What I really dig about Belfast, Northern Ireland-based artist Yasmine Robinson's recent work is its questioning of spectatorship, space, and ownership within a larger context of the history of abstract painting. We chat here about her process and background! More at the link below!
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I'd love to know a bit about you! Can you introduce yourself?
I had a remote rural upbringing, living outside a small country village called Claudy in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The craggy landscape of the Sperrin Mountains with endless freedom and green space, was the backdrop to my childhood years growing up outdoors with fresh air and pink cheeks. The move to Belfast city from my home house happened four years ago in pursuit of my artistic interest for the duration of my BA studies in Fine Art.
Moving to the city proved to have a strong influence on my practice in ways I could never had imagined. The shift from my familiar rural roots to new found independence and the hustle and bustle of city life came at first to be quite of a culture shock, but as soon as I found my feet I was hooked. Observing my surroundings it is hard to escape Belfast’s turbulent past, with urban voids often exposing some of the city’s scars. However, as a young person, I can’t so much relate to the memory of its history of the 'Troubles', instead visualise its rapid urban regeneration and reconstruction of post-conflict identity.
When did you first become interested in art, or know you wanted to make it yourself?
I was always interested in art. I would spend hours on end, drawing from animal books and magazines. My mum would always bring an emergency supply of colouring pencils and paper with her in her handbag, which she would whip out when we were out and about. I always wanted to make, or understand how things work. My dad was a joiner, so he would always have been tinkering and making things out in the garage and I would always try to help him.
How would you describe your work?
The pieces themselves have been described as quite urban. This is probably because a lot of the work is inspired by the urban landscape of the city. I find I am attracted to a certain type of space in the city, not only for its subject, but also for its familiar rectangular, vacant (almost decaying) aesthetic. My work often reflects on the charged structure of these spaces. What I find compelling about these particular sites is that they can be endlessly expanded. The walls, the streets and sky act as a ‘complete space’ offering different compositional alternatives to the graffiti and ‘street art’ that usually occupy them.
My practice lives in an awkward space between nostalgia and adaption to the virtual revolution. I am interested in this friction, conceiving new modes of production, ownership and display whilst holding onto a level of material intimacy that captivates the viewer outside the realms of the flat digital screen. I’m perhaps trying to move a bit more with the times and explore new possibilities by expanding the field of painting within my practice but not abandoning it all together. I don’t see the things I make far removed from the painting discipline, as I myself do very much consider myself a painter. For me its become this idea of rethinking space withing painting, or painting as a space.
What is your process like?
A mode for making objects that look like paintings and vice versa are that the painting surfaces themselves are in fact usually altered ready-mades. I restlessly experiment and are drawn to different materials that often bare the signs of their previous use and therefore have their own potential of expression and plurality of an object and an image. There’s definitely is a conversation happening in my practice between art and object hood. I explore themes of the fetish in my work. I use a lot of spray paint in my work. German installation artist Katharina Grosse says a very interesting thing about using spray paint in her practice where it’s a very different effect than using paint and a paintbrush, not just aesthetically but in the physicality of the sensation. There’s no physical contact on the wall whereas the paint brush links the painter to the surface. So in a way spray paint dematerializes the painter.
The nature of my work is a struggle. It’s a constant push pull thing happening. I put myself into a state of crisis when I work. I may have been working on a particular painting for weeks but I find it when I over complicate, or get too precious the whole thing tightness up and the only solution is to strip it right back . I then tend to block out the composition so it is a lot more simplified but I feel it’s a much more convincing space, but it takes me to come full circle to realise that!
What is your studio or workspace like?
My studio space has actually become cluttered in ways of a process. I have a little trolley dolly where I set my brushes on then I have a set of drawers which is also on wheels where I store all my little clippings and bits and pieces with my palette on top. It means I can swing both of them around whenever wherever I need them, because I do tend to have a couple of things on the go at one time so it’s handy to manoeuvre about. Nothing about my practice is static, not the work, not the space, I need to keep the whole thing energised.
The bits and pieces that I collect are only ever put there as a means of storage but then have actually come to inhabit the space, and as a result, my paintings come to emulate the space. I have found it has become increasingly difficult to separate or distinguish the paintings from the objects that inhabit the space. A mark on the frame extends onto a mark that takes place on the wall or floor or a colour or a shape of an object that lives in the space then comes to live in the painting. This changes the meaning of the painting from a 2 dimensional surface into a 3 dimensional one, shifting the scale and context within the works structure.
Do you have a favorite mantra, quote, or piece of advice you rely on when you're working?
I have a great quote by painter Tal R which is stuck in the front of my notebook which I carry everywhere,
''The monster of painting absorbs you with lighting speed; the great, embracing and possessive mother of painting. Even street art is roped in- for the better or for worse. And in there you will meet all the others, all the other artists that you thought you rebelled against. You will meet all the old cousins, all the old arseholes and ghosts. It’s a scary place, and its here you should be. You will end up as a diehard if you try to stay on the periphery. The challenge is to be in the centre where the others are sitting.''
It reminds me to just keep pushing and making, to keep painting alive.
Do you have any strategies for getting out of a creative rut?
Walking around urban spaces and looking at graffiti/ street art. Also, making notes. I will type notes on my phone of something that I have seen/ heard which I can then refer back to . Sometimes I have written the notes so long ago or that vaguely that i don't remember what I was writing about, which turns out to be a good thing as i have to reinterpret them, giving a new and alternative response, which could be the catalyst for a new painting.
What do you need or value most as an artist?
A little bit of defiance and resilience
What is or has been the most challenging or daunting aspect of pursuing art?
Justifying my practice rooted within a painting sensibility. It would be ignorant to not be conscious of, or question the effect and/or the relationship that the digitization of everyday life has had on contemporary painting today. With abstract painting's recent revival in popularity, there’s an argument that ‘real’ originality in abstraction can now only be found in the past, being dubbed as 'zombie formalisim.' The challenge I find myself trying to face as a young artist is to adapt to new modes of spectatorship and display and not recoil into formalist nostalgia, but adapt, whilst maintaining and justifying that fragile material intimacy.
The other problem I have with this term is that no matter how much painters try to resist, there still has to be a level of respect for the traditional framework of the white space of the gallery system, and so, necessarily have limit ourselves. However when performing ‘outside’ of this space artists have left themselves open to the label of ‘public art’ makers. I have attempted to question and push the generic boundaries of painting by using non-traditional painting techniques, establishing new forms and finding new possibilities by expanding the field of painting within my practice.
The process of painting assures substance and value of a unique location in place and time and their connection to me, the artist. When I talk about painting I talk about process. For me process provides paintings material value, offering an earthly defence against the perfected copy proving there is still room for friction and play outside the flatness of the digital screen.
What are you working on right now?
Some site specific/ in situ work. This is something I definitely plan to have more of a play with. I have got a place on the MA Fine Art in Chelsea starting this year, so i am very excited to make the move over to London and push my work further.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for the interview! Young Space is an amazing creative platform . I feel very lucky for my work to be put in place alongside all the other amazing contemporary artists on you have on your site! It does my heart great good to see the amount of painters you represent on your site.
Find more on Instagram @yasminerobinsonart!
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