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Writing and Press

Rosalind Davis interviewed by Oh Goodness Greatness

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Rosalind Davis

'I am a mixed media painter (a graduate from the RCA) creating melancholy dystopian landscapes that explore human experience and identity. Before the RCA I was at Chelsea College of Art and studied textile design. I left the RCA in 2005 and have been painting and exhibiting ever since. I live and work in London and got here through sheer determination!

I seek out buildings that on the surface might seem neglected. But for the individuals who use the them, they are a refuge and are of vital importance. Often, the buildings house communities in areas of widespread social deprivation that may seem hostile or full of pathos. I am interested in transience and survival, community and isolation.

In terms of the physical aspect of the works, I fuse painting with collage, print and embroidery. Embroidery is used as a form of paint – the qualities of textiles provide an opportunity to find new freedoms and expressions in painting. The meticulousness of the embroidery and its intimate and alluring qualities are used to emphasise the fragility of the spaces depicted.

Childhood…
I was very melancholic as a teenager. My home life was an area of great conflict and trouble and I was often left alone at home during my adolescence, which was very lonely. My family are wonderful in their ways but we have had a very tormented and difficult past. I was estranged from my mother and father for a number of years when I was younger. My mother was an alcoholic for a number of years and when she left my father she had relationships with violent and aggressive men and that all spilled over to me, my younger brother and older sister, with whom I have very close bonds. We lived on a council estate in Brockley and we were very poor, which did not add to the fun. When I was 17 I was also trying to look after my little brother, which was difficult. I did not have the purpose and meaning of painting in my life then so I felt lost.

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It wasn't all bad though – I loved school and I did have a fantastic social life to make up for the emptiness at home! I also became a published poet – an outpost for all that angst! Things are very different now, thankfully, and I have also found my drive and purpose within my painting. So, I guess it was all this instability that made me fascinated by homes and communities as we had neither. I also feel a huge amount of pathos for these places and I hope to explore this side of humanity in my works. Also, in terms of me, part of my own recovery from my childhood is linked to my work, in the creative and physical expression as well as the concepts. And I am also happy to say I have a close relationship with both parents now.

Hurdles…
Apart from the above there have been plenty of hurdles. I studied mixed media textiles at the RCA. When I went into painting I didn’t really fit in at the college. I had quite a lot of challenges in my work and practise there. I used to feel very conscious of the fact that I had not come from painting, officially. But now I am being taken seriously as an artist and painter so that no longer worries me. It also means that I have originality in my work – I embroider and use print and collage on top of painting.

Unconventional education…
I come from an artistic family. My father is an artist, a sculptor, and my paternal grandmother and great aunts used to be painters, although I never met them. My maternal great grandmother was a model for Vogue and she married into the Pringle family (the jumper empire) and my maternal grandmother sings with The Bach Choir. All in all, it’s pretty creative. Art and creativity was always around us and we were always going to exhibitions with our dad and grandparents.

I loved drawing when I was very young and used to draw porcelain dolls from adverts in magazines and Disney books. I also had an amazing art department at my secondary school (Sydenham Girls). The whole art department was very passionate and we were using oils from the age of 13 and doing big paintings. We also went on incredible art trips to Barcelona and Nice which really inspired me.

But I think it was at the RCA I became an artist. I was actually in the Textiles department so I persuaded the professor of painting, Graham Crowley to teach me. I learnt a lot about painting, concept and theory with him. Since leaving the RCA I have had opportunities to be mentored by Trudie Stephenson and Paul Benjamins who have also been invaluable in moving my work forward. I am still learning all the time. I rely on a peer network as well as going back to former tutors and talking to them about my work.

Talented lady…
I am constantly wanting to improve my painting and to be experimental. I find painting rather humbling as it is always a great challenge and acts as a constantly moving dialogue. My interests are architecture, the places that bind us together as well as the stories behind them, the social and political aspects of the places I paint, which are fascinating. Where possible I try and speak to people in those buildings and find out their stories.

Right this minute…
I am finishing some new paintings for a group show called Floorspace at Phoenix Brighton, a great contemporary art space and public gallery, and I am also promoting my solo show at Projection at John Jones which closes on the 21st August.

Gradual build-up…
The art world is a pretty competitive place but since I left the RCA I have managed to exhibit a lot. The shows I get into each year, or am offered to a place take part, get better and better and I sell a bit more every year. I take that as a good sign.

Last year I was selected for Salon 08, an exhibition selected by judges such as Andrea Tarsia fom the Whitechapel Gallery. I felt like I had finally gotten recognition as a painter in the contemporary art scene. It also led onto a solo show at John Jones, which was great! I also feel more confident within my work. I got the first reviews of my exhibition as well which was lovely.

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On the side…
I teach. I am a freelance tutor for Bedford College, teaching the textile HND. I also set up educational workshops and have worked with the Stephen Lawrence Centre teaching people how to paint and embroider. Right now, I am planning for a drawing workshop I am doing at The Tower of London in autumn.

I have also been working on a blog called ‘Artists Talking’ on a-n, which has been really interesting and enjoyable to write. I even made it as a choice blog in August on a-n, by Matt Roberts, quite a surprise! The blog has led to more dialogue with other artists and art professionals, which has been great.

Pros and cons…
It is all consuming, in both good and bad ways. It’s an obsession! I love what I do. But I dislike the uncertainty of it all. For someone who craves stability I have chosen a career that has none, so I can feel fairly fragile at times.

London life…
I’ve lived in London since I was very small. I utterly adore it. I know it is a cliché but it is such an exciting and diverse place – such a rich cultural place. There is always somewhere new to explore and I am never bored here. I’ve had access to fantastic universities here, which undoubtedly helped things. Growing up on an estate in south east London, I learnt to appreciate unconventional beauty in order to survive in what may seem, on the surface, hostile and ugly places. That fascination grew with me and into my work.

Average day…
It’s ever-changing! I usually try to spend as much of my week painting but often this is broken up with the occasional meeting with a curator or gallery or meeting people about the workshops I do or teaching. There is always a lot going on. And so much more paperwork than you’d expect!

Confidence…
I still have lots of insecurity at times and can feel rather shy. I just get better at hiding it! But I get a lot of confidence from various things I’ve achieved since leaving college. Whether it be an exhibition or a meeting with a curator or arts professional, particularly where people give positive feedback or engage with the works or, of course, if I sell a piece. I’ve begun to get confident in my skills over time although I always think I could improve.

Encouragement…
I am very lucky my friends and family are my fellow travellers in this funny and difficult world and we go through all these experiences together, they always come to see my shows and support me and I do the same. My partner is very supportive of me and encouraging, listening to me agonise over my works! He seems to think I am going to be rich one day and it will pay off somehow!

As for my parents, neither my father nor mother ever really had a normal kind of job, so they had no judgements on what I should do with my life. They are very supportive of me and my father and I get together and have a rant about the art world, its pro’s and cons!

I also get encouragement from supporters of my work, the people that buy my works and invest in it are very lovely too!

Learning about creativity…
It is a deep unending well, that occasionally needs help!

Best advice…
Keep going! Being an artist is a complex and demanding job besides, of course, being a fantastic job.

Collections…
My partner and I have actually started collecting art! We are very passionate about contemporary art and have a few wonderful (and very small I hasten to add!) pieces that we fell in love with. It is a very satisfying thing to collect and support artists. I highly recommend it! We have a piece by Jane Ward, a piece by Fiona Curran and Donya Coward. I am saving up for a Matthew Atkinson piece.

She re-inspires herself through…
Persistence! I do research trips where I go and explore – a lot of the time I explore places in London but recently also in Margate, in Kent! I go to galleries too and look at other artists. I do lots of visual research basically, but just also to keep going – drawing and thinking and making it happen.

Favourite places…
I love the Tates and their bookshops! They’re always good for inspiration. And, of course, the east end galleries too and the Modern Art gallery in central London. On the web, I use A-N, Axis and Artquest.

A little downtime…
I love to read when possible. I read a lot of Pablo Neruda’s poetry and love Louis De Bernière and Isabel Allende, the mixture of tragic romance and political history is enthralling. I always used to escape into books when I was a child. Now there is never enough time to do much of that. I also like films and socialising with my partner and friends. And I really enjoy cycling and running.

Back in time…
I don’t really believe in looking back at what could have been but just moving forward instead. I guess I should have formally applied to go to the painting school at the RCA but I am happy with my life as it is and where it is going.

Great people…
I luckily have lots of inspiring and brilliant friends and mentors. My friend Matthew Atkinson is very inspiring to me as a painter. His works are quite brilliant and he has been great at talking to me about my work, challenging and helping me to see how I can move forward. He persuaded me to use oil paints again too and I am very happy I took his advice!

Also, in terms of painters, I am inspired by Michael Raedecker, Peter Doig, George Shaw, Nigel Cook, James Wright and Graham Crowley. Shelly Love is an inspirational film maker – my sister Miranda Davis produced her film ‘The Forgotten Circus’ which is a marvellous thing to behold.

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Future…
The immediate future is extremely busy! I have three more exhibitions before the end of the year – the one in Brighton I mentioned before Floorspace from 4-21 September at Brighton Phoenix Gallery. Then with Stark Projects, I shall then taking an exhibition I took part in at The Roundhouse, From Light to Dust, to Brussels. The third show is at the end of November. Trudie Stephenson of Emineo Arts and Salon Projects is putting on a solo show of my works at Four Regent’s Place, W1. I also show works with Long and Ryle Gallery, and so I shall also be in a couple of art fairs too before the end of the year.

I am also about to move into a studio at Cor Blimey Arts, which I am really excited about. I think it will be a great experience!

Dream life…
I would like to be in a more secure position as an artist. I work largely independently with different galleries, projects and curators, which keeps things exciting, but I would one day like to be with an established gallery, such as Modern Art, painting away! Maybe I’d do a bit of teaching too… and who knows what else!

If not art, then what…
I can’t really say what I would be doing. I can’t imagine anything else now. I guess I nearly became an actress or writer. I was also once a singer in a band, so I guess it would have been something creative!

Advice from the lady herself…
You don’t just paint and then see stuff happen. It is hard work. You have to be very savvy, professional and organised. You have to learn as much about the art world as possible and be as knowledgeable about your subject. And be good at promoting yourself and create opportunities if there are none. Persevere and persist.