Interviews with Artists

Zoe Spowage

Interview by Yasmine Rix

Published February 2017


With sensual curves and pointy prehensile, there is no mistaking Zoe’s transformative style which morphs between painting and scenery. Her colour palette shifts to daring combinations, as does the subject of the imagery, generally incomplete without a spoken or gestural motif.


How seamlessly you apply your skill to both 2D and 3D pieces! – Do you find this a natural process, or do you see the mediums as not so different?

They begin in the same way as a drawing but I cut them out of the page/board, it's great to be able to hold a piece of your drawing. When I'm making my 3D pieces I treat them as sections of larger painting/drawing. This image then has infinite playful composition and narrative possibilities. So when I'm making the 3D work I am making a large painting one character at a time.

Bring Me Your Love, Losers Gym, Nottingham, 2016

So is it a composition that reveals itself to you along the way? I seem to remember that you work full time in scenery work...is this still the case? If so, is it rather nice to be hired for your style?

It’s something I can play with in a space. The act of installing a show can become a theatrical process in itself, moving characters around like improv theatre. Yes, I have been a scenic artist for over four years. I think my style makes me a good scenic, although it is never employed in the same way as with my own work. Scenic painting requires me to find effective and efficient ways to reproduce other people's styles. I have to make something look like wood I have to completely hide my ‘hand’, meaning if there are visible brush marks you imagine and almost see a person making it, therefore it becomes unconvincing as wood. I'm all about the ‘hand’ when I'm making my artwork. It can be a weird thing using these amazing materials, stuff you would love to spend the same amount of time using in your own work but putting all that energy into someone else’s design. But the job has so many perks, I have learnt what materials are able to do for me, how to use tools and that scale is not to be daunted by but just needs approaching in a different way, depending. When the klaxon goes off at work I franticly get some materials together take about 30-40 minutes to make something and then get straight back to work. Most of the works I have made this summer have been made in this small gap at lunch.

Your ‘dame’ takes a prominent role in both your paintings and sculpture; do you use a character and reinvent her?

I’m not totally sure whether they are different characters or not, I can really destroy something by thinking about it too much so I try to avoid that. I do not think that they are full characters, just symbols for a feeling. Usually I draw from imagination and sometimes I notice I have pulled my face and body into a similar form to what I’m drawing.

Get Me Bodied, from Im in Love with Rococo Exhibition in Its All Tropical, Leeds, 2015

There is an element of humour or comedy from the catchphrases you often include, that is something that you don’t often get from contemporary art.

I think there is an element of humour; I see them as diary entry drawings, telling myself off, comic book style. Cryptically highlighting my frustrations in the form of drawing with a phrase. I really like how literal text looks within an image. Laughter would be nice; I like comic book delivery, delivery of quick narrative. Raymond Pettibon. Humour hand in hand with enjoyment, I think you can be comic with material as well i.e. fluorescent colours, metallic, lipstick. I am more exited about things like Manga and theatre design than contemporary art at the moment. I think that’s because it’s more about entertainment and less about prestige.

Yes, I can definitely see the comic influence coming through. I like what you said about being comic with material too.

I find strong colour irresistible! I have been painting with fabric dyes and printing ink recently. They are something I had been using at work, painting pantomime. I get really into the qualities of a particular paint, like a smoothness or richness, so something like this can lead my colour choice, a really nice colour that one that feels great to use.

Slowly Slowly Catch a Monkey and William, Notts Castle Contemp Open, 2016

What’s next for you then after your recent award from Nottingham Castle Open? Do you enjoy the creative process of putting an exhibition together?

Up next is an exhibition called ‘Thai Prices’, a project I’m organising with Rufus Newell, following our recent month long art residency to Com Peung in Thailand. We will show work we made in that month, and since, mostly drawings, and have a go at selling stuff we made last year. Usually I spend the few days before a show carrying ridiculous amounts on trains and getting stressed, but I’m sleeping well at the moment because this exhibition will literally be meters from my studio space!


Zoe Spowage lives and works in Leeds. Recent exhibitions include Bring Me Your Love, Losers Gym, Nottingham, Nottingham Castle Open, Nottingham and Slowly Slowly Catch a Monkey, Bristol.


If you like this why not read our interview with William Mackrell


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