Manc of the Month: Ella Fradgley

We can’t get over how much this woman does! Artist, curator, climber, student, and on top of all that, training for a half marathon! All this whilst just about to start her second year at MMU – jeez! We asked artist Ella Fradgley to be our Manc of the Month because we loved her work, then when we got chatting, we found out so much more her, how talented and driven she is, and how much she has accomplished already. So read the interview below to find out more about Ella, her projects, and why you shouldn’t throw away your baby drawings that Mum and Dad have stuck to the fridge!

Cotton On MCR: How would you describe your work?

Ella Fradgley: ‘My practice is centred on automatic drawing and mark-making. At the start of the year I was focused on automatic writing. I would write whatever was at the forefront of my mind and create a self-portrait of kinds within the grey space of tiny words on a white board. These automatic writing pieces would visually show how I was feeling at different periods of the piece. When sad, the words would gather in long blocks, when happy, they would break into shorter spontaneous sections. The lines linking the passages of mind-map text together acting like synapses amongst the mood shifts.’

‘I have fallen in love with this process and I am constantly learning about what subconscious elements of myself fall into the drawings, along with how to push the visual medium and the process into new realms.’

‘I began to adore how these compositions would reveal themselves to me. As someone whose personality and daily rituals are guided by lists, order and pre-planning, the enjoyment I found in turning to these familiar and comforting practices felt freeing and organic.’

CO: Your work was recently used for the branding of the MSoA 2019 degree show – how did that come about?

EF: ‘I’ve spent a lot of time this year with the huge collection of baby drawings my Mum had lovingly collected throughout my early years. I was a very prolific artist as a child it seems! All of my parent’s books, records and any spare pieces of paper would fall victim to my baby scribblings and circles (including several art books making for very sweet collaborations between baby me and the likes of Mondrian). So when MSoA put out the open call for ‘Everything Starts from Something’ asking for peoples earliest drawings I was absolutely thrilled. It came at such a perfect time for me as I had plenty ready to submit! Graphic Designer Studio DBD (MSoA alumni) then took my baby drawings and worked his graphic designer magic on them to create the branding for this year’s show.’

‘It was such an amazing and spookily relevant opportunity for me, and being able to show my parents the baby scribbles that covered all their possessions now covering the school of art was an unbelievably lovely feeling, and even more so getting to show my Mum the scrapbook she had so sweetly put together on display in the Benzie building.’

CO: That’s such a lovely story! Looking into your work, you are also a curator at Curve Gallery. Tell us more about that.

EF: ‘Curve is a curation-based project ran by me and my partner Mikey Thomas centred on curating shows for MMU and Greater Manchester artists. Curve isn’t necessarily fixed to one space, but the aim is for it to be always moving and revolving, taking opportunity of the spaces we can find to bring local artists work to different places, allowing both the artists to be seen and local people to see more artwork by local artists!’

‘So far we have been based in Stockport (Mikey’s hometown), having kindly been able to use Blackshaw’s Kitchen Stockport as a gallery space. We have been able to exhibit incredible artwork by MSoA artists such as Jasper Howard, Keira Lavin and Ryan Brown to name a few.’

‘Blackshaw’s has been an amazing opportunity to establish this curational practice and to put on some exciting shows, but we have decided to put it on pause whilst we establish a new Curve Project in Stockport (which will hopefully be announced soon.’

‘We also have plans to further establish the online curational potential of Curve through interviews, features and other collaborations with MMU and Greater Manchester artists, so please feel free to get in touch with us via on Instagram if you would like to get involved!!’

CO: We are huge fans of your recent Triptych work we have seen on Instagram. Can you tell us about those pieces?

EF: ‘The Triptych was made to be exhibited at Funk in the Forest Festival Wales. The artworks being exhibited at the festival were all collated due to a focus on the environment and the natural world, so the series was created very much with nature in mind. Often people tell me they see natural forms in my drawings, be it wind, rain, or bodily cells. The way these natural forms fall into the work isn’t unexpected considering the organic nature of the process.’

‘I wanted to try and find a way to further the organic feeling of the work and so I decided to move to drawing onto a more natural form (rather than a traditional squared board). The circular boards were a clear choice to me as I see the circle as a universally natural form (with the boards being organically wobbly, cut by hand by my partner Mikey Thomas). Artist Hiroyuki Doi speaks a lot about his use of the circle, and how he feels it is in many ways the shape of life and the universe. He is definitely an incredible artist to look at if you enjoyed my Triptych!’

CO: You’re about to start your second year of Uni, how are you feeling about that? What are you expecting from this year?

EF: ‘I am definitely very excited to get back in the studio for 2nd year. While I love my trusty sketchbook that has allowed me to keep drawing over the summer, being able to work on larger scale and more ambitious drawings is what I am most excited about with my practice at the moment. The MMU workshops are also incredible and I can’t wait to get stuck into some new mediums I’ve not got round to exploring yet, like ceramics and etching, and seeing how my process might apply to these different mediums.’

CO: What do you think of the Manchester art scene?

EF: ‘It feels exciting! Like it’s constantly growing with collectives like Get It Done, [a previous Manc of the Month] Cat Flap Collective and many other groups helping open more conversations and making room for more exhibitions and performances outside of the established Manchester institutions.’

‘When choosing which Uni to go to there was a lot of talk about how London is the “place to be” for art, but I disagree. I am 100% for keeping it Northern and cultivating the art scene here and in my hometown of Liverpool. There are so many incredibly talented and forward-thinking Northern creatives thriving and pushing forward with the creative energy here. That’s another reason why Curve is exciting. Many places in the North suffer greatly from lack of arts funding and investment, so taking the time to showcase the creative power in communities such as Stockport is very important.’

‘A huge inspiration to me is the recently established Conveniencesse Gallery in Birkenhead who are an incredible community contemporary art space and gallery based in Birkenhead. With collectives and spaces such as this forming in the North at the moment I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

CO: If you could have a conversation with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?

EF: Ooo that’s a tricky one. If we’re talking artists it would have to be Marina Abramović. I wish I could have attended her ‘The Artist is Present’ performance at MOMA, I can imagine it would have been a very impactful experience.

CO: Outside of art, what are your hobbies/interests?

EF: ‘Currently when I’m not drawing I spend almost all my time rock climbing. I absolutely ADORE bouldering and I hand on heart think it’s the loveliest way to exercise. It’s so social and engaging and the feeling of moving your body through space up a wall is just amazing. I’m also training to run a half marathon in May which is scary!!’

‘In terms of projects I am also very passionate about music and I co-run the online platform @wherearethegirlbands that aims to elevate and support local femme and wxmen creatives, as well as opening discussions about the accessibility of the local music scene.’

CO: And last one, if you could live in any painting / artwork, which would it be?

EF: ‘At the moment definitely most paintings by Pierre Bonnard. They fit my nostalgic and romantic nature perfectly.’

Find out more about Ella Fradgley on her Instagram page.

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