An interview

Why Rhubarb Pyjamas?

I don’t think it really mattered what I called the blog, it would become whatever I named it. Before you name something it’s a bit of an enigma, a nothing, once you put words on it, it gets pinned down, but in turn the thing you name changes the meaning of the words.

For example, think of someone you know with a really common name, then think of someone else who also has that name.  Each of those people give the same name a different flavour.  Words need context.

Rhubarb Pyjamas is nonsensical at first, but they’re comforting things, and they’re ordinary things.  I needed to anchor myself in the everyday.  I could have called the blog Ethereal Wasteland which also sounds nice, but then I probably would have blown away on a cloud of vagueness.

Is that really the reason you chose the name Rhubarb Pyjamas?

Not really.  I chose the words for two things I like, because I also liked the way the words  sounded together.

Your MFA exhibition is called Hunter Dreamer Stranger Thief are you the thief?

Yes.  Well sort of. We chose terms that could be somewhat interchangeable, because there are elements of all four of those titles in all our work, but yes, thief was the term that was put forward to describe me initially.

What does it mean to be the thief?

Oooh, I’m glad you asked that, because I’ve been giving it a lot of thought.  It’s the most difficult term, because on the face of it a thief is not a very nice person, but purely from an archetypal standpoint (because obviously I don’t condone actual stealing) a thief is someone who sees value in something that someone else has. Maybe they even value it more than the owner does, and sometimes the act of taking something makes the owner re-evaluate something they’ve taken for granted. A thief is an outsider, an opportunist, a collector.  In some ways I think the thief is a hunter, stranger and a dreamer.

Your main catalogue text talks primarily about drawing, but drawing was absent from the work you exhibited, what is the connection?

I have always classed watercolours as a drawing language. I don’t really see myself as a painter, but I am someone who draws with paint.

But in a holistic sense, I’m not sure that drawing was absent at all. Drawing is what I started with, and as I researched further and thought about it more, I started thinking about what drawing means. Drawing is really about looking, or learning to see something differently.  In order to draw something you must examine it in very close detail.  In my catalogue essay I talk about the other meanings of “to draw” which include the motion of drawing something out, or to formulate (as in “drawing conclusions”) so I came to the conclusion that drawing is just as much about close examination and extracting information, its an analytical tool, an interrogation.

When I started thinking of drawing like this, all of my work began to look like drawings.  Maybe it sounds like a stretch to say that on the face of things, but in my head there’s a clear link. The text is there to (hopefully) give insight into my trajectory, and the final exhibition is the culmination of a two year project that began with drawing.

Drawing (in a more traditional sense) is also the propeller and the thinking tool. Drawing is the thing I do for myself, and I think you have to have that in your practice, something you do because you love it.

Did your love of drawing make it difficult to exclude more traditional drawings?

Yes and no. In the previous body of work from July, I found it difficult because I was only just formulating a language and an understanding of other formats. I think it’s hard to be confident about something if you haven’t formulated a way of thinking and talking around it. I’m quite a slow thinker, and I felt as though I was taking a risk with works that I didn’t know how to articulate the ideas for. The language of your work is really important.  But the funny thing about visual art is if you could explain it properly or completely in words, you wouldn’t need to communicate it visually, so there’s always a sort of lag where the language needs to catch up to what you are doing.

I think the leap to found objects is also very difficult for a maker. Particularly where the making is necessarily labour intensive. Found work initially felt like a bit of a cheat, because I couldn’t see my hand in the work.

By January however, I’d done a lot more thinking and writing, and felt more comfortable around the new ways of working. The found things started to ‘feel’ like they belonged to my practice, because I’d come to realise that the work was in the thinking and in the selection of items that shared my aesthetic, so actually my hand was in the work, but it was a selecting hand, rather than a making hand.

And at the end of the day, selection for exhibition is all about editing for a particular experience. Just because something you love doesn’t make the cut doesn’t mean its not valid in a different context.

Now that you’ve embraced other ways of working will you continue drawing?

Yes. I have to. It’s the only time my brain goes quiet.

What are the main themes in your work?

My main interests at the moment are in the ideas of trace and potential, and tangential to that is thinking around time and space. The literary an important element, particularly in exploring the overlap of truth and fiction. And there are other things that slip in from time to time, such as travel, or science, or characters from the past.

Where do the ideas come from?

The most obvious answer is of course that they come from my research.  I come across a lot of things by accident, usually because I’m reading something on a whim.  Sometimes its a phrase or a word that sparks my interest, and then I follow it to see where it leads. Other ideas have seemed to come from nowhere all at once. The ideas never happen when I try to force them. The ideas come from thinking.

The parallel text, the Justine story, is that true?

All stories are fictions, particularly the ones based on real subjects. To put something into words is to fictionalise it, because you create a narrative with the words you choose.

So is this interview fictional?

Of course!

Are you constantly researching?

I think that’s the wrong way of looking at it. If I was constantly researching, it would imply that I’m searching for a particular thing, but it’s not really like that. I’m constantly looking but not necessarily in a knowing way. It’s about being open to seeing something. The first part is the accident, the actual research comes after the initial spark.  What I’m doing is constantly following things I am interested in.  Sometimes that results in an idea for my practice.

Your writing seems to be a big component of the way you work, is it difficult?

Sometimes. I try not to overthink the writing. If I think about it too much I talk myself out of it. I actually have a reasonable amount of half-written things that just didn’t work because I was trying too hard. I think the writing became easier the more I did, so the blog has been really instrumental in getting some of my half baked ideas down. I don’t have a set criteria for the writing either.  That way I’m not stuck with trying to force a particular tone when it doesn’t feel right, and I try not to have rigid ideas around how much to write.  The writing just sort of happens and can be whatever it evolves to be.

Is it the same with your studio practice?

No, I need to work on that sort of freedom with my studio practice. I definitely tend to overthink things, and all my better work has happened when I’ve actually followed my own advice to just do it and see where it goes without trying to force a particular outcome. One piece of advice I was given was to learn to value the things I haven’t laboured over. I’ve tended to dismiss things that came too easily, and I need to recognise that they’ve come easily because they’ve built on the things before them, the previous work and the research.

I hope these are useful questions.

They’re exactly the kind of questions I’d ask myself.

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