I recently sat down with ‘Young London Painters’ artist Rhiannon Salisbury to discuss artist residencies, arts education, ‘The Society of The Spectacle’ and her selection of source material. ‘Young London Painters’, featuring Rhiannon and seven other young artists living and working in London, opens November 22nd at Arthill Gallery, West Brompton.
Hector Campbell: You recently graduated from the Turps Banana Painting Programme, having previously completed your MA in Fine art from Chelsea College of Art. How did the Turps compare to Chelsea? How did your work develop during your time at Turps having decided to focus on painting?
Rhiannon Salisbury: The two schools are very different so it was really amazing to be part of both. At Chelsea, I spent a lot of time really thinking about my subject matter and its meaning, there was an intense academic side of the course and I spent many hours in the library researching theory. At Turps the focus was predominantly on studio practice, so I got to really challenge myself in terms of how and why I paint.
When I started at Chelsea I was making abstract paintings, and while there was pushed to try out multiple art forms such as video, performance, installation and sculpture. Turps was a different ball game because I knew I wanted to paint at this point, and I made a very conscious decision to go to the program and focus on this alone.
The atmosphere of both places is very different too. Chelsea is a really large institution with a very well known reputation. It is neighbours with Tate Britain and sits on the banks of the Thames, so in some ways, life as a Chelsea art student is pretty glamorous. You are in an amazing space attached to a huge history of famous creators and great minds.
Turps is totally different in the sense that it is new, anti-institutional in its mission statement and set in a council estate in Elephant and Castle. The whole school is much smaller, there were 24 students across the two years of studio painters whilst I was there. This was exciting in its own right because it felt like we could really have an impact on how the course was developed, and it was almost tailored to our individual needs.
H.C: You’ve previously completed residencies in Guadalajara (Panorama Residency), Malaysia (Rimbun Dahan Residency) and Rome (Rome Art Program Scholarship). How did those experiences affect your work? Did you think it’s important for young artists to travel and encounter different cultures?
R.S: Without trying to be didactic, I do think travelling is important for people, regardless of their age or profession. I think being an artist is about sharing and reflecting on experiences, and travelling is a way to expand on this. I feel we can easily become trapped in the way we think, feel and live, and travelling is an opportunity to break the moulds and routines we create for ourselves. We are given the opportunity to expand our notion of what the world is, how people interact with their environments and treat each other. We are the sum of our experiences. I think breaking up your experience of life is important. In terms of how travelling has affected my work, I am not sure directly. There have been obvious examples of making paintings which directly fuse western and eastern elements that I have undertaken, but I suspect the influences have been more subtle than this in other ways.
H.C: Through your paintings, you question the role advertising, fashion and media culture have in our obsession with image, and the detrimental implications this can have. What led you to want to explore these themes?
R.S: I have always been interested in the grotesque side of beauty, the absurd side of social relations and the madness beneath the surface of everyday human rituals and behaviours. I think we are living in “The Society of The Spectacle”, and examining women’s magazines, which are theoretical guides to teach females how to be feminine, provides an endless resource of imagery that I find at once alluring and repulsive.
Up to now, I have been trying to make work which demonstrates a surface situation and then has a dark, quietly, unsettling undertone of something obscure and untenable underneath. A psychological hinterland contained just beneath the surface of the painting.
H.C: You’ve previously said that you use images from advertising campaigns and fashion magazines as source material for paintings. How do you go about selecting which images to use? And to what extent do you alter or diverge from the source imagery?
R.S: I scroll through hundreds of images and then save all the ones which strike me. I try not to think about why, about their content, I just want to be arrested by an image. This is normally a good starting point. Then if there is something I will particularly enjoy painting, for example with the fashion photographs I have really loved painting the patterns of textiles and animal prints, I will make a drawing to see if there is enough to sustain my interest to carry out a whole painting based on the image. The image will normally provide a starting point for me then once the drawing is complete I will often leave the image behind and rely on my imagination and memory to guide the painting.
H.C: Finally, could you give us a little insight into the works you’re creating for the upcoming exhibition?
R.S: The works I am creating for the exhibition will continue to explore the theme of female representation but some will be more surreal and obscure then previous paintings I have made. You will have to wait and see!
Opening: November 22nd, 7pm-10pm.
On View: November 23rd & 24th, 10am-5pm.