SO EXCITED to announce this interview with Bex Massey @masseybex
“The main themes that run through my work are The 90’s, The North, colour, cartoons, satire and feminism. I would say that the former five mediate the manner in which I discuss the latter as they are all quite jovial.
I think levity is a great distraction tactic when discussing difficult topics: Who wants to opt into the misconception of ‘angry feminist’ entrenched in our psyche since the 60’s when you can dress up a potentially divisive discussion so that everyone can interact with it rather than just those with a similar agenda to you?"
Quick one, bex what 3 words would you use to describe your artwork?
90’s Pop Feminist
Tell me about your artist story. How were you trained? Tell me about your journey to where you are now?
I wouldn’t say that I was ever ‘trained’. I love the painting myth of yore-where everyone has to repaint an Old Master until they’ve nailed it. I very much wish I had been schooled in this fashion (but I couldn’t have enjoyed teaching myself more). Instead, it’s a less romantic picture of a Northerner moving to London to study art 15 years ago and not leaving. So, I now have a BA FA from the Cass and a MA FA from Chelsea and no Geordie accent to speak of.
What memorable responses have you had to your work? And which artwork would you like people to remember you for?
Two really memorable responses were when one of my good friends burst into tears on viewing ‘Seasonal Sculpture 2’. Likewise, at an open studio last year a member of the public was convinced that ‘Original Gyal Dem’ were screen prints and that I couldn’t possibly have painted them as they were too realistic. Both were needless to say huge surprises and all kinds of lovely.
I haven’t made the artwork that I would like to be remembered for yet...expect a DM when I do!!
What are you working on now and what would be your dream project?
I am working on a proposal for a solo show and finishing a painting. Both centre on the beginnings of misogyny in Ancient Greek myth and how this entrenched stigma has impacted on the present. The solo show is a site-specific installation based on Hesiod-the author of ‘Works and days’ and ‘Theogony’ aka the Medusa and Pandora myths. The painting is based on the societal bias towards ‘beauty’ which leads to daily objectification and subjugation of women worldwide. In this work however, I am also trying to demonstrate the complex intersectionality which means that certain topics a la ‘The Beauty myth’ don’t have the same impact universally. Although there seems to be more of a push for equal voices in the current feminist movement it is unfortunately not always the case. It is therefore important to continue to discuss these imbalances to ensure that feminism is truly pushing for equality for everyone and not just white, cis, straight, able bodied, middle class, women.
A dream project would be a site-specific installation at the Baltic Gallery, Gateshead. I have watched it develop from a disused Mill, into an Anish Kapoor installation and now the contemporary gallery it is today. It would be a very proud moment to have a solo show at home in such a prestigious site.
What is your studio like? Where do you like to create best? What are your artist necessities? What could you not live without? What do you listen to while you work?
My studio is a beautiful, natural light filled haven in the Bow Arts, Bow road site. It’s very peaceful as the court yard hijacks the noise from the main road. It doesn’t have internet-which was initially tricksy-but these days I enjoy the mix of a morning at home doing writing and research and then a full afternoon in the studio of unadulterated painting.
I think I create best there, alone, with headphones in, funnelling words into my ears. Some stand out favourites to listen to whilst painting are Julia Gillard’s ‘A podcast of one's own’, 'The Guilty Feminist’ podcast and just ALL of BBC Sounds dramas. Crime dramas are my go-to. I must have listened to the Miss Marple and Poirot repeats about a thousand times, but I could do a thousand more.
I am not sure if I have any necessities apart from the obvious pencil, paper, canvas, primer and paint? If we had chatted prior to Covid 19 I would have said the London art gallery circuit, but during lock down I survived ok without an ‘art fix’. I am looking forward to seeing ‘Radical Figures’ at the Whitechapel and Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Curve debut at the Barbican this weekend though.
Apart from painting and drawing I couldn’t live without Marmite, strong women, the hope of change, History books, comedy, Victoria Wood reruns, Acorn Antiques and Dinner Ladies DVD’s, Agatha Christie, shell suits, 90’s nostalgia and music, Chopin, Allegri Miserere, Zadok the Priest, theatre, fruit, fizzy water, laughing, friends and family.
What does an average working day look like to you?
Get up early, research/write in the morning from home with internet. Wave internet good bye and head to studio circa 10-11am. A couple of hours of sketching, working things out and testing bits, quick lunch and at least seven hours of painting.
Who or what are your biggest influences, and how do you find them? How do these come out in your work?
The comedy triad Victoria Wood, Jennifer Saunders and Meera Syal. I found them in the 90’s. They were a beacon of light as they questioned the status quo and discussed none ‘mainstream’ topics. They informed my artistic voice and the satirical approach I adopt in discussing my subject matter.
What do you want your work to say? What are the main themes and motifs running through your work? Is there a narrative that runs throughout?
The main themes that run through my work are The 90’s, The North, colour, cartoons, satire and feminism. I would say that the former five mediate the manner in which I discuss the latter as they are all quite jovial. I think levity is a great distraction tactic when discussing difficult topics: Who wants to opt into the misconception of ‘angry feminist’ entrenched in our psyche since the 60’s when you can dress up a potentially divisive discussion so that everyone can interact with it rather than just those with a similar agenda to you? These funny, nostalgic and identifiable motifs enable equality to be discussed away from the structured and often complicated term ‘feminism’. Climate change aside, no message seems more pertinent to mediate. The world is in a real pickle and we need positive change NOW.
I spend a lot of time creating a narrative in my work and the larger dialogue of feminism which runs throughout my portfolio. I am a strong believer that art should be for everyone so I am not expecting or wanting viewers to get exactly what I am trying to say though. I am more interested in the narratives that people create via the coupling of imagery I make facsimile. If they then want to read a bio, artist statement, title or gallery blurb which touch on the feminist issues contained within the canvas–then that’s a double win.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I am the biggest Shakespeare fan: Like I’ve read all the plays, own all the texts and (used to pre COVID 19) attended the RSC/National Theatre performances kind of ‘biggest fan’.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given and what advice would you give?
‘Just keep keeping on’.
‘Trust yourself’-I don’t mean this in an arrogant or gross way though...just when you get thrown a curveball.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time, what would the meal be and who would it be with?
I am trying to be a vegetarian at the moment so this will read as doubly odd: I would sit on a bench on the river bank in the East Riding and have a Bacon and egg pie (my grans recipe) with David Hockney. With all the selection the afterlife has to offer you would think I would have been more imaginative-but David Hockney is my hero. He was why I started painting.
What is your greatest indulgence in life other than creating?
I buy a lot of books.
Working on SHELF was a real eye opener of how time-consuming platforms like this are to create and maintain and I split all the work down the middle with Sarah Roberts. I absolutely couldn’t have done it without her so I think you just keep on keeping on: It’s very necessary and really great!! Saying that-if you did ever want to curate a group show featuring some of the artists you’ve interviewed, I would be well up for that.
Favourite historical female artist?
Favourite current practicing female artists?
Heather Phillipson, Tai Shani, Sol Calero, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Lucia Hierro, Jordan Casteel, Julie Tuyet Curtiss, Chloe Wise, Marta Galindo Mickalene Thomas., Tanya Moulson, Sarah Roberts, Cherelle Sappleton, Katelyn Ledford, Kilee Price, Cherelle Sappleton, Joy Labinjo, Francesca Facciola, Lucia Love, Hannah Antalek, Lizzy Lunday, Sun Woo, Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, Ella Walker and Julia Garcia.
Is there anything else you wanted to say?
Thanks for having me and hope everyone reading this out there in virtual land is doing ok and staying safe xx