A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to meet with Lee Simmons, an artist and art therapist who I first met whilst working as an intern at South Hill Park Art Centre. Lee was an Art Advisor for ARC at the time and studying on the MA Art Psychotherapy course at Goldsmiths (graduating in 2009). Given that I’m now retraining to become an art therapist I thought it would be good to catch up with Lee and get her views on life after the MA and becoming an art herself. I was also interested to know whether being an art therapist has informed her own art practice in some way or does one negate the other? This is what Lee had to say….
For the purposes of those who may be unfamiliar with your work I was wondering if you could say a little bit about yourself and your artistic practice.
Ok, so I’m Lee. I am a fine artist who often works in public spaces and the process of making the work and experiencing the work is a large part of each sculpture or event. The works are cross-disciplinary, but are derived from fine art painting (and ways of looking at painting), colour and human engagement. The work then moved outside and became a lot more experiential…. I worked with that fine art base for 4 or 5 years before studying a Masters with more of a public art focus (Design for Environment at Chelsea College of Art and Design), studying alongside interior spatial designers, landscape architects, textile artists… etc. And then about 5 years later I focussed on the psychology side of it and studied the Art Psychotherapy Masters at Goldsmiths, which is a clinical practice and not a fine art practice, but it has informed my own art quite a lot in unexpected ways. So I’m an artist who also works as an art therapist.
Could you say a bit more about making work in the public sphere? Were you making work that was socially engaged as a result of doing the Design for Environment course at Chelsea or had this always been integral to your practice?
I was doing that work anyway, but I was pushed to think about it differently. It was coming from my own concepts and ideas and on that training they really pushed me to look more at the spaces I was working with, and the communities, the histories of those spaces and making work around that – less work around my own ideas. It seemed I was too much of a fine artist for that training, but they pushed me to work in more of a design and research type of way, which was helpful.
You also mentioned the influence of psychoanalysis. Subsequently how did studying on the MA Art Psychotherapy course at Goldsmiths affect your art practice at the time? I think the reasons I gave for making art previously I probably scrutinised in a different way to how I’d thought about them on the public art training and fine art training. I became a lot more aware of how we think about and process our experiences and how art communicates these experiences. Sometimes I’d get an idea for a piece which would come out of a similar theme to my other works; it would come of that same line of enquiry, but I’d be more aware of my own background and personality influencing the work that I had done before so it became more difficult to intellectualise these pieces. I think that’s probably the case for a lot of artists. We make work with all of these different themes, purposes and ideas, but ultimately we’re making work that we want to make for our own reasons.
So did doing the course encourage you to look differently at work you’d made before?
Yeah, a bit. But I always knew that there were more drives making me do the pieces I was doing than those I had fully communicated. We don’t always need to say everything about why we do the things we do, though it became a bit more obvious.