits on the wall. Is this something intentional, perhaps a reference to painting in some way, or is it something coincidental?
My work definitely has a base in painting and a lot of the elements I try to play with come from thinking about painting and image making. I think the lineage of painting is really interesting, that there has been this gradual testing and undoing of illusionism, so the play between the painted image, object and the surrounding space has always been an interest in my work. At the moment the work sitting on the wall is intentional and very important, I’m trying to play around with ideas of flatness, illusionism and varying degrees of space, so it seems that the work should be upright and on a wall, so that the viewer can look into what is presented. I don’t think I work like a painter and a lot of my interests lie outside of the subject, but I am constructing images and in a way the simple premise of a painted image on a shallow, flat surface within a rectangular perimeter is what the work probes. There have been moments in the past where I have tried to deconstruct this further, lose the frame for example and let everything spill out - but not to great results! It made me realize that maybe, for now, these boundaries are actually quite important, that they give me something to push against. Despite splitting the image into all these different panels, fabrics, screenprints, hardwoods, various depths and irregular edges, the work needs a certain degree of seamlessness to uphold the illusion and enable it to be looked at as a depiction. When you notice these seams between the materials too much it becomes difficult to read the imagery in the work. I think the surface being intact is really important, and then I hope that the irregularities within these depictions seem like surprises, that the viewer can stumble across them.
Installation view, Supplement Gallery, London, 2015
This is probably a question that you get asked a lot, but are your experiences of being a younger artist based in London? Do you feel it’s the best place for an artist to be working?
I’m still finding this out because I’ve only really been working here independently for the past year. But at the moment it seems a useful place to be, there’s a whole network of fabricators and material stockists which are easy to find and use, it’s easy to go to galleries and see what else is gong on around you. And I think London being so busy is good for a young artist, you feel like you should be busy too, so in these ways I find it really productive. On the flip side London is extremely expensive, it is daunting financially which is tricky when you are just starting out, and it’s vastness can feel strangely isolating.
Having a studio in Cornwall last summer presented itself as a complete contrast. I found it very slow to get going, it was more difficult finding materials and fabricators and then when you do source them they are often great distances apart! But the studios you get down there are amazing and so much cheaper than London, which of course gives a lot more space for your work physically and mentally. I have some friends there who make huge sculptural structures to base performances in, I imagine it would be much more difficult for them to make this work at such an ambitious scale if they were based in London. The artist community in Cornwall is very close too, in a much more mixed up way than London.
I think the main problem being a young artist outside of London is showing your work reasonably regularly. While there are many great regional galleries and art centres, a lot of these are going to be showing bigger, more established artists. There’s just more spaces at varying levels in London. But if you live near a regional gallery which also shows interest and support for local artists, this can be really useful. The first show I had out of art school was at Milton Keynes Gallery in a show that brought together a group of young artists living and working in the area. I can’t imagine I would have ever had the chance to show in a space like that if I had then been based in London. In this sense living and working outside of London if you have access to a good regional gallery or arts centre that supports local artists can be really beneficial.
Lauren Keeley lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include Window, Supplement Gallery, London, Sunday Art Fair, London, Clifford Chance Postgraduate Printmaking, London and Slade MFA Degree Show, Slade School of Art, London.
If you like this why not read our interview with Noel Clueit
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