Although I come from a large family, I felt lonely for a lot of my childhood. My closest sibling was 14 years older than me, and married and left home when I was 5. My eldest sister had 3 girls by the time I was born.
As soon as I left school I followed my niece to Southend tech to do art of some description. It was an exciting fertile hotbed and a lot came out of that college at that time. I was friends with Alison Moyet, and Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, Steve Linnard did fashion there. I did enough to scrape my way into the second year to do a foundation course.
Camberwell offered me a place doing a silversmithing and metalwork degree. It wasn’t what I wanted to do but it meant I could leave home on a full grant and move to London at 18. As a girl it taught me to use machinery and tools in a precise way.
I went out with Tim Roth the actor in my first year. He was younger than me and lived at home. Once he’d helped me spend all my grant he moved into a squat with some uber cool stoners. Distraught, I went to a party and picked up a man 15 years my senior who in the 6 years we stayed together introduced me to improvised music, jazz and a groovy Camden lifestyle.
I struggled. I applied to RCA but didn’t get in. I signed on like everyone in the arts did.
My relationship to the music scene I’m involved in came through two very caring and nurturing main avenues, the first being London’s improvising community which when I got involved, was based in the London Musicians Collective in Camden. Down the road from there the Jazz Dance scene was exploding upstairs in the Electric Ballroom where Gilles Peterson had his nights. From Grays in Essex I was originally a soul girl and used to go to the Goldmine on Canvey Island. So by 1982 had my feet in both camps. I never could have imagined how this would’ve had such an impact on my future.
When I look back I’m glad I rejected the expected path and I’m glad I didn’t worry about wealth or my future. I feel I need to try to hold on to that the older I get as we become more fearful. I think this is natural as our bodies wear down. What I do is really physical, and I’m aware I may not be able to continue the same gusto indefinitely. It can be a bit of a rollercoaster, feast or famine. I don’t own my flat and I worry that my kids still share a tiny bedroom. I worry what the future holds for them, but they are really nice and creative people with a good sense of fair play and nouse.
I have had some really amazing projects recently, including… painting live streamed at the Barbican, a few residencies in Europe, and last year went to the states to Vision Festival where Archie Shepp, Roscoe Mitchell, Mary Halvorson, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dave Burrell, William Parker, Hamid Drake, Nasheet Waits, Jaimie Branch played in a small auditorium while I and at least 4 other painters painted. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I’m now getting more and more interested in individuals, I’m loving a solo portrait within the group. I try to keep pushing the boundaries. I don’t want to make pretty generic pictures. I want to make strident art that is reflective and representative and sometimes collaborative. If I paint someone more than once I start to visually understand them.
Sometimes I pinch myself and say ‘yes it came true’. And other times I’m like I wish I could be painting on the edge of a still lake at dusk and listen to the diving birds and the wind in the trees and race to paint the last rays on the mountain. But I can do both, and when my youngest no longer needs me I will become more nomadic for music and nature, and just hope my man comes with me sometimes.
Words: Gina Southgate
Photo: Lisa Wormsley