London Art Spot: Charlene Lam

Longing. Belonging. Belongings.

These words describe the essence of Charlene Lam’s art. They stem from a multicultural background She’s a German-born Chinese-American who has grown up in NYC and San Francisco where she performed as part of a hip-hop troupe though she also has 10 years of classical ballet training. She’s lived in Germany, Sweden and now London. To top it off, her husband is an Italian-born Peruvian.

Needless to say, she loves to travel and if you read on through this week’s London Art Spot, she explains how those words above tie her wanderlust and artwork together. She also talks about her obsession with wandering the banks of the Thames to collect washed-up materials to use in her work (a sort of reinterpretation of belongings) and she shares a lovely story about a woman called Lee Chin Won Ying.

LLO: Which aspects of London life influence your creativity?
CL: I love my East London neighborhood of Shoreditch. It’s super trendy and full of drunk people on the weekends, but the feel is entirely different than that of West London. I like my cities to be a little gritty and full of surprises, and this area certainly qualifies, with its mix of old and new, high and low. Plus, the street art is excellent, and I see something new every time I go out.

LLO: On your website, you wrote: “I love exploring the potential of different materials, especially repurposed ones, and letting the materials tell me what they long to be.” What’s the most unusal material you’ve worked with and what did it turn out to be?
CL: I’ve been obsessed with the clay tobacco pipes that wash up on the banks of the Thames, particularly the fragments of pipe stems that date from the late 16th to the early 20th centuries. If I’m by the Thames and it’s low-tide, I’m down on the banks collecting bits of clay — no matter how impractical my footwear.

I’m still playing with the possibilities of the pipe stems, bundling them together with thread, combining them with different materials. I’d love to make them into jewellery. I read a report that suggested pipe stem fragments were reused as wig-curlers, and I’m curious if I can use them that way in my curl-resistant Asian hair.

I find it amusing that I’m playing with a previous era’s rubbish. Why am I so enamoured by a bouquet of discarded pipe stems when a cluster of cigarette butts would only disgust me? I’m aware that I’m romanticising a past that I don’t understand, but I’m endlessly fascinated: some of this city’s garbage is older than my country!

LLO: Is there a certain material or object you’ve got your eyes on that you’d love to work with but haven’t tried yet?
CL: So many materials! I’m coveting all kinds of offcuts from various businesses, because I love the challenge of making something out of nothing and hate seeing things go to waste. But to name a certain technique, I would love to work with clear resin. The ability to physically capture an object — and perhaps a moment — so that it’s at once preserved and yet untouchable is very appealing to me.

LLO: Why should we immediately pop over to visit your blog, “Someday London” and where did the title come from?
CL: “Someday London” is London through the eyes of a creative expat: my triumphs and humiliations, my likes and dislikes, the extraordinary and the everyday.

There’s so much to see and explore in London, and I love sharing my finds with other people. For instance, I’ve started highlighting the work of the amazing craftspeople and designers I come across, because the quality and breadth is stunning.

The blog is called Someday London because big cities are full of longing: “Someday … I’ll afford a place of my own.” “Someday … I’ll get out of here.” One of mine was “Someday … I’ll live in another country” and now I’m doing it!

LLO: In what ways does your NYC background still influence your work in London?
CL: New York City will always have my heart. I’m very inspired by the potential of materials and people, and there’s no place that pulses with possibility the way that NYC does.

I’ve been in London for a bit over a year, and I’m very much aware of not quite belonging. I’m too chatty and overenthusiastic by British standards; I don’t drink much so pub culture eludes me; I still get confused sometimes crossing the street.

My work is often influenced by my personal struggles with identity and finding a place to belong. I’m in London for now, but I’m not from here. I don’t think I belong here, but I’m happy to be here all the same.  I don’t know if I belong anywhere, but so far New York City is the closest thing to home.

LLO: Where are your favourite places in London to pick up found objects to use in your artwork?
CL: The more neglected and overlooked, the better! Hardware stores. The banks of the Thames. Charity shops. Pound stores. Skips. Buildings sites. My eyes are always scanning the streets for possibilities.

LLO: Tell us about Lee Chin Won Ying and the project her story has inspired.
CL: Lee Chin Won Ying was my great aunt, or “yee pau”. She emigrated from China to Hong Kong and then to New York City, where she worked as a seamstress. After she died, I found amongst her papers her study sheet for the U.S. citizenship test. In typewritten English and handwritten Chinese, it dryly tells the story of her hard life.

Women of my generation struggle with having too many choices; she had very few. She worked as a seamstress because she had to, while I can make things for the joy of it. Even after she started living in relative comfort, she hoarded things like plastic bags, food, and scraps of fabric — not uncommon for Chinese immigrants of her generation who lived through periods of real poverty. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with our “more is less” culture, where we buy, own and throw away so much, yet live in a similar state of insecurity.

I am recreating phrases from that study guide — like “I am a sewing worker” — in embroidery. I didn’t speak her dialect of Chinese, so we had trouble communicating when she was alive. Retelling her story through stitch is my way of honouring her life and, in a way, of having a conversation with her.

LLO: Which project are you most proud of so far and why?
CL: I’m particularly proud of “Petals (Longing for Light)”. We were living in northern Sweden. I was struggling with the lack of light and the scarcity of affordable art materials. It was made in response to a call for submissions, but I remember not thinking about it too much, just working with the basic materials I had, and channeling my angst into these beautiful forms. I learned a lesson that I return to time and time again: My best work comes from Love and Longing.

LLO: Favourite London-based artists?
CL: Currently: Rob Ryan, the folks from Print Club London, the illustrators of Peepshow collective, the designers of Farm collective, Evelin Kasikov and her CMYK cross-stitch.

LLO: What are you working on now?
CL: I’ve been playing around with alternatives to purchased gift wrap, using rescued and repurposed materials. I’ve always loved the glamour and fun of gift wrapping, but hated the waste.

I’ve also just curated a selection of work from seven designer-makers for the Craft Central Micro Boutique at Vitra’s Christmas Gift Market. The market was in their gorgeous showroom in Clerkenwell, and I wanted to showcase these products designed and made in studios around London alongside the designs of masters like George Nelson.  10% of sales went to benefit the housing and homeless charity Shelter.

Thanks Charlene!

Check out more of Charlene’s work here: www.charlenelam.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Orly Orbach

Dark washes and black pen and ink techniques lend a slightly haunting, mysterious atmosphere to a large part of Orly Orbach’s otherworldly portfolio. Her illustrations often tell a story and have been featured regularly in Ambit magazine among other publications. She has also produced work for theatre productions and album covers.

A Royal College of Art graduate, Orly has spent a great deal of her professional time with communities, allowing them to connect with and interact with her art. She has completed quite a few residencies in which she engaged with young people and encouraged them to embrace creativity as a form of self-expression.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Orly talks more about her residency experiences including time at Sceaux Gardens and why it was the most fulfilling, shares a list of authors that inspires her creativity, and tells us about her involvement in London’s theatre and film industry.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity and in what way?
OO: What I really love about london is the diverse communities and the freedom to be different. It is such a free thinking place where you don’t have to fit in; there are multitudes of dress codes and styles. And you get to meet such a broad range of people. That certainly has an influence on my work.

LLO: Give us a brief introduction to your technique, the materials you prefer to work with and your method of approach to an idea.
OO: I like to treat every project like a new learning experience, find subject matters that I can relate to, allow myself to engage with themes on a personal level, and be experimental and think openly about each project I take. I find it important to allow chance into my work, and this can happen by being playful with mark-making, and in cases of collaborative projects, to allow other voices and ideas to lead me to places I did not expect. I like working with inks because of the way the marks flow and seem to posses their own direction, which I only partially try to control and shape. I like the flexibility of inks, and the permanence of the mark once they dry.  And I also like crayons and chinagraphs, and any other drawing material.

LLO: Your art seems to tell stories and dig under the surface of things. Are you influenced by the written word? If so, which authors or stories are especially important to you?
OO: There are lots of authors that are important to me, some of which are anonymous. For instance I have a collection of folk stories from around the world that never seems to have authors, only translators. I like reading about myths and often browse anthropology books for inspiration. As much of my work is about the interpretation of experience, I find endless inspiration in these resources. I also like theatre technique books and find them relevant. When it comes to fiction, I have lots of favourite authors, especially Russian and Jewish authors, and women writers have helped me regain a sense of magic when I lose inspiration, in particular Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. I love good poetry, and get sent a lot of very visual and visceral poems by Ambit magazine to illustrate.

LLO: “Haunting”, “dark”, “moody”, “mysterious” and “otherworldly” are all words that have been used to describe your work. Would you agree? Where does this darkness stem from?
OO: I want my work to be ‘otherworldly’, simply because when I make work I am trying to connect to other worlds. I think of the history of stories and image-making and inevitably I make work that comes from somewhere deeper within myself. Perhaps I make work for the past rather than the present, which is why it seems haunting. I don’t wish to make ‘dark’ work intentionally, and in fact, I don’t like ‘dark’ work that sets out to be shocking or aims to provoke an audience. The work I make is about trying to connect with something authentic, and if it happens to be moody and haunting it probably just shows my aesthetic sensibility. I personally do like to be haunted by high-quality works and ideas, and hope my work has some kind of authentic presence.

LLO: You have also worked with children on positive community projects like the “Wishing Wall” after the fire at Sceaux Gardens in South London. What was the purpose of the wishing wall? How does your art help to build a stronger community?
OO: My idea for the Sceaux Gardens residency was to use storytelling activities as a way of bringing people together. The project was called Making Play, and I thought we could play with fiction to create new worlds and reimagine the local neighbourhood, through small interventions, art activities etc. The incident of the fire happened at the very beginning of the residency. It was impossible to switch off from reality and play with fiction under these circumstances, so eventually I found a way to address the issue by asking local residents to help me create a mural. It’s a complicated event, but in short, the idea was to make something collaborative that allows people to say what they think, discuss ideas they have about how to improve their neighbourhood, to open communication between them and the council, and very importantly- to note down and acknowledge every single idea, and to do all of this in a way that is visually presentable without being too ‘pretty’, as it did not feel right to make something that is too decorative for the site, as I did not wish the image to distract us from the reality of the situation. My role was to find means of expression, rather than directly make the artwork. The local children did that, and they are quite proud of their work.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your involvement in London’s theatre and film industries.
OO: I have always found the theatre to be a very creative environment, and have worked with script-writers, directors, performers and musicians since I was a student. I see the theatre as an open classroom, and have borrowed much from rehearsal techniques used by performers. One of the best things about rehearsal is that they allow the actor to not know, to take chances and follow their instincts. The visual art world suffers from having to know too much, and I think artists are constantly writing applications, blurbs, reading art theory books and are busy justifying themselves verbally. There is also a pressure to come up with a ‘final piece’ straight away. So I find it inspiring see actors dedicating time to rehearsals, improvising and playing. Most recently I worked on the film Island by Tailormade Productions, and was impressed by the research methods used by the creative team, and how they integrated art into the whole film making process.

LLO: Which image, project or moment of your artistic career are you most proud of so far and why?
OO: The last three residencies have been huge learning experiences, and I think i have achieved a lot through them (-the Making Play residency, the Creative-Partnership residency and the Museums Sheffield project). I felt a moment of achievement when i visited Museums Sheffield on the last week of the exhibition and chanced upon a group of young people playing the floor-vinyl game and using the artwork. I think I’ve found myself through the Sceaux Gardens Making Play residency, although I felt lost there most of the time. I’ve learned so much from that experience, and from the people and children I worked with, especially Lauren, the family officer, who taught me a lot about the importance of the social response to art, rather than the visual effect.

LLO: You’ve done quite a few site-specific projects. Which was the most fulfilling? Anywhere special in London that you’d love to design a piece for?
OO: I think the Sceaux Gardens project was the most fulfilling. It was a long-term project that allowed me to get to know people gradually and test ideas before making site-specific artwork with the local community. It was supported by the South London Gallery, that has a very forward thinking and socially minded education team. It’s not often you get to really make connections with people and make work on that level, and the project was challenging and for that reason fulfilling as well.

There are a few dream-locations I would like to make work for, and I would especially like to make work within my local borough at some point in the near future.

LLO: Other London-based artists you admire?
OO: Lots. I love Elly Thomas’s sculptures and ink drawings, and was especially inspired after a recent visit to her studio in North London.

LLO: What are you working on now?
OO: I am currently working on a commission for the London Transport Museum, collaborating with young people from West London to create artwork for a bus-shelter in South Kensington, themed around journeys. This should be really fun to do.

Thanks Orly!

For more from Orly, check out her website.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Street Art: Boxi

Boxi was born in Kent in ’74, but he’s lived and worked in Germany for the last decade. A few of his pieces have just been spotted over on Scrutton Street (EC2) in London by Alex Ellison who added these pieces to the Flickr Pool:

Boxi

Boxi

Here’s one of Boxi hard at work shot by Flickr photographer Romany WG:

Boxi @ Work

Anyone spot more pieces from him up in London? If you’ve got photos, add them to the pool or link back in the comments!

For more of Boxi’s work, check out his website and there’s an interview here.

London Art Spot: Ji Seon Kim

Emptying her vivid imagination onto each large canvas she paints, Ji Seon invites us into a world that resembles this one but truly exists only in her head. With a vibrant palette she works with sweeping brushstrokes, a concern for space and a flair for creating texture in her landscapes. She wants her work to evoke feelings of displacement and loneliness, and the sheer size of the canvas mixed with the deserted scenery does make you realise that there is a massive world out there.

Her recent work draws on inspiration from traditional watercolour painting from her native South Korea and she has a show on in Hoxton at the moment with two other South Korean artists.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Ji Seon talks about a certain beautiful place in London that she would love to paint, tells us where she finds inspirateion for her landscapes and what to expect at her exhibition.

LLO:Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity and in which way?
JS: I have enjoyed living in London for the past 6 years. I think London is a really great city in which I have great experiences, in urban life, and historical and natural landscape. This environment in London motivates and inspires my work. It is also easy to access plenty of interesting exhibitions in London. The intriguing shows open up new possibilities of exploring and developing my practice as well.

LLO: Give us an overview of your working process, from initial idea to final painting.
JS: First, I try to decide which kind of space I would like to paint referring to landscapes I remember from my previous travelling experiences and image books, especially travel magazines. After words, I purely use my imagination to describe the place, and paint my imaginary world.

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of at the moment and why?
JS: If I have to choose one painting, it would be “Orange Cliffs and White Crystal”, because I feel that this painting is more realised in connection with the main concept, which is about playing with marks and colours in an imagery landscape.
LLO: You work with a lot of vibrant colours in scenery that would in real life be quite subdued. What does this add to your landscapes?
JS: I am very interested in creating an imaginary landscape in an artificial way, so I always use really bright and powerful colours in my painting.

LLO: Do you find that your South Korean background inspires your work?
JS: I have produced paintings using different aspects of a Korean sense of space and a western sense of perspective. One of the most significant influences is Korean traditional landscape painting, so I have tried to mix between this influence from my background and my understanding of contemporary western art.

LLO: Your latest work revolves around imaginary landscapes. Is there a place in London that you would like to paint using a similar approach and technique?
JS: I really like Holland Park, particularly Kyoto garden. It is a really beautiful place to get inspirations and motivation for my works.

LLO:Other London-based artists you admire?
JS: Peter Doig. His use of colours and his technique are so interesting and impressive.

LLO: You recently finished your BA in Fine Art from Slade. What are your plans for 2011?
JS: I have just started Master course at Slade from this September 2010. The Master at slade is 2-years course, so I will keep continuing to study this course in 2011. Plus, I am plannig to have an exhibition in Seoul, South Korea in July or August, 2011.

LLO: You have an exhibition from 2-23 December at Arch 402 in Hoxton with artists Gyeong Yoon An and Chinwook Kim. What can we expect from the show?
JS: When I was a BA student, Gyeong Yoon An and Chinwook Kim were MFA students at Slade. At the time, I just thought their works were very interesting, but I couldn’t find any connection between my painting and their works. When we decided to have the show “Imaginary Landscape” at Arch402 and put our works all together, I was so surprised that we do have really a huge connection, which is that our works are coming from our own imagination and delivering viewers into our imaginations, so people can feel and see our imagination world.

LLO: What are you working on now?
JS: I am making a huge imaginary landscape painting as usual. In order to do more challenge with my painting, I am exploring the intersection of abstraction and representation through the imaginary landscape.

Thanks Ji Seon!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Holly Somers

If you walk down Carnaby Street right now, you’ll see a wintery scene in the windows of the Deisel shop called “Paper vs. Scissors” with delicate paper cut-out trees and mannequins with blank faces and big white hair. This is the work of Holly Somers, a recent graduate of London College of Fashion and joint winner of the Nina De York Illustration Award 2010.

Her debut collection takes the simple practices of folding, pleating and layering to the next level with inspiration from Japanese origami in rich, earthy tones perfect for this time of year. There’s a selection of images below for this week’s London Art Spot and for a more expansive look at the origami collection, there’s a great blog post here.

Read on to hear about Holly’s favourite gold blazer, where her love of a great fabric leads her on days out in the shops around here and her thoughts that went into the design of the Deisel shop window display.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest Japanese origami-inspired collection.
HS: Throughout my design career, I have always had an interest in and an admiration for Japanese design and in particular Japanese fashion. Working with initial origami maquettes, I was able to experiment with unusual shape construction on a small scale before transferring it on to the body. This quickly led to the development of manipulating a two dimensional form to create a three dimensional object, both in paper, but then more naturally in fabric and garment construction. I was fascinated with the juxtaposition of woven fabrics with stretch fabrics and the intrinsic properties of these opposing materials. This concept became integral to the design and success of the garments as fabric manipulation extended beyond simple folding, pleating and layering. Much of the silk was transformed through interfusing before the fabrics were even cut altering the nature of the fabric to suit the needs of each garment. This collection became an exploration.

LLO: You created the lovely Paper vs. Scissors display in the Female Diesel shop windows on Carnaby Street. What was your thought process when given the brief through deciding on your final designs?
HS: The Window Installation was a fantastic opportunity to step into the world of visual merchandising and with the paper theme I could build on ideas from my previous collection but move it away from the body.  Diesel wanted a white paper forest to appeal to the Christmas season, however, it had to keep the edge that the Diesel brand upholds. I researched back over many artists who had manipulated paper for art installations with a focus on paper cutting rather than folding as before. I began experimenting drawing over tree designs using Adobe Illustrator to create intricate, ambiguous tree stencils that could be laser cut for the window. Design ideas went from broken chairs to be stacked up like tree trunks, rotating lights casting stencil silhouettes on the walls to importing large quantities of branches and logs from the Cotswolds to act as support and structure for the installation; from 8ft wooden trees attached to the store facing to laser cut paper creepers pasted to the woodwork like vines encompassing the store in a tangled forest. The concept also had to translate to the Male Diesel store so we attached hundreds of laser cut scissors to trees there to convey the idea that the boy’s trees had cut up the paper girl’s trees. Despite a great deal of design development there was still an aspect of improvisation on the installation nights, especially to deal with the restraints that come from the location being first and foremost a working shop. Working alongside the team at StudioXag was a great: logistically, technically and creatively.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London for fashion inspiration – both in the shops and on the streets?
HS: London as a city is a fantastic source of inspiration in itself with the endless resources available to anyone who lives here. The markets, libraries and museums are  perfect places to contemplate design ideas; especially the Design Bookshop in the V&A. However, since  moving here, I find walking along the South Bank at night when the city is alight one of the most inspiring places to be.LLO: Give us a hint at some of the upcoming fashions in London for next season?
HS: London’s fashion strives to be new and exciting playing to a more youthful clientele where the idea of design and creativity is pushed to the limit when the factor of wearability often comes into play. I feel that next season London designers will continue in this way, however there is definitely starting to be a move to more accessible collections as individual designers’ stylistic tastes are becoming more refined and therefore subtler in their portrayal.

LLO: Which aspects of your designs make them uniquely yours?
HS: Detail. In everything that attracts me, inspires me or interests me it is always the detail that captures my attention. The cleverness of an idea or the way something has been cut. It does not have to be complex but it provokes thought. I want my work to engage people in this way; for them to see and to appreciate the detail and depth of an idea.

LLO: Who is the target audience for your work? Do your designs transfer easily from the catwalk to the streets?
HS: My work is aimed at women aged from mid-twenties to mid-thirties with an understanding and appreciation of fashion, fabric and cut who will find innovative creations in my work that augments their style and femininity. I feel my designs could be diffused from the catwalk to the streets especially as jersey is a very popular fabric to work with at the moment. However, my collection relied on using high end fabrics to create the desired effect. Replacements can be found to cater to the high street market and price-point though the results would still be different. The joy in designing for the catwalk is there is not always a mass market and a low cost budget to consider. As a designer you have more manoeuvrability.

LLO:  Which piece are you most proud of so far and why?
HS: The gold blazer from my collection. It was ironically one of the easier pieces to design as it seemed to design itself on the stand. After working on something for so many months I am often too close to my work to appreciate it, however for some reason I could still relate to this piece and enjoy wearing it myself. It is an example of an idea that remained strong from the initial sketch to its final fruition and therefore I am proud that it is mine.

LLO:What are your favourite materials to work with and the best places to buy them in London?
HS: For me, fabrics are of the utmost importance in a collection, so I take great pleasure in searching around fabric shops and showrooms to discover what is available. Shepherd’s Bush is a great place for toiling fabrics and there is a particular shop on Goldhawk Road which sells fantastic wools. There are a few showrooms along Great Titchfield Street that act as agents for factories and mills across the world. These places are ideal as you can touch and feel samples and quickly discover the vast range of fabrics that are on offer. I particularly love working with jersey and I actually sourced all of my silk jersey from Japan for my last collection.

LLO: You recently graduated from London College of Fashion and won the highly acclaimed Nina de York Illustration Award wowing people with your designs. What’s next for you?
HS: I want to keep experimenting in a range of Fashion Design disciplines. My loyalty will always remain with garment design and this is where I wish to build my career, however I feel that working in visual merchandising, buying and accessories, etc., all feeds my creativity and I hope to remain as creative a designer as possible. To study in Paris would be a fantastic opportunity and there are MBA courses that appeal to me greatly. However, I intend to gain further experience in the industry over the next few years before I embark on further education.

LLO: Any other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
HS: Joanna Pritchard. I have known Jo throughout my time at London College of Fashion and she is a very talented, unassuming designer. Her minimalist style has a wide-ranging appeal but her detail attracts a closer scrutiny. Jo has just started an MA Womenswear Design course at Central St Martins and I cannot wait to see her move from strength to strength and produce an astounding collection.

Thanks Holly!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.