Continuing my series of questions on process and creativity with a large range of artists and writers from many forms…. 20 Questions….Alison Lochhead.
Alison Lochhead studied art and ceramics at Loughborough College of Art and Design and Wolverhampton Polytechnic from 1971 – 1975. She studied tapestry weaving in Poland during 1975 – 1976. She has lived and worked in many countries, working with access to justice. Her experiences are reflected in her art work. Alison works with different materials, all integral from the earth and with their own strengths and reaction to heat and to each other; iron, clay, oxides, wood. In the kiln alchemy takes place as the various materials are drawn together or reject each other, they are transformed. Some elements get lost and burn away, others fuse and create a different form. She has exhibited widely from 1977 to the present day, with 16 one-person shows and over 50 group exhibitions. Alison is a member of Sculpture Cymru and 56 Group Wales. Her website is: http://www.alisonlochhead.co.uk
What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?
I have always wanted to work ‘creatively’, messing about with materials, trying things out. More this than drawing/painting – although I was always doing this as well as I grew up. Basically making marks in some way. I have never been academic, and my way of expressing myself was either through histrionics or creating something; usually both. Why specific materials? This has varied throughout life depending on what I want to express; but something I can get my hands into – materials which have their own statements to be made.
What was your big breakthrough?
My biggest breakthrough in terms of my own practice was when I gave up on the intellectual. I had been working with putting my political thinking and passions around how women are treated in society; and had come to an almighty full stop as the work was completely horrible; it was dead and ‘said nothing’. After about 18 months of not doing anything in the workshop I felt so bereft and empty; a missing inside; that I decided to go back to what I loved – colour, textures and a love of rocks and their colours; textures; ancientness etc. I made casts of my body and decided to make them look like a piece of rock. I have never looked back and any time ‘the intellect’ tries to intervene – I push it as far away as possible.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?
Wanting to work on a much bigger scale but unable to without it involving other people and doing the work elsewhere (in a foundry or whatever) and the huge costs involved – plus ‘what do you then do with it’?
Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?
I don’t think there is one piece which has changed me. Turner’s water colours inspired me and freed up something inside me at an early age. There are many books, poems, paintings, plays which inspire, confirm or give me an hint of something different. I am hopeless at remembering names etc.
What’s more important: form or content?
The two are inextricably connected. They cannot be separated. They both totally work together and inform each other.
How do you know when a project is finished?
I don’t really. Somehow I find it has shifted into something else and evolved into a different process or being.
Do you read your reviews?
If I had any I would!!!!
What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?
Keep true to your inner instincts. Don’t try and adjust your work to ‘the market’ and if you need to then get another job to pay the bills.
What work of art would you most like to own?
Turner’s paintings, such as Storm at Sea (Can’t remember the exact name) One of the atmospheric elements ones.
What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?
That you get ‘inspiration’ without the constant working at it.
What are you working on now?
Reacting to the Cambrian Mountain Metal Mines; their stories, maps, the pains and rape of the land and the people who worked within it, the scars on the landscape and the stories these tell, the responses of the spoil rocks and the giving up of secrets in the fire of the kiln – a beginning of a journey.
What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?
No idea! Probably a collection of rocks with artefacts which relate to them in terms of pieces of work made from them; but small and ‘want to put this in my pocket’.
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
How do I know this? I really can’t think of anything as even if I had known something I probably would not have known what to do with the information as not in a space to ‘take it’.
What’s your greatest ambition?
To be able to do my own work. I guess to be ‘known’.
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
With difficulty. Just try and work through it; think of the positive things people have said and tap deep within and feel that ‘I am OK really’. Also the feeling that if I did not feel any of these things then my work would be crap as arrogant – but wish I did have a bit more confidence in myself.
What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?
The worst thing was someone saying ‘maybe you have no imagination’; when I was confiding in them that I was feeling really stuck in my work.
And the best thing?
That my work makes them cry; shiver; and makes them look deeper into their reactions to my work.
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
Tearing and tumbling; floating and diving in muddy clear water.
What is your philosophy or life motto?
Live every minute as life is short and goodness knows what may happen. I wish I really lived by this!!!
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
That it is not a choice and it is essential to trust inner process of what emerges, the materials speak for themselves – trust them.
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?
I do it because I cannot do otherwise.
For further information about Alison’s current exhibitions and her work:
Alison Lochhead Mine Memories
Oriel Fach Queens Hall Gallery, Narberth.
The exhibition runs from 11 May to 15 June 2013
Mine Memories is the beginning of a journey exploring the histories, stories and memories, and physical realities about and around the mines in the Cambrian Mountains and hopefully beyond.
What lies under the ground and what gets revealed to us when we dig it up? How do we exploit, use and explore what the earth holds?
The sculptures and prints work with the visual impact mines have on the landscape, the juxtaposition of raw material, construction, exploitation and change. Through working with the rocks and spoil of the mines and by putting these back into the fire, in a kiln, to see what they will transform into: to explode, disintegrate, change into another form, join together, push apart, melt; and what the earth reveals to us, what is gives to us and what in its turn it takes from us – the lives, the health, the pains and traumas.
The mines are a mix of construction and raw material and the work exploits this juxtaposition, linked to the memories of the lives linked to them.
The materials used are mainly cast iron, mine rocks, clay and wood. Each material has its own ‘meaning’ of place. The materials will connect, pull apart, explode, fuse, burn away, fragment, partially remain – the final pieces are unknown, the materials will speak for themselves through the way they form and connect together. The pieces will be representing the differing aspects of the mines, the memories, the pain and anguish, the working constructions, the scaring, the metals and minerals, the transforming of landscape. This exhibition is a small fragment of the work already undertaken and a hint of work yet to be done with exploring the Cambrian Mountain Metal Mines.