Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Q & A with Kiera Bennett

The Charlie Smith Gallery are now representing Kiera Bennett. The Gallery Director Zavier Ellis says: "Kiera's knowing and often witty investigations into 20th and 21st century painting and inclination towards abstraction provides a complimentary balance to one of the strongest selections of painters in London." There's now only one week left of her show, "The Making of an Anthropologist". The gallery is open Wednesday–Saturday 11am–6pm or by appointment. The address is:336 Old St, 2nd Floor, London, EC1V 9DR The Rebel: What are your main memories of being a student at The Royal College? Did you make any work there that you're still proud of? Kiera: "It had been 7 years since I left the Ruskin where I had done my BA and I had had a studio (in Hackney) and done a few group shows, worked a lot of temporary, soul destroying jobs so was really ready (with a hint of apprehension) to be able to get back into an environment where I was challenged (introspection and working alone making art is dangerous. Painting needs to be made within reasonably regular access to some form of critical debate – it can become stagnant otherwise) I felt like I was being ‘me’ again, making art and talking about art etc…main memories? Meeting a great group of people. Yes, we did a lot of ‘socialising’ but being around people making art and having interesting artists come in to teach was brilliant. Strangely though, having until then always painted (I was about 29/30 then) I spent most of my time at the RCA making collages (paper). I think this was a result of really questioning the paintings I had been making and I had to throw a big spanner in the works. It helped me hone down the ideas without dealing with the big ‘how do I wanna paint and it be meaningful’ part all in one go. I don’t know if I’m proud of the work I made at that time but it was very significant and clarified some fuzzy ideas I had. My time there highlighted that I enjoyed making paintings/collages with some semblance of a readable image, a ‘picture’, something that had some sense of a believable/recognisable subject however abstract it may appear at first. It helped me realise my interests were always spinning around the same centre – autobiographical, identity, escapism, humour, ego/alter ego, painting/art, the human condition? …and that my painting in some cases suffered from a reliance on photography. Looking back I quite liked my collages of Don Quixote (after Daumier), Tony Hancock and a Figure dancing alone in front of some paintings." The Rebel: How did Rockwell come about? What were your favourite exhibitions that took place at that space? "At the RCA Chris Davies was in my year, he introduced me to Reece Jones and Gavin Nolan who were studying at the RA (they’d previously studied together at Loughborough) It was through Chris we all became friends – this includes Alex Gene Morrison (my now husband) who was also at the RCA. Anyway, after we all graduated (2002). Brian Jones, Reece’s brother, had a plan to create a live work space so it began with that – Brian had found a top floor space of a warehouse by Hackney Downs station, with a 5year lease. Chris, Gav, Alex and Brian all moved in (in it’s then run down old sweat shop state) a few others of us were going to rent studios there (me, Reece, Christian Ward, Sigrid Holmwood…) and the 9month build began – it was really ambitious – as the building of the living space and studios developed the space in between seemed to present itself not just as extra space to build stretchers /workshop/giant living room etc but as a highly feasible gallery space. It was an odd shape, very long and thin but adaptable and potentially exciting. As a group it was decided that all the artists in the studios could put a show together, which we did and people came, lots of people. So for the following 5 years there was a programme of shows, variously curated by the ‘Rockwell’ artists and some invited artists/curators. I just found a passage from our archive describing what it entailed ‘it is perhaps best known for showcasing the work of emerging artists, the rare and unseen projects of established artists, projects by particularly exciting curators and occasionally work by Rockwell's own inhabitants’ We all really appreciated spending a lot of time with artists as they installed their work. We got to know a lot of interesting artists and it was a great environment for discussing ideas. It’s hard to pick out favourites but personally I loved the Dan Coombs show “Crepuscular Variations’ a series of painting/collages that he had made and not shown anywhere else – he was keen to show these pieces that at the time were quite experimental and had been made alongside other work he had already exhibited. Another show was ‘How far to Utopia’. 3 Japanese artists Daisuke Nagaoka, Kazuhito Sahara, Chikara Matsumoto proposed a show. We all thought it looked really exciting so they came to Rockwell from Tokyo and spent days and nights creating an incredible installation – they spoke no English, we spoke no Japanese but communication occurred through facial expression, pointing and laughing….then in return they invited us all to Tokyo for 10 days to do a show with them at Tokyo Wondersite. The whole thing was an amazing experience. I keep remembering all the different shows and with them the totally different but equally meaningful memories. It’s hard not to get sentimental about it, not saying it was all like some idealised commune or anything far from it but the rewards over time diminish any squabbles (or major fall outs ha). Another great show was Paul Becker and David Kefford, a 2 person show – paintings and installation …I could go on, I have a list somewhere…Colin Smith, Anne Hardy, Gordon Cheung, Amikam Toren, Robin Mason…I think there were 23 or so shows which included around a 100 artists over the years.." The Rebel: Are you excited about your new solo show? Are there many new works being unveiled? "As I have answered your questions SO late – you sent me these about a month ago!!! (huge apologies – inconvenient ‘life’ events meant recently I put a lot of stuff on the back burner) I shall answer this with some hindsight – my show is now in it’s last week – on ‘til this Saturday 11th. I think I may have been a little excited when I was actually making the paintings for the show. I tend to feel the best when something is going OK in the studio or I have an idea or do a drawing that has potential. Once the finished work goes to the gallery I find it hard not to be thinking about what I have to leave out or what I’m about to make next and it becomes about what other people may get from it and I’m not thinking about ‘it’ anymore.. or so much. It’s a weird one but yes I was glad and excited to be doing a solo show at Charlie Smith. I’m guessing for many artists it’s a fairly selfish activity so getting to put just your own stuff in a space is ideal, but I made about 20 paintings and had to edit it down to 11 in the end. I was happy with the choices (relatively speaking) and all the work was new stuff – I make multiple versions of some pieces that are slightly different, so I think 2 of them had existed in previous ways." The Rebel: What are your views on the writings of Greenberg? Do you still refer to his books? "I can see why you asked me this. A lot of this show was painting about ‘painting’, being a painter, working towards a show. I do obsessively look at other artist’s paintings in between making my own paintings and drawings. It is absolutely as much about ‘paint’ as subject but I do like a ‘picture’ (sound like my grandma now) so it’s not solely about surface. I haven’t read Greenberg for years actually. I think obviously he was a significant writer. I guess I would agree that the painted surface can be meaningful without reference to anything else. However, I don’t agree with the exclusivity of this. When I make paintings, the materiality must be ‘meaningful’ in relationship to the content/subject. These concerns are inextricably wrapped up together. For me, any good painting deals with this in some way. I do like painting that is purely all about the ‘stuff’ of paint but my own concerns are broader than that. I wouldn’t be satisfied with being closed minded regarding any aspect of painting. For me it is about continued searching and discovering, not about being restricted by dogma. I know that painting and all the shifting perspectives and contexts makes it one of the most challenging things to do well – I’d hate not to know painting- I’m not answering this question very well as I’m not an expert on Greenbergs writings – just kinda know what he’s famous for saying. I tend to read a lot of ‘artists on art’ stuff. I like being surprised by what some artists make of other art and often have discovered paintings, previously overlooked, by being introduced to them through friend artists and seeing it through their eyes, that’s always great. Anyway, your question has prompted me to read some Greenberg again. I have just ordered a book on Amazon to reacquaint myself!" Do you paint most days? What is the longest break you've had from painting? "No , it’s impossible. I have to teach (at City and Guilds of London Art School) and live too (ha ha) but even if I’m not in the studio I scribble and draw a lot. When I’ve not been in the studio I do get anxious (well I do when I’m in it too- but it’s a different kind of anxious) but there will be an ever increasing set of scribbles on envelopes, bills etc with thoughts for paintings the longer I’m not in it. I don’t punish myself if I’ve not been in the studio for a couple of weeks or so but longer than that I begin to feel very a bit wrong..sometimes you’re just not feeling it and I accept that. Other times you know you have to force yourself to do something because momentum always produces the best stuff so too many gaps is a real no no …working for a show is brilliant because you have to do it, finish stuff, be more daring, take some risks, be decisive – so I’m glad when I have a show to work to…Longest break? oh coupla months probably not much longer, even then I’m thinking about my paintings – you can’t switch it off! Having said that at the moment I finished the last bit of my last painting for this show the studio ceiling fell in (2 large clumps of rubble and lots of dust) and we can’t return until it’s fixed and safe so gawd knows how long that will be!" (Above Images starting at the top of the page: 1)"Urgengcy" 90 X 75cm oil on canvas, 2)"Heap" 45cm X 35cm,3 "Painting", 4) "Poisoned"90cm X 65cm, 5) "Punch" 45 X 35cm, 6)"Jostle" 90 X 65cm. All the paintings are oil on canvas)

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