For her latest exhibition, Abigail Reynolds borrows the title of Kenneth Noland’s 1953 painting, New Light. Reflecting on the city of Plymouth the exhibition runs until 5 April at the Plymouth College of Art Gallery. Inspired by the city of Plymouth and due to the architecture of the gallery, the fourth wall is completely made of glass, the city literally sits at the centre of her works. The artist’s pieces contextualise the city by placing it as a vision for the future alongside other realisations of communal ideologies striving to shape a better future. Aesthetica speaks to Reynolds about her relationship with Plymouth and her love for both London and Cornwall.
A: This exhibition is a reflection of the city of Plymouth, do you have any personal connection to Plymouth, why did you approach this project?
AR: I’m very fond of Plymouth now. Before applying to the South West Open I had only been to Plymouth once to see the British art show. While I was there I stayed on a commune with my family, just along the western coast from Plymouth. We stayed in yert for the weekend in misty October and drove into Plymouth to see the show from there. That was when I first saw the gallery space and I immediately wanted to work there. I like the “fourth wall” feeling – the sense that the city can peer into the gallery. I like the angle of the glass wall. In the process of working on the exhibition I got to know Plymouth much better. While I was in the city with Rambert Dance (I am their artist in residence, so I tour a bit with them) I stumbled upon the Guildhall and was completely entranced by it.
A: Why did you choose the title, New Light?
AR: I took it from the Kenneth Noland painting, a reproduction of which I used in my eponymous work pictured above. This is an early 1960s painting, slightly later than the moment of realising the Abercrobie plan in Plymouth. It’s bright, optimistic, clean, modern – just as the new city was to be. So to skew it to my interests, I took “new” to refer to Plymouth as the new city of the welfare state and “light” to reflect that sense of optimism and cleanness. The English language abounds in metaphors, and to view something “in a new light” usually means to reconsider it favourably, which pretty much sums up the attitude I took to the city of Plymouth in this exhibition.
A: How do you usually approach a new work?
AR: It usually approaches me! Making work is a strange and erratic dance of intuition, graft, brute materiality and opportunism. I allow myself to be attracted to certain images, forms and places which then become points to work away from. For me, making work is partly aversion and partly attraction. I enjoy to play with my sense of surroundings and also materiality. I also enjoy the difficulty of sculpture and the challenge of problem solving, which is always present when making anything three dimensional.
A: This exhibition looks at the future of Plymouth, how did you portray that?
AR: I feel that the past holds clues about the future, as much as the present does, but both past and future are completely closed books in an experiential sense.
A: What do you have planned for your own future?
AR: I am a very in-the-present person and I am most interested in my current moment and how to fully experience and enjoy that. The future is very uncertain. I would like to live long enough to see my children leave home. I am just buying a motorbike. I like to feel the future is rather open. I might move to Brazil, or I might start some huge earth moving project, or I might completely retreat into books. I don’t have a fixed sense of it at all.
A: You live in Cornwall and London, how do these contrasting environments influence your work?
AR: I am extremely lucky in that I am equally excited to look out of a train window to see the last stretch into Paddington or Penzance. Both of these places are quite extreme and I have different survival strategies for each of them. In London I cycle everywhere and I have a very strong network of artists whose work and conversation I enjoy. I see a lot of exhibitions when I am there and it’s this world that my work talks to formally. But – it’s not easy to make work in London. It’s very over stimulating and stressful. Money and space are very pressured. In Cornwall it’s much easier to have a sense of freedom and perspective from this pressure and competition. I live in St Just which is a small, scruffy town at the very far western tip of Cornwall. I work (and live) in a studio built to be a Wesleyan Chapel – it’s like a barn. It’s huge and very light, rather tatty with hardly any outdoor space but good indoor space. I visited the Barbara Hepworth studio in St Ives when I was 17 and her studio seemed to represent to me the possibility of being an artist in a way that I fully embraced. It means a lot to me to be near that, and to be near the sea. When I’m Cornwall I get to sit on the cliffs looking out across the Atlantic toward the Scillies everyday. It’s strangely essential to me to have this physical relationship with these huge forces of nature that don’t care about me at all.
Abigail Reynolds: New Light, Plymouth College of Art Gallery, Plymouth College of Art, Tavistock Place, Plymouth, PL4 8AT, Devon.
1. A New Light, courtesy of Abigail Reynolds and the Plymouth College of Art Gallery.