“Smutty Opulence and the Wallace Collection”: Alys Williams in Conversation with Jamie Fitzpatrick and Lindsey Mendick

by My Art Guides Editorial Team
June 11, 2018
My Art Guides Editorial Team

On the occasion of the duo show “SMUT” by British artists Jamie Fitzpatrick and Lindsey Mendick at VITRINE Basel, which opens on Tuesday 12 June to coincide with Art Basel 2018, we asked the curator Alys Williams (VITRINE Founding Director and SMUT Curator) and artists to have a conversation to learn more about the exhibition, the artist’s practice and their interest in the Wallace Collection, London, where they have both taken inspiration.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): You have both talked about the influence that the Wallace Collection has had on your individual practices and Lindsey recently described your joint trip as being a moment of “bonding over the grandeur and splendour of both the collection and décor”. Could you both tell me a little more about your interest in this collection and its relationship to your new work for SMUT?

Jamie: I was first drawn to the collection by the frenetic energy of the work of that period and I was trying to tap into that energy in the way I was using my materials in sculpture. An illusion that everything has been made in a wind-rush of stimulated panic, like a moment of chaos, and has been frozen and then carefully reassembled as an image. I began lifting a lot of the stock tropes of the period directly into my work as a simple short-hand for privileged excess and the decoration and beautification of tyranny and power which, at the time, was the starting point for a lot of my work.
In that excess, there is a kind of unabashed sexual flamboyance that is fun and seductive. There is something in this sense of sexuality on the edge and sexual stereotypes that turned Lindsey and me on when thinking about the work for this show.

Lindsey: I’ve always been so attracted to the sickly sweet earnest grandeur of the Rococo movement and the Wallace Collection has the most delicious examples of its ceramics; furniture and paintings. Each room is a celebration of a rich pigment and the adornment flows from the cornices to the feet of the table legs. It’s just so heady and luscious and it dazzles you into submission. But I think particularly with the Wallace Collection there’s this inherently and unabashed romanticism that I have such an affinity with.
The work I have created is my sculptural interpretation of a Fragonard, all frills and florals and bloomers. The sculptures are lonely and lascivious; attempting to entice the viewer to succumb to their delicious excess.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): The figure and gender are explored in both your practices, often in extremely different ways. For SMUT, you have described taking your respective male and female positions – could you describe the importance of ideas of masculinity and femininity in your work and how you see it unfolding for this exhibition?

Lindsey: When approaching the show with Jamie I knew his work was going to be magnificently engulfing (which is why I adore it) and there’s an aggressive quality to his mark making that both enraptures and frightens me; almost ‘Laddy’. But I have to admit, I’ve always been drawn to laddy men. There’s something about the humour and fragile masculinity that paradoxically arouses and repels me; it’s something that I’m quite ashamed of as someone who considers themselves feminist.
My work has always come across as extremely feminine, probably due to my primary medium being ingrained in craft and my affection for pastels; and it’s unashamedly personal and candidly emotional. I feel there is a great deal of power in embracing the very traits that people deem to be female and subverting them, pushing the boundaries of what the ‘female’ gender can be.
For me the work that I have created ‘The Spectre at the Feast’ is about the shame of gluttony and sexual desire; exploring how arousal and appetite circumvents taste and sophistication. There is a submissive quality to the work. I’m exploring the simultaneous paradox that women my age can feel, growing up in a society where gender is rapidly evolving whilst having been instilled with traditional gender stereotypes by those who raised us.

Jamie: This show happened at an odd time as I got married the week before. In the lead in and build up to the two events it became difficult not to get them tangled up together. When Katrin, my wife, and I were talking about what sort of wedding we wanted, you start to scratch away at all these different traditions and see the heavily gendered origin of them. I began to see the wedding (in its generic term, not mine specifically) as this ceremonial performance of two stereotyped gender roles for the community.

Likewise, when Lindsey and I were discussing the show, we were having similar conversations about the performance of sexual stereotypes in the way we form our practice. In my method for making work, there is something violent, brash and tongue in cheek that sort of aims to live out ‘ideals’ of masculine principles like aggression, virility, competition, and irresponsibility. Similar to the work in the Wallace Collection, there is this facade of energy that is built on something more fragile. It’s these ideas of crumbly power and authority and delicate masculinity of white-middle class-straight-english-speaking men (like me) that I keep coming back to in my work and particularly in this new body of work which centers on ‘The Transformative Stag-Do’.

Alys (to Jamie): Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, London in 2015, you have worked primarily in wax, both cast and sculpted. You have used motors in your sculptures to add movement and more recently you have been branching out into painting with oil bar and making video. Could you tell me what brought you to wax as a medium initially, the qualities of this material that you are drawn to, and how you are amalgamating and developing the other diverse media in your practice?

Jamie: People focus heavily on the wax, but for me the importance is to be able to handle material in a way that records the aggressive gestures of its making. I’m currently most interested in exploring immersive narrative sculptural installations like that in the film, influenced by the physical landscapes of artists like Kienholz and Paul McCarthy. These sculptural installations act as active dioramas, which tie together elements of sculpture, animatronics, video and audio. The combination of these elements has developed from previous individual pieces, which I am now looking at as more complete environments within which sculptures narrate, sing, and story-tell.

Alys (to Lindsey): SMUT contains works that you have each produced concurrently in 2018. You have also created kissing sculptures in collaboration, which are inspired by the ‘amour sculptures’ at the Wallace Collection and are produced in clay. Clay is a medium that you have worked in for many years and a material that you have introduced Jamie to recently. I imagine that this process of developing these works has been an interesting experience: a performance even! Can you tell me a bit more about these works, the process of production, and your interest and experience with this material?

Lindsey: Before working in clay, I had used a lot of found objects. The objects I found never wholly captured my sensibility and they felt so detached from me. It was around this time that I first saw Rebecca Warren’s immense and gluttonous anthropomorphic clay sculptures. I was instantly drawn to the medium and the way that it solidified and immortalised the hand of the artist. I always go back to this quote by William Morris, who said that ‘nothing which is made by man will be ugly, but will have its due form, and its due ornament, and will tell the tale of its making and the tale of its use’. This idea is so important to me and by working in clay I am resolutely ingrained within the work.
I often work collaboratively, inviting my friends and family to create alongside me. I find that art can be quite a lonely discipline; so working with Jamie wasn’t a hard task. Spending a day together, we took the time to find common ground. The gestures in Jamie’s work are so delicious that they leant themselves so beautifully to the chocolaty terracotta we used. We’ve also been in the pub a lot which has loosened out tongues so to speak!
The kissing sculptures were a way that we felt we could marry our respective practices through a very literal gesture. We talked about moments of intimacy that we had experienced and as Jamie was getting married around the same time we were planning this exhibition it felt only natural that our work should mirror this event.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): You both graduated with an MA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Art, London (Jamie in 2015 and Lindsey in 2017) and began exhibiting internationally very quickly. Jamie won the UK/RAINE Saatchi Gallery Sculpture Prize (2015), amongst other prizes, was selected for New Contemporaries 2015 and 2016, and had a solo booth at Artissima 2016. Lindsey was exhibited last month in Invites at Zabludowicz Collection, London (April-May 2018) and has recently been awarded the 2018 Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award. It must be an exciting and challenging time for you both. Could you talk a bit about this journey and how working together recently for this show has fostered this development?

Lindsey: It’s an extremely exciting but also absolutely terrifying time! Sudden bouts of self-doubt creep in, but then this also propels my impetus to keep on creating and to experiment with new techniques and materials. Jamie’s been amazing throughout this process and it’s been an incredibly nurturing and honest experience.

Jamie: I’m still finding my feet! I’m in a privileged position of having opportunities to show and visit new places, but I don’t always enjoy the anxiety caused by this. I’ve not worked collaboratively before, at least not this closely. My work has always been a private space that I wasn’t easily willing to share, however, for some time I had been wanting to work with Lindsey as I’ve loved pretty much everything I’ve seen that she’s made.

Alys (to Jamie and Lindsey): Finally, what are you both looking forward to from your first experience exhibiting in Switzerland, and from your time in Basel?

Jamie: It’s been a busy couple of weeks of preparation so, to be honest, I’m most looking forward to everything being installed and working. There’s a group of gargoyles by Arnold Böcklin in the foyer of the Kunsthalle that I loved last time I visited, so I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

Lindsey: I have no idea what to expect to be honest! But I can’t wait to spend some time outside of London and to experience the beast that is Art Basel…

SMUT Jamie Fitzpatrick & Lindsey Mendick
Vogesenplatz, 4056 Basel, Switzerland.

Preview 12 June 2018, 5-10pm, with drinks and food al fresco in Vogesenplatz in collaboration with Bridge Bar, Rhyschanzli, and POPTAILS by LAPP.

Exhibition is then viewable 24/7 from the square – or for appointments email – throughout Art Basel and until 2 September 2018.

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