THE BLOG

09
Aug

BREAKING RULES

ELISA ALALUUSUA

It’s no surprise that Elisa, with that surname, comes from somewhere exotic. A reindeer farm in Lapland: a bleak and beautiful place, full of lakes and forest, snow and the aurora borealis. By some stroke of fate, she met another Finn whilst in London, married him, and they both live here. They are somewhat torn between the stark beauty of their homeland and the cultural richness of London.
Elisa focuses on drawing and video – an odd combination. Drawing is an intimate form of art, every mark is a product of your own imagination. Video is about machinery, cameras and computers, of holding up a device and recording the world. Elisa talks of structure, some way of funnelling her creativity, and both drawing and video give her limits. She says she sees the practices as interwoven: “documenting one’s life journey”. They are both ways of recording reality; video in a literal way, drawing as a catalogue of each subtle movement. Both practices, she says, are a way to “present life as it is”.
She rarely envisages a piece in her mind, rather she sets herself constraints that she has to work within. Like drawing lines in sets of a hundred. Or counting circles as she draws and erases them. Or using time as a way of controlling the work. A memorable example of this is Elisa’s 24 hour drawing marathons, that “push mental and physical boundaries”, artworks where both time and counting coincide, in a room lined with paper, Elisa drawing intersecting circles, a staggering 16,000 of them.

As an Englishman, moderate in all things, I marvel at this endurance, embracing difficulty. Elisa says it originates from her early life on a farm, farming is an arduous activity bound by processes, in the arctic no less, where night and day merge, and severity is a way of life. But she left that behind, and came to soft London. Perhaps her work is all a re-enactment of that tension, between limits and free- dom, between rules and breaking them – “fabulously intriguing” life happening despite constraints.

Quentin Newark

09
Dec

HIDDEN MISSION

KATTY JANNEH

Katty makes hats. In a studio she shares with two artists, shaded by a big Bay tree in Peacock Yard. Before fashion college, Katty went to evening classes, initially to study the complexity of pattern-cutting, but took a class with Rose Cory, milliner for the Queen Mother. Suddenly life was hats.

Katty is instantly likable with a smile that lights everything up. She has says her design is “anything but avant-garde”, she isn’t about to make a “hat made of meat”. She concentrates on wearable designs, hats that mix with everyday clothes.

Her portion of the studio is a blend of atelier and factory – a duality common to the artist-maker. Walls smattered with watercolour sketches and colour-coded notes. Tables like a landscape from a Tim Burton animation; hillocks of cloth samples, behind which porcupines of needles bristle. The floor is given to serious making, chock-a-block with wooden forms over which the cloth is stretched and left to fix a shape. At a glance, it is chaos. But if you look longer you can see how everything has its place in the processes of imagining hats and then physically making them.

Behind the sweetness, there is something of a missionary in Katty. Her
designs are playful versions of classic hat types – ‘classic with a twist’ is a design approach taken by some of the world’s most successful designers. Katty is making hats attractive and wearable to make us all wear them. Her deeper purpose is to furnish every-one with a hat. Every one of us. Some designers strain to do things never done before, others make things that touch every one of us.

Katty has a new website, about to launch. It shows her designs matched with this season’s popular looks, you can instantly see how the hat adds something extra, quirky, personal, literally above what the original clothes designer’s considered. When the site launches, the fashion world ought to beware, Katty has discovered a hither-to unexploited area: the top of our heads.

Quentin Newark

09
Dec

A SILVERY WARREN

CAROL MATHER

Carol’s studio is small compared to others at the Yards, the size of a bedroom. She doesn’t need much space, her work is small work, she is a silversmith. She sits at a desk, lamps angled onto her hands, a leather pouch stretched from the desk to catch the silver filings. The tools carefully laid out are those for the tiny violence of small-scale metal working; files, hammers, vices, wire pullers.

She shares the studio three days a week with Grey, a terribly handsome Whippet. Her great love is animals. Tutors at college frowned on her for not making abstract work. When she left college, first she made jewellery boxes, highly decorated. But what people liked most were the animal-themed embellishments, so she stopped making the boxes, and started making just the animals. After animals, her main source of inspiration, is late Victorian Gothic. Highly decorated, elaborate, with a big dose of medieval.

The display cupboard on her wall boasts quite a bestiary. Each piece serves a purpose; a warthog pincushion, a bear with panniers for salt and pepper. Her most recent project is miniaturisation, using computer alchemy. Carol’s pieces, already small (the size of a plum), are scanned, 3D-printed in resin, casts made, and tiny replicas cast in silver.
All those fantastic collective nouns; a streak of tigers, a knot of toads, but what are the nouns for a mixture of different animals? There on her table
is a tumble of stags, rabbits and hounds. Gathered for a hunt, or a parade.

She works steadily on commissions. Making pendants and tiny statues of people’s loved animal companions. She shows me one in progress. A pendant of a one-eyed Jack Russell, perfectly capturing his up-turned snout, long body and short powerful legs. Such life she has wrought in such tiny form. Just as alive as the Whippet dozing behind us.

Quentin Newark

09
Dec

IN CONCERT

DAVID COWLEY & BARBARA WAKEFIELD

David looks up over his glasses, and hesitates, that pause that comes when you want to impart significance. “Sculpture in clay can be all about technique and process and painting on canvas can rely too heavily on expressive freedom. What is crucial to both my sculpture and my painting is structure” It is hard, at first, to see how his paintings show this idea of structure, how they can be seen as anything other than free, they first strike you as swirling and meshing globs and slabs of colour. But when you understand that they are paintings of space, cathedrals and concert halls, and people, and the music that they are playing, you can start to pick out what might be an arch, a pillar. You realise the paintings are depictions of space, time, activity, an attempt to capture the complexity of experience.

Barbara, David’s co-inhabitor of the neatly divided ground floor studio, works with ceramics. Ranks of coloured discs, soft blue and raspberry, putty and cobalt, all to test the amount of colour the porcelain can support, are displayed in a case. Experiments in form and testing the capacities of materials are key parts of her work, this will to invent produces some genuine marvels. Little undulating bowls shaped around passion fruit. Liquid bone china poured into moulds to resemble tall paper bags, the china thin with crisp edges.

Music is essential to both of them. They go to recitals together, listening, looking harder and longer than anyone else there, sketching. And then they bring this fullness and lyricism back to their studio. It’s not just the music that these two otherwise quite distinct artists have in common. An idea derived from music pervades their work, of things working together. Things judged and balanced and orchestrated. Sometimes in sympathy, sometimes as counterpoint. As I leave, I turn, and see them, David looking through a stack of watercolours, the stiff paper scuffling, Barbara scoring a pattern into something, scratching and shuffling.
Quiet human music.

Quentin Newark