Hi Lisa, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Milton Keynes and moved to London for university when I was 19 where I have lived ever since. I was so excited to study art in London. Art was always the only thing I ever felt I actually excelled at and knew from a young age that is what I wanted to do as a career, despite being told many time that “you can’t make money from art”. Those who know me know I am pretty stubborn so I was out to prove all those people wrong! After university it was a long, bumpy and winding road to get to where I am now. I did countless freelance jobs that I thought weren’t really taking me on the right route to where I wanted to be as an artist, but as I look back I can see it was all part of the journey.
For many years when people asked me “what do you do?” I really struggled to answer the question. Most people I knew had a “proper” job and it was easy for them to answer, I had around 10 freelance jobs and although they were mostly art based I couldn’t tell people “I am an artist”, I felt like a fraud because I hardly had any time to make my art. Over the last three years I have slowly been building my portfolio and now actually feel confident and proud to tell people I am an artist when they ask what I do. This is partly down to having my own studio in North London where I teach children after school art as well as make time for my own practice.
Tell us about your practice
My practice has developed considerably over the past two years and I have been on a few journeys, literally and metaphorically, to get to where I am now. Last year I acquired around 50 vintage nautical charts from a friend, which were his dads when he was in the Navy. He told me I could use them however I wanted to. They sat in a folder for a good long while until one day I decided to get some out and experiment a little with them. Daunted by their beauty at first I took the step to paint one. It was so satisfying working on something that had such age, character and history and now I was leaving my mark on them too. About 6 months down the line I put on a solo show at a local cafe and sold over 10 pieces and then I took part in the local open studios event and sold another 10 pieces! I was stunned and humbled by people’s responses to my new work. One thing that came out of these exhibitions though was the question I was asked a lot, “what does this place [on the map] mean to you?” Honestly, the places were irrelevant to me, I was only using the maps for their aesthetics. This is how I ended up making the work I am making currently.
I should say, during the time working on the charts I was also making my own inks form foraged plants and enjoying connecting my life, foraging with my art, and painting. Now I am still making my own paints but no longer working with inks but foraging for rocks and pigment while I am out walking, be it in London on my dog walks or in Scotland where we spend a lot of time on holiday.
I wanted to connect myself and my journeys in my art. I have been working on new pieces for the past 6 months where I use an app to track my routes I walk. On these journeys I collect pigment/rocks that I in turn make into watercolour. I want to join all my worlds together in my art instead of trying to keep them separate, like I did with past work. I draw out my walks and paint onto the “maps” using the pigment found whilst foraging. For the first time in my career I can finally say that I am proud of my art and I truly enjoy making it and it is completely part of who I am. When you look at a piece of my work you see a piece of me in it.
I could go on but I feel I am already rambling! BTW going vegan a few years ago was the main driving force in the progression of my current work.
What can we expect from you in MK Calling?
The two pieces on show at MK Calling represent the population growth and urbanisation of Milton Keynes. Population Momentum 1961 has 53,000 dots, painted to represent the 53,000 people living in MK at that time. Demographic Transition 2019 has 270,000 dots, showing the growth of Milton Keynes has surpassed expectations set out in its initial planning stages.
The work aims to unify both people and place through the individual painting of each dot, which I counted along the way, making sure every single dot/person was all included. The work was also derived by my growing understanding of our world, the increasing population and our need as humans to keep growing. We are hard wired to grow in every sense. To procreate, to better our technology, to use all our worlds natural resources without really thinking about the consequences of our actions, to grow our economies, to grow more and more food, to grow as a race and never stop being bigger and better.
I hand painted and counted every single dot I painted in both pieces. One reason was to show very visually the growth of the population in Milton Keynes and the other was to personally have an appreciation for how many people that actually is. The border around the dots you may recognise is the border of Milton Keynes. When you spend over 70 hours painting 270,000 individual tiny dots you really do appreciate that 270,000 people is a HUGE number. We don’t think about it that was because of the billions of people who live on our planet, it seems like a small number, but it isn’t. I wanted to feel each and every dot painted… and believe me, when you sit over a painting for 70+ hours you really feel it, mentally and physically!
How does place generally influence the way you work?
Place is everything to my work. Place provides the inspiration, the paint, the purpose. Place is the sole driving force in my work. It gives my work meaning as well as the physical means to paint from the pigment I find. Paint foraged from the ground results in a deep forged connection between my art and the natural world. I want people to feel akin to my work, be it through colour, pattern, place or the meaning behind each piece.
Can you tell us a bit more about the process of creating your pigments and how you decide what will make a good paint, what won’t etc? How much of creating colour is trial and error, or have you reached a point where you have a formula which works?
I wouldn’t say I think too hard about this part of the process. I generally go with my heart rather than my head when collecting pigment. I do think about how hard and dense the pigment is. If a rock is too hard then you have no chance really of being able to grind it down into a powder to make the paint. I am still surprised every time I make a new paint at how different it is to my initial expectations. Some paints are quite gritty while others are very smooth. Some are really vivid and strong and others are more subtle and soft. I can honestly say I don’t think I will ever go back to using shop bought paint. They now feel really flat and lifeless compared to natural handmade pigments. I also love the connection to the earth I have by making my own paints, how the process allows me to become part of the paint and in turn allows the audience to have a small insight into my life too.
To make the paints it is a long process but here is a short synopsis of beginning to end result…I walk, forage, collect, crush, grind, sieve, levigate, mix and test the pigment. This process can take weeks or even months all before I can even sit down to make a new piece of work.
The pigment used in the MK Calling pieces are a combination of two rocks found, one from my mum’s front garden and one from my grandad’s garden. They are sandstone and brick and have a great gritty texture to touch. If you look closely at the work you may be able to see the raised dots on the paper.
How do you want an audience to experience and perceive your work?
This is a tricky question to answer. My work seems very abstract to look at first glance. Without an explanation the viewer might struggle to understand what it is about. Overall though I would like the audience to look closely, to really look at the dots that I have painted in these two pieces and try to comprehend the amount of dots they are looking at. Then think about each dot being a person and how many people that really is. I would like the audience to feel a connection with the work either through the fact that it is a purely MK based piece of work, from the inspiration to the making to the end result. Maybe they live in MK or maybe they work in MK. One of those dots represents them. They are part of the work in one way or another. Another way I would like the audience to perceive the work is to consider our impact on the world. Think carefully about how we as humans feel the need to always be growing and using more and more resources. Maybe they could go away from the exhibition thinking about themselves as individuals and how if we each individually do our small part to help keep our planet safe and healthy we can each have an impact on keeping our planet alive for future generations.
To see the interview on the MK Gallery Website visit here https://www.mkgallery.org/news/interview-mk-calling-artist-lisa-marie-price/
MK Calling 2020 has now been extended until 13 September 2020.