Artist of the Month: Fiona Long
Decay is a huge part of her life. It isn’t something we often talk about, but Fiona Long has been exploring decay from an art perspective for years and finds there is still so much more to know. You would not think a nice English girl would be so enamored with something like decay, but Fiona isn’t your typical English girl.
She lives and studies in London and finds urban life suitable for her exploration. I met Fiona almost 8 years ago, and this is my second interview with her. She has so much to share and so much to explore. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her love of painting will win you over.
Angry Zen 2015 Mixed media on canvas
I know you will not only find her words a painting in themselves, but her paintings will wiggle their way into your heart. As Fiona explains, decay and art go together. Who would have thought? Let’s let Fiona explain.
This interview is a journey. Fiona wanted a back-and-forth conversation and it has worked so well. I hope you will agree.
How long have you been an artist?
In a sense, all my life. I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil. My father would bring home reams of computer paper from work, which I’d fill with my expressive scrawls in no time. I also had a little game as a child. I’d go through my father’s waste paper basket and pick out the freepost envelopes and fill them with drawings and pop them in the post box, disseminating my artworks at a very early age! I’m amused by the thought of the reactions of those receiving them!
At school, art was my absolutely favourite subject. I’d spend as much time in the art room as possible. But I was also very good academically. I was afraid that I wasn’t talented enough to make a living making art and that I ought to follow a career in something more sensible. I felt I owed it to my parents to get a sustainable career. I did a degree in psychology and didn’t allow myself to paint. I overcompensated with cooking and feeding my university friends, which was no bad thing since cooking is one of my great loves, but not painting left a huge empty hole in my life.
Making art seems to be something that nobody in their right mind would choose to do unless they are simply compelled. I travelled after university, which was completely wonderful, but once I settled into a regular job and was still rarely painting, I realised how miserable I was and I crashed and burned. It was then that I realised that all my parents wanted was for me to be happy. My Mum bought me new paints and sent me to art classes, where I had the most inspiring tutor. I slowly began to rebuild my life and allowed myself to follow the path I needed to.
I discovered that I knew absolutely nothing about how the ‘art world’ worked. In fact there seem to be several art worlds but I wasn’t really a part of any of them. In my mid-late twenties I did a Foundation year in Art and Design and it was one of the most exciting times in my life. I discovered that I also love to sculpt, and my personal art dialogue has contained painting and sculpture ever since.
In some ways I was upset at myself for delaying my art journey, thinking how much further I could’ve got if I’d started younger, but I feel that my journey to get to that point was important. I realise how lucky I am to be following this creative path and I seize every moment of it that I can. I did a BA in Fine Art Painting at Wimbledon College of Art and worked so hard, learnt so much, and achieved double 1st Class Honours. Some of the younger students didn’t realise how lucky they were to be there and wasted the opportunity. I genuinely feel that education is often wasted on the young. I was pleased to have some life experience and my Psychology to influence my art practice.
Croydon 2011-2012 Oil and concrete on canvas
I think this is one of the true gifts and messages of art - giving yourself the permission to follow the journey and trusting that process. Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves and yet art is about translating what life brings to us into visual form. Even if the message means something entirely different to the viewer, they experience it from their own point-of-view. In addition, art gives us the opportunity to experience many things through someone else.
Oh absolutely, Kim. I loved that thing you shared on Facebook about how buying a work of art is buying a piece of the artist’s soul expressed and a part of their life. I’ve noticed something recently. The paintings that painters have most enjoyed making are the ones that the viewers most enjoy looking at. I once saw a white witch on TV talking about love potions. She said that you can cook anything and that the more love you put into it, the more the person eating it will enjoy it. It made me wonder if that’s part of why I find risotto so delicious and comforting? You put so much love into it with all that stirring and attention.
Dandy 2015 Oil on concrete
I believe this is true in all of life. It takes time to put love into our work as artists or anything else. What we love and nurture grows and becomes amazing.
I completely agree with that, Kim. And getting in the flow in the studio takes time, courage, and dedication. When I’ve had times away from the studio my technique has gone a bit rusty. I believe in a thing that my Dad calls ‘subconscious rehearsal’ where you can work something over in your mind in the background when you’re not actually doing it. I’ve found that a comfort when I’ve not been able to afford a studio space but the fact of the matter is that the eye, the hand, the mind, all of a person in fact, needs to be in synch to make the best stuff. I get frustrated at myself and other artists when they overthink things to the point that there’s no point in actually making the work anymore. I know that I make my best work in response to the last thing I made, and in response to what I’m making when I’m in the flow, and not when I’ve just had a clever idea.
That state of flow, when I’m totally immersed in making and time just disappears is bliss to me.
You are absolutely right about flow being blissful. I never know I am in flow until I come out of it. Are you aware of being in flow during the process?
That’s very true, Kim. I’m the same, it’s that realization when you come out of that state that hours have passed when you thought it was minutes and you assess what you’ve just done that you realise. It’s like a much nicer version of white noise; you only notice how much a noisy fridge has been doing your head in when it finally goes quiet!
In the years after my art degree, I focused on making my own work when I could between art related jobs, in galleries and such. It’s a common frustration for art graduates to try to make enough money to afford a studio, but it’s then hard to find the time between all the work to actually spend enough time in there making!
This has become easier over the years through sheer determination to make it work. I went on some wonderful residencies. I find travelling and really immersing myself in a different culture or thoroughly experiencing a place incredibly inspiring. I became a part of a peer-led network of artists responding to place called POST Artists. I love to make art in response to a place. This could take the form of painting, sculpture, or performance, or some combination. Last year, alongside the urban canals in Tottenham we ran a site responsive art project and my artwork was a bicycle powered candy floss machine where visitors could come and make green candy floss resembling algae!
For American readers who do not know, “candyfloss” is cotton candy. I completely agree with you, Fiona, travel is a great inspiration, teacher and experience. Which of your travels have been the most inspirational?
In 2009, I went on a cultural exchange to Japan and spent nearly a month with international artists at Tokyo Wondersite. The culture is so different there and the city was such a feast to the senses. I was so overstimulated, I didn’t sleep more than four hours per night. It was extraordinary. I find that when spending time in a really different culture, you tend to look for similarities between that culture and where you came from. Being somewhere different heightens your senses and you spot things you might not at home. I began, rather obsessively, taking photos of inanimate things that look like faces. This pareidolia phenomenon fed into my work for years.
Pareidolic Field Study 03 2015 Oil on board
I remember when you went to Japan and you are right, to this day I can see that influence. It can’t help but come out. There is so much to do in a month and it makes me wonder what would happen if you were living in another culture for a year or more. Have you ever considered that?
Gosh I’d love to do that, Kim! The wonderful thing about residencies as opposed to holidays, to me, is that you meet the locals and they show you the real stuff so you get to understand a place and how it is to live there better than if you’re there on holiday. I’m always sad to leave a residency but the urgency of the time frame makes you wring every last drop out of the experience.
Living and working in Cordoba for three months was heaven and I really didn’t want to leave! Then again, the last week was in June and it was 42 degrees centigrade each day, which was hard to cope with and it was about to get a lot hotter, so that made leaving a little easier to deal with. Apparently it’s the hottest city in Europe, and people can barely leave the house in the extremes of summer.
It’s an ambition of mine to get a British School of Rome Scholarship one day. Rome is one of the most wonderful cities I’ve been to and I’d love to have that feed into my work.
The New Forest [an area where Fiona grew up in the south of England] is such a beautiful place and has influenced my artwork in liminal ways. My familiarity with it makes the influence less overt. I find beautiful landscapes so sublime, I find it too daunting to directly attempt to emulate them in paintings, just to take a sort of subliminal inspiration from them.
Outburst 2014 Oil on board in found frame
I totally agree with you about landscapes and the New Forest. Do you consciously choose to paint your inspirations or is it just what happens naturally for you?
One of the oddest paintings I made included fox poo I’d collected from the New Forest. I can assure you that’s a lot less disgusting than it sounds! These rural foxes live off mostly beetles and mice and things, so their deposits are beautifully iridescent after the rain. My Dad and I went for a walk and collected a load and I thoroughly washed it and used it on one of my concrete paintings. I’m fascinated by the different relationships people have with foxes depending on whether they live in the country or the city, partly because the foxes’ behaviour is so different. A friend came over for dinner and saw it for the first time. She works at London Zoo and was fascinated by all the little claws, bones, and blue beetle shells and had to have it. She bought it on the spot. I never expected anyone to share my fascination; it was just something I had to make. It’s a source of great amusement to my friends and family the odd things I do in the name of art!
Oh wow! Do you have an image to share of this painting? I would so love to see it! This is a creative genius at work! I have heard of artists using elephant dung, but it was literal. They just wanted to use the feces, not explore the “story” the poo shared.
Ha ha! Yes I love Chris Ofili’s work, but I guess I was approaching the material in quite a different way. [For readers who do not know, Chris Ofili is an English artist famous for incorporating elephant dung in his paintings.]
Urban Fox, Rural Fox 2012 genuine indigo, rust, fox shit and concrete on canvas
In 2013 I went on the most wonderful residency in Cordoba in the south of Spain. I was with a group of seven artists and architects and we became such good friends. Cordoba is a beautiful city with Moorish influence particularly in its medieval centre. There was pattern absolutely everywhere and lots of beautiful decay. This time I took hundreds of photos of crumbling walls and peeling paint. This inspiration has fed into my work a lot recently.
Searching 2015 Excavated oil on linen
I can’t wait to see how that experience is being translated!
Well, I started with paintings that were directly of walls with peeling paint. I’d had this idea that in order to immerse the viewer, I could make a painting that had edges that folded in, in order to create a personal experience for the viewer. I was inspired by medieval altar pieces that fold in laterally. I thought it would be nice to add a top and bottom to this in order to immerse the viewer more. I love the sensation one feels standing in front of a giant Rothko or one of Anish Kapoor’s concave wall pieces. They are monumental and I hoped to create that sort of sensation in a much more subtle and private way. Sadly I think that failed, because the structure was distracting. People contemplated why the structure of the painting was like that rather than having the sensation I was hoping for, so I moved on. That said, the first one was included in an exhibition at Chelsea College of Art and Design and the curator told me that people had come back for return visits, specifically to see that painting! I couldn’t have felt better about that.
Invitation 2014 Oil on hinged board
Estate of serenity 2014 Oil on hinged board
I love large paintings for this reason. To me, there is nothing quite so emotional as to stand in front of a Rothko and feel all of that energy envelope you. I love the idea so very much and wonder if you have it in you to move it forward?
Well it’s a very difficult thing to achieve, especially on a small scale. I enjoy playing with opposites and trying to finely tune them to work together. Ugly and beautiful, brash and understated, exhibitionistic and private, urban and natural. I’ll never stop attempting these things but if they’re not working, or I’m not enjoying making the thread I was on anymore, then I try to learn from it and try something else based on what I’ve just learnt. I experiment so much, my work might look like it’s all over the place but I feel like I’m on an inward spiral where the journey and the connections between things make more sense to me in time and things connect more often and begin to make more sense the more I go at it.
Since then I’ve gone back to using concrete as a painting material. It’s a love affair I can’t deny!
The Struggle 2015 Oil and concrete on canvas
Very recently, I received a wonderful gift from another artist who was clearing out her painting storage area. She so generously gave me countless hand stretched linen canvasses on really good stretchers. Such a delight for anyone with a fetish for the quality of art materials like me.
This Painting is Dead 2015 Oil and oil painting fragments on linen
Ancient Slick 2015 excavated oil on linen with rubber paint
I can’t imagine how fabulous this gift of canvases is to you. It is very generous.
Yes, it was incredibly generous and the timing was amazing!
The cost of surfaces has stifled me a bit lately, noodling around with a painting for longer than I should and taking it too far for the preciousness of the surface. This deluge of wonderful canvasses has freed me up no end. I was excited at painting on the history of old paintings because I feel that the viewer subliminally notices that history and it adds a richness to the surface. However, when sanding the paintings in order to re-prime them, I discovered that the paint layers were just peeling off. I’d been criticised on my course for being too literal about the beauty of decay and that the trompe l’oiel effects were aimed at deceiving the viewer and playing a trick on them. I never saw it that way. I felt I was inviting them into a game and a sense of discovery in which they triumphed.
Under the Bridge 2007 Mixed media on canvas
The beauty of this peeling paint is that it’s literally peeling paint, the thing that I adore! I feel rather guilty peeling away at my friend's paintings but she’s generously given them to me to do what I want with them. She’s already painted layer upon layer on them and it feels like archaeology. It’s exciting to see what I’ll discover beneath the layers. I can keep whichever layers I decide on the surface, re-adhere bits I’ve peeled off, and then add my own painting too.
The Passage of Time 2014 Oil on rubber paint on linen
I can imagine this leading you to amazing places.
Yes me too Kim, it’s got me very excited about its possibilities.
Do you know that blank canvas fear? It encourages you to have a fully formed idea before beginning. That’s stifling. I try to react against that by just making a mark but it doesn’t always work. I’ve really learnt at Turps how important it is to serve the painting and not the image or the initial idea. These are just starting points but in this image saturated world it’s the joy of paint and what it can do way beyond the photograph that keeps painting alive.
Work in Progress - Hey Sucker 2015 Oil on board
Yes, I think all artists know blank canvas fear well. I have given up on the first thoughts actually manifesting themselves. So often the mind is a great inhibitor and it becomes important for the spirit to take over.
I love this thought of “how important it is to serve the painting and not the image or the initial idea”!
Yes, me too, Kim! I felt like I already knew it but now I’m really starting to take it on board and it’s made a big difference.
The wonderful thing about doing these painting excavations is that I can completely change not only the upper image, but all of the images that once laid on those canvasses, and respond to what is left behind. It doesn’t start with an intellectual idea; I respond to each in a different way but can enjoy that sublime peeling paint aesthetic and actually use it.
I love anachronisms and enjoy that the viewer might choose to look at the surface and wonder in what order the actions to that surface may have happened.
Danya 2012 Oil on concrete on canvas
I hear you. The painting that challenges the viewer to question on so many levels can be often exceptionally successful. I love that, too.
You can probably tell that I’m very excited about this new development, Kim! Rather than tricking the eye with emulations of peeling paint I’m showing it for real and incorporating it in an intuitive image. This process feels much richer.
Yes, and you should be excited about it! The process is amazing and the results must be stunning.
I’m now fantasizing about going around car boot sales and giving abandoned paintings a new life in the way that a mushroom turns a dead tree into nutrient soil. That sounds a bit pretentious and it’s not meant to be, but that process of decay and it’s symbolism for new life is rather fundamental to what inspires me.
Detail in the Birch 2015 mixed media on concrete on canvas
Well, you have been working on this idea of decay for so very long, so I can understand how and why you are so inspired by it. I think that it has so much to offer and so many challenges that it can continue to change for, well, your lifetime! Seriously!
I really wanted to do an MA, but tuition fees have tripled here recently and it just wasn’t possible. I joined a group called AltMFA, a free peer-led MA on Monday evenings where we’d meet at galleries or in each other’s houses and we’d discuss art theory, do crits, run projects, and put on exhibitions. One of the members is a curator who said that she really liked all the artwork she’d seen of mine but couldn’t really put her finger on what it was I did, as a rule. I’d been so focused on responding to particular places in whatever medium I chose to suit them, I’d lost my voice.
I therefore decided to really focus on my painting. I’m currently engaged with the Turps Painting Programme, founded on the ethos of a wonderful painting magazine called Turps Banana. We share studios with lots of space, receive regular mentoring sessions, crits, and exhibitions, and are very much engaged in dialogues about contemporary painting. I’m finding the course enormously helpful and exciting and have signed up for a second year as I feel I’m right on the verge of really finding my artistic voice. That’s what I love about making art, the constant striving, learning, and discovery.
So do you find it particularly challenging when other parts of life get in the way of your art? If so, how do you balance life during those times?
I do find it frustrating when I have to work for a living and would rather be in the studio. But I am realistic about this, of course. I do art-related jobs which put me in contact with artists, which is wonderful. One of my jobs has been working in an art materials shop, and I’ve learnt more about materials from that than I ever did at art college. I also like the artistic freedom that having other revenue streams allows me. I don’t need to compromise by making ‘bread and butter’ paintings or be overly concerned by what would sell. I’m really thankful for that since it allows me to keep my artistic voice pure and the bravery to make mistakes.
You know you hear of artists “doing what it takes” to feed and house themselves and your idea of how to create this bread and butter makes so much sense compared to “creating what sells”. I think you have been able to choose avenues for your “bread and butter” which make the most sense for your art and for your soul.
I simply love your positive interpretation of this, Kim, but what I meant, and what my parents meant, was much less positive. They thought that if I were to make it as an artist, I’d have to do subsistence work in order to fund making more ‘self-indulgent’ paintings. They were suggesting that I do pet portraits in order to hone my craft and make a living so that I could afford to make paintings that interested me. I didn’t want to dilute my message in that way, even with a pseudonym. I’d rather stay true to myself and always feel happy with what I’m trying to achieve even though a lot of what I make gets reworked. It’s a constant strive for what I’m trying to get to, whatever that is!
Well, I think you staying true to yourself is what is important here. It isn’t easy, but you have found a successful way to make that happen. You are an artist through and through. It is harder for someone looking in to understand this kind of drive. There is nothing you can do about it because it is just there. Your parents worried, as all parents do, but I am sure they are now seeing all of this wonderful good and that you are able to care for yourself in your very own way.
Thank you, Kim!
Push me Pull Me 2015 Oil on handmade curved gesso panel
What materials do you prefer?
I simply adore oil paint. I think that’s what really inspired me to paint in the first place, the sensuality and unctuousness of it. I know it’s not particularly good for you but I love the smell of turpentine. It’s so strongly associated with happiness for me. I also tend to prefer painting on rigid surfaces to canvas.
Above all, though, I like to be very experimental with materials. Perhaps it’s my sculptural side that also brings that material investigation into my paintings. I like to consider what materials evoke and use this to my advantage. For several years now, I’ve had a love affair with concrete. I use concrete and oil paint on canvas in all sorts of configurations. I enjoy the unpredictability of the surface and how it forces me to loosen up, and allows me to leave larger areas of ground showing.
There’s a huge duality in my work between tightly handled oil paintings, and sploshy materials led work. I feel I have strengths in both but what I’m really trying to crack now is pulling the two together in a way that really works for the painting. I’m working on the juxtapositions of materials and images.
Aperture 2015 Oil and concrete on canvas
I also love working with how to merge materials and juxtapositions in art. For me, it is all about pushing the limits and exploring new recipes. Do you push this way with all of your creative endeavors? Including your cooking.
I also love testing materials to their limits. During the residency in Cordoba, I had free run of the ceramics department in a beautiful art school, Dionisio Ortiz. My mentor, Valle, taught me so much about the techniques and materials, and welcomed my experimentation with a material that I didn’t have much experience with. She taught me about paper clay where you mix paper pulp with clay (I used porcelain) which actually increases its strength. I rolled little sausages of this material out to be as long and thin as they could possibly be, then twisted one end into and eyelet. I loved the sound they made when they hit each other once fired. It made me think of wind chimes so I made a big spiky, incredibly delicate ‘necklace’ sculpture to tie around the neck of a female nude sculpture leaning over the empty swimming pool in the school’s grounds. It all just happened very intuitively and came from my interest in pushing materials to their absolute limit. Many of the spikes warped in the kiln and I had to gently unstick them from one another. The necklace sculpture was so vulnerable to the elements and I think rather suited the patina covered nude it adorned.
Tinkle 2013 Porcelain and string on existing sculpture
What a beautiful story! You paint (with your words) a beautiful image. I see this is a part of not only your art but of your soul. In my mind, this is often what is lacking in a lot of art. In a way, I feel it is the same with a great deal of the exhibitions I have come across recently, too. Artists are so concerned about the selling they fail to push the limits of what they know and the materials they use in order to “sell” and so much art and so much life is missed this way.
Thank you so much, Kim! I feel and have really come to recognise that the best artwork I make is the stuff that comes intuitively. It’s like what I was saying about the work being more important than the idea. If you are making a preordained product of an idea, then the joy suffers. If it’s about the process and responding to where it might go and what it might sit with for me. Context is key. It’s all part of the subtle humour that sits in my work. If I have some total idea and then just follow it until the idea is realised within a work then I’ve killed the painting before it’s finished. That’s the danger of pausing too long between paintings. You need to just keep going and the flow created between and within creations is what makes it natural and real.
Fragment 04 2013 Oil on gesso panel
Well now that is an amazing statement and I hope any hopeful artists will read that and know what they need to do. It is huge and true.
Where/How are you inspired?
I grew up in the beautiful New Forest in the south of England. I loved going for walks and enjoying the countryside. I found it difficult to adjust when I first moved to London, going from the rural to the urban. But in time I grew to appreciate the beauty of urban decay. I consider the most beautiful parts of the city, those where nature is attacking it. On the residency in Tokyo, I discovered wabi-sabi: the transient beauty of imperfection. This aesthetic really captures what I’m interested in.
Norman 2015 Oil on board in found frame, selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2015
Yes, the perfection of imperfection is an extremely appealing aesthetic. Do you think this is a part of your translation of experience? Life isn’t perfect, but your art finds that imperfection and makes it perfect! It seems like this is really something quite powerful in what you are expressing in words and paint.
I love the way you put that, Kim! I don’t think I’d ever claim my paintings to be perfect though ;) I love to embrace randomness and happy accidents and try to contrast that against more carefully crafted passages.
Division district 2015 Concrete, compost, and acrylic on canvas
Oh they are absolutely PERFECT Fiona Long paintings! I have no doubt about that!
Oh stop it, Kim! Some of them are getting there. I think that if you ever believe you’re reached perfection, then you can never progress. I used to get very upset at school when my art teacher marked me unfairly low. It drove me to improve my drawing skills when I didn’t know I had further to go. I see it as a constant quest to improve and that excites me. Times when I feel I’m getting there are, of course, encouraging. I feel I’m right on the edge of a breakthrough right now. It’s exciting! I’d love to have done this interview with you when I had it all sussed. Right now, I just know that there’s a big bundle of stuff that inspires me together and as the years and explorations go by it all begins to make more sense.
Refuge 2013 Ceramic and string with shadow
Refuge 2013 Ceramic and string
Shadow of Refuge 2013 Ceramic and string
Well, it is true. For the time and the place and everything that envelopes any particular painting at that very moment, they are perfect Fiona paintings. Even if they are not artistically successful, they have and do serve a purpose for then and now….that, alone, makes them successful for you. Even if they remind you to take it further or pull back, to scrape it down or use it in an entirely different way. They are perfect for the moment. As artists, we always know there is truly no such thing as perfect (or we should know that), but it isn’t always about the visual. Maybe we need to express the feeling differently, but the work serves a purpose. It is perfect Wabi-Sabi style.
Wow! Perfectly put, Kim!
I see embracing decay within an artwork as something of a memento-mori, a great tradition in painting, but instead of painting skulls and dying flowers, I purposely create or paint cracks and other imperfections as, perhaps a symbol of the impermanence of what human beings create against the eternity of the powers of nature. It’s both a beauty and a reminder that I find haunting.
I agree with you! Decay is beautiful! I mean seriously think of the beauty of rust (all of those colors) and peeling paint (layers and layers of life and color) alone. When you begin to add in all of the other beautiful forms of decay and understand how without decay life can’t continue!
Yessss! You’ve hit the nail on the head, Kim! Decay can be exquisitely beautiful, aesthetically and poetically. And it’s not the finality of it that philosophically pleases me, but the possibility of newness that follows it, but only as a result of it. It’s a whole metaphor for creation in a way, even though it may seem like the opposite on first glance.
I recently came to the realisation that sensual love of oil paint also explains what I love to paint. It’s to do with a desire to create paintings that pull the viewer into them, making them feel somehow absorbed into the surface or the scene. I’ve tried to do this in many ways, from trompe l’oiel to actually changing the shape of the painting surface into something that gives the viewer a private experience to explore.
I’ve recently started combining these two elements. I have quite a surreal sense of humour and have been collaging exaggerated nature such as fungi or an octopus or anemone into an urban scene, as though it’s assimilating the city or looming large. I try to balance the design of the composition with the humour, colour, styles of painting, and so on. These paintings simultaneously play with attraction and repulsion, pulling you in to explore and pushing you away through fear. I’m hoping they will have an uncanny sense that makes the viewer feel like they are partly in a dream, partly in a horror film yet compelled to step through the screen and go and explore.
Mr. Fungus leaves the Brothel 2015 Oil on board
Do you explain this to the viewer or just observe to see if it happens naturally? For those of us in the arts this makes all the sense in the world, but to the non-artist (and in the US art ed is not as prevalent across the board as in other parts of the world), this is often not as clear.
I never try to prescribe what the viewer sees. I may have an idea or even a wish as a starting point, but it’s really up to the viewer what they get from it. Playing with a balance like I’ve just described may create all sorts of reactions, including those who simply find it revolting or unappealing! I don’t mind that. I most hope that someone will feel something when they see my paintings, even if that’s a negative reaction. When I first started, I attempted to make paintings that I thought would appeal to everyone. This simply made them banal and whilst they were inoffensive, people rarely fell for them. I was disappointed to see people just walking past them in the first group show I took part in. This was a big lesson. If you try to make paintings that you love or find interesting then rather than everyone thinking they’re ok, someone else will hopefully really love them too. Others will really hate them but that’s a risk worth taking.
I see a lot of academic painting that you need to have done extensive academic art reading to understand. It’s a snobbish in joke. It makes me cross. I think that the best artworks are multi-layered and should be appealing on an almost primal level. A painting is more successful, in my opinion, if it expresses a feeling rather than a thought.
Now that last sentence is one huge message! I completely agree with you. Do you feel that the feeling of the artist and the feeling of the viewer are often different, but that the painting represents something from their individual lives nevertheless? Or do you see this in a different way?
To be honest Kim, I’d love to know. I’m constantly impressed by art tutors who learn to interpret and unpick artworks and can judge intention, pick up on tropes, and so on. They can read a painting effortlessly and the more experienced the painter, the better they are at getting what they want across to those who know how to read a painting. The critique sessions I most enjoy are those where the artist says nothing and hears people really looking at and unpicking what they’ve done. I do learn so much from hearing if what I was thinking during the making comes across or not. But to be honest, when I’ve shown my artworks in public, in all sorts of contexts including crumbling houses about to be demolished, public parks, and along canals, the greatest compliment I see is when someone reaches out and wants to touch it even though they know they probably shouldn’t. I don’t see that as disrespect but fascination - and it makes my day when I see it happen!
I think academics and critics are good at this because it is what they do all the time. Are they always right? I am not sure about that. In a way, it is their impression and it has to relate to their own experiences, too. They have an overall history base to draw from about how someone lives/has lived, political and natural occurrences, etc. There are probably a great number of assumptions happening, yet there are a lot of symbols which were used, historically, in paintings to help them along. We are making that easier on the future by doing things like this. We are telling them what they want to know in real time.
I know that feeling of watching someone want to reach out and touch a painting. It fills me with happiness, too. When I have guests in the studio, I encourage them to go forward with that if they begin the gesture.
How do you know when your piece is done?
This is one of the hardest things I tussle with all the time. I’m often too tied to my source material, feeling that the painting will be finished when I’ve achieved what I set out to do. It’s dawning on me that this is completely the wrong approach to painting, however. I feel that my paintings that are too heavily tied to photographic material are the least interesting to look at. A painting is a painting and shouldn’t try to be anything other than a painting. Paintings can do things that photographs can’t, and I’m trying to gain the courage to let go of worrying about how convincing things look and letting the painting itself take me on a journey. The composition will decide itself as it goes along rather than the source material which then takes all of the decisions out of my hands. If I rely on that source material too heavily then I’m just making a finished piece of work and not delighting in all the decisions that happen along the way when you just paint.
Sometimes a painting just works long before I thought it would be complete and I try to just leave it alone at that point. It’s hard to do. Painting often feels like gambling and you don’t know whether to go all in or actually be braver by sticking. I try to sign it on the back when I feel it’s done as a way of telling myself not to tinker anymore! That said, I exhibited a painting recently but then decided to push it further afterwards! It was one that I’d already felt I’d overworked and was better at its very beginning. It was a real roller coaster, that one!
Shrooms 2015 oil on concrete on canvas
Detail of early stages of Shrooms 2015 oil on concrete on canvas
Am I right, though, to imagine you learned a great deal from that process? If so, then you would probably agree it was successful.
Oh absolutely, Kim! It was a journey well worth taking. It wasn’t my masterpiece but it taught me a lot in order that I’m more likely to create one someday.
Success comes in so many forms, just like wealth!
Success is wealth but not monetarily. Wealth is happiness, happiness is living a life that you love, living a life that you love is following your heart, doing what you need to do, and sharing what you’ve learnt with people that you care about. If that translates to those around you and possibly beyond because they want to share it too, then that is success!
Wears Kenny 2014 Oil on concrete on canvas
I want to thank you for these wonderful insights into your world or art, Fiona. I know I have enjoyed and learned a great deal from our conversation. I hope you will agree to join us again for a follow-up interview in the future.
That’s very kind, Kim, and I’ve enjoyed this conversation tremendously. Thank you! I’d love to come back for a follow-up interview. Hopefully I can share whatever it is that I feel like I’m on the verge of right now!
Fiona’s work can be seen on her website at www.fionalongart.co.uk and at http://womble.tumblr.com/. You can also contact her there. She can also be found at Fiona Long Art on Facebook, @fionalongart on Twitter, as Fiona Long on LinkedIn, and you can see her photo stream on Flickr.
Kim Rodeffer Funk is the Art Editor for Wandering Educators. She notes, "I am an abstract painter and have enjoyed living a creative life for many years. In 2012, I co-founded Atelier 325 with Andrea Hupke de Palacio, and today show my art in Europe and the United States."
You can find her at http://www.kimrodefferfunk.net/
All photos courtesy and copyright Fiona Long