In a particularly pretty seaside town, east of London and just north of where the Dover ferry journeys to France, is Linden Hall Studio. It is here, in a beautifully converted chapel dating back to 1775, where Gallery Director Myles Corley has taken up the mantle for rejuvenating Deal’s contemporary art scene. I discussed the current exhibition PUNCH with him as well as participating artists Olivia Bax and Dominic Beattie.
Olivia, your work tends to stretch from sensible to absurd. Sometimes your sculptures are like formal structures, earnestly determined to make a go of things with their spindly frames and counterweights. Other times they're like clumpy, lumpy, mute and friendly monsters hiding in plain sight. And while there's no direct reference to the body, I do see your objects as little or enormous characters. Do you have an intention when you start out?
(Olivia) “Friendly monsters” – I like that! I always start with an intention but it can be vague. With Monkey Cups for example, the large piece on show downstairs at Linden Hall, I wanted to make a work where the parts could literally fit into one another so that, when assembled, it would have more than one interior. I liked the idea of one large structure carrying smaller structures. I was thinking about how we carry different weights of responsibilities. Making sculpture can feel like a responsibility and there are often practical concerns which come into play. If the parts fit into each other then there’s less of a storage concern!
I was drawing a lot of vessel shapes on paper. When I come to work with steel, I do use my body to manipulate and bend the material. I use the steel as a way of drawing in space rather than working to a plan. The sculpture changed a lot when I started to cover sections. I move with the work at this point and see where it goes.
How does a piece of work become satisfactory for you, ready for the public eye?
(Olivia) When I can live with the work for a bit and see how it feels. If it carries feeling, it’s ready to be shared. Monkey Cups feels solid and heavy in parts and empty and light in others. The contradictions which you asked about – like the sensible to absurd – is like life! I like it when sculpture can encapsulate these different emotions or changing states.
Dominic, at times your pieces appear majestic and sure-footed especially those at JGM, then at other times, like in PUNCH, they look sanded right back so that the patterns break up. They can then be read in a multiple of ways such as nostalgic, fading, fragile, recalling something else and so on and on. How do you arrive at the way the surface is treated? How do you decide it is finished?
(Dominic) The Cascade series I showed at JGM Gallery in 2018 was a very singular body of work, made over a period of about two years. My work is always a compromise between hard edge and handmade. The Cascade paintings were the closest I have got to a truly hard edge style. They were very slow to make and completely planned. Otherwise, surface is not really a consideration in my practice, it’s more a byproduct of how fast I make something or what type of materials I happen to be using at the time. If I plan a work, it’s very obvious when it is finished while looser works just arrive at an ending. Overworking a piece is something you learn not to do pretty early on because it’s incredibly frustrating when it happens.
Dominic, you also make objects. Some are formal like your chairs made in collaboration with Lucia Buceta, while some are more playful like your peculiar objects of cobbled together shapes and decorated jugs which we can also see at Collyer-Bristow's Re-Assemble. Can you talk about these pieces and how they've come about? How are their material attributes sourced and how you see them in conjunction with your wall works?
(Dominic) I like to make furniture to be used in my exhibitions. It fills the room like a sculpture does but can also be functional. My recent sculptures are approximations of ornaments or ceramic vessels and they’re generally made from studio detritus such as wood offcuts, or unsuccessful paintings. Inspired by Clarice Cliff and Troika pottery, I started making them in 2014 as a little side project and then put them away for a couple of years. I call them Ersatz Ceramics because they are dummies of the real thing. Of course, I’d like to make actual ceramics but that requires a whole set of new skills and studio set up, so for expediency and economy I just use what I have and what I know.
Olivia & Dominic, we can assume your works follow a slow and considered process of making with the artists’ hand clearly at play. Yet the outcome is fairly minimal in principle. Can you talk a little about this in the sense that it seems something of a contradiction?
(Olivia) We both have an interest in process. The surface of the material I use often shows marks of the hand during the making. Dom’s paintings which I have the most infinity with are those where the repeated structure has broken down in places. I think we both like the idea of ‘the accident’. I don’t agree that the outcome is minimal. Both of our processes include repetition and/or layering which is explicit. We both want to achieve work with an impact which is why we titled the exhibition PUNCH.
(Dominic) I have only ever made one series of slow works, everything else is pretty rapid. I think in both our practices the handmade is paramount. It’s the only way to get the exact outcome you desire. The idiosyncrasies that come with making by hand are very important for both of us and lend the work a lot of its character. I think our works are maximalist in every way.
Can you describe your selection and placement of work in the context of the way pieces seem to bounce off one another?
(Olivia) Dom and I showed together in a group exhibition at Saatchi Gallery in 2015. We were both happy with how our work interacted considering we both use bright colour. When Myles invited us to exhibit at Linden Hall Studio we spent a day in the gallery looking at the space and discussing ideas. Then we continued a dialogue about the show and the gallery has published snippets from our show-planning-conversations. We were clear from the start that we wanted the downstairs space to show big, bold works and we would explore the idea of domesticity upstairs with smaller pieces, drawings and furniture.
(Dominic) We know each other’s work pretty well now, having exhibited together a number of times. Our email exchange back and forth really helped hone the ideas for the show. It was an interesting way to craft the exhibition because the dialogue was slow and you had thinking time in between answering. We stayed pretty true to our original ideas. Myles trusted us completely and gave us free reign in the space which was a really refreshing experience.
(Myles) The role of a Gallery Director, is not only about selecting a programme of engaging and dynamic shows. It’s also about having complete confidence in the artists as well as the exhibition you’re promoting. Dominic and Olivia create fantastic artworks which I knew would look brilliant within our gallery, I was consequently extremely happy to feature exactly what they wished! The result being a perfectly balanced exhibition, with a range of works and styles which has had a wonderful reception from our audience.
How did PUNCH come about?
(Dominic) I visited Linden Hall Studio to see an exhibition by my friends Mali Morris and Stephen Lewis, it was an excellent show of painting and sculpture and it inspired me to ask Olivia if she might like to do something with me there. I suggested the idea to Myles and he then got to know our work better. It took about two years all in all to happen.
(Myles) As a gallery we are extremely passionate about presenting exciting, contemporary shows featuring the best of British painting and sculpture. Our aim is to give our audience an engaging new experience every month. We’ve been aware of Dominic and Olivia’s work for some time, and we couldn’t be more proud to be showing such a great collection of works by two wonderful artists.
Myles, can you talk more about the gallery and where it’s headed?
(Myles) We started in 2015 in an old Christian chapel from an idea spun on the train home after a day in London visiting independent galleries. It was apparent that there was nowhere in this area, or the nearby vicinity where professional artists could show their work in a serious, and respected gallery environment. This coincided around the time of the development of the Turner Contemporary in Margate. Slowly but surely creatives have moved out of the bigger cities and headed towards the cultural communities of the Kentish coastline. As the gallery grows we are always looking for ways to include as many people as possible who wish to engage with what we are trying to do here in Deal. Consequently, not only do we have an 11 exhibition-a-year programme in a vast range of contemporary media, but we also run masterclasses, film screenings, lecture and workshops, all dedicated to becoming a centre for excellence in the visual arts.
Olivia, your work has recently been seen at Saatchi Gallery, Lily Brooke and now here at Linden Hall, anywhere else coming up?
(Olivia) I’m showing an outdoor piece at Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer this summer which is a project initiated by William Benington Gallery. I have also just been shortlisted for the Mark Tanner Sculpture Prize. It’s quite a privilege to be selected for such a significant and longstanding award alongside artists whose work I really admire.
Dominic, your work has recently been seen at Fold, JGM and now here at Linden Hall, anywhere else coming up?
(Dominic) I’m hoping to have some time out to develop a new body of work for a solo show at JGM Gallery in 2020. The rest of this year will be studio based.