Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Art: Interview with Artist Alice White

BOOM! spoke to the 28-year-old artist who resides in London town.

Hi Alice! 

BOOM! loves your pics – how much drawing, sketching and painting do you do in a 24-hour period? What’s a typical week like?
Sketching is an integral part of the painting process. I spend on average seven to eight hours in the studio per day. At least two hours of that time will be spent sketching, in the conception, duration and completion of a painted canvas. My particular use of the sketching process is to produce rapid outlines as well as fully finished, detailed drawings which not only mark out the contours of the face and figure, but also serve as a process of analysis, to trace and capture what is revealed by my subject matter. When preparing for a new piece, I will spend whole days sketching in preparation. When painting, I lose track of time, and cannot be trusted to maintain a conversation or remember its contents for several hours afterwards!


'George, Fred and Harry' // Oil on Linen

Although I work with professional models when teaching my classes, the people I paint are not trained to sit for an extended amount of time. 

Once they arrive at the studio, I will work with my sitter for three to four hours, with regular breaks so that they can stretch. When people get tired, they either get listless or they become very tense, and it’s important to me to capture my subjects at ease with themselves – and in the gaze of the viewer. I spend about three days a week working with my sitter, a day in studio by myself, a day in galleries using sketching as a research process, and two days teaching drawing. I often draw my students whilst they are busy sketching the model. I put these images in the Sketchbook section of my website.

Are you a night owl, early lark… or both?
My work starts in the late morning, and continues until late at night. Promoting my current art exhibitions and finding new outlets for my work is an integral part of what I do. After a studio day, I’ll return home and start on the administrative side of my work; replying to interested parties with details on my work and images for press, sending out invitations to current shows and events, applying to exhibitions, working on proposals for future projects, and updating my website with the most relevant information.

You have the super-riche and starving-artist perception juxtaposition – where do you feel you fit in this spectrum?
In order to finance the materials with which to make the next painting, I have to sell a current piece. It’s important to understand that an artist’s income has its peaks and troughs, and one has to be careful to maintain a balancing act. I have gone hungry and I have been lucky, but I come from a family who put emphasis on working to one’s hardest, and making the best out of any opportunity. That spirit sees me through good times and bad.

'The Feature' (Isabelle)// Oil on Linen
Have you always worked as an artist and/or had/ve other jobs in addition?
I started work at the age of 16, but I had already sold paintings by that point. I worked throughout my education, in bookshops, bars and shops, whilst continuing to make the most of my artwork. Once I graduated I became self-employed, and worked in set-painting, bronze casting, fibre-glass casting, glass casting, and all kinds of fabricating work. Meanwhile I produced work in my studio whenever I could, and when exhibiting in a local show I gained the opportunity to be an artists’ assistant. Whilst working with this experienced artist, setting up shows and retouching her paintings and sculptures, she persuaded me to assist on a course she was teaching. I was then taken on as a teacher at Central St Martins, and with a better income was able to do less freelance work and concentrate on my studio practice. Any money I have ever made has always gone back into my studio work.

How have you funded your exhibitions? (Arts Council etc)
I have always taken the rather risky route of funding the next show or artwork with the money made from my previous endeavour. This just means that one has to be very selective, very quick to recognise a good opportunity, and very adept at getting a good deal! When putting on group shows, I have secured sponsorship from local businesses such as restaurants, breweries, builders merchants and even estate agents. Business owners with the intelligence of foresight tend to recognise that artists and performers bring trade and culture to an area, which is profitable to all.

What are your favourite mediums to work with?
I am a material girl – by which I mean I am in love with materials and the techniques associated with them. I enjoy combining materials that shouldn’t go together, such as oil paint and ink. I use spray-paint, theatrical glitter, crayons, screen-printing, tea – basically anything that will make a mark. My material of choice is usually oil paint. It is possible to make oil paint behave like anything, from watercolour to poly-filler, which means it is a truly versatile medium.

You studied art at Chelsea College of Art & Design and Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design – what feedback did you get from your tutors that you found particularly useful in contributing to that grade?
I had a particularly keen-minded tutor, who once sat through an entire end-of-year moderation totally silent. The less he spoke, the more I panicked, and explained everything to do with my work that I could think of. At the end of it, he smiled and said “Yes, Alice, but what is your narrative?” That question is the one I ask myself time and again – it’s become the core concern driving the continuation of my work.

What advice would you give to future art students?  
My own motto is ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst’. For an art student, this should translate as, ‘Opportunity has to find you working’.

Which artists inspire you?  
I could answer this question all day. Toulouse Lautrec: for his technique of working with l’essence (very thin, high-colour oil paint) and for his unashamed portrayal of his subject matter. Gustav Klimt when he veers away from the decorative towards the expressive. Ruskin Spear for his sense of characterisation and his freedom with the brush. Euan Uglow for his precision and beauty of form. Gary Hume for his excellence of line, shape and colour. Chuck Close for his command of technique. Marlene Dumas for inspiring contemporary painters. Peter Doig for imaginative narrative and process. Nicola Hicks for an emotive understanding of flesh and form. Hans Bellmer for his ruthlessness. Louise Bourgeois for the awful truth. And Francis Bacon, who was a true artist.

What do you think the message is you convey with your art?
My subjects act as evidence of the area which they inhabit – their facial nuances and physical gait expressing the nature of their environment and its effect upon them. Their environment is shaped by them in turn, creating a symbiotic relationship in which subject and surroundings  equally influence each other’s character. This relationship between subject and surroundings, character and characterisation, facia and fa├žade, is the core concept which forms a basis for my ongoing work.

What is unique about an Alice White piece?
When you own an Alice White, you own a piece of contemporary culture.

If you could choose anyone to be your muse, who would it be?
William Burroughs.

What advice would you give to a budding painter?
Find a studio. You cannot expect to create work whilst distracted, so treat it as a working environment. Engage in debate with contemporaries whose opinions you trust and whose working methods you respect. Ignore unconstructive compliments. Learn to differentiate between criticism and jealousy. Stay alert and paint.

What beckons for the rest of the year and next year?
This month my work is showing at the Brockwell Art Gallery until the end of November.
I also have a solo show of over 20 works, ranging from painting to drawing to engraving, open to the public on a daily basis throughout this year. See it at the Peoples Centre at Cambridge House, a community charity in Southwark.

I am opening my own studio to the public from 25 to 27 November, together with 17 other artists on site. Visit my website for information

My artwork has been selected for the Barcelona Showcase, at Casa Battlo on 10 December this year. It’s a stunning building, designed by the architect Gaudi and must be seen to be believed.

Next year I hope to present my most recent works in a solo exhibition. Details for this, together with images of my artwork, exhibition catalogue and up-to-date CV are on my website.

Thank you Alice!