Interview with Bex Massey

British, secretly monarchist, female artist on feminism, nostalgia, and her process.

THE INTERVIEW WAS DONE ON

04 SEPTEMBER 2020

S.M
"Tell us about yourself."

B.M

"I was born in Newcastle in the mid 80’s. I moved to London 16 years ago to study art and never left. My ‘art’ is figurative painting and installation and both are littered with imagery surrounding my Geordie childhood. I appropriate, layer and collage this nostalgia in a bid to discuss feminist issues."

S.M
"Did you start painting at an early age?"

B.M

"I started drawing at a very early age. Paint wasn’t really until 14."

S.M
"What’s your studio like?"

B.M

"My studio is a natural light-filled utopia in the Bow Arts Trust site studios. It’s a very peaceful studio but it’s also a very old, unkempt building so sometimes I inadvertently commune with nature whilst working: Squirrels fine, wasps much less good :/"

"Marmite is Queen"

S.M
"Any Daily rituals/routines?"

B.M

"I get up early, sink two strong coffees, have an Insta trawl, and then do some research. I wave internet goodbye (my studio is that archaic it doesn’t have any fiber) and head to the studio betwix 9-12 am (dependent on projects and necessity for the www) for some sketching and testing. Quick lunch, a brew, and at least seven hours of painting."

S.M
"You seem to spend a lot of time doing quality research before you do a painting. Like doing multiple sketches and experiments. When you start a new painting, what’s the process?"

B.M

"I spend yonks on research. An unnecessary amount of time seeing as most people assume it’s all just been shoved together due to the nature of its Pop Art aesthetic (I think there is still a lot of snobbery regarding history of art and certain facets that don’t seem to withstand the ‘conceptual gaze’). I really enjoy this period of learning though, and as my work often has a socio-political narrative-this period of reflection is tantamount to a message not being garbled or worst misconstrued.


Once I have the bones of the theory, I source imagery. I am a keen sketch booker and continuously sketch and re-sketch cognition, composition, and concept. These initial studies are really beneficial as I usually work from low quality found photographs taken in the 90’s. I tend to grab a few similar images and then try to fudge the angle I want from the combination. If I have the image but it’s super blurred, I imagine what the pixels are hiding and when neither work-I just make it up. As each new layer applied to the canvas has the ability to ruin the previous-it helps to sometimes have a practice or figure out certain parameters in advance. I never want to have it all drafted out as that would be boring-but a stack of research in advance enables me to be bolder."

"I think that levity is a great distraction tactic when discussing difficult topics."

S.M
"Who inspires you? Or What inspires you?"

B.M

"Strong women. Comedy and Satire. Victoria Wood."

S.M
"Your artworks touch multiple segments of popular culture. Tell us what inspired you to dive deep into those subjects?"

B.M

"I think (as I just touched on in the last question) ‘comedy and satire’ inspire me to dive into popular culture. Pop Culture is accessible to all through our lived experience (granted these time capsules are country/era-specific as a recent painting which includes 90’s Brit-pop band FIVE taught me after a few studio visits) and Pop Art is jovial in nature. I think this levity is a great distraction tactic when discussing difficult topics: Who wants to opt into the misconception of ‘angry feminist’ entrenched in our psyche since the 60’s when you can dress up a potentially divisive discussion so that everyone can interact with it rather than just those with a similar agenda to you? Using fun, identifiable, nostalgic, popular culture motifs enables me to discuss equality away from the structured and often complicated term ‘feminism’."

S.M
"Some of your work has a hint of nostalgia, especially for those who lived in the final decade of the pre-internet era. Do you often reflect back? Or even fantasize about the past?"

B.M

"Always and always!!

I love nostalgia from the 80’s/90’s overlap of my formative years. The era didn’t seem to take itself very seriously (or maybe it just felt that way because I was a child?)? So, I reflect back for the safety of a time where we still had a princess, girl power was feigning to give women more than just ladette culture and the world had longer than 10 years before it gave up under the weight of our incompetence.


As you said-having been born pre-mobile, interweb and cloud I also LOVE the leisurely pace of this former epoch and fantasize about this regularly. What is more I worry about our overwhelming reliance on the digital? This new frenetic pace coupled with the many ways in which our data is being taken and often compromised or sold (not to mention the manner in which we are now ‘always on call’, corrupt algorithms, and computers which can think independently, etc) makes me yearn for the past. In acknowledging the incredible leaps in technology during my lifetime, it would be remis to imagine that the same or even an acceleration wouldn’t happen in a further 35 years-so what does that future look like?  "

S.M
"In your recent work, there’s an old school Sony Walkman in the painting…playing ‘I’m Every Woman’ by Whitney Houston…What a classic. Tell us the story behind this painting."

B.M

"Absolute classic. Had the tape then, and it’s on my phone now! The painting is based on the societal bias towards ‘beauty’ which leads to daily objectification and subjugation of women worldwide and how this stems as far back as the Ancient Greeks (although obscured-under the whitewashed background lies a copy of an art historical painting of Hades kidnapping Persephone by Luigi Basiletti). In this work, however, I am also trying to demonstrate the complex intersectionality which means that certain topics a la ‘The Beauty myth’ don’t have the same impact universally. Some examples of this can be seen in the triangle (Greek letter Delta and meaning ‘change’) via the tape (BAME), ‘Wheels’ from kids club drink (disabled), Monopoly dog (low income), and lilac lines (‘lavender menace’-Queer).


Although there seems to be more of a push for equal voices in the current movement-lots of minority groups have felt alienated for too long to return to feminism. Equality won’t happen without all of us working together however-so it is imperative that we continually check that everyone feels catered for. If we don’t discuss these imbalances and ensure feminism is truly pushing for equality for everyone, we are fated to repeat the continuum of feminism only creating a slow progress for white, cis, straight, able-bodied, middle class, women."

"The nostalgic and identifiable motifs I use enable the whole sphere of feminist issues-that is equality for ALL and not just women-to be discussed away from the structured and often complicated term ‘feminism’."

S.M
"God Complex’ what’s that all about? Spiderman and goose…?"

B.M

"I made this during the first London (and global) lockdown. ‘God Complex’ plays on the titles adage and in so doing seeks to question the role of Donald Trump during the global crisis (and in general). A childlike upturned scrawl of ‘nasty’ (shouted at Weijia Jiang, 3rd April during COVID 19 press briefing) adorns the back of the canvas whilst anatomically small hand (of a Satyr which are renowned for sexual promiscuity) and orange hue are visible on the face. These inflated feelings of personal ability that Trump personifies are further grounded in our recent history via our ‘new normal’ COVID 19 vernacular. A Marvel mask now reminds us of PPE masks, droplets below it also seem like spittle and in this context, the medical diagram of a mouth being covered by an armpit pushes us further towards a narrative surrounding how to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the R-value.


‘God Complex’ moreover references the King of the Ancient Gods-Zeus-from its gestural lightning bolt background to the soft glow omitting from the leaning edge. Zeus was and is to this date revered and yet on further inspection, the stories he intersects are more than troubling and epitomized in the seven women he raped: Alcmene and Persephone (disguised as her husband/father) here symbolized via the Spiderman mask which as a costume is worn by ‘Fathers for Justice’; Calisto (as she slept) and noted in ‘ZZZ’ pattern running throughout the white impasto; Metis (swallowed her) as the clinical drawing of throat touches on; Antiope (as a Satyr) seen in the orange horns and hand of Phil [Hercules, Disney 1997]; Europa (as a bull) produced here in the readymade plaster Red Bull cans that act as feet and litter aside the canvas; Leda (a swan-not a goose. That’s just my naff painting skills I’m afraid) noted bottom left and Danae (golden shower) droplets falling into the hand."

"I worry about our overwhelming reliance on the digital"

S.M
"2020 has been a pretty dark year, bush fire, COVID-19, the explosion in Beirut, police brutality, etc. What’s your experience so far?"

B.M

"It’s a lot! I am just trying to take it all in, learn as much as I can, and figure out how I can be the best ally. The world is in a real pickle at the moment: I hope at the very least that these natural disasters and intense human suffering act as a catalyst for change."

S.M
"The art world has been changing a lot during the lockdown period, especially towards the online digital world. What's your view?"

B.M

"Well, as I said earlier-I'm not ‘the digitals’ biggest fan. Forgetting that my work pushes against the computerized via time-specific signifiers of an era before its invention. Or the lengthy mimicry of Photoshop layers that I manufacture in paint-I am also a huge fan of craftsmanship and materiality. Photographs don’t really enable me to view these due to the manner in which the screen flattens artworks. For sake of example when viewing paintings online, unless there’s some clever videos-I wouldn’t always see layering, impasto, or scale. I also think that you enter a gallery in a different headspace and reverence in comparison to sitting in front of your laptop (which to be fair we already do enough these days right?).

 

This being said when talking about this recently with a curator of a show that’s (hopefully still) coming up: He said that he hasn’t actually seen my work in the flesh and did indeed select it after viewing it online. I have also been very conscious of the amount of shows that I have been able to view internationally which otherwise I would not have seen. Likewise, I have been selected for a few when physical shows were canceled/postponed. HOPEFULLY, this will also make art more accessible for a wider audience who-because of the inherent snobbery that often accompanies Fine Art-have until now been put off entering the gallery IRL??"

"Art is (should be) for everyone"

S.M
"The digital world in the context of art certainly has its pros and cons. If you could go back in time, what era would you like to explore?"

B.M

"Yikes: I wouldn’t want to go back anywhere in time as a woman-things are unbalanced enough as is. If I could venture incognito-I’d explore Elizabethan England though and try to meet the Queen and Shakespeare."

S.M
"Fair enough. Finally, tell us a secret."

B.M

"I’m a monarchist. Please do not confuse this with Brexiter (I ardently wasn’t). I just enjoy the pomp and parade surrounding the history of the monarchy and get kicks out of collecting the memorabilia. The Queen is my favorite (she reminds me of my gran a little as they would have been the same age) but after 65 years of service, she is surely soon to retire. At which point (once I have returned from many months of mourning) my friends and family will in many ways heave a cumulative sigh of relief as I will no longer be beholden to the Royals. When our dear Queen dies-so too will the traditions and history which interest me. Long live the Queen!"

"Marmite is Queen"

"I think that levity is a great distraction tactic when discussing difficult topics."

"The nostalgic and identifiable motifs I use enable the whole sphere of feminist issues-that is equality for ALL and not just women-to be discussed away from the structured and often complicated term ‘feminism’."

"I worry about our overwhelming reliance on the digital"

"Art is (should be) for everyone"

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