Hugo Barclay

Ali King

Hugo Barclay
Ali King

Ali King

Ali King | British visual artist, based in London

Tell us a little bit about your early life

As a child, I went to five different schools because of my dad's job.  My parents stayed in the UK for 20 years and then moved back to Ireland.  I was the English girl in Ireland after being the Irish girl in England. So I became very Irish, I was only 13 so could change dramatically.

I returned to the UK from South Dublin as a teenager to work on the pier in Brighton.  I lived in a hostel, loved the drama and the art scene, so I kept my foot over here.

Then I did University in Ireland and lived in New York for a while before going to Canada.  


Were you involved in the art scene in New York?

I worked on boats in New York as crew as well as in bars ..I was the only woman on the boat I worked on.  I would hang out with fishermen which I enjoyed because they were social outsiders.  They would go out on boats for months and come back like wild animals and drink on the docks.  Since I was working in the bars they would tell me about the shark attacks and other coastal stories.  I loved the edginess of it.  I completely went with it and I drifted off out of society, like an escapism. Then I sort of got dragged back by friends and family, who suggested I reel it in.

How did you first get involved in photography?

My career started in fashion editorial, I worked as a magazine producer - producing for clients such as Gucci, Chanel and Dior.

While doing this I started assisting the photographers I worked with. After another stint assisting in the lighting department of a film studio, I went onto shoot my own editorials.

These were then published in fashion magazines and newspaper titles.


What lessons did you learn from the photographers you assisted?

Tenacity -  they aren't easy to assist, they make it difficult for you.  It is also important to have a really fierce attitude.   

I think when you are starting out as a photographer, you have to be really tenacious and stick with it as anyone can work a camera

When did you switch from commercial photography to art? 

I was working for a magazine in Dublin, and was made redundant.  But I had contacts and experience so started shooting editorials and began to get published a lot, mainly in Bridal.

I was flying at that stage, but it was fashion editors that I had a conflict with.  I did not like the work that they were dictating.  I wasn't proud of it, but I was putting a lot into it.  

It was the move to London that made me fully switch.  I ended up managing a big commercial studio in Battersea.  Then I used the studio for art which was when I made the switch.  I was also studying at Chelsea to get my head more into the art.


What are the conversations you want your art to start?

I'd like people to feel relaxed when they see the work.  I aim to begin a conversation about nature and nudity and how they can be so beautiful.  

It is about changing viewpoints - I want to draw thoughts away from the material world

Also, female freedom, I love the feeling of lying nude on a beach, being free.

Does reading come into your practice?

Yes - I love 'Women who run with wolves'. It's about tribal women and their stories and fables about life.  I connected with that, they're really nomadic, bold, strong women.


Is there anything that was maybe dysfunctional in the past that's now funnelled in a positive way, has this influenced you?

I think because I was dysfunctional when I was younger and am sometimes now, I have had to develop coping strategies to deal with my addictive and obsessive behaviour - which for me is spirituality and therapy etc.  

I had a nervous breakdown at 25, so I did lots of therapy after that. It doesn't go away if you have that in you.  I think that's why my work has to be good for my soul and keep me happy.  The difficult times I went through were linked to my difficult male relationships.  Looking at flowers and women, makes me feel better. 


Are there any particular rituals that you do?

I do card readings and crystals, and talk to guides in relation to my work. Should I do this show? Should I trust this person? I do this every Saturday night, it's very ritualistic.  I'm ritualistic about when I leave the house, and I do symbols to protect myself against the harshness and aggression of London.

Are there any photographers or artists you look at specifically and are influenced by?

There's a New York based artist who is a hyper realist painter called Marilyn Minter. I think she's incredible. She chooses small parts of the body such as an eyelid, and really focuses in on it- her pieces are really massive.  She shoots first and then paints, so there is a relation. She also focusses on females.  

I also like her because she was fierce.  She fought her way through her art career.  Her promotional techniques are interesting too- she used billboards in New York.  At the time she was struggling against male artists and faced sexism.  She was criticised a lot and got over that as well.


What about your parents? Is there anything they instilled in you that influenced you now?

My mum has a background in Psychology- I'm influenced by that.  I've also studied hypnotherapy. When working with nudes you have to be careful with their mental health, because they are completely vulnerable.  You have to break down barriers and make them feel confident.  I use cognitive psychology techniques to help them feel comfortable and relaxed.  I use aromatherapy as well on the day and think of how it might affect them.

What are you proud of?

The recent Queens show.  It is a combination of years of working in the industry, having worked on all these commercial works and moving away from that.  I guess I'm proud of being myself, the freedom.


Was there a moment of realisation of that freedom?

I think this show was that moment, there's enough of it to keep going and I'm happy to. Before I might have been looking at my bank balance and thinking I should be doing commercial work


Was it a show that had a particular focus?

The concept was initially to look at different types of women and ethnicities.  As I kept working on it, my curator ended up choosing models that were not necessarily of different ethnicities.   Some models were happier and more ethereal being nude, we stuck with them in the end.  

The whole point of the work is to illustrate the rawness of female nudity, devoid of all materialism and clothing.  Instead of a material world, it's just a world of botany they exist in, so their world is completely natural.


What does your typical day look like?

I'm quite spiritual, I meditate, talk to angels, lots of flappy things like that. I'm an early riser because I do a lot of yoga, maybe 7 am. I'll use my aromatherapy, so I'll be smelling lavender in the room. It puts me in the right mind for my work. I meditate a lot for my work. I do past life regression meditation, so go back to my past lives.  I think my work is influenced by that.

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