Asya Geisberg Gallery is pleased to present its second solo exhibition with Annie Attridge, Wanderlust. The artist will debut a new series of sculptures and works on paper. A conversation between the gallery and the artist follows.
AGG: Your last show “Hearts of Oak” focused on porcelains and charcoal drawings. With “Wanderlust” your work has grown to include stained and carved wood, jade, gold gilt, and pewter. What spurred this multiplicity of elements?
Annie Attridge: I really love the idea of finding new materials, and once I do, I become obsessed with getting every detail just so. A lot of the wood came from the destruction and re-gentrification in making the Olympic park: riding my bike past the park, I started to think how I could use those things in my work.
Another new element is the geometry – for instance the diamond-patterned harlequin heads, and the obsession with texture – the chunky roses, the dotted coral, the gnarled wood…Can you talk about how this has been introduced?
The placement of varying materials and texture create a dialogue of difference. As for the geometry – all of my work is quite direct, but as I get older I want something that embraces structure, and not just wild abandonment and excess. With the harlequin I was interested in how they expose the subtleties of a story, making fun, while cooing at the conveyed lovers, ridiculing the new competitor.
There are many recurring sea-based motifs – boats, boobie birds, waves, wood posts that could be sticking out of the ocean. Could you explain your maritime fascination?
When I was younger I was brought up in shipping villages, and when I turned 17, I trained to crew sailing ships. When it’s 12 o’clock at night and there’s no wind, it’s really magical—the mythology of the romantic night, of strange ambiguous creatures, fantastical figures. Everything I do is symbolic. The waves represent things that come towards you and you have to fight against what life can throw at you – the sea fluctuates from storm and conflict to reflective calm.
You also are very specific in your historical and art historical references. You mentioned the wood-grain woodcut on wallpaper that evokes the paneling of the 1600s, a part of the porcelain’s environment. “Cheeky” might be hanging at Versailles. What’s your relationship with the past?
I always loved watching Greek mythology films, I love all the meanings in the stories, and all those bodies morphing into animals. I use traditional techniques; for me it’s a discovery of something old, and keeping it real. I could have had that wallpaper made, but instead I made continuous prints myself.
In your studio and in your work, I see a clear influence of Baroque and Rococo sculpture. Your bodies are twisting, limbs become snake-like coils, holding or squeezing bodies, and one body mutates into another, or fuses parts. Is it visual fascination with the movement of the bodies, or an expression of dramatic narratives?
When I used to get the lift at the Royal Academy School, I used to always see Laocoon in front of me – it definitely inspired me. When you get close to someone, you entwine, you grow with them and develop a language between you. It’s about real intimacy. But it’s not always positive…when you feel suppressed in a relationship, you can’t be yourself…you want a sense of freedom.
All this conversation about relationships, emotions, romance, and yet, a lot of your work has a very naughty sense of humor and a deliberate explicitness that seems to be the opposite of 17th century decorum. Are you purposefully trying to blur sexuality and romance? The bed piece shows an orgiastic overflow of bodies and positions in a Baroque mahogany bed. In “Prologue”, a polished jade becomes female buttocks, and manages to balance on a bed of delicate porcelain flowers, refined and romantic, all resting on a twisting organic wood….
But that’s where the paradigms come in, hard and soft, geometric, defined structure and organic flow, and the real and the imagined. The wood and stone I made to mimic the twisting porcelain, so they’re complementary even though they seem opposite.
So you don’t see anything shocking in your work?
I’m quite open-minded, all these things I’ve either seen, or are a figment of my imagination, or things I want in the future.
What about what Roberta Smith said in her review, that if you were a man making your work you would get into trouble?
I would probably.
So you agree with her?
At the end of the day I love the female form, I love the material, and I create my own alphabet with my porcelain – like using any language and making it your own. Creating them is really sexy. It’s all made with real love, like someone who cooks with love—the taste is divine.
You’ve said that you fell in love with porcelain, and it was love at first sight, or love at first touch. The way you handle the wood, all the different surfaces…you told me “Prologue” has six different pieces of wood.
There is a nurturing aspect to handling the material, the sanding, the shellacking…it’s very hands-on. When I’m creating my ladies, it’s like I’m reliving that moment again. I’m so self-indulgent, I’m making it for my eyes.