ART: KIRSTEN LILFORD
INTERVIEW : RICK DE LA RAY
YOU STUDIED AT THE MICHAELIS SCHOOL OF FINE ART, GRADUATED IN 2011 AND CURRENTLY WORKING AS AN ART DIRECTOR AT A ADVERTISING AGENCY. FOR ME PERSONALLY, THESE TWO WORLDS SEEMS TO BE AT THE OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE CREATIVE SPECTRUM. HOW DO YOU FIND THE CROSSOVER FROM WORKING AS AN ACTIVE ARTIST TO THE SOMEWHAT FORCED CREATIVITY WITHIN AGENCY LIFE?
The two are very different but I feel that the one complements the other. Advertising is fast paced and deadline orientated, qualities that are in fact very useful to the artist. I am very specific about setting aside time to paint in my quiet studio. I have allocated time in my week to paint and I do not let anything get in the way of this.
YOU ARE ALSO A RECIPIENT OF THE PRESTIGIOUS SOUTH AFRICAN SOCIETY OF ARTISTS AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN PAINTING – WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE TO GO AND WORK IN ADVERTISING RATHER THAN BECOMING A FULL-TIME PAINTER?
I decided to be an artist as well as an art director about 18 months ago. For me, the decision was based on the fact that I wanted another skillset. I have learnt a huge amount about marketing and working under pressure. These qualities are essential for any successful artist.
I FIND YOUR WORKS VERY PEACEFUL, ALMOST AS IF THEY WERE FRAME GRABS FROM WITHIN A HAZY LUCID DREAM IN SOME SORT OF A SUNDAY LUNCH UTOPIA. HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM REALITY, TO THE ENVIRONMENT YOU CREATE WITHIN YOUR PAINTINGS
For me it is not necessarily about choosing to create a conscious divide between reality and the environment in my paintings. My work is about trying to make sense of a reality, whether it is my own or someone else’s.
FROM TIME TO TIME I FIND MYSELF CATCHING A SLIGHT HINT TOWARDS A FOGGY VERSION OF DAVID HOCKNEY’S EARLY STILL LIFES. BUT YOUR WORK IS AUTHENTICALLY YOUR OWN, ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR INFLUENCES THAT YOU WOULD SAY HELPED SHAPED YOUR WORK TO THE WAY WE SEE IT NOW?
The work of the Impressionists, particularly Bonnard, Vuillard and Cassatt have influenced my work. In terms of more contemporary South African artists, I am inspired by the work of Lisa Brice and Penny Siopis.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT CHOOSING THE SUBJECTS AND COMPOSITIONS PORTRAYED IN THE SCENES, I GET THE FEELING THAT THEY ARE TAKEN FROM OLD PHOTOGRAPHS AND FAMILY HOLIDAY SNAPS? WHAT MAKES YOU RELATE TO THE IMAGES YOU CHOOSE TO STUDY WITHIN YOUR WORK
I specifically select photographs that would form useful preliminary sketches for my paintings. By preliminary sketches I am referring to photographs that are in a sense ‘unfinished’ and as Gerhard Richter calls them, “non-art” photographs. These photographs form useful departure points for paintings. What is key for me is to find the unstable position of white upper-middle-class. I look for clues in various family photographs. Whether it is a rather blurred photograph of my mother smiling happily with a huge pregnant stomach while standing by the swimming pool or a photograph of a friend’s mother carefully dipping her new born baby’s feet into a florescent blue pool. Graham Clarke’s writing is useful to me in terms of how images can become vehicles for speaking about not just one family but about the picturing of the aspirations of the white middle class in South Africa as a whole. By using family photographs I also allow this shift from the private to the public to happen. The image’s historical background no longer becomes important as the image is no longer a representation of a real world but more an interpretation of that world.
YOU WORK WITH OIL BASED PIGMENTS, HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE THE SOFT AND ALMOST TRANSPARENT APPLICATION OF COLOUR ON YOUR CANVAS? AT FIRST GLANCE I WAS ALMOST CONVINCED THAT IT WAS WATERCOLOUR, CAN YOU PLEASE SHARE YOUR WORKING TECHNIQUE WITH US?
The act of applying paint is an act of chance. I can never predetermine how a painting will look, I can only apply paint and in a sense allow the paint to work itself out. Penny Siopis once told me that she works in a way that she “thinks it will happen”. I feel that this notion is true to my work too. I allow the paint pigment to break away from the linseed oil. I will evoke a garden creeper for example by the drips and clogged areas of paint pigment. Sometimes a large area canvas will have thin washes of oil paint diluted in turpentine and I will simply allow the paint to drip and move at its own accord. However, I will still maintain a certain degree of control over what drips to leave and what drips to keep.
FROM WHAT I HAVE GATHERED YOU HAVE BEEN PART OF A FEW GROUP SHOWS AND ONE SOLO SHOW AT SALON 91. ARE YOU ONLY REPRESENTED BY THEM AT THE MOMENT OR ARE YOU ABLE TO EXHIBIT FREELY AT ANY OTHER GALLERIES
I have had a few successful shows at Salon 91. Monique du Preez, the director, has formed a firm foundation for the beginning of my artistic career. However, I am not represented by Salon 91 and am open to exhibit with other galleries and have done so.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY FROM GROWING UP AS A CHILD THAT ENGAGED IN CREATIVE ACTIVITIES? WHY DO YOU THINK IT STUCK TO YOUR DEVELOPMENT AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND AN ARTIST?
My own childhood has influenced a certain aspect of my work. I had a rather happy childhood, which consisted of privileged leisure activities such as swimming in the pool and playing in my garden. I guess this comfortable way of life has allowed me to look at family photographs from a nostalgic as well as a critical point of view. Growing up as a white middle-class female has formed the basis of my interest in the white middle-class suburbia, in the context of contemporary South Africa
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS, ARE THERE ANY RITUALS OR PREPARATIONS THAT YOU TAKE ON BEFORE YOU START ON NEW PIECE OF CANVAS?
I prefer to paint at the quieter times of the day, either in the early hours of the morning or late at night. I like to make sure I have all my paintbrushes lined up and my reference images visible. I often start playing music before I start to paint.
DO YOU WORK ON MULTIPLE PIECES AT ONCE OR DO YOU STRICTLY FINISH THEM ONE BY ONE? HOW LONG DOES ANY PARTICULAR PIECE TAKE FROM START TO FINISH?
I work on lots of paintings simultaneously. Sometimes up to ten works at a time. I feel that this is best as it allows me to maintain a certain level of energy throughout my paintings. I sometimes will leave a work for a month or two before I relook at it. This allows me to see the work with a fresh perspective. I usually take about 3 months to complete a painting, having said that I have left a few works for a year before I returned to them and completed the work.
I THINK THE SIZE OF YOUR ARTWORKS DEFINITELY ACTS AS A DRAWING CARD TO THE VIEWER. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF WORKING ON EVEN BIGGER SCALE IN THE FUTURE OR ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE SIZE OF THE WORK FOR NOW? DO YOU THINK THE WORK WOULD HAVE HAD THE SAME IMPACT IF IT WERE PAINTED ON A SMALLER SURFACE
Yes, I agree. The bigger, the better! I am not sure I will go any bigger than my graduate pieces (some of the works were 2400 x 1800mm). I feel that if I had to work on a scale smaller than 600 x 900mm then my paintings would not be as successful. The large scale creates impact and shifts my subject into a curious space.
YOUR WORK DEFINITELY HAS A STRONG AUTHENTIC FORM OF FINE ART TO IT. THERE ARE SO MANY YOUNG ARTISTS WHO ARE BASICALLY JUST ILLUSTRATORS THAT CONSIDER THEMSELVES FINE ARTISTS. WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE KEY ELEMENTS THAT SEPARATES THE TWO?
Absolutely. I think that the two are separate and both fulfill important roles. For me, illustration is a representation of everyday life, whereas fine art interprets and questions everyday life.
VIGINIA MACKENNY SAID, “These essentially middle-class leisure activities embody a freedom not available to all in South Africa’s economic context. Overshadowed by sense of vague threat manifest through the darkening and isolating of such images, the privilege and vulnerability of such ease is highlighted”. SOMETIMES I FEEL PEOPLE ARE VERY QUICK TO ATTACH SOME FORM OF POLITICAL UNDER CURRENT TO ARTIST’S WORK. WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS YOUR PERSONAL MOTIVATION BEHIND THE IMAGERY YOU CHOOSE TO PAINT?
Living in post Apartheid South Africa, one simply cannot separate the political from the artistic. I feel that as a white middle-class South African I play an important role in investigating the past as well as the future in our country.
ARE YOU BUSY WITH A NEW BODY OF WORK AT THE MOMENT OR ARE THERE ANY FUTURE EVENTS HAPPENING FROM YOUR SIDE?
I am in the process of preparing for a solo exhibition next year. I will also exhibit in a few group shows and art fairs nationally and internationally.
PLEASE COULD YOU GIVE US 5 ALBUMS THAT YOU LISTEN TO WHILE YOU’RE PAINTING AND WOULD EMBODY THE SPIRIT OF YOUR WORK?
Speak For yourself
Niki & The Dove
Slow Motion Music