I had the absolute honour this week of interviewing London based artist, CJ Calanday @cjcalanday.
Written in her partner’s kitchen in South London, Calanday and I talked studio routines, candid paintings, mental health, isolation and the one and only Frida Kahlo!
I am obsessed. Her work is so raw, so honest. Her focus on mental health makes the work resonate deeply, while the gorgeous palette range shouts from the screen.
“Each piece communicates a different message, but I think the driving force behind my work is honesty and that is the message I want to share; the ability to be candid about difficult topics like trauma, healing and growth.”
CJ, Tell me about how you came to be where you are now? Were you always going to be an artist?
I think I lucked out with there being artists on both sides of my family, so I’ve been drawing before I could speak. There have been a few instances where I’ve tried to go down a different route in terms of work but ultimately return to art every time.
Where are you answering these questions from?
I’m answering from my partner’s kitchen in South London.
Tell me about your studio CJ? What is it like?
My usual studio is big, with lots of natural light. Because of lockdown, I’ve had to work exclusively at home or wherever I can get some quiet time. Having space where I can give art my undivided attention is very important, but I’m used to being mobile and have grown to like working in spaces surrounded by other people. With my digital art I love working in cafes and libraries - something I’ve definitely missed! With my acrylic paintings, I work best in quieter spaces with plenty of room to make a mess. My artist necessities are definitely my iPad which functions as my sketchbook, computer and canvas.
What do you listen to while you work in your beautiful big studio?
I usually listen to lo-fi hip hop or alternative r&b but recently been enjoying listening to podcasts while I work. Lately I’ve been going through the 'Come Curious’ podcast on Spotify.
I love that! And what does an average working day look like to you?
My day starts with coffee and planning what I’m working on. Lately, I’ve been juggling a few different pieces, so it’s very important that I allocate my time well. I work best in the early mornings and evenings and usually work in long solid chunks, so I make sure to take a break in the late afternoon/early evening. I finish most of my pieces at night but have a rule against doing any work after midnight.
What is the most significant aspect of your art, and how do you define or describe your art?
I think the most significant aspect of my art is being candid; I like to let my emotions do the talking. A lot of my art is focused on mental health, commentary on modern life and social issues, from the perspective of a Filipina, raised in London.
I love that. That's so interesting to hear you say about your background. Tell me a bit about your process, and how each work comes to life?
All my pieces actually start in the notes app of my phone! Whenever I get a sudden burst of inspiration, whether it be colour combos, a concept that I want to explore or something I just want to paint, I make sure to write it down so I can refer back to it later on. Once I’ve settled on an idea I usually start a sketch on my iPad, where I’ll play around until I have a colour palette I want to work with. From there it’s just a matter of laying down the major elements and refining as I go.
"... the driving force behind my work is honesty..."
How do you know when a work is finished?
There’s always a tendency to overwork a piece as I do nitpick my work. I think the only way to really know if it's complete is by reflecting on whether it communicates the message I want it to and whether my composition and colour story is effective.
What do you intend to say with your works?
Each piece communicates a different message, but I think the driving force behind my work is honesty and that is the message I want to share; the ability to be candid about difficult topics like trauma, healing and growth.
Amazing. CJ, tell me, who or what are your biggest influences, and how do you find them?
The artist that has inspired me the most is Frida Kahlo. Her being a woman of colour who celebrated her life through her art, warts and all. In day to day life I’m influenced the most by people I meet and their stories, music and my own experiences.
How do you believe Frida comes out in your work?
I think by using my artwork to celebrate life, not just the beautiful aspects of it but also the difficult, the daunting and the mundane.
Have you had any memorable responses to you work that you can tell us about? And which piece of artwork would you like to be remembered for?
I think the most memorable responses to my artwork have been for my Isolation Series which has allowed me to connect with people struggling with depression and anxiety during the lockdown. Hearing that my work can give even one person a sense of comfort during such an uncertain time is so uplifting. I think this series is definitely one that I would like to be remembered for.
Could you please pick a piece of your work, and tell me a bit about it?
"Pursuit of Joy" from my Isolation Series is one of my favourite pieces I’ve done, but also one of the most difficult in terms of how mentally taxing it was to paint. To open up about my struggle to be happy was a hard thing for me to do. More than anything, the piece serves as a love letter to myself and how hard I’ve been working to seek happiness.
A fun one: If you could be a single colour, what would you be?
I would be orange! It’s a colour that can simultaneously be tranquil and intense.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time, what would the meal be and who would it be with?
Salvador Dali. I’m a massive fan of surrealism and his influence definitely seeps into my work often. I would love to pick his brain!
Your favourite historical female artists?
Definitely Frida Kahlo.
And favourite practising female artists?
My favourite female artists at the moment are @erikaamayo @shona_mcandrew @relmartist @pollynor @sashaagordon @_katiesmith_illustration_
Who should She Curates interview next CJ?
Sasha Gordon (@sashaagordon) or Katie Smith (@_katiesmith_illustration_)!
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thank you so much for speaking to me about my work! I’m so honoured to be part of a celebration of amazing women and their beautiful artwork. Growing up I rarely saw women who looked like myself showcasing their art - thank you for giving me that opportunity.