ABSINTHE §1 Interview – Rhiannon Salisbury
February 2019

Originally published in the ABSINTHE §1 Catalogue, published by Kronos x Elam Publishing, produced to accompany ABSINTHE §1, curated by Billy Fraser, Charlie Mills and James Capper, 23/02/2019-11/05/2019, Spit and Sawdust Pub, Elephant and Castle.

Hector Campbell : Having graduated from specialist painting school Turps Banana Painting Program last year, after previously completing your MA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art. How are you finding the transition from art school to the wider art world?

Rhiannon Salisbury : It’s been a whirlwind. I was dreading finishing Turps, I’d had so much fun over both the MA and painting program, I was scared it was all about to come to an end. However, I had such an intensive three years of study that I really am enjoying the silence of my own studio practise. My head is still reeling with all the information that has been crammed in from recent years, but what is happening now is that I am slowly setting my own parameters and rules about painting anew and for myself.

Education is invaluable, but it is hard not to be overly affected by all the opinions and critiques you receive about your work at art school. You crave attention but need to learn to trust your own instincts.

H.C : You’ve talked before about how your work explores themes related to advertising, media and the fashion industry in the contemporary “Society of The Spectacle”. Could you expand on this, and explain how you develop the conceptual ideas that underpin your artworks?

R.S : In Guy Debord’s text, “Society of The Spectacle”, he describes a modern society in which authentic social interaction has been replaced with its representation: "All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”. I feel that his assessment of "the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing” is  a condition that is even more apparent in today’s society then it was in 1967, and it resonates strongly with my reasoning for producing paintings.

When deconstructing advertisements I am asking myself: “What are these ideals they are manufacturing that we are subconsciously buying into and trying to embody?” My work tends to stress the relationships between people, focusing heavily on isolation and detachment.

“The spectacle is not a collection of images," Debord writes, "rather, it is a social relation among people, mediated by images.” Debord encouraged the use of détournement, "which involves using spectacular images and language to disrupt the flow of the spectacle.” Maybe I am using painting as a tool for détournement. I am trying to subvert the language of advertising through reinterpretation. Painting is a tool to reclaim the image.

H.C : Alongside the imagery taken from fashion magazines and advertising photo shoots, your recent paintings have seen the addition of animals (tigers, lions, flamingos) interacting with the women depicted. Was this intended as a critique of the animal print clothing that’s become commonplace in today's clothing lines?

R.S : In part, yes. The first thing that drew me to the subject was the fetishistic nature of commodifying the “exotic”. When I made the painting “Accessorise With A Tiger”, it was meant to be an ironic title, but I have since found out that some people in parts of the world like Russia actually order tigers as pets on the internet. Wealth can lead to a grotesque level of absurdity where wild animals are reduced to fashion accessories. I see it as part of a sickness of our time where we reduce animals to material items, and as an extension of this women too. I started to include animals in the work because I am interested between the relationships created between the women and the animals who are often both objectified for the purpose of the advertisement.

H.C : As well as your own artistic practice, for the last five years you’ve been supporting younger artists as both a teacher and a mentor. How do these experiences impact and influence your own work?

R.S : It’s really grounding to work as a teacher and mentor. It breaks me out of my bubble and helps me reconnect with the wider world, and more specifically it helps me to engage with a community of artists. I am quite happy to be isolated in my studio, stuck in my head for days on end, so when I do teach it is always something that I am surprised I continue to enjoy. I think there is so much self doubt tied up with spending so much time working in isolation as an artist, that doing something practical like teaching and seeing that you are helping other people directly is like receiving sustenance. It’s a great experience.

H.C : You’ve previously exhibited in experimental curatorial projects such as Extended Call (curated by Absinthe’s Billy Frazer), what draws you to these projects? And can you give us an insight into the work you’ll be exhibiting in Absinthe?

R.S : The main draw of these projects has been their open and experimental nature. “Extended Call” took place in a host of unusual venues, starting with phone boxes in Soho, moving to “The Parasite”, (a purpose built vitrine by artist Victor Seaward), and then finally had a very avant-gar incarnation at Subsidiary Projects. I love showing work in unusual spaces outside of a conventional gallery format because it creates a new and more provocative context for viewers to experience art. It was also a challenge to design artworks that would function in each space.

The theme of “Absinthe” has been really good in reconnecting me with the weirder and slightly darker side of my subject matter. So far these projects have really created a space for me to rethink and challenge my creative practise!