‘Takeover Tuesday’ Interview

AAF asked me to take over their Instagram feed one Tuesday recently and I had to accept, given their huge following! So, for anyone who doesn’t know what an Instagram ‘Takeover’ is, it’s basically an interview, posted over Instagram in bits….

Tell us a bit about yourself? Who you are, and what you do?

Lisa Creagh: I am a photographic artist. I make photographic prints, short films, and animation in the area of health and communities. They can be shown on their own or in combination.

I create works that vary in duration from the immediate and site specific to extended collaborative pieces spanning several years. In 2006 I received critical acclaim for the participatory nature of ‘Tidy Street, a social intervention and site-specific installation, funded by Arts Council England (ACE).

In 2010 I began development of The Instant Garden. This series has been exhibited widely and works are held in several NHS public collections. This series has been exhibited across the UK and, with funding from The British Council, in the USA, China and Germany.

My current project, ‘Holding Time‘ was funded by ACE and was launched at ONCA/Fabrica Galleries and on a dedicated website and YouTube channel (250 subscribers/55,000 views) in 2018.

What messages do you explore within your artwork? Are you drawn to a particular style, subject matter, or medium?

Both The Instant Garden and Holding Time explore Fertility and Time. All of my works look at the fragility of human existence and the conflicts and issues we face living within an industrialised world. I’m interested in the tension between science and what it is to be human. In much of my work I employ different mathematical patterns to represent abstract ideas. Usually these are inspired or influenced by ancient decorative traditions. I like to use abstract ancient languages in new contexts – recreating Persian carpet designs as digital photographs, for example.

I prefer to make works that are visually rich; I love Dutch Flower Painting, Renaissance portraits and the many anonymous decorative traditions of tiling, metalwork, textiles and book illustrations.

I’m fascinated by pattern and how it can be used to store information that we unconsciously ‘de-code’ when we look at works of art. My aim is always to keep the viewer looking. For me the worst insult is a glance. In that sense I’m not terribly suited to the Instagram age – I like to make actual prints to be stared at for years and years. I bury a lot of meaning in my work in the hope that someone will take the time to slowly uncover it.

Overall I want to make work that speaks to people, whether from a print, moving image or installation. I want to move people emotionally and I see my purpose as ultimately healing.

What’s your daily routine? How do you balance making your artwork with life admin? 

This is a tricky one – especially in current times! I remember when I became pregnant, a fellow (male) artist said to me, “Wave goodbye to your art career!” I was incensed that he would feel entitled to give me this negative prescription and determined that becoming a mother would be part of my identity as an artist, not instead of it! I accepted that I would need to take time out and across the last seven years I have had to find my way in terms of balancing out my life.

I don’t really have a routine these days; I just work as often as I can, given the circumstances (I have a 8 year old at home since December). Admin is a perennial issue. I read recently about Eion Musk dividing his day into micro portions and allotting 5-minute slots for tasks! I wouldn’t go that far but have used that idea to schedule more of my days in the studio.

I don’t have loads of time to work so I try to work much more efficiently. I’ve realised that if I want to wait until all the admin is done before doing ‘the creative stuff’ I will simply never do anything creative! So I have demoted admin to the end of the day, when I’m tired, or to days when I don’t have much time. That way I leave the big stretches of days when I do have energy and time for more creative tasks.

When it comes to taking on the challenge of making new images, I spend a lot of time planning before creating anything. As Duchamp famously said, Art is like ‘breathing in and out’ – it needs to be natural and unforced.

Some days it’s better to accept that I’m too tired or distracted and simply wait in hope for other days when I can be more productive.

Tell us a little more about the photographic process you use to create your works? 

My work is a mixture of process and concept. I develop quite a lot in my head and in notebooks before I actually start. Then there’s a period of testing. For the Instant Garden this process was really long – over several years, first starting with doodles, then drawing with light and finally shooting flowers. I really enjoy time in the studio, playing with lighting and completely focusing on the subject and technique. With Holding Time, I have a produced a series of video interviews, from the conversations I had with mothers and created a YouTube channel to distribute them. With the Instant Garden it was harder to give the subject a ‘voice’(!) but I shoot a huge number of flowers before finally settling on a handful to use in each piece. I am still working on both series, as the long process of development means that each body of work has a great deal of meaning for me.

Once I have captured what I need in the studio, I begin the postproduction process, which can be rather lengthy. I learned Photoshop very early on (in 1997) and was a software trainer in the late nineties. It feels as intuitive as painting to me, just the same as the keyboard can be as intuitive as a pen and paper for writing. I don’t think when I’m making digital compositions, I just ‘do’. Perhaps it’s similar to making electronic music. At the end I don’t know if it’s any good, I just feel better. It’s an intensely relaxing process. I feel like I can tap into a deeper consciousness, where a photograph becomes liquid and can be reformed in any way. It’s a very plastic medium and I’m excited to see digital imaging becoming increasingly accepted within photography.

Once I’m happy with a composition I begin the process of testing prints. I always print on Kodak Endura paper using the Lightjet process as I find photographic paper still offers the most subtle tonal range and many of my images are shot in very soft light. I love the soft greens and warm whites of this paper.

Do you have a network of fellow artists and creatives, and how are artists supporting each other during these uncertain times for the arts?

Yes ever since Goldsmiths I have had lots of creative friends. I lived in new York in the late nineties and met artists form all over the world as my Dutch landlady was also a visual artist. I worked in artist supply shops in New York and also in photographic labs in England and those places enabled me to meet other photographers.

The most important support creative give each other are validation, respect and encouragement, which have often felt hard to come by in a very commercialised, competitive and accelerated culture. During the COVID-19 crisis, this has actually been coming out in all sorts of places, which has been really heartening.

It has been amazing how the Arts have been acknowledged and valued in this time. Thing is, life is always uncertain for artists but the public discussions around this have been quite empowering. I have really been touched by the @matthewburrowsstudio, @artistsupportpledge . It is often quite difficult to break through the hierarchies of the art world to really reach an audience but social media does seem to be helping with this.

What exciting projects do you have coming up later on in the year which you are currently working on? Have you shifted your focus towards selling art online?

For the past twelve weeks I have been finishing a commission for Lionel de Rothschild, who has an amazing collection of nerines. I went to his gardens at Exbury in the New Forest in 2018 and shot the individual flowers and once the studio reopened, I was able to put the final touches on this large commission and finally send it off to print! I just received the first tests in the post and am making a couple of small adjustments and corrections before it is printed and framed at Metro Imaging in London. It’s the fourth Floriculture piece and each one is huge and takes me about a year to complete.

I’m also in the planning stages of a project for Coventry City of Culture. I’m working on new ways to produce portraits remotely and I love this sort of logistical challenge, especially if it involves novel and risky technology!!

For City of Culture I have been commissioned by Warwick University Medical School to create an animated portrait of eight mothers.

And I’m planning to properly get to grips with Instagram so that I can send out daily shots from my studio of plants and creatures I’m using for new compositions.

I am constantly looking for ways to make my work more accessible to larger audiences who may not necessarily go to galleries or fairs. During lockdown I spent a lot of time thinking about how to shape my work in a way that helps me reach more people and I am interested in the online market for small works, books and other products. Watch this space!

What advice would you give to fellow artists and creatives as we begin to emerge from lockdown?

I think all of us have to give ourselves time to recalibrate and find our feet. Some aspects of our lives are markedly different and it’s important not to judge too harshly our own disorientation and unsteady steps towards moving on. But there are great opportunities in this situation too – a new consciousness is emerging and a new set of values. Art is important and never more so than now, so my advice would be: believe, believe, believe!

read more about the Instant Garden and past works at www.lisacreagh.com/works

Follow me on Instagram @lisacc or @holdingtimeproject

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