I get really excited when we see something new and something, well, a little naughty, especially in collage art. Artist Gina Riley’s work caught our attention for her mix of powerful, emotional pieces which include strong messages, as well as her risqué and sexy images. Riley is currently studying her Masters degree in Illustration as well as working on ‘UR-TOPIA’ magazine which is underway and we are excited to see how that turns out. Read on to find out more about ‘UR-TOPIA’, find out what our favourite piece is of Gina’s is and which artist she wants to talk sex talk with.
Cotton On Mcr: How would you describe your work?
Gina Riley: ‘Surreal, utopian, dystopian, comical and confrontational.’
CO: How has your work developed over the years?
GR: ‘I used to do more traditional illustration, ink drawing and the kind of stuff I thought was growing popular at the time. It wasn’t until the final year of my undergrad that I really explored a mixed media approach and understood how powerful collage can be. The more I explored collage and mixed media, the more I felt I was able to say about the world. I think the pivotal point for me in the past couple of years was my venture into erotica in response the show Pink Room: Intimacy After The Internet, an exhibition myself and some friends put on at The White Hotel in 2016. It was after this I figured that now is the perfect time to make the work that I want to make. I’m pursuing an exploration into how much I can bend and push boundaries with image disruption and the grey areas between viewer comfort and discomfort beyond the realms of traditional illustration.’
I can relate to this personally. I studied Fine Art at University and felt like, as a, perhaps vulnerable and naive student, I (along with many on my course) felt lead into creating work that was ‘growing popular at the time.’ I wish I had done something else, something that felt more ‘me’.
CO: Have people ever been negative to your work? How did you address that?
GR: ‘At times yes, but I’ve learned to thrive on a mixed response. I’ve always said that I want my work to evoke a reaction. I’d rather somebody loved or hated my work as opposed to a ‘oh that’s nice’. I’m always open to criticism, but when people are super negative it’s usually reactionary and I’m fine with that. The positive responses usually outweigh the negatives anyway. You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.’
CO: Amen to that! So what are you currently working on?
GR: ‘At the moment I’m just focussing on finishing my Master’s degree. This year has been really challenging for me both professionally and personally but it’s been the perfect timeframe to explore the directions I could be heading for in the future. For now I’m working on an ongoing erotic collage series ‘Eden’s Garden’ alongside publishing UR-TOPIA, an upcoming new erotica magazine showcasing creatives worldwide addressing similar themes and issues as myself.’
CO: Tell us more about UR-TOPIA? How did this come about? What is the end goal?
GR: ‘UR-TOPIA is an idea I’ve had for the past year really. I’ve been into niche publishing for a while now and the idea that I could make something as exciting as Baron, or Extra Extra for example really excited me but it felt really unobtainable at the time. As the year has gone by I realised that providing platforms for people’s artistic voices is really important to me so I decided to take the plunge with the project and put my editorial skills to the test. The aim is to provide a space to explore themes deemed taboo for most mainstream publications but are important to a lot of creatives I know. These include but aren’t limited to: BDSM and psychology, dystopian and utopian ideals, human fear and desire, interpersonal relationships and queer sexuality. I thought I’d put out a few open calls and so far the submissions have been really exciting to work with! I’m aiming for UR-TOPIA to showcase artists internationally and hopefully it will become an ongoing project if the launch goes as planned. We will be featuring shortlisted work in print and online, all profits from the publication will be going towards LGBTQ+ charities and towards publishing our next issue. We’ll be launching a crowd funder page and a website in the near future but until then you can find updates on the project at our Instagram @ur_topiamag‘. If anyone is interested in submitting to future issues please do send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.‘
CO: We are huge fans of your plant series that was recently on Instagram (‘Still Growing’, ‘This is really hard’ etc). Can you tell us more about those?
GR: ‘Ah thank you! I guess those are more my focus on the relationship between text and image. If I’m honest that series was the quickest to produce and is a methodology I refer to when I just need to express myself in a short amount of time. I made that series under a lot of emotional distress and I think the honesty in that must show in the work. Maybe that raw emotion is why it so popular? I’m trying to intertwine this side of my practice into my everyday work, but it’s hard to figure a balance. Sometimes my work wants to be raw and emotive, others it’s cheeky and funny so I guess it’s okay to have a separate spaces for both to exist.’
CO: Do you have a favourite piece of work/one you are most proud of?
GR: ‘To date ‘My Mum’s On Fire’ displayed at Plant NOMA February this year, is a series I’m particularly proud of. Again, this was a very raw display of emotion and the start of unleashing more confessional content throughout my practice. Making the series felt like a necessary process in acknowledging my own resilience and emotional capacity. I don’t like the work for any aesthetic reasons. I don’t think it’s technically revolutionary, in fact it reminds me of the worst experience of my life. I’m just really proud that I got through such a difficult time.’
CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene?
GR: ‘I’m really enjoying it! What enticed me most about Manchester is more the DIY creative scene than the corporate art scene. There’s always something going on or something to look forward to which is what I love the most.’
CO: What other artists do you admire/follow?
GR: ‘My favourites change all the time! Inside Flesh, Mary Reid and Patrick Kelley, Jesse Draxler and DR. ME Studio are huge influences for me. Other faves of mine to check out on Instagram include Julia Soboleva, Grace Oni Smith, Kensuke Koike, Robyn Janine and my cute housemate Kat Frost.’
CO: If you could have a conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
GR: ‘Tracey Emin, we could exchange really bad sex stories. That’d be nice.’
CO: Outside of art, what are your hobbies/interests?
GR: ‘I’m pretty involved in the local music scene, (by that I mean my friends are, they run labels like Mutualism and boygirl – I just like to go along and have a dance really). I love supporting those around me, the friends I’ve made here [in Manchester] have become like my extended family – a little dysfunctional and on the quirkier side but I couldn’t be more grateful for that. I also love cooking and I’m passionate about dog memes.’
CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be?
GR: ‘I’d love to hang out in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. I mean it’s from between the 14-1500s and everyone seems to be having a blast, there’s giant strawberries and everything. It’s timeless really, and what a perfect backdrop that’d be for an orgy!’
Keep your eyes on the UR-TOPIA Instagram for updates, and head to Gina Riley‘s website to see more of her amazing work.