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Studio Secrets

Ursula Llewellyn

Photo by Paul Murphy

Describe the things and images that you have around you in your studio and how they influence or inform your work.

Scattered pieces of marble, crystals and rocks, matchbox planes and automobiles, broken circuit boards mixed in with, past spillages, dust, chewed dead brushes, mixed in within a mirage of hundreds of photos seeping out of ugly laundry bags. Theses images range from Ikea light displays, HMS Belfast, commuter belt flyover passes, Bexhill promenade, badly taken holiday snaps, Notre Dame, Norman Foster buildings, ice bergs, waterfalls, beaches, Deptford High Street, world leaders, large penises, El Greco, medical journals, etc. The list goes on and on.

I literally have thousands of images, taken by myself, downloaded from the Internet and just found, which in the studio help create a visual and emotional memory trigger.

Describe your working methods and processes.

I am ashamed to admit that my studio is a reflection of how I work. In my mind's eye I am a glamorous artist with well filed nails and shiny hair to go with my well ordered working practice. The reality is nearer that of a dishevelled bag lady dressed in a paint encrusted puffa jacket and a scabby pair of tracksuit bottoms with hair like straw and rough skin. I also have an irritating habit of chewing my brushes and sometimes a lot of the paint (particularly the scatological colours) seems to end up on my face, arms and legs.

I am more like some tramp film editor. I constantly sift through images and objects that act as mnemonic reflexes and signals of things and sights form the outside world, catching them as reminders of a sphere I have not seen for a while. An interior energy or response to a memory. The process is about sifting through the junk or 'stuff', and creating some order, a confused narrative that feels right. I then work with several automatic drawings and create an image.

This is important to my practice as it represents the puzzle of creating the juxtaposition of narrative. In many ways my studio replicates the confused flux of the perceptual visual brain, where there is so much choice where visual imprints exist heaped up in the mind. I use the 'fine art' handmade medium of oil paint and a brush to resurrect the symbolic narrative.

I often think of my working practice as similar to that of an artist working in animation or film, as I consider the image in terms of lighting, montage and an ongoing editing process.

I use painting because it is has a time capsule quality. The very loaded question of the medium is actually its strength because by pastiching different styles and subjects you can access and evoke an enormity stretching from the modern day to prehistory. This is important to my work as I can evoke in a very physical and emotive sense the going back and forth in both time and geographical location. This can change in the flexible tone of one brushstroke or medium.

What is the most important thing in your studio?

As a painter I would have to give the very obvious answer, my brush. Despite this I use media with corrosive properties that make their life span very short and my studio is littered with mangled causalities.   I have to say that I am quite anal when in comes to getting the right brush (in terms of in size and quality) for the job in hand. When I compose and edit my paintings I think of the processes of filmmaking and photography but there is a simple pleasure in the pre-technological dexterity of mark making with a brush.

Which artist/s most influence your work and which recent show has been inspirational?

I often have images of paintings which I directly pastiche, and borrow styles from. Theses can include Giotto, Turner, El Greco, Velasquez, Miró, Max Ernst, Stanley Spencer and Lee Miller. However, spiritually the artist that has most informed my work is the film maker Andrei Tarkovsky, in particular his films 'Mirror' and 'Stalker' and his use of montage which seamlessly joins news footage, autobiography and realism in creating images which can be both of the future and of the past. This really opens up what is possible in terms of creating something autobiographical that is spiritual rather than confessional.

A show that I found inspirational was Anselm Kiefer's 'Apertitra Terra' (Let the earth open up) at The White Cube, I feel he really embodied an alchemical devouring of the natural world and a relationship with religious or cultural text.   It was executed with an enormous gusto both in terms of scale and sentiment.

Is your studio a refuge or a place of torture?

My studio is an everyday part of my life. To perceive it as a refuge would imply that the rest of my life is horrid, and a place of torture would imply that I really hate making art, whereas neither is true.

There are however some long days spent in the studio where poisoned by fumes and bad posture practices I suffer backache, eye strain, migraines and shallow breathing. I sometimes wonder about my health

The studio does enforce a level of extreme mental and physical focus, which would not be possible within social and domestic constraints. In that sense I suppose I could describe it as a refuge.