Organised by Aesthetica Magazine, in partnership with York Museums Trust, the Aesthetica Art Prize is a celebration of excellence in contemporary art from across the world, supporting and bringing compelling new works to a wider audience. From thousands who entered, eight have been selected for exhibition. The final eight includes Deb Covell, whose bold and invigorating use of acrylic paint draws out the sculptural potential of the medium. We speak to Covell about her method.
A: Congratulations on being selected as one of the artists in the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition! How does entering an Art Prize aid your career?
DC: Thank you. I’m delighted to have been shortlisted from so many artists and by such a distinguished panel. It’s great that my work has been given a chance to be placed in the context of the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition at York St Mary’s. In terms of furthering my career, being selected as a shortlisted artist for a Prize like Aesthetica’s hopefully strengthens my profile and allows my work to be seen by a wider new audience as well as the opportunity to share this good news with my existing networks.
It hopefully helps my work gain a little more kudos and weight particularly amongst gallery curators and other industry professionals. This could lead to further exhibiting opportunities and the possibility of the work entering more private and public collections. I think being shortlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize is particularly good for raising an artist’s profile – it is a leading arts publication that promotes the shortlisted artists further through its editorial coverage, blog page and publication in the Aesthetica Art Prize Anthology.
A: . Which other works are you most looking forward to in the exhibition?
DC: It’s great to be exhibiting with such a strong group of artists. It’s such a good standard of work and so varied that it’s tough saying which pieces I’m looking forward to seeing the most. I have a particular interest in cross disciplinary art forms so Elke Finkenauer’s Draw A Line Somewhere (2012-13) really intrigues me, as it’s a drawing in space made from real material. I’m looking forward to walking round the piece, taking it in from different perspectives and experiencing it as a form rather than a still image.
The same applies to Ingrid Hu’s Longplayer (2012). It’s going to be great to see this amazing sound piece installed in the space of York St Mary’s. I’m also very taken with Inés Molina Navea’s beautiful yet disturbing portraits in 541 días (2013) with the gorgeous rendering of light on cloth and the overall intensity of the images. Having only seen the artists’ works on a screen, I’m looking forward to seeing them first hand to experience the sensory and material qualities.
A: What inspires your practice?
DC: My practice is inspired and shaped by many things and by different situations. As I see my work interconnected and inseparable from ordinary life, I believe the most simple observations and experiences can creep into my work unknowingly at times. I’m aware of sensations brought about like opening curtains and letting the light flood in, or hung up dressing gowns and discarded towels, which have a strange uncanny quality to them.
Transparent plastic milk cartons half filled with spoiled milk, its sediment laying heavy at the bottom may catch my eye or paper leaflets leaning forward from a pin board in a row could equally trigger a thought. I’m inspired by music and the way it can transport you from one place another very quickly. Planning future shows with other artists fires me up as ideas are exchanged, thrashed out and eventually given form through an exhibition scenario. And of course going to exhibitions and seeing great art first hand is almost as inspiring as watching my children draw.
A: Can you describe your technique, and how you created your Acrylic Paint series?
DC: In my practice I am concerned with bringing a form into being by exploring the material and sculptural potential of acrylic paint. I have done away with a traditional fixed support of a canvas or wooden panel as I found them too restricting and can influence the direction of the work too much at an early stage. I want to keep the making process as playful, exciting and versatile as possible by using a method which is open to many changes and possibilities.
I start by painting layers of acrylic paint onto stretched plastic sheets which are then peeled off to create a support. At this stage I start to think about and experiment with illusionary spatial depth which is brought in through the use of black and white diagonal bands painted quite randomly and quickly onto these supports. Eventually, the diagonal bands give way to upright and parallel bands and a more considered slower approach is adopted as I search for order and balance within the compositions. The layers evidence the processes involved, and eventually break away from the flat vertical support into real space. I then fold, crease, cut and collapse these paint supports thinking about gravity, weight and shape and let the natural behaviour of the paint take precedent until new sculptural forms emerge. Material realness and the physicality of the work always supersede any illusional trickery that I initially set up.
A: Are there any artists who have influenced your work?
DC: I am influenced and inspired by many artists. Usually they become relevant when I’m trying to understand something particular in my practice or as a necessary distraction from my own work in the studio. I quickly become aware that what I’m doing has been covered many times before in different guises and in someone else’s shoes. I feel a wonderful kinship and connectedness with these artists, which is reassuring when I’m fumbling around in the dark looking for answers and direction. All these artists share a concern for the real and a literal materiality in their practice, which I find beautiful. Favourites include Robert Ryman, Robert Morris, Agnes Martin, Frank Stella, Lynda Benglis, Blinky Palermo, Robert Mangold, Richard Tuttle, Fernanda Gomes and Angela de la Cruz.
Current key references include important early 20th century abstract artists particularly the reductive, geometric artists of the Dutch DeStijl school Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg and the Russian Suprematism artists Kasimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin and Lyubov Popova. With my practice I strip everything back to essentials, discarding a traditional support and referential imagery; this parallels the way I feel about returning to these early pioneers of Modern art. I feel there is still so much to learn from them and new places to go with their beliefs, theories and their aesthetic language.
A: What would you say to emerging artists to help get their work showcased to a wider audience?
DC: My advice to emerging artists is to try and find as many relevant opportunities to showcase their works as possible. Obvious routes are entering competitions and opens although this can be costly. Joining online networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or paying for membership with Axis or Saatchi Online is a great way to get your work seen by a large network of professionals. Creating a website or blog page is a must, as relevant people need you find you easily. This can be made relatively cheaply if you go down the DIY route and manage it yourself.
Keep buoyant and inspired – attend art openings, go to seminars in colleges and universities or other institutions that have some relevance to your practice. Stay connected with your peers and other artists; this could lead to exhibition opportunities that are instigated by others or yourself. On that note, many successful artists started off their career using this DIY approach most notably Damien Hirst, with his first exhibition Freeze at an empty warehouse in Surrey Docks, or Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas’ project Shop in East London.
There are many empty spaces out there that could house an exciting art project. It takes initiative, drive, time and energy but the results can be very rewarding. My own story runs along this DIY approach. Due to the lack of exhibiting opportunities in my local area, I Co- Founded Platform A Gallery in Middlesbrough railway station, which has led to many exhibiting and networking opportunities for myself and others. Overall, a strong belief in yourself and the drive to keep going is essential.
1. Deb Covell, Drape (2013).