– by Wendy Morley, VW’s Creative and Editorial Director –
Bohemian, dark, edgy, melancholy … Manchester-based artist Lindsey Bull’s paintings seem to come from the fringes of society, showing people who don’t quite belong and are well aware of this.
Lindsey earned her postgraduate diploma from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2007 and her MA in Fine Art from the same school in 2009. Her paintings have been shown in UK and international galleries, both in group and solo exhibitions, and she’s won – and continues to win – art awards and residencies.
Wendy Morley: I believe you were born and raised in/around Manchester. The city has an interesting background – the first industrialized city, bringing both riches and squalor, all but demolished in WWII and violence seen since then as well, although in general it appears that the city is in a bit of a renaissance. I feel like this history informs your work. Do you think this is the case?
Lindsey Bull: I actually grew up in Nottinghamshire, near Sherwood Forest. I came to Manchester as an undergraduate student studying Fine Art at Manchester Art School. It seemed such a vibrant and exciting place to be and still is! I moved to London for a period to undertake an MA there are I love travelling between the two cities. I am not sure if the history of Manchester informs my work so much. I would say an archaic historical connection is present in the work in reference to rituals and rites – a deep connection with the forest and myth of the landscape.
WM: Your technique is really interesting. Your paintings seem both dark and light, no matter the actual colours you choose. Is this a conscious effect you’re looking for?
LB: I am very much looking for a combination of dark and light – it is a very conscious act to work with areas of the painting that are very light, as though it is emitting a bright light. I often leave the white of the primed canvas visible in the work. Then I want to contrast this with darker areas that recede and provide a grounding for the figure.
WM: Where did you study art, and how do you feel your training has affected your work? Was any teacher/artist of particular importance to you, with technique, inspiration, or even as someone recognizing something in you and encouraging you to be true to yourself and your art?
LB: As I mentioned I studied at Manchester School of Art then at Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. At Chelsea there were many inspirational tutors, well known artists such as Anj Smith, Matthew Derbyshire and Dexter Dalwood.
The head of the MA was Brian Chalkley, who recognised something in me when he was an external assessor for Manchester School of Art. He said to me at that time that I should apply for Chelsea. I am not sure if I would have had to confidence to do it without his support. He was also very astute in the role of tutor. He can see things very clearly and was always supportive of me as a painter.
Studying at Chelsea completely changed everything for me. I broke down everything that I had known previously and built it back again! It made me much stronger as a painter. I was very lucky to be awarded the Red Mansion art prize upon leaving Chelsea, which is a prize given to a graduates from London art schools. This gave me the belief that I could be an artist after studying, and it was an amazing opportunity to be supported by the Red Mansion Foundation on a residency in China and a group exhibition in London. I think you need this when you leave art school: something that provides a bridge between the comfortable environment of the art school and the outside world.
WM: Are people always your focus in your paintings? Have you always drawn people, for example when you doodled as a child?
LB: Yes, the figure is always the focus. I would describe myself as a figurative painter. I am most interested in how to depict the human form and especially a form of psychological portrait.
WM: The people within your paintings tend to have a sadness or loneliness about them, often with darkness in the eye area. Emptiness – but not of soul … too much feeling is more what I would think. Is this a reflection of where they are in society? Or where society is? Where humanity is? Just an attraction to or recognition of this type of person? Something entirely different?
LB: I am not sure if I am reflecting society! I am very much drawn to a darkness in spirit and a melancholy feeling. I am trying to extract some of this emotive force in the work through the portrait. The characters I am working with often are figures who emit a sadness or loneliness and this is sometimes conveyed through the way they are separated as single figures or seen from the back looking towards something else unknown to the viewer. One of my first great loves in art was German and Austrian Expressionism, in particular Oscar Kokoschka. These were paintings made in very bleak times; the way they were painted, made the darkness and horror become manifest. This natural gravitation towards darkness and melancholy continues with the kinds of artists’ work I am drawn to and especially in my own work.
WM: Can you tell me about your direction as an artist? Do you find yourself interested in trying anything new in particular – a new type of paint, paint technique or different medium altogether such as printmaking or mixed media?
LB: I have just finished a series titled Undergrowth, which is a body of work that features single figures or “twinned” figures in a forest environment or wooded glade. They are mainly sourced from fashion imagery, and this is something I have been using for a while to begin paintings. I am going to continue working with fashion imagery for another body of work titled Carnivalesque, which will involve figures costumed and sometimes masked. These will be perhaps more performative, and I am moving away from the wooded, forest setting and working with a different palette.
For the Undergrowth series I made a great deal of works on paper – oil on paper – which helped me to develop ideas quickly. This is a new way of working for me, to make lots of different versions of an image to then build up to a larger work on canvas. I also now show the works on paper. Previously I would have considered them sketches but now I feel that they can hold their own as works to be exhibited.
WM: What is your biggest fear as an artist?
LB: To remain stuck in a formulaic way of making work. Also, the fear of making bad paintings!
WM: Which other artists do you find interesting these days?
LB: There are many really interesting contemporary artists – especially female British painters such as Caroline Walker, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, Eleanor Moreton, Phoebe Unwin and Kaye Donachie. Outside of painting I am drawn to performative work such as the figures by Francis Uprichard, Phillida Barlow’s amazing sculptural assemblages and the work by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd.
To see more of Lindsey’s work and her current exhibitions, go to www.lindseybull.com
All images © Lindsey Bull