Aesthetica Art Prize, Interview with Shortlisted Artist Liz West in The Press

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition Private View is tonight, with the show opening to the public tomorrow and continuing until 29 May. The exhibition takes place at York St Mary’s and showcases the work of 10 outstanding contemporary artists who tackle key themes of today. Here Charles Hutchinson from The Press puts one finalist, Liz West, from Manchester, in the spotlight. The article featured in The Press on 9 April.

CH: You have created a piece site-specific to York St Mary’s. What first struck you about this particular space and how have you responded to the space in your piece Shifting Luminosity?
LW: Initially when I entered York St Mary’s, I felt overwhelmed and excited about the possibility of what I could create. What struck me first was the quality of the shifting light pouring in through the leaded and stained glass windows.

When I arrived on site to start installing Shifting Luminosity, I brought with me the components for my installation, but an open mind as to how the different elements would be orchestrated. I began, as I always do, with a playful approach; leaning my materials against the wall in different arrangements to see which formations aesthetically worked. I was very conscience that I didn’t want the work to appear two-dimensional and sit flat against the wall; instead I wanted to work to spread into the space and illuminate the area, creating sculptural forms and colour mixing against the white wall.

CH: Does York St Mary’s status as a church building have an impact on your installation?
LW: I think the relationship between my ephemeral light-based work and the building’s former use as a church sits together very well; they seem in harmony with one another. The ambient interior and physical remainders of York St Mary’s previous use as a church contributes to my work greatly by becoming integrated as part of this site-specific work. The radiant glow from my installation highlights some of the historic elements of the building, accentuating and highlighting the beauty of the architecture.”

CH: What is the significance of the title Shifting Luminosity?
LW: When I made the first incarnation of Shifting Luminosity in 2014 I thought of this work as a drawing in space with a painterly approach. In constructing the work,I investigated the space I was using to determine what was possible within the confines of the room (my new studio at the time). Shifting Luminosity used minimal everyday materials to direct the flow of artificial light, creating an ambient spatial drawing. It is part of an ongoing series based on my research into colour theory and light fields.

CH: What is your back story as an artist?
LW: I graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2007 with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art: Sculpture and Environmental Art, since when I’ve worked as a full-time artist exhibiting nationally and internationally. I now live and work in Manchester, having grown up in a small South Yorkshire town with both my parents working as visual artists. It seemed inevitable that is what I would end up doing. I always perused what I loved, enjoyed and what I felt I was best at, which was always art. Going to art school felt like a natural pathway for me.

CH: How would you describe your artistic process?
LW: I make vivid environments that mix luminous colour and radiant light. Working across a variety of mediums, my aim is to provoke a heightened sensory awareness in the viewer through my works. I’m interested in exploring how sensory phenomena can invoke psychological and physical responses that tap into our own deeply entrenched relationships to colour.

My investigation into the relationship between colour and light is often realised through an engagement between materiality and a given site. Within physical and architectural space, I use light as a material that radiates outside of its boundaries and containers. I playfully refract light through using translucent, transparent or reflective materials, directing the flow of artificial and natural light. Our understanding of colour can only be realised through the presence of light. By playing and adjusting colour, I bring out the intensity and composition of my spatial arrangements.

CH: Why do you work with light and colour as your chosen art form?
LW: Both light and colour are wide in their outreach and ability to transform, perceive, deceive, illuminate and optically challenge myself and my viewers. There are so many possibilities to create using light as a medium, I like that I never feel restricted, maybe because I don’t see myself as a light artist! I see myself as a visual artist – a label which suggests a bigger toolbox and wider palette of materials.

I’ve never been afraid of testing all kinds of materials; I enjoy discovering their potential and possibility; this just happens to include variants of bulbs and lighting methods and technologies. Maintaining an open mindset is possibly why I’ve managed to reinvent my work regularly, purely because I think less about the bulb and more about space in which we inhabit.

CH: What are you working on at present?
LW: I have new works in the Royal British Society of Sculptors Bursary Awards exhibition in London and am working on a number of exciting projects, including a major commission for the Natural History Museum in London, and solo exhibitions at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe and Penarth Pavilion, amongst others. There is lots more in the pipeline too.

My newly commissioned work for the Natural History Museum’s upcoming Summer Colour and Vision exhibition will allow visitors to see themselves in a different light as they step into the exhibition and into my immersive artwork. Our Spectral Vision is inspired by Isaac Newton’s seven-fold colour spectrum; rays of light from every colour of the rainbow will beam through seven prisms made from special colour filter glass, creating an atmospheric illusion that will stimulate visitors visual perception of colour.

For my solo exhibition Our Colour Reflection, I will present an ambitious new work using coloured mirrors to transform the interior of the former St John’s Church building housing 20-21 Visual Arts Centre. Viewers will see themselves reflected in the mirrored surfaces as they explore the installation. The work will also reflect the gallery lighting – projecting colour up into the roof-space of the historic building – creating a dialogue between viewer, artwork and architecture.”

CH: What would winning the Aesthetica Art Prize mean to you?
LW: I feel honoured to have been shortlisted and therefore included in the anthology; I feel even more excited to have been shortlisted and given the amazing opportunity of exhibiting an adaptation of Shifting Luminosity at York St Mary’s. Winning the prize was never on my agenda. I entered the Aesthetica Art Prize because I wanted to collaborate with the Aesthetica team, exhibit in an amazing venue and have my work seen by a new audience. Winning would simply be an added and unexpected bonus.”

To see the full article by Charles Hutchinson on The Press visit

For more information about Liz West, visit

Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN. 14 April – 29 May, Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm-4pm. Free Admission.

1. Liz West, Shifting Luminosity, 2016. Photo courtesy of Jim Poyner.