'A View at Once So Lofty and So Banal'

'A View at Once So Lofty and So Banal'

Abandoned (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]

A digital display of art which celebrates the aesthetic potential of the ordinary
The everyday objects which we are surrounded by are often overlooked but their potential to disrupt and surprise is undeniable, making us aware of the intricacies and complexities of daily life which we would often overlook. As Susan Sontag wrote, our view of the everyday is ‘at once so lofty and so banal’ and it is in this dialectical situation that the power of the everyday lies. This exhibition sets out to examine the effects of a renewed focus on the daily objects in our lives.
 
By choosing celebrities, foodstuffs and household brands for its visual fodder, Pop Art proved that the ordinary can be used to subvert our expectations of fine art and create accessible, popular images. The popularising power of the ordinary aesthetic has also been used outside of the context of fine art; Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement used the ubiquity of the umbrella to establish a participatory protest aesthetic.
 
Equally, the ordinary itself can be subverted. The manipulation, transformation or removal of the mundane has the potential to be a thoroughly disruptive force. The undermining of the most unassuming objects of life necessitates a re-evaluation of our modes of living which rely on these mundane objects.
 
Some still lives have long been used as memento mori, reminding us that we too will decay and be forgotten, just as the objects they depict, pristine and untouched, will eventually wilt and rot. Yet artists have also made the ordinary glorious, encouraging us to find beauty in everything, no matter how mundane they may seem, as in Leon Kossoff’s paintings of the overlooked railway yards of north-west London.
 
Working across the media of sculpture, paint and photography, the artists exhibited as part of this exhibition represent four different responses to the everyday objects surrounding them. Sophie Beckingham’s paintings reconsider our expectations of the appearances of food and our bodies. She utilises light and form to explore the relationship between these objects in space in a manner akin to the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi.

Alice Baxter’s layered texts, objects and impressions provoke a revaluation of the objects around us, bringing their hidden context, the history surrounding each one, to the forefront. Also questioning our relationships with everyday objects are Natasha Broom’s sculptures. They manipulate our expectations of the everyday by turning furniture, so often solely considered for comfort, into the subject of critical appreciation, highlighting its overlooked formal qualities.
 
Sam O’Keeffe’s photographs capture the absence of the ordinary, following in the tradition of British social photographers such as Martin Parr but where Parr’s works are packed with energy and characters, these are empty, and any figures are only fleetingly acknowledged. By pointing out what is missing, the viewer comes to understand what they had thus far taken for granted.
 
Though each artist’s approach differs, all display a tendency for close observation and encourage us to rediscover what we often overlook.

Text by Ben Zombory-Moldovan and Siavash Minoukadeh
 
Natasha Broom

Sofa I (2020) Natasha Broom [Wood, poly-foam, glitter, acrylic and resin]

Your work makes use of unconventional materials, in a way that explores their physical and sometimes anthropomorphic qualities, what draws you to work with them?
I was waiting to find a material that would be both unknown and comforting, and polyurethane materials fit right into what I wanted. Polyurethane is very much in your control, depending on how you mix it for example will render very different results. It was perfect for building up something totally unique and yet it is strangely domestically comforting to see it sitting there in an armchair.

Scale seems to play an active role in your sculptures, what interests you about working at this scale?
My work needs to be something personal and so scale must be personal too. It was either a life size sculpture or something that could be held in your hands and placed in your house.

Your choice of subject seems to locate the work in a domestic setting, and yet the colours and materials do not seem homely, is this a conscious play? What are they trying to convey about domesticity?
I can see why this work would not seem homely with its strange materials and obscure concept. But for others, including myself, I see something reassuring and indeed domestic. An armchair, for me, is iconic of domesticity; it is intimate and relaxed, a place where discussions can burgeon or where you can be alone.

The sofas and chairs in your work sit on what seem like plinths, is this an effort to elevate your subject matter or part of its extraction from its usual environment?
It is indeed an extraction from its usual environment, but perhaps one that is too obvious. When working on these projects in the future I would like to extract it from its ‘plinth’ so that, in terms of domesticity, it becomes ever more banal… and perhaps therefore more lofty.

What made you want to make these works?
The pieces are about ‘big feelings’ sitting in a mundane, perhaps non personable, and overlooked place: the armchair or the sofa. What makes me want to make any work is a desire to share a particular idea with as many other people as possible so that both of us can feel reached out too. Moving too fast through a mundane world but bearing big feelings towards it are moments I hope others can relate to in these works.

Interviewed by Ben Zombory-Moldovan
Chair (2020) Natasha Broom [Wood, poly-foam, glitter, acrylic and latex]
Chair (2020) Natasha Broom [Wood, poly-foam, glitter, acrylic and latex]
Chair (2020) rear view
Chair (2020) rear view
"An armchair, for me, is iconic of domesticity; it is intimate and relaxed"
Sofa II (2020) Natasha Broom [Wood, poly-foam, acrylic paint and latex]
Sofa II (2020) Natasha Broom [Wood, poly-foam, acrylic paint and latex]
Sofa II (2020) side view
Sofa II (2020) side view

Alice Baxter

Oesophagus is a Funny Word (2020) Alice Baxter [Mixed media on sketch board]

I can’t help but notice the titles you give your paintings. They feel like small creative works in their own right. What was your thinking behind these titles?
I just call them whatever: egg, fork, earring etc. I just think that when artists put a title on a work it warps our vision of what we see in it. I don’t want to set out exactly what something is when I name it, I prefer to leave it open a little.

So the titles won’t necessarily give us too much of a hint about what you’re painting and why, it’s down to the viewer to draw their own conclusions. I like that idea so I’m sorry to draw it out of you but could you tell us what the subjects of your paintings actually are?
It’s all just stuff around me, things that I’ve seen hundreds of times before but which suddenly look different in a kind of way. So one [Oesophagus is a Funny Word] was inspired by a wine glass, which you can see and then another [Shut the Door! Were you Born in a Barn?] was inspired by a feminist podcast I was listening to, but also by a teacup. 

That’s really interesting, so when you see something striking –
-I’m actually not really interested in things that are particularly striking! 

That’s true, I should probably say when you see something that you want to respond to, how does that response take shape? You mentioned Shut the Door! Were you Born in a Barn? was inspired by a podcast and a teacup. How did you build on those images to get to the work that we can see now?
So the base is all just emulsion paint and then layers of images cut out from a women’s magazine. I also pulled quotes from that magazine, especially in the middle but there’s layers and layers of all of that underneath as well. It all starts to come together once you add layers and textures into it.

And is that how you worked across all three works?
Yeah, it’s all just collage!

And then once you’ve found something that’s drawn your eye, what’s your actual painting process like? Do you get it all out onto the board there and then or come back and add to it gradually?
I paint fast. I can start with something and get so much done in say, two or three hours. I like Cy Twombly’s idea of thinking about something for ages, really thinking through it, and then just going for it and painting right at the end in one go. 
So if I had three hours to make something, I’d spend two hours and 45 minutes of it just thinking about what I want to do and then painting it all in the final 15. I’m definitely a fast painter  
I like to get lots of paint on the surface, and it has to be on a wall so I can move around it. I like to build up a lot of layers as well, they really add texture and that’s something I feel is really important, and sometimes overlooked.

Interviewed by Siavash Minoukadeh
"I’m actually not really interested in things that are particularly striking"
Shut the Door! Were you Born in a Barn? (2020) Alice Baxter [Mixed media on sketch board]
Shut the Door! Were you Born in a Barn? (2020) Alice Baxter [Mixed media on sketch board]
Waterlogged Aloe Vera (2020) Alice Baxter [Mixed media on sketch board]
Waterlogged Aloe Vera (2020) Alice Baxter [Mixed media on sketch board]

Sam O'Keeffe

Not All Who Wander Are Lost (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]​​​​​​​

Something that strikes me about your work is the feeling of absence in so many of them. There’ often a sense that what we’re seeing is missing something, put we can’t quite put our finger on what exactly.
These photos definitely highlight COVID life. They were all taken around where I live, so these are the places that I've grown up with, where I would meet my friends when I was eight or nine. So to suddenly see these places completely abandoned  - I just thought it was  quite an interesting thing to see and wanted to collect that moment as a physical memory.

It sounds like your subjects tend to be things which have always been quite close to your own heart. Looking out more broadly, have you drawn inspiration from any other artists or photographers and their work?
I would say Joe Greer, his practice of just shooting whatever you see around you. I’ve definitely taken that as inspiration an I really try to just take a deeper look and see what is actually around me. Whether or not I managed to do anything that would come close to that [aim] is for others to say!
I just like the idea of letting the camera shoot whatever it sees, taking in what’s good and what’s not.

Moving onto the specifics of your work,  I think there’s something really gripping about your style and the actual aesthetic qualities of your works. I don’t particularly want to put words in your mouth so I was wondering how you yourself would describe the look of your photos?
I don’t know if this is quite the right term but I want to just go for something naturalistic, something like still life photography. I just want to capture images that look natural and look real. 
There’s no editing after the fact and there’s no direction that I’m trying to work towards before I take the photo. It’s more that I take the photo because this is a scene that’s quite caught my eye. It’s quite casual. I want to leave it up to people to decide what the work is actually saying rather than specifying what it’s about.

On that note, I noticed that you’ve left your titles quite short and they’re not too specific. Is that for the same reasons of not wanting to be too prescriptive around what the work is about?
Yeah, I don’t like ascribing meaning to stuff that I create. I always think once I’ve taken the photo it’s out of my hands what other people think about it. I’d rather make things a bit more vague and short and simple.
So then you can say OK, you’ve called this work Abandoned, is that a comment on childhood abandonment or is it just that the playground was empty?

Interviewed by Siavash Minoukadeh

Breakaway (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]

Windswept (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]
Windswept (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]
Support (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]
Support (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]
Abandoned (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]
Abandoned (2020) Sam O'Keeffe [Scanned 35mm photograph]
 
Sophie Beckingham

My Legs (2020) Sophie Beckingham [Oil on Paper]

Why feet? 
I was looking at my feet towards the start of lockdown and saw them caught in the light. Without much else to do I thought they would make a good experiment in light and shadow.
It was also the stage of lockdown when we were stuck inside. These paintings afforded the opportunity to see how many different places I could put my feet into in the one restricted space of my house.

What was it about painting the same subject over and over that made you want to keep doing it?
It felt almost as if I was travelling somewhere new each day. I looked more closely at spaces I’d otherwise overlook. I was going a bit mad – so I wanted to have my feet in different places.

How do you think this process affected the paintings? 
They were a very important series in my understanding of light, colour, warmth and shadows, which perhaps encouraged me to get more complex and abstract as the work progressed.

Your paintings seem to dramatise their subjects, often through their lighting but also through manipulated form. How do you want the viewer to reconsider these objects? 
Light and form didn’t start as a conscious means, rather I liked finding art in everyday objects. Art shouldn’t be the reserve of galleries but should be in normal life. Often I don’t arrange my compositions but stumble across their strange forms. My paintings aren’t performative, they are consciously truthful but also selective. I don’t just paint anything.
I want to encourage the viewer to reconsider the value of objects. Art can often be overworked or overthought and instead I want to have people reconsider their surroundings not with a different meaning but with different importance. I want them to see beauty in the everyday. 

The lighting in your painting often hints at the interior settings of your paintings, have you found light to be a source of liberation? 
I took photos of my nana's house after she died, many of which were views of windows and into other rooms. They display the separation of space but you can see the impact of another place in your own through the spread of light and shadow. I think there is a transience to this light, perhaps it is existential like light in Hammershoi’s painting. 
I often include an object that was living next to my subject, and together they are in their own abstract space. Yet they have an external solid place cast on them through light and shadow. I think it is about stillness and transience.

Light often seems to break down form in your paintings, do you feel it necessary to distort the everyday?
Light emphasises the interaction objects have with each other through light and shadow. They interact even though they’re not touching. I think it is to do with the energy between objects and what happens in the space between objects. 
I also think light is just fun. I like the colour study possible between a beige foot and purple shadows. I enjoy the different range of colour that occurs in this one space

Perhaps this tension addresses our own experience at the moment?
Yes! A zoom call is two people Interacting without touching after all.

Interviewed by Ben Zombory-Moldovan

Avocado and Tomato Leftovers in Hand (2020) Sophie Beckingham [Oil on Paper]

Cucumber Slices (2020) Sophie Beckingham [Oil on Paper]
Cucumber Slices (2020) Sophie Beckingham [Oil on Paper]
Red Pepper (2020) Sophie Beckingham [Oil on Paper]
Red Pepper (2020) Sophie Beckingham [Oil on Paper]
"My paintings aren’t performative, they are consciously truthful but also selective"
Day 1 - By the Window
Day 1 - By the Window
Day 2 - Patio
Day 2 - Patio
Day 3 - Grassy Feet
Day 3 - Grassy Feet
Day 4 - Chair in the Sun
Day 4 - Chair in the Sun
Day 5 - Warm on the Radiator
Day 5 - Warm on the Radiator
Day 6 - Squish
Day 6 - Squish
Day 7 - It Rained Today
Day 7 - It Rained Today
Day 8 - Foot and Orange
Day 8 - Foot and Orange
Day 9 - Stood on Chair
Day 9 - Stood on Chair
Day 10 - Stairs
Day 10 - Stairs
Day 11 - Making Soup
Day 11 - Making Soup
Day 12 - Shadow on Floor
Day 12 - Shadow on Floor
Day 13 - Sunny Feet
Day 13 - Sunny Feet
Day 14 - Lunch and Leg
Day 14 - Lunch and Leg
Day 15 - Foot Meet Foot
Day 15 - Foot Meet Foot
Day 16 - Outside Chair
Day 16 - Outside Chair
Quaranfeet (2020) Sophie Beckingham [Series of 16 works, oil on paper]
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