I think I am drawn to the aesthetic of the amateur. The word amateur comes from the Latin for ‘love’ and breaks against the tradition of the ‘Master’ - someone who is good at one particular thing. So I suppose my work could be seen as about pleasure in all of its varied forms.
You are currently doing a practice based PhD and recently went to the British School in Athens for a residency. Please tell me about this opportunity and what came out of it for you as an artist.
It was lovely to have three months in Athens. I found it hot, chaotic, beautiful and by turns wonderful and awful! I really loved the site of the Ancient Agora, which had tortoises, swallows, Hoopoes and Swallowtail butterflies in it. The museum had everyday objects such as pinecones alongside dice, clay shoes from a child’s tomb, coins and lamps.
I worked at a hotel that had become a hostel for refugees and that was a really fantastic and enriching experience where I took photos of the objects that belonged to people in the hostel. Many people had brought bags of soil from their home countries, which I found an unexpected and touching act.
Talking of soil, I decided to make pigments from the earth, plants and rock of Athens. The city’s history is impossible to ignore and I wanted it to be a physical part of the paintings I made.
The watercolours take their glittering, translucent appearance from a small rock I found in the Ancient Agora. A jeweller in the Plaka area of Athens, skilled in the art of Lapis Lazuli carving, ground it down for me which I then added it to Gum Arabic (a binder agent for watercolours).
BSA is almost the birthplace for modern Archaeology. In your work, you also look at historic and pioneering women - like Annie Atkins’ botanical photography. How can we see these influences in your work?
Archaeology has a lot of parallels with artistic research and I loved listening to the Archaeological lectures. The BSA library had a huge range of beautiful books with images of jewellery, maps and the Flora and Fauna of the Ancient Agora for example. The Archeological Museum in Athens is wonderful and has a huge and fascinating collection holding items such as the soles of a mummy’s shoes, gold leaf death masks and tablets from the Palace at Knossos.
Anna Atkins was an amazing woman: she wrote novels as well as introducing the cyanotype process to the public in around 1843. There was a ten-year craze for women and children to make cyanotypes and this seems to be happening again in 2017.
I have recently made a piece of work for the New Hall Art Collection at Cambridge University based on my grandmother. I re-tell her story using a painting of a specimen from her herbarium and the cyanotype process.
Part of your research in Athens was a personal retracing of your mother’s journey there during the 1980’s. Could you please tell me that story and what became of your findings?
My mother had five children but was a very absent mother. I later came to understand that she was a figure who acted on whims and did exactly as she pleased. In Athens she wandered around the city and was in her own world, supplemented by the sites around her.
My research at the BSA focused on the objects of Athens whilst retracing my mother's footsteps in Athens, according to her letters; making drawings and paintings and three-dimensional objects that respond to the leftover human traces I find in these areas.
She sent me letters and drawings detailing her walks around Athens: the wild Angelica she saw growing at the Acropolis, the cuckoo she heard in the park the day she got stung by a wasp. The smell of urine at the Philopappos Monument and the blue of the Lapis Lazuli in a jeweler near Syntagma Square, the day she fainted in the supermarket. This personal narrative helped anchor my trip to this physically unfamiliar city.
Tell me a little about your exhibition at Century and what your thoughts are about the work that you will be showing there.
It will be really interesting seeing the work in a non-gallery context. Visually I think the club will be a lovely venue to exhibit my work; it has sumptuous blue/ green walls with low lighting and the sparkly mica pigments will look quite magical on the walls I think.
I always wanted to be a member of The Drones Club when I read P.G. Wodehouse and in du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, Rebecca is described as dining in her hairpins at her club - so I have this very romantic notion of members clubs and am enjoying this experience of being part of that.
What are your next projects and where will we be able to see more of your work?
I have a solo next year at The Minories in Colchester. I’m excited about that because the gallery is in a beautiful Georgian house. The show is called Agoraphobia and will have a range of large-scale papier-mâché sculptures, watercolour paintings and porcelain objects. It will tell stories about my family and weave these with my love of nature.
Annabel Dover has shown her work nationally and internationally. She is a Critical and Historical Studies Lecturer at the Royal College of Art and has work in the collections of University of the Arts. London and Imperial War Museum.
Maria Stenfors has more than 20 years of experience from the art world. She worked at several galleries in Stockholm and London, as well as an independent art advisor, prior to running her own eponymous contemporary art gallery in King’s Cross between 2010 and 2016. Passionate about ‘space and material’ she is an independent consultant alongside working in a gallery.