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Blogger profile: Beth Webster
We catch up with Beth, in her final year of her Fine Art degree at Lincoln University, and talk about the concept of beauty, histories of found-objects in art and the spin of self in ones practice.
Beth's practice explores the idea of overseen beauty and in particular the theme of decay through a mixed media approach using materials such as glass, print, paint and discarded objects:
"I am inspired by the natural world, systems of value and perceptions of them. I am drawn to beautiful things that are not generally considered to be beautiful but reveal their beauty upon closer examination. Imperfections: the "formless". Debris left and forgotten, rusty metal, lost pieces with unknown memories."
Richard Taylor: Tell us about the use of found objects in your work...
Beth Webster: I like discovering things that are viewed as having little value and re-configuring them to elevate, temporarily, their overlooked status. Abandoned objects form part of the culture that discarded them and have a story to tell. I am intrigued by this sense of time, history and the shifting of values: deconstructing, re-configuring, experimenting, exploring, playing and finding are all processes that are very much used in developing my work.
RT: How do you relate this to an exploration of beauty?
BW: Putting something into a new context causes the observer to engage with it, re-evaluate and perhaps ultimately appreciate it. All the pieces I create are made with this in mind and I aspire not only to make people question the nature of beauty but also to open their eyes to details they may have missed. I am committed to the idea that one of the central purposes of art is that it has the power to help people to see things differently and to challenge their opinions.
RT: How do you explore the concept of beauty whilst maintaining an element of self-exploration in your work?
BW: My art is an ongoing learning curve about the concept of beauty, which is constantly redefined as I discover new ways to present my ideas; it is also a coping strategy for my mental health and wellbeing.
As a result, psychoanalysis plays a large part in my work. In my more expressive works, and specifically in my large paintings, I am aware that my mood significantly impacts the style and energy of the piece. Despite this, my art is only indirectly a coping strategy. I feel strongly that the finished works should be emotionally accessible to the viewer so that it is not impossible for them to connect to it.
Also, the use of glass, print and paint satisfy my love of bold colour. I spent some of my formative teenage years living in Kenya, where vibrant colours and patterns are very much part of the culture, which has left a lasting impression and have offered a different sort of trajectory in exploring beauty.
RT: Can you tell more about this coping strategy...
BW: I find that the act of creating something is an incredibly powerful form of healing, in that one is able to enter a zone where they can be completely free and safe. Freedom encourages true expression where you're able to create autonomously: inline with the unconscious. In some of my darker days, getting into this zone by producing rather jarring art was ultimately how I got through it - something which having art therapy taught me.
Just being creative and producing work is a coping strategy, but this is indirect as I do not produce my work with the intention of releasing my vulnerability. It is more a channeling my vulnerabilities into a 'good' energy that helps me produce my work.
RT: Does it relate to the use of print making as a medium? How do you use print together with found objects?
Whilst the act of printmaking is less savage than the actions used to create my paintings, my prints are still a medium that I believe encourages healing. Just as I print onto my paintings, I also print onto found objects as a direct response to them. I really like how the found objects were once lost and are now soothed and gestured with print... and ultimately treasured.
RT: Do you feel like you help the viewer to make their own treasures within your work, and are your works something of a 'votive' offering that act out a healing process as they are being viewed? And have you considered projecting films on to your objects?
BW: I feel that my practice is less about encouraging viewers to make their own treasures within my work and more about finding their own treasures in everyday life. It is about looking past the work and in so doing, re-evaluating thoughts about beauty and value and being less dismissive of the details that pass us by. I like to think that my work scratches the surface of seeing good in what is traditionally viewed as bad: this could indeed be healing to the viewer. Seeing the world more positively is certainly a more healing attitude than dwelling on all the negatives.
I am aware however, that like work other artists produce, there are always going to be some viewers that do not understand or 'get' it. Perhaps it is the case that the informed and educated may be able to read more into my practice, as its concepts are subtle in revealing themselves. Whilst this may indeed be true, I have purposefully steered away from exhibiting pure ready-mades as I enjoy the interaction with the found object and being able to manipulate them in a response. I would hope that this would make it easier for a viewer to connect to, as my pieces are more than placing a found object in a different environment... they are about juxtaposing found objects with my own response regarding their beauty and value through various mediums.
Projecting films onto my found objects is something that I have considered and probably will explore, although I am aware that this is an approach that has been used a lot. I feel that the work that I have been producing recently is quite different to other artists' practices, which makes me feel that I am very close to finding my own unique niche. If I can work out a way to incorporate film into my work without it just being projected onto something, then it would be a medium that I would most certainly look into further.
RT: What is your opinion on ready-mades, you mention how your work is not 'ready-made', how conscious are you of the history of found objects in modern art and the contemporary re-ignition of them?
BW: Although I feel uncomfortable in using ready-mades in my own practice, I am certainly inspired by artists that have used them. For me, displaying an object in an exhibition setting is too clinical and lacks dialogue. Despite this, such styles of working inspired me to incorporate found objects into my own work, although unlike them, I prefer to use other mediums as well as these objects so that I am creating a personal response to them.
I am definitely conscious of the history of found objects in modern art and the contemporary re-ignition of them and I believe they have had a big impact in the art produced today. Saying this however, although I am certainly interested in art that is more based on conceptions rather than materials, I, like many, still feel a little rattled by some of the work that is produced in this area.
Do I think that readymades or conceptual art really IS art? I don't know. Personally, I do feel that it is a shame that some artists are moving away from some of the more conventional forms of art because I feel that such work can be so diverse in expression and effect. So many modern artists seem to be steering away from the beauty of rich oil-paint and sculpture, in the attempt to express an idea that is perhaps more in the field of philosophy as opposed to art. Despite my passionate views about it, I can still appreciate such works - but I struggle to place them sometimes in the field of art. I am however, aware of the impact they have had on other artists such as myself who approach similar ideas slightly differently and for that reason I can admire their alternative manner.
RT: From this conversation, and also from looking back through your blog, I can tell that you are very conscientious when it comes to communicating your ideas. Do you find writing about your practice, for instance using a blog, a useful process?
BW I would agree with that. At university, we are very much asked to think about context, inspiration and ideas in relation to our practice. More often than not, I am faced with criticism regarding my work and that further encourages me to talk about it. I am still learning to be unapologetic when speaking about my thoughts - I often expect people to disagree - which makes me less confident about talking about it. Using a blog helps me to challenge this as the readers are anonymous unless they write a comment. Through posting my thoughts on the Internet I am beginning to realise that my views are legitimate and it give me more confidence to turn around to those who criticise me, and stick up for my work.
RT: Well that's a dam good use for a blog if I have ever heard one. I have just read your latest post, which touches on how to title work. I often save documentation of my work, photographs and writings etc. on my compute. The title of a work, oddly enough, is generated through a method of creating a 'file', which is easy to remember, and which in the beginning makes sense to me. The final title of a work is then a product of this odd little method. Do you feel like titling a work makes it too definitive, like naming an object, which in turn changes its reception...?
BW: Whilst I feel that giving a work a title is important, as it helps to distinguish it from other pieces, I do feel it can make it too definitive: which is why I find it so difficult. I don't want the viewer to be influenced by the title so that all viewers see the same thing. I want each viewer to have a different response to the work, which I believe to be almost impossible if a title is too conclusive.
RT: Speaking of all things definitive (or not), how do you view your degree show? Is it too much of a goal that you cannot see past, or are you planning beyond it already?
BW: I am already planning beyond it, yes... but at the same time it is still something I am a little unsure of. There are so many factors that combine to make a show a success and as it is something I haven't really done before, I am aware it's going to be quite a learning curve. I'm not too bothered about the body of work as I'm currently very motivated and focused in that sense, but it's more the curating part that I'm a little apprehensive about. I'm hoping it will all work itself out - I'm going to as many exhibitions as I can, including Grayson Perry's this weekend which is at the British Museum. I have a lot of respect for Grayson Perry and his work, and I'm hoping I might gain some inspiration from the show for my own final exhibition.
As for how I view my degree show... I certainly don't see it as an end in any stretch. It's the start!
First published: a-n.co.uk February 2012
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