Legs On Holiday
Oil & acrylic on calico
169x167cm / 2016
You're The Weirdest
Thing I know
Oil & acrylic on calico
163x106cm / 2016
Oil & acrylic on calico
24x18cm / 2016
Chris Shaw: You did some travelling in Vietnam earlier this year which meant a break from painting and this left you with less time than you perhaps would have liked to make the paintings for your Three Works show. How did you cope with the pressure to produce work once you got back in the studio?
Suzy Babington: Luckily I had a studio lined up in Huddersfield. I had a month until the opening but I managed to get the works finished in three weeks. I had to get my holiday head off and working head on! I hadn't worked for two months by then which was good because time away helps break habits and always gives me new ideas.
Vietnam was very inspiring. It's where the vivid colour in the paintings came from. Having a show lined up made me get down to business, making what I wanted to make rather than fluff around with stuff that might not get seen.
Legs on Holiday was the first painting I made. It's very layered, and that's because I work out my ideas in practice. All this layered working made my vision more tangible, and prepared me for the next two: You're The Weirdest Thing I Know and Love Monster.
Can you tell me something about the materials you like to use and why?
I am strictly a painter and only use acrylic and oil - both in a variety of ways and often together on the same painting. Oil can be squeezed straight from the tube and keeps its tubular shape. Acrylic dries fast so you can do a lot of work. I paint acrylic over oil and oil over acrylic which means they often crack but I find this lends itself to the painting's unashamedly hand-crafted nature. I work wet-on-wet which can be difficult. This means to cover a colour you have to be applying paint like cream cheese! I suppose it is an obtuse way of doing things but I like it. I am firm in my belief that I don't want my paintings to indulge in any sort of disguise.
For me, painting is about doing this exciting thing just because you can - warts and all. Painting has a punk vitality about it.
Do the methods you use to create paintings vary or do you rely on a sort of system?
The layering I often use to an exaggerated point is, in a sense, a system of production as it's a means for me to take the painting as far as I can. Like Hockney said - take it to its furthest end. It's a way for me to take my painterly understanding away from, and develop it beyond, the first thing that comes into my head. I tend to dismiss ways of working in the process. Legs on Holiday, for instance, was several entirely different paintings. All the while I'm asking myself what my intentions are - what do I really want from the painting? Is it pungent enough?
Would you say your use of colour is intuitive, perhaps even dependent on what you have left in the pots and tubes, or are the results to do with a more rigorous sort of planning?
I think its safe to say I don't have a plan. I'm trying to get away from paintings you can easily explain and the colours are just a part of that. I go through a lot of paint so it's easy for me to end up in a situation where the colour selection isn't that varied but its the kind of painting which lends itself to that. So the running-out-of-paint scenario is dealing me random hands and making me change my decisions and creating more opportunity for the push and surprise that can be found in painting.
In your answer to my first question, you suggested that you work on your paintings consecutively. Do you ever have several works on the go at the same time?
I have a very individualistic approach to painting. Each painting is its own. I get very involved in the works and won't leave the studio until I've solved enough problems in the painting. I think this intensity of drive comes across in the works. The layers and dense glued-together nature of the work has become part of my language as I rarely will let the painting sit until the surface looks like porridge. I find the textures have a resistant sort of I-don't-want-to-be-liked quality about them that I like. The paint becomes an armour against critique almost. They would be difficult paintings to undo even in your head - so they become stubborn, as I am stubborn with them.
You said the first painting in this set you got to work on was Legs on Holiday. For the most part this painting is characterised by patches of wavy lines rendered in thick, crusty hues some of which seem to have come straight from the pot - bright and fresh - while others appear to have been muddied with the push and pull of painting. It works as abstraction but look again and a vague umbrella shape appears in the middle of the composition. Do you consider yourself to be a figurative painter, or am I just reading imagery into the painting?
There's an umbrella coming out from a pair of legs, yes. I like the idea of disembodied legs wandering around autonomously on holiday getting a drink and such. The elements of figuration I use might be a tool to take the works into a sort of cartoon territory. The cartoon sits between real life and fantasy and is often very physical, like a bulging balloon... stuff that is exaggerated so you can almost feel it.
I think it might be significant that legs reach for the ground. Painting legs might be part of a no-nonsense approach to painting… and by painting nonsensical legs I'm not being superfluous with the works. The legs help to keep the paintings grounded.
I perceive much more space in You're The Weirdest Thing I Know. Quite different to the almost airless crush of Legs On Holiday. Tell me about You're The Weirdest Thing I Know.
You're The Weirdest Thing I Know is like a mechanical mishap. It has the vertical central line dividing the painting, and things seem to be flying off it. Like the umbrella, it is a contraption. Paintings are contraptions. The imagery might point to a narrative for human ingenuity and error not unlike the comedic nihilism found in umbrellas. As contraptions, paintings - like umbrellas - have a potential to misbehave. Sometimes they do what they're supposed to!
Love Monster holds its own in a sea of white wall, and also against the tidal wave that is Legs On Holiday and the cartoon fight of You're The Weirdest Thing I Know. The paint is majorly caked on in this one.
Love Monster is a monster of excess. It's a very small canvas with a lot of paint on it which is in danger of sliding off. It's like the painting is greedy and has too much paint for its own good, making a straight forward thing difficult again. It reminds me of the good gremlin Gizmo - cute and harmless but with claws!
You could have attempted another large work after completing You're The Weirdest Thing I Know, and that would have been a different sort of show but Love Monster seems to keep the ambition in check - somehow mocks it which I think is a nice touch. What do you think of the final hang?
I'm very happy with it. I wanted all the works to be different sizes so they could stand out from one another. I was thinking of the paintings as Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear each owning and occupying their scale, each a different character in the politics of painting, behaving in different ways to the others.
Giving Love Monster its position on the largest wall keeps it safe from being a token piece and seems to turn any perceived hierarchy relating to the paintings on its head.
Tell me something about the sort of painting and painters you admire?
I remember being flabbergasted in front of Amanda Doran's painting The Semen. I was 100% there. I mean, who else has made bird shit an intrinsic part of a painting? I love Nicholas Party for his intense weirdness. They're curiously on the edge of a lot of aesthetic stuff, like dangerously bordering on illustration which makes me think it's brave work. You're looking at a person and that person is looking back at you and when you turn your eyes back onto the world you can't help but see that it's just as alien as the paintings he makes.
All the artists I like are using illustration as a tool to come up with imaginative imagery and at the same time they are using an ordinariness about real life… like Dana Schutz's use of shaving creams or Benjamin Senior's exercise balls to comment on some sort of strangeness. I'm very suspicious of a lot of art, which would make me a lot like your local taxi driver! I get it or I don't.
Also, Francis Picabia, Steve DiBenedetto, Julie Tuyet Curtiss, Martin Wong, Jonathan Gardner, Ella Kruglyanskaya, Carroll Dunham, Jim Nutt.