Hugo Barclay

Tess Williams

Hugo Barclay
Tess Williams

Tess Williams

Tess Williams | British visual artist, based in London

2015 MA Fine Art  (Distinction),  Central Saint Martins,  London, UK

2008 BA (Hons) Fine Art,  DeMontfort University,  Leicester, UK

2005 Foundation Diploma, Central Saint Martins,  London, UK

'100 Ways' Oil & Acrylic on canvas & Linen, 2017.

'100 Ways' Oil & Acrylic on canvas & Linen, 2017.

What kind of artist would you say you were?

A materials based process painter working with collage, installation and textiles. Whilst I love making smaller pieces, I am in my element when I’m making larger scale paintings. I can’t exhibit or make them as much as I would like due to spatial reasons but when I do it is really satisfying for me. 


Would you say your connection with materials is linked with themes behind your work?

Yes, very much so. In fact, a lot of my work is about the materials themselves and how I can transform them. If I didn’t have such a connection or fascination with the materials then I don’t think I would make the work that I do.


How quickly did your style of work change?

Over that two-year period it changed a lot. My thinking was quite narrow when I started and my ways of working were limited. The first year was about breaking down everything I thought I knew. In the assessments in the second term my tutors wanted me to start with a clean slate, and then start to rebuild and learn new ways of working. It was at that point that I started to work really large scale, freely on the walls with pieces of ripped up paintings and materials. It was a really liberating period for me.  

'High Tide', Oil & Ink on canvas, 2017.

'High Tide', Oil & Ink on canvas, 2017.

What have been some recent developments in your work?

I am always experimenting with materials, to try to find new ways of working. I have recently been trying out ways that paintings can print onto themselves by folding in different ways. Leaving traces, marking making from themselves. I want to push the printmaking aspect further in my work in the coming months. 

It was only a year or so ago that I learnt how to sew, for example. Sewing is now an indispensable part of my work so I am always open and excited to see what I will be doing in the coming year.

In your opinion, what do you see as art's purpose in society?

I think that art has different purposes for different people. It is accessible on so many different levels depending on what people want or need from it. On the most basic level it is great that people can walk into the Tate Modern on their lunch break if they want to, just to get outside of themselves for an hour. To see and experience things that are nothing to do with them personally, but still affect them. Escapism. 

You don’t need to have a knowledge of art or art history to enjoy and appreciate it which is one of its strengths.

I don’t like the idea that art is ever exclusive or elitist. It should be as widely enjoyed as possible. It's power is how differently it can affect the viewer. A Sherin Neshat video vs. the Rothko chapel vs. a Gavin Turk exhibition will all provoke very different reactions and ways of thinking. 

For me, arts overall purpose is to effect and challenge how we think, feel, engage and experience things. 

'Untitled (Envelop)' - Oil & Acrylic on Sewn Canvas - 2017.

'Untitled (Envelop)' - Oil & Acrylic on Sewn Canvas - 2017.

How do you want your work to affect people? 

I hope that my work helps people question their sensibilities in relation to things outside of themselves.  To push tactility and materiality to the foreground, and to emphasise their own sense of physicality in some way. 


What is your take on how people interpret your work?

Whilst there are certain things that I would hope people might take form my work, one of the things that I love about art is that a hundred people might view your work in a hundred different ways.

I think to determine what your audience thinks about your work is defeating the point of art, it is there to be appreciated in whatever way.

From your MA, what are a couple of lessons you learnt?

I learnt so many things about painting itself during the two years, but aside from that, I learnt a lot about myself as an artist. My tutors taught me a lot about how to constantly keep challenging and pushing myself. To never make the same piece of work twice and to keep evolving so as not to become stagnant. And that it’s really important to not close down your thinking and ways of working.  I still keep these things fresh in my mind when working now.

I also learnt how to take criticism without letting it floor me. This is so important and I think it’s really healthy to have a couple of people around you who you trust and will always be brutally honest with you. If something is bad they will tell you, and challenge you to see things from another viewpoint. I have a few of these people who I really value, and go to for their opinion.


How do you distinguish what is different between your pieces?

Through the making of it. How it looks and feels, its form and materials. 

At the moment I have about four strands of paintings that I’m making: Stretched canvases, wall collage/installations, free hanging sewn paintings and then more sculptural free hanging pieces. I usually have an idea before I start making of what I want something to be when it’s done.


Where do you go for inspiration? 

Day to day, while I’m working in the studio I often listen to Ted Talks or YouTube videos of artists talking about their work.  Sometimes I find that listening to other people talk while you are working can really make you question what your doing in a different way.

I am always so interested by what other people are making and how their minds work. 

A lot of my visual inspiration comes from the urban London landscape. Decay, compositions of buildings, peeling paint, hoardings etc. I am constantly taking photos of things as I walk around the streets. 

What are some of your biggest challenges of being an artist?

The self-doubt is probably the biggest challenge. You need the self-motivation to keep going even when you get knocked. If you don’t have that resilience, then you’re not going to survive. Also I think its important to not expect things to come to you, so I try to be as proactive as possible within the limits that I have. And finally – networking, which I’m terrible at. 


What does success mean to you?

To be both content and constantly challenged by what I’m doing. And to work with integrity. 


Where is your go-to place to see amazing shows?

In London, I love Herald Street - the galleries there always have really interesting shows on, and in such beautiful spaces.  

Also, Dering Street for Ronchini Gallery & Vigo Gallery, and then Wharf Road for Victoria Miro & Parasol Unit.


From the last shows you've seen in the past 6 months, did any surprise you?

A show that really sticks out in my mind was Marie Lund’s last solo show at Laura Bartlett Gallery (Herald Street). Lund explores old houses and takes the curtains down which have often been hung in the same position for years. As a result, the sunlight has bleached the material causing amazing patterns to emerge. She then stretches them into sections for her paintings revealing the beautiful delicate shapes of the shadows. She also makes sculptures by casting pieces of textiles and clothing within concrete before removing them, leaving the trapped traces of the fabrics. 

Do you have any obsessions?

My biggest studio obsession is with having a white walls and floor, but I am such a messy worker that it is really hard to achieve. I probably repaint my studio once every couple of months because I feel like it clears my head to start working again. 

In particular, my floor gets covered in paint within a few days of being repainted white. 80% of my paintings are made horizontally on the floor –It is only when they are nearing completion that they are then hung on the wall. So the floor always looks like a very chaotic paint palette!


What books would you recommend to artists?

There is a great series of small books published by the Whitechapel. They are each just one word titled books: Abstraction, Materiality, Painting, etc. 

Another good book for early career artists, is a book that I read during my MA called Art/Work by Jonathan Melber and Heather Darcy Bhandari. It is a practical guide of do’s and dont’s, including information about the art world. 

Are you in London and interested in organising artist studio visits and discovering the active emerging art scene?