Interview with Aimée Parrott

Aimée Parrott (b.1987) is a London based artist whose work combines multiple processes including printmaking techniques such as silk screening and mono printing, as well as batik and collaging fabric. Parrott’s solo exhibition with Breese Little Gallery, London, opens on Thursday 29th September.

DC - You often talk about the idea of painting as a metaphor for the body or the skin. How does this concept manifest in your work?

AP - Primarily I think about painting as a way of being in contact with the world. I find it useful to approach the surface of a painting as a metaphorical skin, a permeable barrier. I am interested in the notion that a work of art can bridge the gap between an internal reality and an external one, that it can be a physical manifestation and a translation of experience. The importance of a direct encounter with the work is something I think about quite a lot, its material presence as an object is as crucial as its visual impact as an image.

DC - You often utilise outmoded craft techniques in your practice. What part of these processes interests you?

AP - The initial appeal of a technique is usually because of its potential for approaching the surface from a different perspective, something that allows me to find a new way of mark making. It is an intuitive and inquisitive interest that comes first, wanting to know how a substance or material will behave and then I experiment with it. On reflection there is also a contextualisation of the process, learning the history and original purpose of the craft. Generally, most of the techniques I use are outmoded as a result of industrialisation, because a cheaper and more efficient way has been found to produce a product.

I believe being physically removed from the process of creation can lead to a disengagement with the object made. A lot of the older techniques of making are built through direct touch and muscle memory. The fact that many of the processes I use don't have a commercial purpose anymore also frees them up - I am using something half forgotten, unwanted or rejected, which is my own to reform or recycle.

DC - What influence do you think the Internet has had on contemporary painting and painters?

AP - I think that the Internet has fundamentally changed the way society consumes and shares information. The implications of this shift are perhaps not very well understood yet. For me the speed of the consumption of imagery is at odds with painting. The material presence of a painting, its fragility and density, its sense of layered time which benefits from a long slow look, is in contrast to the slipperiness of a disembodied image on a screen that is hastily scrolled through. I think this makes for an interesting tension between two very different modes of looking and experiencing. For me it strengthens the impulse to make paintings and revel in their slowness, it gives me something to push against.

DC - What processes do you use prior to making an artwork in order to generate and develop your ideas?

AP - For me the generation of ideas is an on-going process. Up until recently my practice was process led. I would start by experimenting with different materials and then evaluate and make decisions based on what I'd learnt. Recently, I've been making books out of a series of monotypes, which has meant that I have been drawing almost daily and I’ve found this has shifted the way I work. It has become a way of thinking through ideas and as a result my recent works are more concerned with form and consequently figurative elements have crept in.

DC - Who inspires you (artists or otherwise) and why?

AP - I find literature is often more enduringly inspiring than visual art for me. I remember being influenced by a story from Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics where I experienced a heightened sense of duality. In this particular story Calvino creates a totally consuming, weirdly vivid but indistinct environment, which I imagined to be something like a black hole. At the end he pulls the reader out of this imaginary non-space and onto the page by comparing the terrain to handwriting on white paper. The effect of this for me was that I was suddenly aware of the page and writing as a physical entity as well as the invented world I was being projected into, somehow the two were simultaneously running parallel.

I regularly revisit Virginia Woolf who always emphasises the isolation of each character in their own individual realities, which reminds me of William Blake’s diagrams. Blake has become a bit of a hero for me. He describes each person's perception of the world as limited by 'the mundane egg'; the concave shell being our sensory horizon. For me these examples are a reminder of how tethered to our bodies our consciousness is. I was reading about Blake when I went to see the Hilma af Klint show as well as looking at the illustrations of Annie Besant's 'Thought Forms', which attempt to visualise and categorise emotion and sensation. I found them really comical in their over simplification, I quite liked how they fell short, and I found their failure to bridge the gap interesting.

DC - Aside from the gallery space, in what context and to what audience would you most like to exhibit your work and why?

AP - I recently had my first experience of exhibiting outside of a gallery space. I worked on a project called ‘Hospital Rooms’ led by curator Niamh White. The idea behind the project was to transform a mental health care ward with the work of artists and designers. My first visit to the ward dramatically changed the way I approached the project. Having initially thought I would install a simple wall based artwork, I realised that it wouldn't have a significant impact as the spaces were all a bit sterile and utilitarian. I felt the most useful thing I could do, would be to try and transform the room as a whole, so I painted a large mural for the female lounge. I found being involved in the project hugely productive. For me personally it was gaining a stronger understanding of what life is like for people in care and I was pushed out of my comfort zone in order to accommodate their needs. As an artist you often set your own agenda so it was really refreshing to have a brief and some restrictions. I'd love to paint another mural and it has made me keen to collaborate with others more.

DC - If you could create a site-specific work anywhere in the world, where would you chose and why?

AP - I don't have anywhere set in mind but I really like the idea of responding to a particular place because of the potential for a collaborative and mutually enriching experience. I think the pieces that have moved me the most, in terms of site specific works, have been in chapels. I recently visited the Stanley Spencer memorial chapel in Sandham and was spellbound. It was created after the First World War and one of the things I loved about it was that it didn't glorify war at all. The panels mostly depict mundane, day-to-day aspects of a military hospital where Spencer stayed in Bristol. The effect I felt was immensely humanising. It is a relatively small chapel and almost every inch of it has been hand painted by the artist - it’s a bit like a cocoon. Also the Matisse Chapel in Venice was incredible, I'd love to make another mural or perhaps a stained glass piece for a specific space.

DC - Your works involve processes of handmade craftsmanship as well as digital production and the textural qualities of the artworks are apparent as a result of this. Could you tell us a bit more about this process and how you bestride these two disparate fields?

AP - I made a few works for both my final show at the Royal Academy and for a show at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, which incorporated digital printing. The process was a creation of 'over-laps' where the surface of the painting was reproduced by scanning and then printing it onto another fabric which then hangs loose over the original. I think the deceptive simplicity of this technique lends a work a more complex formal and physical ambivalence; precariously positioning the pieces between original and reproduction, between painting and sculpture. Superimposing one piece onto another creates a disruption, a sort of syncopated rhythm, or a thread tying one piece to another so that it exists in direct relation to the next. These 'over-laps' also allude to the influence of the screen in my work, in that they create a sanitised reproduction that masks the original, much as a photograph can obscure a memory.

DC - What are you working on at the moment? What future projects have you got coming up?

AP - I have a solo show at Breese Little opening on 29th September, so I am just making the final preparations for that. The show will include a new latex work, which is a material I have only recently started working with. I'm pigmenting liquid latex and painting with it to create a large wall hanging. It is quite different from my previous output so I am interested to see how it will be received.

I am also working on a project with an arts organisation called Legion TV, who have commissioned me to make a series of books which will be exhibited at some point next year. The books will be individual works made up of a series of monotypes.

I came across a book of Richard Diebenkorn’s Monotypes in which the prints had been grouped and presented by each printing session. I was interested in how this not only bound the prints to one another, but also tied them to a very specific time. By restricting each book I make to one printing session gives each a sort of wholeness that testifies to the speed and fluidity of the approach. One of the points of focus of this project is to reveal the process, for the action to be explicit, rather than for the viewer to just witness an end point they are in some way experiencing the sequence of thought too.

Aimée Parrott studied her BA Fine Art at University College Falmouth (2009) before going on to study a Post Graduate Diploma at the Royal Academy Schools (2014). Recent group exhibitions include: Soaked, not resting, a two person show with Helen Frankenthaler, Pippy Houldsworth (2015); a two person show at the Kennington Residency (2015) Promise of Palm Trees, Breese Little (2015); Contemporary British Abstraction, The Container Gallery (2015); Derive, group show with Angela de la Cruz & Danny Rolph, curated by Stuart Evans (2015); Painting about Painting curated by Andrew Hewish for Simmons and Simmons (2015). Recent residencies include Artists League of New York (2014) and the Angelika Studios Residency (2013). Awards include The Dentons Art Prize (2016), the Archie Sherman Scholarship (2012-2014) and The Ford Award travel bursary (2013).