Aesthetica Art Prize Interview with Winner Poppy Whatmore

Aesthetica Art Prize Interview with Winner Poppy Whatmore

The Aesthetica Art Prize is a celebration of excellence in art from across the world and offers artists the opportunity to showcase their work to wider audiences and further their involvement in the international art world. Previous finalists include Julia Vogl, who was shortlisted for New Sensations – Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4′s Prize – and has exhibited at Zabludowicz Collection; Marcus Jansen, a leading modern expressionist who joined a legacy of artists by featuring in Absolut Vodka’s artistic campaigns, and Bernat Millet, also shortlisted for National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. The 100 long-listed artists are published in the Aesthetica Art Prize Annual and the short-listed artists are currently exhibited at York St Mary’s until 28 April. Aesthetica speaks to the winner of the student prize, Poppy Whatmore about her approach to sculpture and her involvement in the art prize.

A: You work with sculpture, how do you find this medium is able to express your artistic vision?
PW: The thing I love about sculpture is its immediacy – the fact that you can pick any idea in your head; an experience, a feeling, or a surprising everyday image. Sometimes even an intimate feeling excites me. Sometimes it is in the making that I finally see what I want to say, or the material directs me towards a dialogue. I may start with one “artistic vision” or idea only to learn that what I wanted to say was entirely different. I enjoy the process that is always an adventure, an exploration of the self and the world that surrounds me.

I find sculpture a playful medium where you can create your own rules, boundaries, limitations, methodology and make your own decisions. The physical process of sculpture is important for me to express my imagination into reality – carving out and configuring ideas in space. Sculpture for me is a catalyst for extending everyday experiences into material form.

A: How do you begin a sculpture?
PW: It might be an image or form that I see in an everyday object, or it could be a strong feeling that I want to express externally, a personal language or experience. Sometimes, I do not always know what I want to express and while I am working with materials or objects the expression or form appears. Sculpture is the one form that I feel I can express myself honestly. I enjoy the fact that I feel that I am not always in control. This forces a rawness and an honesty in expression. Sometimes the work comes quickly, other times it is a matter of paring down my materials.

For inspiration, I read literature avidly. Sense of narrative and characters of imagination imbue the work. Having supportive friends to bounce off ideas and show sketch ideas can help start a work too.

A: Do you work with any other artistic medium?
PW: As part of the artistic process I do work with other forms. For instance I write lyrics or short poetic lines that can act as a starting point. I am also inspired by literature, in particular characterization and the use of language to create imaginative narratives.

As part of my practice I sometimes make sketch models for ideas, particularly when planning large-scale sculptures, such as The Family Meal, (exhibited at St. Mary’s Church York as part of the Aesthetica Prize). In preparation of works, I draw layout plans and three-dimensional drawings. When I have made enough decisions that fit the space and collected enough materials I then enjoy working intuitively, from one idea to another, aiming to align ideas with material forms.

Photography is also important for my practice. Some of the work is fragile and temporary in its existence. In these cases the photograph is the final outcome of the work, owing to the precarious nature of the materials and environment.

A: How does it feel to win the Aesthetica Art Prize?
PW: Winning the Aesthetica Art Prize was an amazing surprise. It felt like all the hard work and preparation for the application and show had paid off. Recognition and financial support will help my future career as a professional artist. Having your work acknowledged by prodigious judges; Frances Guy, Head of Collection and Exhibitions at the Hepworth Wakefield; Kate MccGwire, internationally renowned British Sculptor and Cherie Federico, Director at Aesthetica Magazine gives me belief and confidence in my artwork.

Exhibiting the architectural large-scale work, The Family Meal, in St. Mary’s Church has opened up the work to an incredible site. The medieval backdrop of York St Mary’s provides a unique setting for the exhibition, creating a dialogue between the historic and the contemporary. It is a privilege to be part of the first major exhibition of the Aesthetica Art Prize: all in all being part of it will be a memorable experience.

Finally, the exhibition gave me an opportunity to exhibit in a professional setting. Along with the help of experienced and patient technicians, Laura Turner, the curator of the York Art Gallery, organized the preparations for the install and chose a great place for the work in the church. The friendly Aesthetica Art Magazine team supported the publicity as well as the preparations for the show. It is an honour to exhibit in the same space as Cornelia Parker and Bruce Nauman, both artists whom I admire.

A: Which artists have inspired you?
PW: Sarah Lucas has inspired me with the use of everyday materials and raw humour in her work. Another female artist who has been an influence is Jessica Stockholder. I appreciate her investigations on the form in space, her bias towards physicality and a materialist’s understanding of artistic modernity. Stockholder also introduces methods of re-appropriating domestic objects into an artist’s context, using the architecture of the space as a canvas.

The do hit chair of Droog Design characterizes domestic everyday forms and offers a more humanist approach to functional objects. Bruce Nauman’s concepts inspire my practice, as my work comes out of frustration about the human condition. And about how people refuse to understand other people. And about how people can be cruel to each other. In Nauman’s work, Incident (1973) the viewer is presented with a hypnotic repetition of pointlessly cruel and destructive violence, which is both seductive and alienating. I agree with Nauman’s statement: “It’s not that I think I can change that, but it’s just such a frustrating part of human history.”

I like Gordon Matta-Clark’s method of breaking down and opening up domestic structures. I have learnt from his works that, “A simple cut or series of cuts acts as a powerful device able to redefine spatial situations and structural components.”

A: What do you have planned in the future?
PW: I am really keen to continue exploring the human condition: and I am considering doing a PHD in Fine Art Practice. I also have a few exhibitions and projects planned for the near future. I will explore the notion of the Domestic at the Collyer Bristow Gallery, curated by Day and Gluckman. The exhibition will run from 20th June until October 3rd 2013. I am also working on a collaborative project with David Ben White and Fay Nicholson in London: Structures and Aspirations

I will exhibit in Part One (OVERT/exchange) of Exchange Project at APT Gallery, curated by Claire Undy. The theme of the exhibition is, “Artworks that convey a direct message: the visceral experience of an action on the body/ the weight and materiality of an object/language spoken or written/ an atmosphere conveyed.” Part One of the show will run from 26 July until 25 August.

In Manchester, I will work with curator Elizabeth Wewiora and Matthew Pendergast and we hope to confirm Islington Mill’s main gallery space for the show in early 2014. The idea would be to work on developing a large structure which would fill the gallery space entirely – housing other people’s collections within the space: a hoarders paradise.

Poppy’s work is on display at the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition at York St Mary’s, York until 28 April. Information on her work is also available to purchase in the Aesthetica Art Prize Anthology.

1. Poppy Whatmore, The Nostalgic Act of a Family Meal, 1982-2012, courtesy of Aesthetica.