Mindy Lee is our WIA featured artist. Mindy Lee is an artist living and working in South London. She is the curator of the Blyth Gallery at Imperial College, London, and her recent show, Ghost Changing Room, at Wimbledon Space explored themes of impermanence and memory.
WIA: WHAT ARE YOU DOING TODAY?
Mindy Lee: I am getting ready to visit Ghost Changing Room. It’s an exhibition I have curated and am exhibiting in at Wimbledon Space, Wimbledon College of Art. The show is coming down soon and I would like to be a ghost visitor in there just one more time.
WIA: TELL US ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS.
My current work is based on a domestic autobiography, so I am constantly keeping half an eye on myself (as an external observer) to magpie moments that have a specific resonance within my practice. Once I clock these, I will repeatedly think them through in my sketchpad. This gets them outside of myself and frees them up to be transformed and revisited. The sketchpad gives headspace to explore the psychological narratives. Developing these into painting will give presence and form to the physical body through the paints staining and visceral qualities.
When I am ready I can let it go into the paint and the painting. Painting is often most successful when worked in intense outbursts. Making in a fast and condensed way allows the work to escape from being overloaded. (Which I know I am prone to!) I need to leave space for the paint to do its own thing and have its own say, without filling everywhere up and locking the narrative and the figures down.
I have been liberated into this new way of working since having a son. My studio time has been compressed into highly concentrated time bombs between childcare and work.
WIA: DESCRIBE WHERE YOU DO MOST OF YOUR CREATIVE WORK.
ML: My most creative thinking/ sketchpad time is on the tube or trains early in the morning, on my way to work. There is something about being stuck moving between places and the gentle jumpy motion on the train, offering a quiet interference that helps me reflect. The best paintings are made mainly at home, on the lounge floor, dining room table or loft. I have also painted a few times in the bathroom, where the light is strongest in the evening. The paintings come from private moments in these spaces, so it seems right to make them here too.
WIA: WHAT’S THE MOST EXCITING PROJECT YOU’VE WORKED ON?
ML: I think it is always the current project that’s most exciting. I am still immersed in The Ghost Changing Room and exhibiting with Lindsey Bull, Tamara Dubnyckyj, Rebecca Jagoe, Cathy Lomax, Susan Sluglett. There are so many intricate and intriguing overlaps between each artist’s reveal of public and private personas. The clothes can be a costume and prop and worn to shape us or be shaped over a period of time, a second skin, a veil between our inner and outer selves, only to be discarded as we metamorphose. It was so exciting seeing it come to life in the space. There is a gentle haunting to the exhibition bringing out different levels of self-awareness as you move into and through the space.
WIA: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ARTIST?
ML: I always wanted to be an artist since being a child, I can’t remember wanting to do anything else.
WIA: WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
ML: A series of paintings on handkerchiefs that were gifted to my family by my Grandma exploring everyday rituals and routines. The surface is so sentimental and out of place/time. I love they were used to catch germs, snot and tears over the years. My dad used to lick his to firmly clean marks off my face just before school. How I dreaded him doing that! Oh such abject ghosts!
I am also approaching painting more like a drawing, which is exciting. I am just getting back to making art alone after working for the past four years with my sons painting and drawings.
There are some tea towel paintings accumulating and a painting on bedding about to appear, once I have my head around how to approach stirring up a visual interference to swarm the image somehow.
WIA: DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK, AND IF SO, WHAT’S YOUR SOUNDTRACK?
ML: Only if I get really stuck or I’m tired. I prefer not to, because I get distracted listening and too involved with the music. I want to use all of my energy for looking and thinking.
WIA: WHAT ARE THE KEY THEMES IN YOUR WORK?
ML: Autobiographical stories (exploring inner and outer states.) Shifting and slipping moments that depict figures as a beautiful grotesque. Their interactions often involve a power play, love and struggle, humour and loss, or a reflection on shifting identities.
WIA: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO NOTICE IN YOUR WORK?
ML: Firstly to notice how they emotionally relate to the works, through direct experience, memory or projection. Then to curiously re-approach the painting, question it and open up the narrative, without expecting straight answers. I hope people will be enticed, amused, seduced and unnerved by the work.
My work asks a lot of the viewer. It doesn’t deliver a clear one liner and can be slow to reveal itself/ contradictory. But there is a lot to uncover. If you stay a while, it will divulge its secrets.
WIA: WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO THE MEDIUMS YOU WORK IN?
Ml: I am most attracted to paint and mainly work in acrylics. I can totally geek out about paint. I LOVE its wetness and colour, it’s physical viscosity and it’s delicate staining power. I can draw, paint and even sculpt with it. I can mix any colour and vary opacities, applying it with as much or little control as I desire. I can even leave it to paint itself through a slow seep wet into wet. It has infinite potential and I never get bored, or complacent, each painting reveals a surprise. Paint is so decadent and indulgent.
Working on a variety unprimed domestic fabrics, (of different weaves and mixes) further livens up the play as I can not predict how the paint will behave until it hits each surface, neither can I really change it or effectively remove it once its on there. This also gives me an adrenalin kick, as I don’t just go with the flow but need to fully embrace it from the first touch, it’s like getting on a new roller coaster ride.
WIA: WHAT EQUIPMENT COULD YOU NOT DO WITHOUT?
ML: My paint. Wouldn’t it have been a shock if I had said something else after my last answer!
WIA: WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
ML: At the moment it’s my son/ family and the everyday stuff we do. It’s those overlooked domestic routines that get me, like brushing teeth and dressing etc. As a child I loved watching classic oldies with my mum and grandma. Actually I have watched a lot of films over the years. I enjoy a cult classic, a bit of hammer horror, old school murder mystery or supernatural thriller. The Returned series was excellent, as is Svankmajer’s Little Otik….a nightmarish fairy-tale does appeal to my gothic sense of humour. As a curator I am inspired and enjoy finding and creating contexts with other artists and discovering their making and thinking. I crave dialogue with other artists.
WIA: HOW DOES GENDER AFFECT YOUR WORK?
ML: It has a big affect on the work. I am a woman and my work comes from and through my experience of the world, my (female) gaze and my body, memories and history. Subjects such as childbirth, post partum and motherhood are charged to the hilt with being female. But, I do not feel the work is exclusively female, as it is about the human condition. I don’t think it is yet possible to talk about being human without gender questions or positioning coming in to play.
WIA: WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE GALLERY, OR PLACE TO SEE OR EXPERIENCE ART?
ML: I always love to visit the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. But often the most exciting and memorable experiences of seeing art come as a surprise, when you don’t know what to expect- it could be a new/ alternative venue, a studio/home visit or sitting in the pub when an artwork is suddenly conjured from a rucksack. When it’s good it’s good. It doesn’t matter where you are.
WIA: IF YOU COULD OWN ONE PIECE OF ART, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
ML: Oh this changes! Can I be greedy and just narrow it down to two? Édouard Vuillard, Mother and Sister of The Artist, 1893 and James Ensor, The Astonishment of the Mask Wouse, 1889. Because of the air in those rooms!… their wonder and their brilliant strangeness.
WIA: IF YOU COULD COLLABORATE WITH ONE ARTIST, FROM ANY TIME, WHO WOULD IT BE, AND WHY?
ML: Julia Margaret Cameron. I’ve never worked with a photographer and I love her experimental approach to making: embracing accidental dirt, scratches, fingerprints and pours into her layered imagery. They tenderly encapsulate her ghostly figures. This all really appeals to me. She also utilised her family in her work, so I think we’d get on.
WIA: IS THERE AN ARTIST, MOVEMENT OR COLLECTIVE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE RE-EVALUATED OR A CONTEMPORARY ARTIST WHO IS UNDERRATED?
ML: There are too many underrated artists. Sarah Gillham needs more exposure for her varied and engaging approach to appropriating the female form.
WIA: WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE COLOUR?
For more information on Mindy Lee:
Read more on Ghost Changing Room in this interview.