Interview by Yasmine Rix
Published December 2018
Paloma Proudfoot’s multifaceted practice spans performance, clothing and sculpture. Often borrowing objects and elaborating or re-contextualising their forms, her style integrates differing materials whilst imbuing them with soul.
My feeling from your work is that you have brought back glamour to ceramics when I thought it had almost been lost in recent years. Your work has a novel feeling to it with surprising combinations such as glaze and hair in Clemente.
Thank you! I don't think of my work being glamorous, but I suppose that's because I know the mess and failure that goes on behind the scenes. My studio is very messy and distinctly unglamorous! I suppose that's what I find so intriguing about ceramics, that as a medium it is so unruly and messy it is in it's raw state, so liable to break as it dries and goes through the firing process, and then it comes out the other side as this very stoic, stable thing. I'm really interested in the magic of that process but sometimes disappointed or frustrated with how little of that material metamorphoses is evident in the final object. That's why I'm so interested in combining it with other less stable or static materials that might seem unlikely as you say, to re-establish a sense of unease. Like the hair, jelly, wax and food that morph or mould over time, or even alloy to the ceramics and attack their seeming impermeability. There is a sort of over-reverence and fear of ceramics because of their fragility, that I'm often looking to undermine.
I definitely don't think I have a style pinned down and actively try to avoid ever staying in one way of making for too long. The prospect of becoming known for one type of work and finding myself stuck in a corner churning that out forever scares me. For me one of the best things about being an artist is your license to reinvent your style and character through your work, taking on a new persona and mindset with each new idea. Having said that, I always think I'm doing something really different and realise I'm actually revisiting something I thought about ages ago, I can never really detach myself from my old obsessions but I'll keep forever trying!
Theres One Missing From Your Bunch, 2016
I can totally see how the process may not be so glamourous but there certainly is a reinvigoration in ceramics and its display which I think you have contributed towards. I wanted to mention how it is somewhat coincidental we both went to school not far from each other in the cultureless landscape of Potters Bar. I'm curious what drew you to art school and your influences?
Yes Potters Bar doesn't have too much to offer in terms of culture. I got the train from Finsbury Park everyday though so didn't actually live there. It was really strange going from such a culturally rich part of London to the very conservative, monocultural environment of Potters Bar - it did definitely make me very aware of being a Londoner and so grateful for it. I liked going somewhere that was quite separate from the rest of my life for school though and it really allowed me to be the geek I was/am without much distraction!
When I was about 14 I set up this MySpace page (embarrassingly) called Paloma Designs where I sold clothes I had made and photographed on my friends. It was quite short lived, but it was probably the first time I thought of art or doing something creative as something I actually wanted to do. I carried on dressing up my school friends and myself as my artworks, as mythological creatures, satyrs (and some more angsty moments involving dissecting pigs heads) and got more and more excited about art as a way of living out all these different imaginary narratives - a space for being weird in Potters Bar! I was torn between studying English or History or Art, but finally decided to go to do a foundation year because I felt like as an artist you almost get to study everything at once. I could explore interests in language and history or whatever else through this other medium that in the end seemed more appealing than academia.
In terms of influences I have to say my parents first and foremost. They both went to art school and are still are amazingly creative in what they do. My mum was a potter when I was growing up and, although she changed career to become a tennis teacher, my early memories of playing around her while she made her pots must have been an influence on me coming round to using clay later on in life. My dad is a filmmaker and has always talked about the importance of narrative and storytelling to him, which obviously had quite an effect on me as a teenager doing those mythological role-plays with friends, and now making performances with my collaborator Aniela Piasecka and with Stasis.
In terms of early artist influences, I vividly remember going to the show at the Saatchi gallery when it had just opened on the Southbank in the old government building, with all the YBAs and remember loving the weirdness of it. There was a sense of it already being a bit passe by that point but I still found seeing the messiness of Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas presented in such an imperious old building so exciting in its strangeness. So many of those artists are critically dismissed now but I'll always have a soft spot for the era of artists for showing how exciting art could be, and making me want to me an artist myself. I'm working on a duo show with my friend Lindsey Mendick that is in part about our shared love of Emin and Lucas, so I'm finally getting round to giving my thanks!
Proudick, Installation View, 2018
It sounds as though you had a self-starter attitude which MySpace seemed to facilitate to our generation. There was certainly some creativity to be had from it, and probably how I learnt HTML to some degree! I'm curious how you attribute titles to your works - does it relate, as you say, to taking on a new persona? Your titles vary from quite practical, matter of fact statements to conversational ones…
I love titling my work, I often think of a title before finishing the work and it helps guide me to finish it. I try to think of the titles as something that describes the atmosphere that the work was made in or something than fed into it rather than describing the thing itself, giving a way into how I see the piece rather than how it ostensibly might seem. They are also a way of giving a more personal note to my work that I'm conscious can seem quite austere and hard-edged sometimes. Like I'm afraid I haven't been honest with you in my recent show at Cob Gallery took its title from the ominous first line of a text from a tinder date, and 'Small Sips and Neat Steps' was stolen from a Muriel Spark story I was reading at the time that spoke to my self-consciousness about drinking too much. The more matter of fact ones tend to evoke a character, or give a nod to an influence, like The Town Planner and Clemente, but I hope still make the viewer question their first impression of the work.
I'm a bit conscious I've made myself sound very pretentious-method-actor by saying I take on personas with each new work! I think I mean that I think of narratives/characters for different works to help me frame them or get into a different style - this is something I'm still trying to figure out how to describe!
Perhaps what you mean is you, similar to your Dads advice, are narrating and creating the character in the work as you go along, rather than embody it yourself? Do you feel like a lot of imagination goes into the process of making a new art work or is it just down to planning and putting ideas together over a period of time?
Yes exactly, the work is a conduit for characters/ideas rather than me taking them on myself, although with performance that's more complicated.
I suppose it's starts out very imaginatively with the germ of the idea and then when the materials are not behaving the way you want them to it's diverted by more practical concerns, but they are never mutually exclusive mindsets. I wish sometimes I had a better idea of the end artwork when I start out but I'm terrible at sticking to a plan and get too excited by something unexpected that comes up. Inevitably personal circumstances/mood/tiredness etc. have an effect on what I'm doing too, things that ruin whatever amount of preparation and planning you do! I think particularly as a woman it's impossible to make work without thinking about how different styles play into or against stereotypes of gender and the connotations of the work I'm making as a female artist. I sometimes get jealous of male artists who seem to be able to make in complete free abandon without these concerns and I'm also always surprised by how much currency the old image of the artist as an unmediated-genius-abstract-expressionist-splasing-paint-on-a-canvas still has - I definitely can't make work in that unbridled way. I hope in the end though that by having to adjust to continual considerations of myself and the work, it makes for a better more vulnerable and less arrogant art. Perhaps it's just an exterior bravado I'm being fooled by in those male artists anyway!
I enjoyed how you described your jealousy and i'm sure there is some truth in that. I think that can be a good thing at least, in order to motivate and reflect.
Yeah maybe jealousy isn't the right word because I wouldn't want to be like that, haha! I think you're right about it being motivating though. I read this amazing book called 'Small White Monkies' by Sophie Collins a while ago that's about (amongst other things) the use of metaphor and imagery as a way of transposing shame or anger into communicable terms and even using it as a productive force. I often think of that now when things annoy me or get me down, that it will become fuel for my work and that's somehow satisfying. I'm actually a very outwardly sedate/calm person but I often find there's a slightly angry edge in my work, which I seem to be better expressing there than in words. I'm clearly very English!
I am just curious how you approach your performance work? How do you feel it differs from sculpture or do you treat it similarly?
Although my performance and sculpture don't always exist in the same sphere, they are definitely part of the same making cycle. I suppose my interest in performance goes back to what I said earlier in our conversation - of wanting to challenge the static nature of ceramics/sculpture generally, it comes from a frustration with that stillness and wanting to make something more open to vulnerability, in a way that I think performance is uniquely able to do. It is tactic to undermine the protected nature of the art object and can be quite a good antidote to the commerciality of the art world. The entwined relationship between my sculpture and performance is most obvious in my work with Aniela. We started out making performances around and with my sculpture but have recently been working towards developing sculpture and performance more directly in tandem. She comes from a choreographic background, didn't go to art school, and is quite passionate about not making physical art objects herself but strangely we tend to end up having the same ideas just from our different perspectives. Our work together takes us in quite odd research tangents which I probably wouldn't end up on in my solo work - we were making a series of works about the runaway wedding town Gretna Green earlier this year and are now working on a project about Maypole dancing in a tiny place called Kerrycroy on the Isle of Bute. I would say our work with Olivia Norris and Isabel Palmstierna as Stasis is less concerned with the combination of sculpture and performance and more about the physical act of performing itself, but I find that it is again the strange melding of all our different backgrounds that produces ideas I would never come up with on my own, and threads of these tend to find their way back into my sculpture.
My final question perhaps is to draw on the 'art world' and ask how you go about getting shows? Out of curiosity, and advice for other emerging artists, is it a mixture of being approached or are you very proactive in this?
Yes it's very mixed in terms of how shows come about, I get approached quite a lot now which is nice but I still think self-organised shows / applied-for-opportunities are really important and generally give you a lot more agency in how your work is shown. I was really lucky to meet Lindsey Mendick just before we both started studying at the RCA. She was part of this curatorial group It's All Tropical and I applied to an open call for one of their shows in Sheffield with my collaborator Aniela Piasecka. It was the first time Aniela and I had done anything outside of Scotland and gave us the confidence to get out there and apply to more stuff, which generally continues to be my approach. It was also amazing in how the evening was structured, the exhibition only lasted for a few hours and then it was cleared out for karaoke and dancing. It was such a good example of how accessibility and fun shouldn't be something to be feared in art galleries, and how freeing a less precious approach to exhibition making could be. I definitely have Lindsey to thank in loosening me up a bit!
Lindsey, Ruth Pilston and I curated a massive all-female ceramics focused show If You Can't Stand the Heat at Roaming Projects at the beginning of this year with a lot of artists that we had admired through instagram/online but never met. This was really amazing in building a new support network after graduating and loads of new friendships and opportunities came out of it. Even Proudick, the show Lindsey and I just made together at Hannah Barry, came about from pitching it to the curator Marcelle Joseph ourselves. I'm very proactive with Aniela and Stasis too, we don't live in the same place so rely on residencies and funding to bring us together to make new work, which we usually have to apply to. Generally my advice would be to stick with your friends but also try and reach out, especially beyond your immediate circle of artists if you can. Collaboration is massively important for me too. Working with Aniela, Stasis, Lindsey and more recently, Saelia Aparacio has taken both the work and me places I wouldn't have expected and is generally the most fulfilling work that I do.
If You Cant Stand the Heat looked really exciting. I like the way it was tied to the new way of networking over instagram which I think is valid and interesting in the way it works as I have managed to connect with other people too, making you feel like circles begin to close up. I also really liked the way that you and Lindsay use stories to document each part of the exhibition in the run up, it makes you feel part of it despite not being present and to see the hard work you put in. It's brilliant.
Paloma Proudfoot (b. 1992) is an English artist living and working in London. Proudfoot studied her BA (Sculpture) at Edinburgh College of Art graduating in 2014 before completing her MA (Sculpture) at Royal College of Art in 2017. Recent exhibitions include ‘Proudfoot’ at Hannah Barry Gallery, a collaborative show with Lindsay Mendick curated by Marcelle Joseph showing until 12th January 2019 and ‘Metropolitan Wares’ at the Gibberd Gallery, Harlow until 17th January 2019.
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