Behind the Art: An Interview with Imogen Parry
Imogen Parry is a young London-based artist, whose work is primarily concerned with the concept of paradise. Having graduated from Wimbledon College of Art with a BA in Painting in 2014, Imogen uses a mix of photography, print, paint and drawings to create dreamy compositions that carry the viewer to another place, somewhat reminiscent of ideal notions of California but also reflective of an idyllic new world where light dances with colour, man is suspended in nature’s elements and an endless sense of possibilities stretches out into infinite blue skies. We were delighted to meet Imogen in her London studio before her departure to Melbourne, where she will spend a year immersed in the inspiring currents of Australia’s cultural capital.
1. Are you an early bird or a night owl?
I’m both… Yeah I’m definitely burning the candle at both ends. I like night time for working creatively and then morning time for being proactive and sorting out all my stuff that I need to do.
At night time, I’m definitely more creative… because night time feels more like a closed space… it feels more snug and there’s a nice stillness when you can almost sense that everyone in the city is asleep or everyone in the house is asleep… There’s the feeling that there is that open stretch of knowing that there is nothing that will cause me to have to break away from the work because with my classes, well I might get a bit of work in… Like I’ve got 3 hours to do this… But then that might inhibit me from making a start on something because the paint’s going to dry or whatever… So yeah at night time, I feel like the only thing I’m losing out on is sleep.
2. Are you a tea or coffee person?
Eh both! Mainly coffee…. Yeah I’m a coffee addict and I’m mainly partial to tea! I would have maybe three coffees a day but never to keep awake at night… because I think past 6 o’clock, it’s dangerous.
3. When did you first feel your calling to create art?
I think at first it didn’t feel like a calling to create… Well I mean like many children, I was drawing… My mum was always up for getting me to paint so there was that natural child-hearted creativity that I think everyone who has a good childhood has.
In my later teenage years I started drawing more and just got really lost in it. I could really focus and spend a lot of time doing it and I was copying a lot - like copying Van Gogh’s paintings… Gauguin’s paintings… copying the brushwork… And it was just that type of practice… It didn’t really feel like creativity in a way… There was a different kind of method behind it, kind of like a recording… Almost like a meditation or observation… And I think that’s where it started… The joy of observation and recording and translating from the outside world to the page. And then from there, I realised oh I’m quite good at this… I want to experiment with doing my own stuff.
4. Where do you find inspiration?
There is definitely a lot of inspiration - and I know it’s a very straightforward answer - in galleries… I was very inspired by the California show at The Design Museum - I saw it recently. That was very inspiring. The themes are quite closely connected to my work and it’s got a really insightful view on California and a lot of new ideas that I hadn’t come across… definitely from curated shows put together.
Otherwise, a lot of inspiration comes from when I’m travelling but almost sometimes when I see something like if I’m by a pool and there are some amazing pool chairs or deckchairs nearby I can kind of go ‘oh it’s almost like it reminds me of something else” or I can see it as a future photograph or I want to condense it somehow but I’m not experiencing it for what it is… It’s more like ‘oh that’s reminding me of something else’ so that’s inspiration in a way but it is also as if some inspiration from before is coming up again and it’s projecting itself onto what I’m seeing and there’s a bounce between the two observations - a cross-referencing… And that’s when I get really excited!
5. Would you say you have a photographic memory then?
I’d say so… I think it’s a really good practice… An artist that I know records things that he is seeing with words…. I went up to the Arctic Circle with him - he paints the Northern Lights and he was recording and describing The Northern Lights and this particular light as being “a phosphorescent green with hints of rose” and actually those descriptions have really helped me with aiding my visual memory. So a couple of weeks ago I was in Namibia and there was a swimming pool and the swimming pool had these shimmeric movements and patterns and iridescent colours and trying to name the colours, that’s what really helps me and then I realised when I was photographing it, that it was actually the movement of the water… the patterns it was creating… That was so magical because when it was still, it wasn’t quite the same…
And then sometimes when I see something for real… Like the water in this swimming pool was incredible but the camera didn’t quite get it… So then I’ll go in again and photoshop and recreate just how amazing it was and it might not come true…. So here you see the patterns in the water [taking out the photographs] and they were so kind of light and the movement under the light at the time - the transition from day to night - just made it so hypnotic…
6. Do you listen to music while you work?
Yes. Yes absolutely. Always. Radiohead is a big one… the older stuff… Then I listen to quite a bit of House and different electronic music… Sometimes I listen to Boards of Canada. Or Pink Floyd… Anything that’s kind of expansive and then if I’m painting, I like listening really emotional music… that’s why I like Radiohead. I think with anything else, like if I’m writing, I can’t listen to music, it’s a distraction but with image creation, music is a big help. Music carries you.
7. What’s your favourite colour and why?
Pink… So before I had pink hair and I was always in pink but now I’ve just gone blue! Yeah pink… that’s the first thing that comes up… When I was at the California show, the Pride flag, which was originally eight colours, the guy who designed it said that each colour represented something different and the first one was pink and that represented sexuality and then red for love, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature and then there are a few more I can’t remember but yeah, then it made me think pink for sexuality and I realised that they’re quite connected and I don’t know why I’m so drawn to pink… I think pink feels fun! And kind of dreamy… When I was at Coachella two years ago, I think one of the most amazing things about it was how the mountains went pink at sunset and dawn and that was just amazing… I mean, palm trees and pink mountains! There was something very dreamy about that.
8. What is your most creative time of day?
It’s night time. The later the better. Without being tired of course!
9. Do you have a muse or role model?
Hmmm I’ve got so many… It’s so hard to say! Because I’ve got yoga ones and my artistic ones… So my yoga role model would be my teacher who is called Ryan Spielman and he’s a real no bullshit, very honest and very daring teacher and he’s very real. And then my yoga muse would be a woman called Maty Esrati - she’s really awesome. She started Yogaworks in L.A. And I think she’s an incredible woman!
And then artwise… So I really love David Hockney. I LOVE his work and I feel very emotionally connected with his images. If I had to pick one artist only to look at for the rest of my life, it would be him. I feel a heart resonance with him… Oh and Wolfgang Tilmans, he’d be a muse!
10. What is your most important work tool?
A film camera of some description. Film Camera. Plus 35mm film. And dark room. All as one tool! Because I like the physical development of print… I don’t know how much you saw of what I have in my studio that is just photographs… the normal ones that we used to process before we had iPhones when you’d actually get a physical pack of photographs from your holiday and as objects, I think they’re just wonderful! They’re so glossy and they’re thin and they’re so distinct without noise and you don’t want to get fingerprints on them and then you can put them in a frame… But I love that feeling when you get the packet and there are just loads of pictures. I always have to develop the pictures I take! Even if I’m getting the film scanned, I’ve always got to get those physical 5 x 7 or 6 x 4 prints… Just because it’s an amazing way to see the film roll… It’s so much better than on a screen. And it’s a bigger way of seeing them than a contact sheet. So you can just spread them all out over the floor and see what images are working together. And that’s my most useful tool. That’s where I feel like ‘this is okay - this is the crystallisation of that moment’. So the images that speak to me I might blow up and they’re great to have when you want to take them into a painting so you can stick them up and see what’s working together. I feel like that’s where I get my new ideas from and that’s where I feel most… It feels really delicious when I have all the photos out.
11. Is there a specific place where you feel most productive?
I think when I am shooting behind the camera. That’s when I feel most productive. That’s when I really just become one with whatever it is I’m taking a picture of and I won’t get distracted because I’m looking down the lens and nothing is going to stop me. So I feel very productive when I am doing this. And that could be anywhere… well as long as it is in front of anything I am inspired by!
12. What piece of work are you most proud of?
Probably this one - it’s called Nova… It’s black diamond dust screen printed and if you run your torch over it, it kind of goes a bit crazy…! I worked with Coriander Studios for this one. They work with Peter Blake for all his diamond dusting… Diamond dust is a material in its own right. It’s not actual diamonds…
I think I’m most proud of that because I feel like it translated very directly from an experience I had and it took me a long time to think of it. I was driving at night through India and the palm trees were black against the night sky and there was moonlight and I was like wow that’s black on black… I want to do something black on black and then it came to me that I could just do black diamond dust on black card! And it really reminds me of that and feels like an organic translation of that journey to the artwork. And the sparkles give it that sense of movement or travel… And they’re trees from Botswana actually…Transplanted! But they were pretty good palm trees in Botswana…I created that landscape or that skyline from several different photos I took while there…
There were several different processes that needed to happen to create this sort of work - you need to do it with a very reliable screen printing studio. It has to have an excellent UV seal so it doesn’t deteriorate with time…
13. What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a painting before I go away, which is of the pink mountains from Coachella and then there’s a swimming pool and out of the swimming pool comes a rainbow with a naked woman relaxing on it. It’s my first painting that’s a bit more surreal… It’s kind of a springboard from my other painting that is on the easel in my studio. So now I’m just stepping a bit more into the surreal painted landscape. And then the other thing that I want to do… I don’t know if will be an exhibition but I’m moving to Melbourne and when I was there before, I was really taken with how many different types of tree there are there… Like the wildly different types of trees and they’re very distinctive. I’ve never seen such a collection in one city so I wanted to do an exhibition… almost like a portrait series of several different trees and then do a small show somewhere. Like a Hockney portraiture show of all the different types of trees because they’re like a little family and they’re all just so different! And just using black ink on paper.
14. Do you look at the work of other artists?
Well apart from David Hockney and Wolfgang Tilmans, I really like an artist called Wade Guyton. He does stuff with big printers. It’s very graphic. He pulls at the works as they are coming out of the printers and I’ve always been a big fan. Oh I also love Philip Pareno. When I was in Melbourne, there was a solo show - a retrospective of his video work and I think he makes really powerful moving image. He really takes something that is ordinary and imbues it with a brilliance.
15. What do you think makes art good?
I think at the moment, I’m of the opinion that there is no such thing; that it’s so subjective that if art resonates with someone, that’s the point. I’m not at a stage where I can think this is good and that is bad but I think it’s about sharing… It’s a way of communicating with each other how we see our lives through our eyes… because that’s the mystery - how other people see the world and it’s such a clear non-verbal way of saying this is how I see it, this is what I think, this is what is happening for me… This is of note. This is special for me and I can’t say why and an artist puts that out and then someone sees it and if that resonates, then it becomes about that sort of bounce and I think that’s really nice and even if it’s not going to be seen by anyone… I think just exploring that is important… We don’t do enough of just slowing down and looking and feeling. It’s always goal-orientated or onto the next thing or fast fast fast and I think there is something really nice about just taking in the world and being present.
16. Do you have a favourite city to visit?
Berlin. I’ve been ten times. I love it! I love the spaciousness and I actually really love the architecture and the spirit of German people… their earnestness and I find them quite present and I want to say something like careful and meticulous but I mean more like a fullness to life. Attentiveness. I find them very attentive. Berlin also has beautiful lakes. I was swimming there a few weeks ago and the water was so pure. Apparently they tested it and it’s as clean as bottled water. I don’t know if that’s true but it was crystal clear and so beautiful! The nature in Berlin is amazing.
17. Name your top three holiday destinations:
Number one is Okango Delta in Botswana. It’s one of the last few ecosystems that’s completely in tact and unharmed by mankind. It’s a delta so you have lots of African wildlife there… Crocodiles… zebras… lions… elephants… leopards… It’s just amazingly full of life. I went on a horse-riding safari and saw everything from horseback. Feeling that exposed to it all made me feel very alive.
So that’s number one. Number two… It would probably be Australia because there is a bigness to Australia that really excites me, as a European. And following that… probably LA. Just because there is a poetry to the darkness… The energy there is rawer than anything over here I think. A danger…
18. What is your favourite museum or gallery in the world?
The Pompedu centre in Paris - I’ve had some really incredible experiences with individual artworks in there… Like one of Yves Klein’s blue pictures… I really felt this infinity feeling in the colour that I’ve felt in a mountain range and that was a really breathtaking moment… And I just think overall, it has a great collection and it’s a fantastic building and there is just something about it that is just really special.
I love the Barbican as well… That would be a close second. I love how it’s a world floating on top of a world. It’s raised up and they always have really cool things in there.
19. How would you describe your fashion style?
Colourful! And I’m a bit of a magpie… I’m never one of those people who’s like“oh that’s a great basic white top that I can wear with lots of different things!” The only thing I would ever buy is something that is spectacular so then I’ve got a wardrobe of all this different stuff that doesn’t really go together! That can’t really be worn… I don’t have useful basics… I’m like “that’s shiny!” and I’ll buy something that’s shiny and see-through when I really need something that’s practical…And actually, I haven’t really been buying clothes over the past few years… I kind of just inherit stuff from my friends or my grandmother…
20. Is what you wear important to you?
Yes it really is… And sometimes I feel really self conscious about that - it might be a superficial quality of mine… But then I came across a really great quote at that show… The California show… It’s actually about typefaces and how typefaces clothe the word which gives form to the meaning you are trying to express and how clothes make a first impression and are a gateway to who you are… And it made me think how clothes and fashion… are a necessity but they are also an opportunity to express yourself or say something about yourself before you’ve spoken or your mood or what you like…
21. What is your most treasured possession?
My dog… Well she’s not really a possession! But yeah, my dog.
22. If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
A yoga teacher!
23. What advice would you give those wishing to pursue a creative path?
Everybody has self doubt. And to not be discouraged by the self-doubt that everybody has and just try to be honest about what excites you. Because I think when you decide to pursue a creative discipline, it can become very serious, and then if you ever start trying to make work that you think other people are going to like, it can be a disaster because someone is always not going to like it. Someone is always going to think that what you’re doing is shit. There’s always going to be that person and there’s also always going to be someone that likes it. So it’s just gotta come down to whether you like it… So if someone thinks it’s shit but you don’t, then so what. But if you think it’s shit and then three people think it’s good but one person thinks it’s shit, you’re just going to feel like it’s shit because that other person has found you out!
I studied in Hamburg for a while and when we had crits over there, it was so much more harsh than the way they are over here! There was a lot more honesty. I don’t know if it was just because I was from abroad and people weren’t afraid to just dish it but it was really amazing to then realise that if everyone hates it but you love it, then that’s great. If you like it, it doesn’t matter. It’s when you don’t really like it, then it’s a problem.