Interview: Nettie Wakefield & Nichole Fitch
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 1, Scene 1)
Slaughterhouse recently spoke with the pair regarding PAINTED BLIND, opening today at the Soho Revue in London, the challenges of creating art in the summer months, how a series comes to fruition, and more.
I saw in the bio on your website that you went to Chelsea College of Art, Leeds University, and Wimbledon College of Art, earning a Bachelor’s in Art History and a Master’s in Drawing. So, it certainly seems there has never been, at least in your adult life, a whole lot of tiptoeing around your passion for art. Can you talk a little bit about your background before that? What I’m particularly curious about is when you started drawing, and the steps from art as “hobby” to art as a career (if there were any.)
[Nettie Wakefield] I don’t remember when exactly but I would draw all the time as a child, mostly mermaids on the walls which displeased my mother immensely. Drawing has been something I’ve done since I was a little girl. I knew when I left school that I wanted to go to art school, so I applied to Chelsea College of Art. However, when I got there, it wasn’t what I expected and I felt as though I didn’t fit in. So, I dropped out and went to study Art History at Leeds University instead. I thought there must be something I didn’t get at art foundation, and so I went to figure that out. I’m not sure I ever did. When I graduated, after hardly picking up a pencil at Uni, I felt sad about being so disconnected from something I used to get such pleasure from. I applied to an MA at Wimbledon in drawing and graduated a few years ago. To go back and do an MA was the best decision I ever made.
[c.l.] It seems your most recognized pieces are the “Reversed Portraits”, which are a particular favorite of mine. What started that? Did you intend for it to be a series?
[n.w.] My ethos behind this series is about mystery, intrigue and about challenging the assumptions and preconceived ideas of the viewer, what we project onto that head. Can you really be sure that one of the feminine looking ones with a ponytail or plait isn’t a man? While giving a little hint of identity with a scarf or an earring, we make a judgment based on that information. It began when I was doing my Masters degree and I was under a lot of pressure to come up with a project. I was sitting in a lecture, half listening, when I started to draw the girl in front of me. She had a really intricate hairstyle and I couldn't see her face. I realised that the mystery of that made it really interesting. I tend to veer towards working in a series. In fact, looking back, I’ve always done every idea in a series.
[c.l.] Can you tell me a little about your upcoming show, “Painted Blind”?
[n.w.] I'm doing this exhibition with [Nichole Fitch], who I’ve known for years. She had said she was interested in doing something around mythology based on a series of dreams she had and I had been re-reading old mythology books and feeling like I wanted to return to those and more inward into my imagination. With fake news and the advent of a ‘post-truth’ society, the boundaries between fact and fiction become ever more blurred and elusive. In light of the increasing ambiguity around truth and reality, I began finding myself drawn to fairytales, fantasy and mythology, and the possibility of bringing to life artistic “proof” that the fantastical beasts they describe were actually real living creatures. The work, I think, demonstrates an interest in modern science and anatomy. The result is an eerie reflection of what happens when cold, detached scientific observation meets the rich living world of myth and fantasy.
[c.l.] What was the biggest challenge about creating pieces for this show?
[n.w.] The British summer! Trying not to sweat all over my drawings. Apart from that I actually really enjoyed creating these four pieces. At times, however it is labour! I had to wrap surgical tape around my fingers to avoid calluses.
[c.l.] That sounds painful! But impressively committed. Have you ever created anything that surprised you? Anything out of the norm from your usual repertoire?
[n.w.] At the moment I'm making some prints with Jealous Gallery for the next Art Car Boot in Margate and I'm learning all about silk screening which is fascinating.
[c.l.] What medium would you work with if you could never use pencil again?
[n.w.] There is no hiding with pencil. It’s where so many artists have started; the source of the stream. It’s perfect for me because I’m far more interested in tonality than colour. It also adds to the mystery of the piece. Most people associate it with the beginning of something, a plan. I prefer to use it as my main medium: the end product. I feel it is able to capture both simplicity and the provocative depth of the subject. Having said that I did make a life size blow up doll made out of polished bronze for a show in LA last year, which was a huge departure ...Always come back to drawing though.
[c.l.] What (living) artist(s) would you like to collaborate with? Any dead ones?
[n.w.] I really like Jessica Albarn, she combines strict geometric drawings with soft butterflies. I love the Chapman Brothers, especially their exquisite corpse drawings and Hell sculpture. I can’t see there being much correlation between me and the Chapman Bros., but I love them nonetheless. In the dead category, I love [Edgar] Degas’s dancers and the realists, [Gustave] Courbet and [Jean-Francois] Millet. More than anything, I would love to get inside the head of Hieronymus Bosch!
[Cassandra Litten] Can you talk a little bit about your background as an artist?
[Nichole Fitch] My interest in painting started when I was immensely praised over a drawing of a bat eating a pomegranate. I was about 7 or 8. I’m dyslexic, and school was hard for me, so any praise I got was always heartwarming.
[c.l.] How do you describe “Painted Blind”? Did you curate a certain, particular style for this show?
[n.f.] "Painted Blind" was an excerpt from A Midsummers night dream ‘love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind’. [Nettie and I] both agreed this poem felt very fitting for our recent works. The title came after the artwork, when I got tastefully tipsy and decided to recite Helena’s lines.
[c.l.] What do you find most compelling about painting portraits?
[n.f.] Portraits are great because you can easily connect with the work. You can see it as yourself, and in my case, people can get an idea of who I am or what I am thinking. Or what I want you to think I’m thinking!
[c.l.] I know inspiration can come from the strangest of places. What’s something that inspires you, has inspired you, or continually to inspire you, that either surprised you or might surprise others?
[n.f.] Recently my inspiration comes mainly from my garden. I find a lot of joy in grounding myself, planting plants and watching them grow. I love the idea that I decide where the flowers go, but I don’t decide how they blossom. That’s up to the fairies. There’s something so lovely in that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
All photos courtesy of Nettie Wakefield and Nichole Fitch.