This is THE ELEVENTH HOUR, a series spotlighting graduating talent across the globe spanning art, design, architecture, engineering and of course, watchmaking. Familiar with the age-old adage? When you’re down to the eleventh hour, it’s all hands on deck, the very last moment before the end is in sight. In this week’s edition, we speak with the Central Saint Martins graduate, Constance Read on the artistry of conjuring emotion.
Whether she’s mono-printing, rug-tufting or painting, the grist of Constance Read’s work is about articulating a mood, be it aggression in one, tranquility in another. For much of her early life, she was one of those children that would never color outside of the lines. Everything had to be incredibly neat, which at first glance, you might find difficult to imagine given the light-hearted fluidity of Read’s shapes. “Screen printing is this weird in between space however,” she notes, between being a painter, totally free with your brush, all the while controlling the flow of liquid on the surface with a tool.
“I like to create a show that is a whole experience,” Reid offers, at odds with defining herself as just an artist, but distinguishing her role as a storyteller and creator too. It’s the mantra that Read lives by, conjuring moods and emotions through her vivid canvases from inside her Norfolk studio, clad in her paint-flecked Dickies dungarees.
At the tail end of summer, Read hosted her second solo exhibition, Sea Fire in Norfolk, England, created to contradict her previous series Mud. “It conveys the aggression and violence of the waves and how fiery the sea can be. When I did my first sketch of this series I used a lot of colored crayons and looked at the drawing and thought that it looked as if the sea was on fire with these orangey red skylines melting into the waves. Mud represents the opposite of this; the calmness of flatness and beauty that the sea can have, the gentle shapes of mudflats you are left with as the tide goes out.”
Each augmentation of Read’s work is rooted in semiotics of emotion, calling on facets of nature and the ever-changing environment. While pursuing a solo expedition since graduating from Central Saints Martins in 2019, Read now joins the esteemed Royal College of Art in London. Here, we caught up with the artist to discuss the unpredictability of time and the importance of collaboration.
The Next Hour: How are you? Congratulations on starting your MA at the Royal College of Art. What prompted you to continue your studies further?
Constance Read: Amazing, this morning. Used to have my morning red bull but just drank this weird banana mango thing instead and its not so bad. Feeling good in the morning means I will have a productive day. THANK YOU. I only started last week, so I can’t say much about it yet…I am sad though as it seems to be heavily zoom based which I think for a creative student is just impossible. Experimenting with ideas cannot be scheduled and planned in such a way that slots into this digital WFH world. I guess I wanted to go because I have now been working solo as an artist for 3 years since I graduated. Sometimes you make your best or most interesting work when you have that competitive element of being surrounded by other people doing the same as you. Sometimes its not about that at all and being in an institution like that just pushes you to think of things you may not come up with on your own. Its weird because I do actually really enjoy being alone to work, there’s nothing I hate more than group work. I HATE it, but I need to adapt because collaborations can be amazing.
TNH: Let’s get things started. Can you remember when you first got your footing in the creative world? Was becoming an artist something you always saw yourself doing?
CR: You know what I used to love was baking cakes and cookies, and making them look pretty. When I was younger I was such a perfectionist and control freak, of course everything I made then had to be incredibly neat. One of those children that would NEVER color outside of the lines. My granny is where I get that from as she does a lot of art as well and its all incredibly amazingly detailed fine art work on a small scale. I always enjoyed it but never thought I would be an artist. My life goals were a little more random back then. The thought of owning a chain of hotels which had conveyor belts underground to my home where my mum would cook the food enamoured me more. Also winning Wimbledon I always thought was going to be up there; not quite sure where that aspiration came from considering I am really very shit at tennis. I did, rather embarrassingly enter a competition when I was 12 to try and get my work into the Tate Modern. Which somehow worked, so really I hit my peak back then and its only been downhill since. Aside from all that, yes, I have always loved making things, and my teachers have been amazing. When I was 17, my teacher Mr Bradbury was the one that really gave me an insight into a different sort of way of looking at art and graphic design.
TNH: How would you describe your experience as an undergraduate at Central Saint Martins? How did this shape your vision as an artist today?
CR: I think CSM is an amazing space. The actual feel of the building and how everyone is together in one place. It’s enormous and I don’t think I have really seen an art institution that compares. For me, it was perfect. As I said earlier, I like getting on with things on my own. I don’t like too much interference and am happy to not check in for a few weeks. If you’re someone that needs direction and more help and guidance, then its not the place for you. But they pretty much let me do what I wanted, and even though my course was ‘Graphic Design’ my practice definitely didn’t reflect this as I took a more fine art approach. The main thing that I realised from being at CSM, is that an art title doesn’t define what you can create. It opened up my mind to seeing thousands of creative possibilities of what art is, physically and conceptually.
TNH: One facet of your work is the idea that its visual presence is beautiful enough without the viewer’s search for hidden meaning. How did you come to foster this mindset and why is it important to you?
CR: I think for me, I enjoy creating artwork that I can perceive as attractive myself. It’s probably a lot harder to create something that you don’t actually like looking at. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I would like to stand and stare at my own work all day, because trust me, after having to look at it for the whole process of creation, I am done! I like it to convey a mood, and whether thats aggression in one series or maybe tranquility and peacefulness in another, I think that can be taken however the viewer would like to perceive it. I guess with lots of modern, contemporary art; yes, the artist has a starting point, a process, a way that they have achieved the end piece. However, it is left to be interpreted by the viewer in whatever way that may be. The message may not always be hidden, but also not intended to be so black and white. If I can create something that brings a feeling such as pleasure or happiness when it is viewed then I would like to think that is my own way of conveying a message.
TNH: How would you describe your role as an artist: are you a curator? A storyteller? A documentarian? An entertainer?
CR: I like creating a show that’s a whole experience, not just the art on the walls, but looking at all elements of a space and what you can do with it. Right now, I think that my role is to create a fun, light-hearted space that’s exciting to be in. I guess a lot of the time I am documenting the natural world in an abstract sense as well.
TNH: Your work has a real kinetic energy behind it. What piqued your interest in silkscreen printing and rug tufting?
CR: Thank you! I think often the fact that my process involves looking at nature and the ever changing environment I hope to capture this with a lot of energy. I learnt to print 4 years ago when I moved to New York, really it was this teacher, Andrew Castrucci, who made me totally obsessed with it. Screen printing is this weird in-between balance between being a painter, totally free with your brush, and also having a bit of control. Sometimes you know what you’re printing and how its going to look, and sometimes with my mono-prints you have far less control and you can be very experimental. I like to do both. Andrew showed me the raw side that printing can have, using a lot of hand cut stencils and drawing and painting straight onto vellums instead of using photoshop. The rug tufting took hold a lot later. I started that last year as I thought a lot of my work would translate well. I have always loved how print and textiles can work together, but being completely self taught with the tufting gun it is definitely taking me a lot longer to get to the point at which I feel the works are ready to be seen. I think that the relationship is really interesting between the initial inspiration of the environment and then being able to walk on the art too.
TNH: Let’s talk about your recent collaboration with Size x Nike’s Huarache trainer, drawing inspiration from the color panels on the shoe.
CR: So I finished that collaboration a few weeks ago, it was exciting to be working with them and very fast paced. I tried to abstract the design of the trainer by loosely sketching the different shapes of the panels out, and then using the colors within the shoe on the prints. The end result was a mini series of 3, which actually do create a zoomed in part of the whole trainers when put together. They come together like a giant puzzle almost. Theres subtle hints of texture in the prints as well, such as the dotted sole of the trainer featuring in cut out windows. It was fun to do, but also I guess transient creating artwork which is used for such a brief period of time.
TNH: I’m intrigued to understand your creative process and how you bring your prints to life. Where do you look to for inspiration?
CR: Lately my inspiration lays within shapes and moods of my natural surroundings. I start off normally just sketching really roughly shapes and normally bring everything together on the computer to test colours and see how something might come together. Often my work is so simple that the choice of colour is really important and the wrong decision can change the entire mood.
TNH: The Eleventh Hour notionally references the final moments where everything comes together. Is there an element of this spontaneous feeling that plays a role in your creative process?
CR: Definitely. This is something I commonly experience in my work. Especially with mono-printing, which is the technique I used to create ‘Seafire’. This technique is not like any other screen printing method, where you prepare the screen and know what your output is roughly going to look like. This all lies in the very last moment, where the paper is blank, and your design is painted directly onto the screen. You have to work incredibly fast because the ink dries really quickly, which is why its good to have a rough plan of what you are trying to create and select your colors ready. These final moments are your last chance to experiment and let your brush do what it wants. With one final swipe across the screen, you are left with your finished piece, and it can never be created again. The outcome is unplanned and this can leave you sometimes with something you feel has really worked and sometimes a disaster!
TNH: Who would you say is one of the most influential icons of our time that has impacted your work?
CR: I generally don’t like to take inspiration from any artists that do similar work to me. I think it’s best to be influenced by people in completely different fields to you to get the best ideas. I like looking at photographers, the colors in food, botanical gardens, nature, architecture, not necessarily one person. I could be inspired by the colors in a Charlotte Knowles collection, the shapes in a Franz Kline painting. But, having said that, to contradict my first statement in way (because he was a silkscreen printer), AND be the most cliche person ever; Andy Warhol is by far the most influential person for me. Especially after the Tate exhibited his work last year and I could the scale and colour of loads of it I had only ever seen digitally.
TNH: What’s your life mantra?
CR: More is ALWAYS more.
TNH: Can you name a moment when you’ve felt proud of your work?
CR: I feel proud of my work when I have finished a collection and see it hanging and everything has come together, its a weird feeling of proudness but also embarrassment.
TNH: Finally, if you could travel anywhere in time, where and when would you choose?
CR: There’s no way in hell I would go into the future. That is way too scary. I think I would definitely choose to go back to when my parents were teenagers, around the ’80s. I know thats boring because it wasn’t that long ago but I want to know how similar their life was to mine, I want to see the styles for myself, and experience the world without smart phones and laptops. I feel as though nowadays we are literally the least cool generation there has ever been. I look back at the magazines, the music, the photographs of the parties and even the art that was created around then and it has this feeling of authenticity and we don’t seem to possess as much anymore. It’s probably just how addicted to our phones we are, meaning that everything is curated, documented, but also much more transient as styles and tastes change at such high speed, largely dependant on the digital world.