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Here she discusses her practice and influences with Century’s curator, Leo Babsky.
I feel like your pieces work because they are in the medium of painting and it’s historical pedigree I.e the inherent ridiculousness of painting a poodle or a cheap trinket in oil paint you know? It wouldn’t really work as well with a medium such as Photography.
Would you agree with that sentiment and what painters historical or contemporary influence or have influenced you?
I agree there is a play on high and low culture, and painting feels like a pretty stupid thing to be doing in the age of technology, but I have always loved looking at paintings. Even before I knew anything about art, I liked working out how they were made, what went down first and I found the white highlights, in say Frans Hals, inexplicably exciting. Drawing feels important and I was lucky to be taught by Emma Talbot and Clem Crosby at Central St Martins.
I appreciate loose brushwork and an economy of means in painting and my go-to is Manet. I like the work of a lot of contemporary female painters, particularly Rose Wylie. Her attitude and energy is powerful and linked to her own memories and the everyday stuff around her. George Shaw’s council estates were an influence too because that was the first time I saw paintings that resonated with my own life.
This is maybe covered in the first question but how do you view your work in the cannon of kitsch art throughout history, i.e Fragonard / do you see your practice as part of that oeuvre?
I don’t set out to make a kitsch painting (then again Fragonard probably didn’t), but I do realise that some of the objects I paint are kitsch. I like the idea that kitsch can be deliberately antagonistic, and mess up ‘good taste’.
It feels inappropriate within the ‘high art’ of painting, but I don’t think it’s iconoclastic properties work any more. Last year, Louis Vuitton collaborated with Jeff Koons and his hand-painted reproductions of popular Old Masters, including Fragonard, featured on handbags, which has to be the ultimate acceptable face of kitsch. Fragonard’s A Boy as Pierrot at the Wallace Collection is one of my favourite paintings, and I love it’s lush, over-the-top excess – it’s too much. The objects I paint come from a place of love rather than irony or entertainment.
I find your works really hilarious (in a good way) and they always make me giggle a bit when I see them. In the wrong hands they could be overly sentimental - is that a conscious choice?
Oh good, some paintings definitely make me laugh too. I have returned to painting the cat ornaments many times. They remind me of my grandmother. It’s like magic when an object can open up a world of memory and I like those attachments to the unseen essence of things. Being too sentimental risks the fear of being banal and corny, but it can also be an affectionate, tender thing. We know that sentimentality is taboo in serious art, so perhaps that’s why we find the audacity of toying with it amusing.
You have a series of works based on what I would term ‘Argos Jewellery’ - that very cheap gold jewellery or trinkets that a lot of the kids at my school would wear. What I like about these works is the ‘cheap’ or low- brow subject matter but done in a way but resists any kind of value judgement or class based judgement. Is that something that is important to you?
I spotted a ‘DAD’ ring in a pawnshop and thought it was incredibly sad; what was the story? It provoked a series of jewellery paintings. Growing up, jewellery was a thing and men wore black onyx signet rings and ID bracelets. My belcher chain was a prize possession and I aspired to own a charm bracelet and a Claddah ring. Like tattoos, wearing gold on your body, decorating yourself, displaying how much you’re worth is interesting, and ancient. I am a bit obsessed with the subject of class because I have experienced the anxiety and loss that accompanies social mobility. I am aware that cultural tourism offers some people a fun aesthetic at the expense of others. I don’t believe the myth that we’re all middle class now, and cultural tourism just adds to the camouflage. Working class culture is ignored, ridiculed or forgotten so, yes, it feels important to remember and reveal something from my own experience, but I want to do that lightly.
Is it interesting / amusing to you how your style and interests have now become high fashion so say House of Hackney or Gucci are doing this really over the top, kitsch thing and elevating ‘bad taste’ to desirability.
Your work is suddenly very in fashion even though you have been making this works for a long time.
That’s funny. I guess fashion is always playing with notions of identity. Designers probably love to exploit kitsch’s shady past and flirt with the boundaries of ugly/beautiful. I love those contradictions but I am not commercially driven in the same way. I find subjects that keep me interested so there is usually a personal connection, but what I am basically concerned with is making a painting.
Apart from making your own art you are one of the Directors of the artist run space Transition Gallery.
You’ve just moved into a new space - can you tell us a bit about the history of Transition and the new space you have moved into.
Transition Two has moved back to Lauriston Road, E9, near Victoria Park, where it began 16 years ago with Cathy Lomax and Alex Michon. We have an exciting programme pairing artists in collaboration or opposition and anything in between. We hope to bring about some unexpected relationships.
You can find us at www.transitiongallery.co.uk
Lastly, what are you working on at the moment / any new projects / exhibitions coming up?
I am currently making watercolour paintings of paper dolls and dresses for Arty magazine based on the Dynasty television characters, Krystle and Alexis, and drawings by the Dynasty costume designer, Nolan Miller. They feed into ideas of desire, aspiration and glamour, and the fact that I was a huge fan in the 1980s. I am also making a series of oil paintings based on scaled-up, in-your-face charms, the type you might find on that bracelet I never had.
You can see more of Alli’s work at : www.allisharma.com
You can follow Leo on Instagram at : @lbcuratorial