Clare Patrick, our Site Visit exhibition curator, chatted with Henrietta MacPhee based in London, UK (Arts Research Residency 2019) and Chris Lashbrook from Toronto, Canada (Photography Research Residency 2020/21) about the similarities in their approaches to material and dimensionality. Artists reflect on their experiences of participating in Site Visit and of the importance of residency programmes.
Henrietta MacPhee’s practice is centered in clay. Modelling by hand and painting on the clay she creates a language that blends the visual and tangible to create entertaining illusions and a sense of complexity that traverses the border between 2D and 3D. She portrays scenes of poetic tenderness and humour, interweaving metaphors for embracing life’s diversity of peoples and their cultures. It is playful, representing an innocent yet thought provoking relationship with the material form.
Chris Lashbrook trained in analogue processes and was taught to love black and white film. He has a passion for contrast and the intense tones of gray available through the analogue medium. Since embracing the power of this combination in the digital world he has also developed a love for the subtleness and richness of contrast in colour.
Bringing together artists in collaboration from around the world, Site Visit has been an opportunity for artists to connect across physical distances and foster new connections and collaborations. In our Artists in Conversations series, it has been wonderful to make these interactions available for the public to engage with too!
Clare Patrick: When you think of Site Visit, what comes to mind?
Chris Lashbrook: Site Visit during COVID makes me think of near and far, across the world from my backyard, Bev Butkow’s interconnected web of disparate dots, of art, place, people, light, dark, contrast, dreams & realities through a shattered looking glass, change and transition over time (even over the course of minutes/hours/days/months/year and changing light)
Henrietta MacPhee: Individual and shared experiences of visiting a place and connecting with people. I made a piece that relates to a memorable moment shared with you Clare of our visit to the Quai Branley museum at night and the Eiffel tower lighting up our way, a spectacle experienced by many who get a chance to visit Paris.
I was totally entranced by the lights of the Eiffel tower and my ceramic triptych for Site Visit is meant to be viewed in a sequence so that it gives an impression of movement, and the twinkling lights as your eye moves across and detects the differences.
For me it’s all about the action of making art, sculpting, throwing, painting glazing and firing, then I’m immediately moving on to the next project. When the work is finished, the motivation has gone, the work is complete and the dust falls. In fact, some of my ceramic pieces are designed to move, by rocking or swinging or turning to keep the dust from settling.
CL: I was fascinated by your comments about dust in regards to your triptych - on one hand, stagnant and on the other shimmering. Dust is also cumulative, living and mobile (wipe it off? blow it away?) and how it appears to add to the sense of movement on the surface as you move it. Dust would also travel with the object and thus take/share a piece of the local environment wherever it goes.
CP: Where is the first place you'd like to go once travel is allowed again?
CL: Paris the L’AiR Arts Residency. Then I’ll tack on a trek in the Swiss Alps.
HM: I would love to go to Mexico, for the colour and the traditional arts. I’d like to see artists making the tree of life sculptures and ex-voto paintings. While I was doing the L’AIR Arts residency I saw some exhibited at the Outsider Art Fair.
CL: How was the L’AiR Arts residency Henrietta?
HM: It was such a brilliant experience. I went in October 2019 as part of the Art Research residency. We had a full schedule of studio visits, historical walks, art fairs and discussions with artists and curators. I ran a clay workshop at an international school, I joined a ceramic studio and worked on my plein air ceramic painting project. Mila is a brilliant host and will help you navigate your art practise in the city. Paris is magical, you will love it.
CL: This will be my first residency. I am totally self-taught and a year ago I would never have imagined that I would be doing a residency at all, let alone in Paris.
HM: This is my second residency, I went to Shanghai in 2018. Both opportunities have given me a wealth of ideas for future work and I have made some lifelong friends and connections with other artists. They have also pushed me out of my comfort zone by being given the opportunity to talk about my work to the public.
My career hasn’t been straightforward either and it took me some time to get on the right path. I wasn’t encouraged to study art and I read Classical Studies at university. The ceramics began as a weekly evening class after work. My enthusiasm grew and eventually I decided to do a ceramics diploma and now my passion for clay and the process of making art has completely taken over.
CL: It's almost as though we have both arrived at our destination now, a place we have envisioned but has taken some time to get there which is all part of the Site Visit, our creative vision. It's like we arrived at “Destination Artist” by different yet similar routes. And yet, one can never truly “arrive” as an artist ……
CP: What is your favourite memory of sending or receiving a postcard?
CL: The best postcard I ever sent was a 13-page custom one made up of stories and sketches as a friend and I drove from Winnipeg to Vancouver. The letter included poems, drawings, time checks, cigarette breaks, food stops – i.e a real-time, moving travel log.
HM: That’s a great idea, a postcard can capture a moment as well as multiple moments on the journey. The movement of the postcard is part of the story. I remember sending a postcard to myself designed to engage the postman. The postcard was a portrait of a person with a long fringe and he had to lift the fringe to see the address. Much of my work is made to be interactive and playful.
CL: Yes, the marks of the traveling, passed between hands or sorted through machines. Even the postal workers play a role and leave their marks. As part of Site Visit project I sent an aluminium postcard to Mila in Paris and can’t wait to see the impact the mailing system has on it.
CP: Could you tell us a bit more about how you arrived at the ways you use the materials of your chosen mediums in unexpected ways? Chris, you print your images onto interesting surfaces, challenging the idea of a ‘pristine print’ and encouraging the print and the surface to have a relationship that informs the final work. Henrietta, your work plays with dimension and illusion on ceramics in unexpected ways. What prompted each of you to work in this way?
CL: I like to explore the use of unique material combinations in both the image itself and the mounting & framing materials. This is something I learned when working with architects in my previous home renovation business. The use of thin “reveals” and hard/sharp edges to establish depth and crispness are essential for defining the beginning and end of an image. Using Fibonacci proportions also results in an emotionally relaxing and pleasing finished image – unbeknownst to the viewer, the math works its magic on the soul to complete the picture.
I’m actually partially colour blind so the geometry of an image really matters to me when shooting and when framing & mounting a finished image. The space, depth, borders and shadows around the photograph give the final image room to breathe and to stand out.
I’ve recently been experimenting with raw aluminium panels as a printing medium using a die-sublimation process. The aluminium is very thin and rigid and has hard, sharp edges. The raw version of the material also has an interesting side benefit to a colour photo. The metal finish replaces the white of the original file and gives the photo a unique look. I used this with one of the postcards from the Site Visit project and mailed it so the mail processing system can add an unmanaged and unique patina to each of the individual finished postcards. The aluminium is paramount to the effect.
I have a large assortment of images shot through shattered glass so the sharp edges of the random fractures in the glass serve 2 purposes – to diffract the overall image and add a query about “what is that?” and to still retain multiple points of sharpness in front of the blurred image.
A sharp image is still really important to me so I don’t print on highly textured materials, as this tends to soften the final product.
HM: I am interested in what I see in the world around me, the ordinary and the extraordinary, which is everywhere when you re-look. I record ideas in quick sketches, notes and photos. These things usually mull in my mind for a while and get mixed up with my other memories.
In the studio, I find clay to be a very versatile material. I get a sense of alchemy and risk when working with it and firing it in the kiln. It has captivated me and kept me on a long journey of investigation.
I was introduced to the idea of sculpture a few years ago by a studio colleague and the process has been intuitive since then. I sometimes combine a sculpted form with the flat surface of a more abstract form on which I later paint to join in a gently trompe l’oeil style. Painting is - really the essence for me, it is the process that draws everything together. I like looking at different surfaces such as textiles, wall paintings and ancient pottery to consider different ways to depict a story on a 3d form.
Combining the visual and tangible language to create a sense of illusion, requires the viewers participation in the work to complete it. I hope they get a sense of delight from the piece just as I do while making it.
CP: What is a lesson you've appreciated learning during lockdown?
CL: The challenges of closeness vs isolation – don’t confuse the 2 because they are both as mental as they are physical. The mirage of touch and the value of physical sensation. The veil through the looking glass (broken/shattered)
HM: Creating space and how important this is to me. Getting rid of unnecessary things, moving to a larger studio, making space in order to create new work. Tending to my mental and physical space, to live and create. Creating space in a world when we are feeling closed in. Site Visit has opened the channels somewhat and it's amazing to be having this conversation now!
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Cover Image: L'AiR Arts residents, Multidisciplinary Program, January 2020