I am frequently asked about why I use words in my artworks.
I love language – its construction, its foibles and the complex layers of meaning that can lie within a single phrase or sentence. In 2000 I did an art foundation course and it was then that I started making work with text – using images with juxtaposed words – investigating the engendering of objects through single words – how meaning, and what people see, change according to words. At the time it was also a way of creating a more democratic art – outside of the gallery, being able to have a voice within art, but unconstrained by rigid societal norms of the gallery space. This still holds true to some degree – working with text liberates me, as an artist. I feel that I can define my own parameters and develop my own conventions.
The way that I work with text and how I develop and create work, revolves around an idea, – perhaps a profound truth or question that is generated by an action or activity or place that I find myself in. Sometimes the text comes first – the words swim around my head and I re-work them, think about what it is that the words mean and convey, or what they could convey depending on how they are presented. In this instance, where I have the words, I will search through a whole arsenal of materials and visual representations, sometimes for weeks. Sometimes I don’t know how to make what I have in my head, so it stews and I have to be patient and wait for the opportunity to present itself to me to finish the idea.
In contrast at other times I can see a material and a light pings on in my head and I think ‘I can say something with that, I can use it and develop some words to say what I mean’ – the two go together: the material and the words. At other times again, I have a thought and to describe the thought visually I work hard to bring some words to it – more often than not I have to pare down and keep minimising – too many words saying nothing. Again, the material and the words go together – they sit hand in hand and evolve.
There is a definite bombardment of our visual landscape with text; words instructing us to ‘do this’ and ‘do that’, telling us who we are and what we should be doing – very much instructional. I think that’s why I prefer pared-down phrases and short sentences – really simple to look at, but belying a complexity under the surface – the saying is that a picture paints a thousand words, but sometimes, a sentence can pose a thousand questions – it just depends what the words are and what they’re make of – they’re a three dimensional thing to me. Even works like the ‘flat’ laser-cut perspex installations, which I made for the Chorlton Arts Festival earlier this year, have a three dimensional quality that was really important when I was developing the idea and making them – those edges are intrinsic – the colour produced at the edges of the perspex are integral to the reading of the text and the layers of meaning within the installation.
I suppose that the text is so familiar to us that, for me, it’s too good a tool not to use to challenge and re-frame whatever it is that you want to discuss as an artist.
In terms of materials, I like to investigate and make materials look different to how I have seen them before – that’s a challenge in itself – to me and to people looking at it. I am very regularly asked specifically how I make things and I think in that there is a deeper discussion about pushing boundaries personally. I run art classes and as we talk about materials and the students see work in the studio it dawns that experimentation is the way to explore, develop and become more enlightened – I think that about life beyond art.