In January 2023 I started a conversations project during my residency at Applecart Arts. I sit down and have a conversation of approximately one hour with someone I am interested to have a conversation with. Whilst there might be particular things I am interested in, I don’t have questions planned in advance and what happens is organic. Whilst we talk, I paint. What I share here is the painted/drawn outcome of the conversation. Afterwards, I write up my reflections which come from the conversation. Then, they go into my gallery of conversations, which you have found yourself in here…
Layla Mohamed is an artist based in Forest Gate. I came to know about her through Instagram, I can’t remember what came first but I think it might have been an article in The Forest. I liked her style of painting portraits, the sound of the events she was organising and involved in. I also really like her blue/green hair. I’d like to have blue hair one day. On this day, we sat in the sun outside Applecart, which was a first for this conversation series and even during my whole residency. I really loved talking to her, there was something gentle and slow, but also honest and vulnerable about the conversation, which are all qualities of connecting that work well for me.
When I spoke to Layla, I was right in the depths of pre-recording for a pop-up radio station that I co-curated with Steve Chapman (Applecart conversation here) which was broadcast on the summer solstice from Glen Dye, Scotland. Because of this project, I’d been spending lots of time interviewing different people and I think it impacted how I went into the conversation with Layla.
I think a common thing for me is worrying about forgetting what I want to say or not knowing what to say. Often in the interviews I think of a question whilst someone is speaking but when it gets to a pause, I’ve forgotten what it was. I’m not sure why, maybe it was a type of confidence in asking questions, but I didn’t write down a single word in the painting. With every other one, I have written in paint or pen, phrases that have stood out from the conversation. I have been curious about this as it feels like a strong urge to capture what happens out of fear of not remembering something important. Sometimes I’ve wondered about not writing loads or what I’d paint if I wasn’t worried at all about what came out at the end, like if I had a whole conversation and just painted one line. So that might have also had an impact on how this conversation came out. It didn’t mean I wasn’t a bit self conscious about what I was painting, but just less concerned with “capturing.” Which is kind of funny as the interviews I’ve been having are all recorded so I don’t need to think about losing anything, which doesn’t apply to these conversations.
Something we talked about was a Jeffrey Lewis gig we’d both been to recently and how we loved the drawings he’d done which he then shared between songs, with his own commentary. I remember thinking at the gig about how most musical performances I’ve been to are quite low-key. People and instruments on stage. I liked his way of adding another dimension of his art in a committed way. Why do you just need to go and perform with your instruments, why not add a history of Cuba and US relations with drawings and speaking!? It made me think how it’s so easy to fall into doing things the same, over and over again, just because that’s how you’ve been doing them and maybe it’s familiar/easy/comfortable/less anxiety-inducing. And, how this conversation was different to the others in that I didn’t try and write everything down and we sat outside. So we broke the pattern a bit.
A topic that came up when chatting with Layla, which has been present since the beginning of this project, was about being a freelance artist/self-employed and how that is for each of us. We talked about the security and freedom involved with being employed. Layla also talked about how working time gets squeezed into the two days of having childcare. I was interested in how I would find that, not necessarily through having a child, but if I get some part time employed work, would I actually be way more creative in the limited couple of days I’d have. Whilst I write this I’m a bit bored of the question as I’ve been thinking about it for months now. I’m also aware of the privilege I have to even be able to ask that question, which feels a bit awkward.
Something Layla described, which I could relate to a lot through being an artist, particularly since leaving employment, is putting yourself out there and some opportunities inevitably coming from it. Layla actually called it “continuing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations”. We talked about our experiences of leading groups and how we’re both generally less comfortable doing that, and much more comfortable 1:1 or working on our own. I told her about the she.her.they.them workshop I ran a few weeks ago and how it was my favourite workshop I’ve ever done. I just invited and encouraged people, and people seemed to enjoy it.