mindy lee

Wait it out. Acrylic on cotton pillowcase, 60 x 80cm

Mindy Lee, 2020

"being productive is not just about output, you must also give yourself time to think, reflect, adapt, change and unmake"

If your instinct, like mine, is to judge yourself by how much you "do" then these words from Mindy Lee, Head of Art at the Blyth Centre, Imperial College (amongst other things) are ones to heed.

Her work is thoughtful, wise and very beautiful, and her exploration of motherhood in particular reminds me that amidst all of the doing and all of the worrying there is a place for stillness.

Tell me about your work - what do you make and why? My practive is rooted in painting. The paintings have exended off the canvas and onto other active surfaces, such as plates, clothes and fabrics, to allow surface to play an active role in reading the paintings narratives. The fabrics allow a tearing apart and reconnecting of different surfaces and narratives, which feels approrpiate to how we continually recreate and rebind our memories depending on what we are experiencing the present. It puts an interesting pressure on the reading of the work, falling between a painterly illusion and physical reality.

I use an autobigraphical narrative to explore transient moments, fleeting memories and open ended narratives. Figures appear as visceral spectres within the painting surfaces. Their interactions explore love, support, struggle, nurture, hybridity, independence, loss and humour. The recent work has largely been responsive to motherhood and family cycles.

How did you come to be an artist? I always wanted to be an artist. I can’t remember wanting to be anything else. So I started early. In a nutshell I grew up into being an artist through study (BA and then MA) interpliced with learning how to juggle work/mulitple jobs whilst keeping an active practice.

Can you tell me a bit more about your creative process? It starts with mining a memory that is rich and multilayered or multifacited. I move it around through drawing, shifting and pulling different aspects into focus and letting the unnecessaries drop away.

After I familearise myself with my subject I move into painting to unfamiliarise myself. Painting has its own voice and I like the precariousness of it, it can will bleed and stain in unpredicated ways. It’s an adapting conversation between me and the painting.

When are you at your most creative? In the morning. Preferably when I am on my own, or in a crowd in my own world. I have alot of ideas when I am in between places on a commute... not that any of us are going anywhere right now.

Do you work in a studio or do you make work in your home or somewhere else? I work in my loft, it is a make shift studio. When the house is empty I spill into the other rooms. Sometimes I make in the Blyth Art Studio at work.

Do you use a sketchbook or anything else to capture your ideas / thoughts / develop your work? Sketchpads all the way. I love my sketchpad! I tend to have it with me at all times.

What helps you to be productive? Most importantly making is the key in allowing ideas to surface and flow. But being productive is not just about output, you must also give yourself time to think, reflect, adpat, change and unmake. I am pointing this out because this is what I am doing right now. Due to current circumstances and finding myself at a new point in my practice, I am at a moment of pause. My work is shifting, and so I am putting the breaks on to reflect and question. I am mulling and coaxing, doodling, teasing away from what I know, to find a new path for making. Then it will flow again. I think you need to build a little damn first to change direction.

If you sell your work how do you sell it? I have sold work through open studio’s and exhibitions, or to people who are following my practice. I have also made comissions in the past. But this is not my primary reason for making.

How has lockdown influenced the way you work? Lockdown has had a big impact on the time I have to dedicate to my practice, so I have been working in quick creative outbursts with lots of drying time in between.

What else are you juggling in your life and what helps you manage your time? I have a 7yr old son, who I have also been busy homeschooling in receant months. I am the Head of Art at the Blyth Centre, Imperial College, London- where I work part time. I run the Blyth gallery and an educational programme including an Art Fellowship. During Covid, I have rewritten and moved our programme online, so have been very busy through all the lockdowns. I also work as a freelance Art Lecturer.

What helps you manage your time? I love making lists, that’s how my mum taught me to start the day. I am very practical and analytical with my timetable. I find spaces and carve time into the week for studio time. Little and often, inter-spliced with sporadic longer outbursts works really well for me. This is how I keep my practice moving forward whilst doing a lot of other things.

Is there anything that you do to support your practice that you consider to be an important factor in your success? My job at the Blyth Music and Arts Cente keeps me really active and helps support my practice through research and networking. Curating allows me to reframe and create new contexts for viewing contemporary art. I was lucky enough to take part in Peer Forum in 2018, supported by Art Quest and Camden Art Centre. It was a year long artists research group exploring the Female Grotesque. It was great to meet new artists with similar interests and share our practices.

Networking is important to find other artists practices and venues that you connect with. Keeping in touch with people is really important and rewarding. Some opportunites arise years after you meet someone. My recent interview with Anna McNay happened about 10 years after we first connected! Instagram is a great way to keep in touch and see what other people are doing, especially whilst we are all apart. I have also been attending online talks and listening to artists podcasts.

Where do you get your inspiration from? The subjects are inspired from my own personal history and living history, so I am always keeping half an eye on myself for resonant moments. My son has just lost his first tooth. There is something so special and exciting/ gently tragic in this little right of passage. My interest in layering imagry definatley started as a child, peeling back layers of wallpaper in our bedroom and moving back through decades, whilst shapes appeared in our tares. Sometimes me and my sister would frighten ourselves because we could see, say, a wolf in the wallpaper shape we had just rippped off. My mum would have to come and tear sections off until the wolf shape was gone!

Other things also feed into to the work such as: the aging/permanance in ancient frescoes, tapestries and relics; the play in cloud games, (wall paper games!) exquisite corpse games; victorian photgraphy and ghost stories, horror films, CSI’s, murder mysteries and cold cases.

I can find inspiration in overlooked everyday items, liked how accumulative stains develop on pillows, which is really intimate and personal as well as abject. When you isolate these points they take on a strange otherness. I think it is the incomplete traces of a physical presence left all around us, that fascinates me.

Are there any creatives / others whose work you particularly admire? Oh there are too many... Amongst my contemporaries I look to Emma Talbot, Sarah Gillham, Hannah Murgatroyd, Nick Goss, Marcus Cope and Clare Tabouret amongst others. It is how they utilise their memories and experiances whilst leaving space for both their subject and the viewer to imprint. I receantly rediscovered Dumas, Ensor and Bonnard and I find I always return to Goya and Borgeious.

Where can people find out more about your work? My Website http://www.mindylee.me, my instagram Instagram: @mindylee.me. My interview with Anna McNay, is available to watch on YouTube. If anyone is curious about the overlaps between painting and drawing, my Assembladge Magazine interview could be of interest. There is a beautiful review by Dr. Joanne Morra of my works on clothes I made in response to motherhood, in The Journal of Contemporary Painting vol 5 issue 1. I have also written a few articles for Garageland Magazine in the: Sex, Fake and Beauty issues, in response to each title.

I will be showing in the first Newsprint Open at Three Works Gallery in Scarbourgh this Spring (2021)