Most striking about Florence Sweeney's recent paintings are that I want to reach out and touch them, assuming they'll be soft, like gently crinkled fabric, however she employs materials such as Jesmonite and aluminum, which are anything but. Her works generate a "slippage" between materials, when the relationship of pigment, light, and texture displaces our visual comprehension of the surface. More at the links below!
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First, can you introduce yourself? Where are you from, and where are you based now?
My name is Florence Sweeney. I live in Clapton, London. I grew up in Essex and I lived in Belgium for the first part of my life.
When did you first become interested in art?
My mother was an artist so inherently I was positioned in front of the Crayola sets and poster paints. I do not remember her as such but I remember drawing with my sister around 3 years old. The continuous urge to create has always remained in me, and was a distraction away from the significant things that were happening. I always wanted to be an artist like my Mother.
What has your art education been like, formally and/or informally?
As a child I was praised for art, which perhaps was what I needed when moving to England and trying to integrate. I went to a Sixth Form College in Cambridge that had this bohemian air and tutors who were supportive and actual practicing artists. Leaving that institution for the Arts University Bournemouth was a disappointment. The town didn’t feel progressive for the arts. I tried to use the facilities like the photography dark rooms, print rooms but the university wasn’t encouraging like my College before. Amongst my peers we lead our own workshops and collectives, it was motivating that others felt the same and chose to act upon it.
The first thing I notice about your recent work is the bold, brilliant hues! At first they appear like textile or crinkled paper, but then I realized they're made from pigment on aluminum and Jesmonite. There's an intrinsic tension in the surfaces your work suggests, and what the material actually is. Can you tell me some more about this work?
The recent works are pushing against the constraint of the two dimensional frame, with enfolded pigmented surfaces that are tactile terrains; with the softness appearance that you want to reach out and touch. The pigment displaces and subverts the surface, creating a constant slippage between ‘types’ of surface for example hard metallic sheens on soft folds or light consuming shadows within deeper powdery blues.
The logic of the work has leaded me towards breaking free altogether from the frame and exploring of the figure/ground relation to become actual incursions in space. These pieces are breaking down the paint/ canvas relation; the movement of the canvas has been allowed to become, in itself, gestural and expressive.
What is your process like? How much do you plan or research ahead of time? How long does a piece typically take to complete?
I sketch and paint these forms that I’ve been thinking about, certain colours will sit with me within a period of time. When I come to making these drawings physical, the materials alter when I imagine due to the matter. The paintings change shape as I curate the moulds and with the weight of the Jesmonite the shape shifts. When I come to take the cast out I can’t predict the result.
Then I think about colour. The bases will sit in my studio for an amount of time until I know what the piece emits in colour to best suit its form. I enjoy sitting with the pieces before claiming that they’re finished, to know that I am certain the artwork represents with the emotive gestural moment of creation. This pensive process could last a month or more for each piece.
What is your studio like?
My studio is within a 1950s industrial building that used to produce pharmaceuticals. I share this space with three other artists.
Although my space isn’t very large we have a communal table next to a wide metal shutter which we raise up when it’s warm. This makes the room much larger, opening to the sky.
The space has many visitors who congregate round the table where we spend time drinking wine and discussing our practices, current affairs and whatever the topic turns to in the small hours of the night.
I used to have a space that was isolated and I found that to be very closed onto my practice. To not have other artists to talk to about development of new works is a shame as other people’s observations have helped me with contextualising my practice
What do you think is the most challenging or daunting part of pursuing an artistic practice, whether creatively or professionally? What do you do to get through it?
Being an artist I find it intuitive to be visual in expression, I’m trying to articulate and understand something that is within me: I’m trying to understand something that is within me. By abstracting this, my work gives me catharsis I have a better understanding with where I’m going, what direction to move next. Although a viewer may not perceive this in the way I am expressing it, but I believe by abstracting my work the viewers can take their own personal experiences with the work. Colours and forms are signifiers for us and we have all our own associations to them.
Within my work I am reaching out to my Mother who I lost as a child. By using the same materials and colours as she did, I’m trying to find a connection with her. Her life was cut short due to something terrible so in a way of handling that bereavement I made the work that sings out in bold luminous emotive colours, trying to move forward, pushing myself to be the artist that she denied to be. This can be daunting when I hit a dark period but the process as a whole keeps me transcending forwards, with this in mind I’m enjoying the journey as it’s apart of myself to discover.
What is the best advice you've received? Have you ever received any advice that you're glad in hindsight that you chose to ignore?
This is quite difficult to think of, not necessarily has it been advice but a matter of support from certain artists who I’ve met that are more established than myself. In terms of bad advice, I don’t want to berate anyon, but I felt my university didn’t quite get the art world industry to give you the straight up facts - an art degree isn’t going to keep you warm at night.
I remember one tutorial I had, from a visiting lecturer who was last Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton, in particular. She told me that it’s a different story after university: what they teach you there means nothing and you have to graft to get it. This was four years ago – I can’t remember the literal words she said, but I remember her disposition. She had an air of tenacity and a no-bullshit attitude, which I admired.
What do you want to learn more about, or challenge yourself to master, in regard to your practice?
I want to learn more about different variations of casting, and soon I’ll be learning how to weld with my brother-in-law’s Art Framing/Fabricators business - Flint Fine Art (which is named in memory of my Mother Beverly Flint!) There is so much to learn about pigments and what properties and techniques you can do with them, it’s like alchemy. Also to have space to let the works speak for themselves on a bigger scale; to go big would be goals.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?
Nothing distinctively comes to mind, but I guess as a mantra, it’s only you who can make shit happen, no one else!
What do you need most, or value most, as an artist?
As an artist I value having freedom by making sure I manage my time which allows me to be in the studio. Living in London gives you many expenses which can tie you down, but I’ve managed to orientate what I do for work be apart of my practice. All I want is to have a level of freedom where I can fully explore new projects, hopefully soon make my art be the foundation that supports me.
What are you working on right now?
I’m preparing for a solo show in November, Private View 31st October at a gallery called 3 Ada Road. In this exhibition I will lead my practice into installation; so I’m the studio I’m testing out new directions and catching up with a huge reading list!
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for the questions!
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