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…
Rodrigo and I are friends, we met in 2015 whilst working towards a Gender Studies Masters in Budapest. He is an insights analyst at NSPCC/Childline as well as a listening volunteer and trustee at Switchboard – the national LGBTQ+ helpline. He is an experimental artist, working with watercolours, acrylics, pastels and whatever he fancies experimenting with that day. We met in Applecart after not seeing each other for nearly two months so I was particularly looking forward to seeing him and catching up.
I asked Rodrigo what art stuff he’d been doing recently and he told me about some painting he’d been doing with different objects, including a chrysanthemum, dental floss and metal scourer. He recently moved into a flat in Bethnal Green with his husband. When I last visited them, they showed me a funny corner of the flat where the ceiling was lower, with a window. They said they weren’t sure what to do with it. This time when I saw him, he said it had turned into his creative corner. He said it was so nice to have a separate space – and even room – from his desk where he does work on a laptop.
He talked about how moving his body had been an important part of this change, and he was also enjoying working from the floor. I described how I’d recently started using an easel when working on canvas which, compared to working flat on the desk, had shifted things up a bit. But it still feels pretty static as using the easel still requires staying in particular positions, at a table.
Talking to Rodrigo reminded me of a day on Ocracoke, the first day that I was more alone and I took an A3 canvas out onto the back porch to cover it with a vivid pink spray paint. I shook the can, but it still came out as liquid. Undeterred, I kept spraying and decided to use my hands to smear/spread the paint across the canvas. The liquid was so, so cold. I had one of those moments, not unfamiliar to me in my impatience, where I wondered if I had done something quite stupid. Had I damaged my hands? I imagined Steve coming back to the house and having to explain sheepishly that it was wholly self-inflicted.
However, even though it felt weird, my hands seemed ok so I proceeded to look for more materials to use. I found some red wine in glasses from the previous evening and poured them on the canvas and smeared it about. Then, I found some coffee dregs and did the same with that. It all smelt quite strong. I can’t actually remember what I did next. Looking at the photos I think I must have then added white acrylic paint but who knows, I might have blacked out and weed on it.
This became the water tower painting that I’d been planning on doing after I fell in love with it. I like how it turned out, particularly how if you had light behind the canvas you can suddenly see the red/pink colours way more vividly. Whilst we were there I had it leaning against a window so I could see it in many different lights throughout the day.
When we met, Rodrigo was about to go to his origin-country Brazil to see family and friends. He talked about how his view of his racialised self depends on where he is. In Brazil he feels whiter and in the UK, particularly places with many white people, he is more aware of his non-whiteness. It reminded me of how race is something shifting and not a static identity, which is generally how it is talked about…as if it is a fact rather than something socially constructed.