From warehouse parties to family roots, Goldsmiths graduate Josephine Wood has a varied association with Hackney Wick. Here, she talks about her work and the benefits and shortcomings of being based in one of London’s most established artist communities.
In 2006, a friend asked me if I’d share a studio with her in Hackney Wick; I’ve worked in the area ever since. I have family in Hackney, so there was an existing connection.
I used to go to warehouse parties in Hackney Wick. The area was different then [in the late’80s and ’90s], a kind of wasteland, with lots of empty, defunct buildings. I went to one party in what appeared to be an abandoned sweat-shop/factory by the canal. There were lots of iron bars attached to the walls by long leads and massive industrial iron boards fixed to the floor, spread across the space. People were literally dancing around the iron boards, really getting into the music, which was quite comical.
It is hard to define a relationship between Hackney and artists. There is a large and strong artist community, which of course is great if you are an artist. Parts of Hackney are loud and vivid which is rousing but at times it can feel like a hellhole, too. But whatever your mindset, Hackney is conducive to making art work.
I am interested in hedonism and excess in all its forms – what this lifestyle does to people, physically and mentally, how people become detached from normal society, and how they age once the party is over. Some of this is from my ow history, but it’s also what I observe in others. I am interested in when the celebration degenerates into some kind of nightmare and how to depict this in painting.
My ideas for performance and painting are different. I don’t generally force ideas for performances, so they can be sporadic, and I like it that way whereas painting is an ongoing practice. My performances are quite physical, not in a naked flesh way but in terms of movement and actions taking place. I did combine the two, once, and performed a live painting, which included sound and dialogue and culminated in hysteria – a kind of homage to action painting!
I mainly work with photographs from the internet. I collect low-res imagery such as amateur photography and porn. Again, I am interested in the excesses of digitised culture and the affect this has on us, now that everything is instantly accessible and people brand themselves left , right and centre. It has changed how we communicate, how we recognise ourselves and perceive others.
It seems nothing can be added to or taken away from the history of painting. Then again, I question why I would not paint the figure, as people are an endless source of fascination. Before I started drawing and painting, I spent years making videos and digital images. I reached a dead end with this work and in a sense I wanted to get back to basics. You can’t get more basic than painting the nude.
I’d like to think that the viewer would be engaged with my paintings. Beyond this I am not really sure what I expect. I suppose the challenge for me is to make work that is not purely decorative, or refers only to painting, but stirs something in the viewer beyond the surface value.
I like a lot of different contemporary artists for different reasons. I recently discovered the artist An Gee Chan. Her paintings are reminiscent of children’s book illustrations. Her characters are surreal with multiple eyes and no faces, and are painted from unusual viewpoints, such as the back of their heads. I like her work for its simplicity and innocence. I also like Dan Coomb’s paintings for their strange kitsch/psychedelic aesthetic and the ambiguity of the figures in their dream-like worlds.