What is the function of art in your eyes?
I think the place of art is to encourage other people to change their perception. The idea of innovation is all about stepping into someone else's shoes. I think art is one of the things that helps you do that, just for a moment.
What is the story behind your decision to attend art school?
My parents were immigrants. I grew up in London with people who worked incredibly hard. Never did it occur to me that you could do what you loved. I thought you just do what you need to do to put bread on the table.
Education was everything. I remember being at school and one of my teachers said I was good at art. My parents said, 'No she is going to do something sensible'. I ended up doing the three sciences, but I ended up dropping out of school. But the long and short of it is -I had to do lots of crappy jobs for a while, then went back and completed my A-levels again. I then went on to do a degree, and ended up doing a PhD.
Whilst I was at UCL doing the PhD I was always doing life classes. I had this wonderful tutor who said I must go and do a foundation. So I went to Goldsmiths for two years in the evenings - all whilst I was at UCL pretending to be a physicist.
How has your scientific background impacted your art?
A tutor once came up to me and said he had found out I had a degree in physics, and why was I painting the way I was. He said you have this wealth of knowledge, and I will never forget what I said to him... I said 'Oh god, are you allowed to mix the two?' He just laughed and said, 'Of course.' All of a sudden my concept of how I wanted to create work changed. Literally changed from one day to another.
An exciting lot of work came after that. I was exploring the nature of the perfect line. When you train as an artist people judge you on the quality of your drawing. This idea fascinated me, I wondered if you could remove the human from this idea of drawing, and use the physical laws which I am familiar with.
I recall getting one of those water cups, the little plastic ones and I cut the bottoms out and started putting paint in. I had read about the Japanese sand dripping and pattern making - the idea of gravity making marks became interesting to me. I managed to get some sponsorship form Dulux, and I spent a whole summer when I wasn't at college at the University exploring this concept. I had an enormous room and a technician. I didn't understand if it was the product or the process that was important.
I remember going back to college and thinking our painting tutor would crucify me when she saw what I had been doing all summer. She was the type of woman that would cause people to cry after a crit. However, I remember coming in and she said, 'Everyone is going to want one of these' and then just walked out. That was so nice, it was the first stamp of approval I had got.
Are there any artists that particularly inspire you?
Jackson Pollock, because he talked about his paintings creating themselves. I don’t entirely believe him because he did choreograph some of the work. But I love that he used a physical process and it was about the action of making, not worrying about what you are trying to make.
What does your day to day look like at the moment?
It is different every day. This week, I have had lots of people in and out which is lovely. It is about meeting people, networking, emailing as well as teaching. Then I am getting work ready for various exhibitions.
I am also a great believer in not filling your diary up. It is good to have days where I am not entirely certain what I am going to do. I might start tidying up and then before I know it, something happens. I understand the creative process now. I know how I work creatively. You need that- it is not nothing time. In fact, this is going to sound horrid, but one of my best times to solve things is when I am cleaning. I now embrace cleaning.
You mentioned earlier about your use of social media and how you have embraced that, what is your routine?
When I first started, I met a marketing company as I had no presence on social media. I met this lovely lady, and I can't remember how she put it but I came away saying oh yeah! She said it doesn't matter what you do or who you are, if people don't know about it, you don't exist.
I embraced twitter and built that up. I don't mind twitter so much anymore, don't dislike Facebook and am just learning about Instagram. What I learned from twitter was every single one of my opportunities over the last few years has come from the internet as collectors and dealers are following you. As long as they see you are being active, and like what you are doing, eventually they will contact you. But they need to see that you are progressing.
If you try emailing a gallery, nothing will happen. But with Instagram, it takes 10 seconds for them to look at my feed and see my stuff. Social media is powerful because you can get a chink in the door to start a conversation.
You said artists need stories, what do you mean by that?
You need your story to be able to communicate why you do what you do. You also have to understand your own story in terms of your work. There can be periods where you don't understand, then you have to take stock.
In terms of branding, the art world is all about myth making. You do have to create some story. You know you talk about the elevator pitch which might be 2 minutes, but in modern society it might be 10 seconds. You might be in a space with someone important who could change your life. But if you can't say why they need your work above someone else's, you have lost them. It is a skill you have to learn, even if it is just to get the right person to take you on.
Is there a particular time of day that creative thinking is at it’s best from a neuroscientific perspective?
Apparently, we are very creative when our brain is in something called theta wave harmonic which you experience when you are waking up, when you're in the shower, by the sea or listening to the rain. These things allow your brain to calm to such a degree that you allow creative thoughts to come.
I now know if I have a challenge or a proposal, I must be left alone for a couple of weeks to read and think, before I can return with a solution. When we get a problem and sit down and solve it immediately, it doesn’t work out as creatively as it could as our thoughts have not had the time to develop.
In what other ways would you encourage people to improve their creative abilities?
Play. It is about making people uncomfortable. Most people solve problems the way they always have. Einstein was the first to say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and wanting a different result.
They are incubating and working things out whilst doing something else. For example, sometimes you can get your eureka moments when you are cleaning the kitchen or driving a car.
Tell us more about your interest in the connection between science and art.
Someone that really helped me was Professor Arthur Miller, a big cheese in the sci-art world. He wrote a famous book on Einstein and Picasso. He talked about periods in history going in parallel; such as cubism going in parallel with quantum theory. Whether they knew about each other or not. We were both speaking about the same thing, and it was wonderful to meet him. I suddenly didn't feel so alone anymore.
We became friends and he sat for a life portrait. What is interesting is that he thinks technology is paramount in terms of the future, but whilst I think it is important, it needs to go alongside humanity. A lot of the sci-art you see now is very clever but doesn’t move you.
I try to find the stepping stone between the two. This version of art is very avant-garde. I think it has been ahead of it's time, but now it is coming into it's time. I now have various dealers and people coming to me saying they want to do something. But most collectors wouldn’t go near it for a long time because they didn’t get it.
Before you became comfortable with the idea of calling yourself an artist, what were the connotations you thought were associated with the title?
That you were a bit ditsy and all over the place, and it was okay to be chaotic. That is the other thing I have learned - art is about people. If you start to work with curators, you have to do what you say you are going to do, when you said you would do it by. You have to be professional. I learned that from a dealer I worked with. She said she worked with a lot of artists but would drop them if they didn't deliver on time.
That doesn't mean it makes you less creative. I am as chaotic as anyone when I am working, but when I get up early in the morning I am stringent about my emails. Certain parts of your day have to be for the business side. I might give myself a whole week where I say I am not going to see anyone, I am just going to go into my art cave. But you have to stay on top of the other stuff.
The first thing I do in the morning is lie in bed, but I don't think of it as meditation. I lie in bed for maybe 20-25 minutes and everything falls into place. That is when all the new ideas happen, or if I need to write a blog or proposal.
What would you say are some of the myths of the art world?
The first one is the nonsense which is written about things. The way that sometimes not very good art is written about in such complicated ways that you look at it thinking you must be missing something. There is an element of the Emperor’s new clothes, I think.
When you think of your brand, what would you say is your differentiating factor?
It is quite unique in the way I work and in the materials I use. I think this idea that it harks back to the traditional but is kind of contemporary is important. I am not unique in being a scientist, but it is a different way of doing things. Anish Kapoor said he was a painter who sculpts, and I would say the same thing about myself.