We are very excited to introduce our May Manc of the Month, Liz West. Liz creates amazing large-scale installations, utilising light and colour to create immersive, all-encompassing experiences in which you can completely lose yourself.
Cotton on MCR: Please introduce yourself to the Cotton On MCR readers
Liz West: ‘I am a visual artist and I graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2007. I studied sculpture and environmental art which was the perfect course for me because it taught me a lot about how to work with space; I spent a lot of time out of my studio visiting different sites and thinking about how my work might fit on-site specifically. I have kept that ethos throughout all of my practice. I am also really interested in our individual relationships with light and colour. This is a subject which is at my very core as I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it matters to me and my wellbeing. As such, I thought it would be a really interesting avenue to explore as an artist and give other people an experiential encounter with the two mediums together.’
‘I aim to provoke a heightened sensory awareness in the viewer through my work. I am interested in exploring how sensory phenomena can invoke psychological and physical responses that tap into our own deeply entrenched relationships to colour. My investigations into the relationship between colour and light is often realised through an engagement between materiality and a given site. Our understanding of colour can only be realised through the presence of light. By playing and adjusting the colour, I bring out the intensity and composition of my spatial arrangements.’
COM: What initially inspired your desire to explore and work with such amazing colours?
LW: ‘Most of my earliest memories as a child were of discovering the world in a sensory capacity. I was attracted to objects, land and cityscapes, spaces and fashion that were made of vibrant colours, the brightest tones and hues and of strong saturation. All my memories, first loves and attractions all had one thing in common; the use of colour and light together. I create vivid environments that mix luminous colour and radiant light.’
COM: What does having a creative outlet mean to you?
LW: ‘I am constantly surprised and delighted at people’s reactions to my work; the feedback gives me the confidence to keep making. One of the best reactions I have heard was when a visitor walked through one of my spectral light installations they gravitated towards the orange section and stayed there for some time. That specific shade of orange conjured memories and sensory reactions to that particular colour; it triggered a memory of being in their grandmother’s house as a child where the wallpaper was bright orange, they remembered what was playing on the radio and the smell of burnt toast. It is astounding that colour has the power to summon such vivid memories and lived experiences based on people’s personal histories and perceptions.’
‘You cannot see colour without light. The two mediums are intrinsically connected which is really important for me. I don’t just make work with artificial light, I also think about natural light as it is as equally important to us as we go about our day-to-day lives.’
COM: When creating a new piece of work, what is your process?
LW: ‘I use many different tools/techniques and materials in my work in order to articulate my ideas. My work is often a three-part process:
1. Making physical drawings/works on paper/sketches/models/maquettes myself in my studio
2. Designers translating my ideas into digital renders or CGI’s using computer software, and
3. Having my work fabricated in a workshop using large machinery and specialist techniques.
I really enjoy researching and testing the limits of different and new materials – along with responding to a specific site, this is often my starting point. I am always on the lookout for spaces, materials and techniques because I am a super sensory person, a highly visual person, and a highly tactile person. I might not use a material for what it was originally intended but I am always thinking about how I might re-appropriate materials. I really enjoy reflective surfaces or ones that refract light and colour – things that go hand in hand with light, for example; colour charts, swatch books, mirrors, acrylic sheets, prisms, orbs and so on.’
COM: Is there a piece of your work that is your favourite/you are most proud of?
LW: ‘What appeared to get my career rolling was making ‘Your Colour Perception’ in Manchester, in 2015. In producing and presenting ‘Your Colour Perception’ I learnt a lot about the type of work I wanted to continue making and the impact this scale of work has on the audience experiencing it. Since then, I have continued my in-depth investigations and research into colour theory and the behaviour of light, both natural and artificial. I have honed my craft and learnt a lot, my ideas and understanding continue to develop and mature. I have intentionally taken on challenging opportunities that have initially scared me, in order to gain knowledge and take me outside of my comfort zone. In the future, expect to see my work get bigger and smaller. I am pushing my ideas for both human and domestic scaled work as well as new monumental pieces.’
COM: What advice would you give to people starting their creative careers?
LW: ‘I was given a few pieces of good advice that I took heed of and have stuck with me. One was to make work that you are truly in love with and passionate about; if you don’t love the work, then how can you expect anyone else to!’
‘Another was a great quote from David Bowie: “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth.’
COM: What is a day in the life of Liz West like?
LW: ‘Each working day brings something completely different in my world so it’s hard to build any sort of ritual or routine. I am working on several projects at any one time, which are all at different stages of fruition, ranging from conception to completion. On any given day I might be jumping from making a site visit (in-person or virtually), making drawings and sketches, writing about my ideas, promoting new works, photoshoots, conversations with producers, curators and fabricators and general administration.’
‘I am a morning person and generally function better then and find I create better at this time. I like to make myself copious pots of green tea; I find it comforting to have something caffeinated and clean to start my day. Some of my work involves deep concentration so quiet is best, I often listen to music when making drawings.’
COM: Outside of your artwork, do you have any other interests or hobbies?
LW: ‘I walk around with my eyes wide open. I look at the architecture, design, and art that’s all around me. I love people watching, seeing how we navigate, traverse and move through the spaces we inhabit. I appreciate geometry, shapes, colour, blends and patterns. I watch the weather and the seasons endlessly and how the light changes constantly.’
COM: Do you have any upcoming projects for 2022?
LW: ‘I have several new works and exhibitions in the pipeline for this year; a new permanent site-specific artwork at Guy’s Hospital in London, two new museum-based works in the USA, including at the new Color Factory in Chicago, and a solo exhibition in France and a (domestically scaled) limited edition piece will be coming on sale in the Summer which I have been developing for a couple of years.’
COM: If you could live in any artwork, what would it be?
LW: ‘There are so many interesting spaces, sites (indoors and outdoors) and situations that could easily dream of living in or amongst, it would be impossible to name one. The dream scenario would be choosing who you spent time with rather than pinning down an exact artwork/location to inhabit, as it is the people who make a home. Spending time and collaborating with other creative people – dancers, musicians, choreographers, designers, architects and chefs, would be dreamy. There are so many more mediums and great minds to explore that I would love to work with, the list is endless!’