Interview with Celia Hempton – Lorcan O’Neill
NERO is pleased to present an interview with artist Celia Hempton about her current first solo exhibition in Italy at the Lorcan O’Neill gallery.
Celia Hempton is a London-based artist, currently making paintings in various scales and media, and without one painterly approach. Many small works depict the intimate body parts of friends, or of strangers sourced on the internet in video chat rooms. In her first solo show in Italy at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill Rome, brightly coloured nudes made in situ are hung on large abstract wall paintings that bring to mind both architectural and organic outdoor spaces and materials. Hempton’s work in this show appears to pose in a sometimes startling and direct fashion questions of privacy and sexuality and what they mean in a world where traditional norms of privacy, censorship and sexuality are being adjusted to fit a culture of redefined boundaries. Enjoy!
Can you describe what will be included in your show at the Lorcan O’Neill gallery?
The show at Lorcan O’Neill consists of two gallery spaces; the vitrine-like space at the corner of Via Orti D’Alibert and the main gallery space on the same street. In both spaces I made large washed out abstract paintings on the wall, and hung smaller works on canvas which depict nudes, both on the walls and alone.
What inspired you to paint male and female nudes in such a close-up and frank manner?
The paintings of body parts came about quite suddenly two years ago but grew out of a desire I’ve had to make images about, or, of bodies for many years. Previously I had been trying to figure out a way to insert them into my paintings of landscapes and objects but they invariably had a narrative quality I didn’t like. So the landscapes became bodies themselves eventually, with drainage pipe orifices and pregnant mounds of rubble. This is inversely true in the nude paintings now, which I think often look like landscapes.
The close-up was a way to focus on what I felt was the most basic and fundamental part of the nude, and the point at which I felt my gaze to be at its most scrutinised by the model in the situation of painting – ie I think we are both aware of the moments at which I am painting their vagina, or their penis. The bum paintings are perhaps the most predatory, since the person I am painting can’t see me watching them.
Do you consider your paintings of male nudes to be a response to the male-gaze driven objectification of women’s bodies?
I don’t consider the paintings to be a direct response to this, i.e. this is not the main reason I began making them or continue to, but I do think it is an aspect of what is happening. It’s exciting to me to feel able to flip or engage in a contrary way with this dynamic, and of course the art historical precedent of this. Having said that I have to say that most of the men, apart from my boyfriend, willing to pose for me are gay! But maybe something that relates to this and has more of a consistent interest for me that I can trace back to my childhood, is an awareness of a spectrum of gender and sexuality within myself, and how fluid this might appear to me in certain performative situations – be that the ‘performance’ of working outside, or the ‘performance’ of painting a naked person in my studio, or perhaps more significantly, recent works that I am making for an upcoming show of chatroulette paintings – which are made during a live online video chatroom conversation. Perhaps this body of work has the potential to relate more to your question.
What is the relationship between the muted and muddled tones of your wall paintings in juxtaposition with the bold colours and subject matter of the canvas paintings?
I wanted the wall works to provide a difference in tempo and atmosphere to the works on canvas in this show. I think they also provide a cooler context for the naked bodies, making them more vulnerable than their initial bombast might appear.
Your work has been exhibited in Italy multiple times and you were awarded with the Sainsbury Scholarship in Painting for the British School in Rome (2008-10) and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship, based in Umbria, Italy (2014), what has attracted/brought you to work repeatedly in Italy?
I was first drawn to Italy and Rome specifically, by the idea of ruins and wastelands. While in the centre of Rome I think the ruins seem like theatre sets and are kept and cordoned in a museum-like manner, there are other instances in peripheral areas such as Via Prenestina, Ponte Marconi and Ostiense, where prolific scattered arrangements of ancient and modern objects exist, often made into improvised camps by immigrants. What has brought me back repeatedly has been the country’s dramatic impact on me creatively and on a personal level. Italy is the most sensory place I know. The literal atmosphere – the damp and floral air of the Villa Borghese, the smell in one moment of the drains, the river and the waste bins in the summer heat, in the next the fresh restaurant baking and cooking. The tactile and expressive language of the people I have met, and the amazing creamy pink light, all these things are very much tied for me to seduction, repulsion, sex and nature.
Thank you so much Celia!
[Interviewed by Abigail Lewis]
Lorcan O’Neill Gallery – 1E Via Orti D’Alibert, Rome 00165, Italy
Opening February – April 14th 2014