‘Handmade’, the current exhibition at the Norman Rea Gallery, celebrates the use of “traditional” skills in contemporary art, illustration and design, looking in particular at work with textiles. Anglo-French artist Anna Chocola, one of the stars of the show, has been painting and drawing since she can remember. Recently, however, she has developed a reputation for her exciting and original artwork with fabrics and material. Here, Merlyn Griffiths talks to Anna about her work in the show which centers on the traditionally feminine craft of sewing.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and where art fits into it?
I studied an Art and English Baccalaureate, and after this thought I should do something sensible so passed an English and American Literature, History and Culture Degree. It proved to be completely useless as I was desperately longing to get back to doing my art. I don’t think that one chooses to be an artist, either you are and can’t help it or you’re not. I enjoyed (art)school and the wide variety of mad teachers who spend most of their time telling you to “dig deeper, be yourself, express yourself and NEVER to worry about what happens after school!” The art school curriculum is almost like a therapy. It’s made me who I am.
What inspires you? Do you have different inspiration for each style of work you do?
One of my favourite artists is Jean Dubuffet, (but) I am inspired by everything I see, feel and think. For my textile sculpture and conceptual work my inspiration comes from exploring how one expresses their identity through clothes, femininity and the way women deal with it. In my performance and installation work, I focus on the world of dreams and primitive fears.
A recurrent theme is my interest in creating a surreal but natural world of crossbreed creatures and symbols that speak of the depths of the emotional self.
Have you a favourite method of working, and if so, why is this?
I love a change of medium; it allows me to think again. By using different methods I try and keep a fresh approach to things. It also gives me time to distance myself from the thing I did before, and I can go back to it with a critical eye. I love setting large mixed murals with drawings, photographs and textile elements. It creates a multi-faceted vision of intricate worlds of details. A painting or an installation needs to be surprising, and to hold your interest.
Have you always worked in this manner, or is it something you have developed over time?
I have always done a bit of everything. I’ve been sewing and making my clothes since I was 13.I guess that now I’ve refined my techniques and skills. That’s why studying conceptual art in France was a good thing because I could use any medium and really focus on trying to make sense of it. My work evolves constantly and I’m always the hardest judge of it when it comes to looking back. Writing about it has always been a good way for me to detangle ideas from desires and aesthetic preoccupations.
Can you tell me a little about the work you are showing in Handmade?
I’m showing one of my mixed media installations, which was created especially for ‘Handmade’. It’s called One Day and it is one of my series of magical attempts to control fate. However civilized we become there will always be a part of us as scared of the world as our primitive ancestors. We may have different ways of trying to control our worlds, but each one of us relies on a certain faith in something, whether it be politics, love or even art otherwise, why bother?
I am also showing four paintings, which are a mix of old and new. I wanted to take the opportunity to show different styles, one of them is a large textile and paper combination. I hope visitors enjoy looking at them and finding hidden creatures…or else!
Considering York is a university that does not offer any kind of practical art degree, do you think that exposure to work like yours in this exhibition might encourage students to create their own artwork?
I always try to encourage people to just give it a go. There’s no need to be “good”, which is such a subjective word! Not being capable is no excuse, where there’s a will there is a way. (University) it’s the time when you are not tied to a professional situation that dictates who you need to be. I wish there was at least one of my mad art school teachers in every University, just as a consultant!
Essentially, Chocola’s work is a mind-map of her thoughts and inspirations, and it is refreshing to see an artist’s exploration of topic and method on the surface of their art. ‘Handmade’ is an exhibition not to be missed.
For more about Anna’s work, visit www.annachocola.com
‘Handmade’ is on show at the Norman Rea Gallery in Langwith until Friday March 5th 2010