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Description and reinvention

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Distraction or interruption: British artist Abi Box’s work is now on display at the Bermuda Society of Arts (Photograph supplied)

You may know Abi Box’s work from the 2018 Bermuda Biennial although it is equally possible to have seen her art on display in private and public collections around the world.

Born in Britain, she moved to Bermuda a couple years ago after her partner found work on the island. Her present exhibit, Easily Distracted, is on show at the Bermuda Society of Arts.

Q: How did you arrive at that title and is it autobiographical?

A: I am completely easily distracted. When it comes to inspiration, I often find myself torn in a few different directions, whether it’s the content I’m interested in, or a style I’m drawn to, and in a way I just like the idea of distraction or interruption. Both notions appear throughout in my work.

Q: What materials do you work with?

A: Oil on canvas mostly but I also paint on board and Plexiglas. I like the way the paint reacts differently to each surface; canvas can be rough and absorbent, board is smoother, which means I end up making different kinds of marks. Plexiglas is super smooth and not absorbent at all, meaning that if the paint is mixed thinly the two surfaces repel and the paint loosely pools and fragments.

Q: How would you describe your creative process?

A: I start with sketches. I find it easier in a sketchbook to make awkward and clunky, fast, scribbly drawings, which I can then refer to when painting.

I paint from a mixture of sketches and photographs, layering one thing on top of another as well as borrowing parts I like from previous works, one piece inspiring another.

So each painting is a bit of a hybrid, which helps to put distance between me and the reality of whatever it is I’m painting.

A lot of what I do involves distracting myself away from conscious decision-making.

I sometimes place a textured grid between the pages of my sketchbook which forces me to make very messy drawings, the grid interrupting any hope of a straight line.

I joke that I make my best paintings when I’m not looking at the canvas at all, but there is some truth to that; my best pieces are full of accidents.

Q: What do you hope to communicate? Which artists most inspire you?

A: I find a lot of sense in poetry, carefully looking then translating and interpreting, exploring paint’s ability to visually describe and reinvent.

Abstract artist Julie Mehretu refers to areas of her work as “investigative drawing” and I quite like that.

I’m interested in mark making, the language and vocabulary of painting, but I really feel like I’m winning at life when I start to properly connect that with experimentation and the actual act of making.

The work in this show was in part inspired by a drawing by Marlene Dumas. The piece, titled I Won’t Have a Potplant, is a large pencil sketch of a house plant, very messy, rubbed out, redrawn, almost ugly thing, but I found it so beautifully reckless.

This layering and building up of scribbly marks has become my biggest focus lately. Although the content of my work is undeniably based on landscape, I am more interested in how I can take it apart and put it back together again.

Q: You moved from London to Bermuda a couple of years ago now, does location affect your work?

A: Completely. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be on an artist residency in the Amazon rainforest, in Peru, and I was in awe of how chaotic it was, a total argument of branches and jungle debris. It had a huge impact on the kind of painting I was making at the time, I started to paint very dense and chockablock pieces with no space at all.

Likewise, moving from my old studio in East London, which overlooked a grey concrete industrial estate, to green leafy Bermuda where I can take my studio outside into the garden … my palette has become decidedly brighter.

Q: Are there any Bermuda artists you admire?

A: I’ve been introduced to the work of some wonderful artists here. I’m a big fan of Jonny Northcott’s earthy ceramics as well as Meredith Andrews’s colourful, eco-conscious work with ocean plastics.

Q: Do you have plans to exhibit in Bermuda again soon?

A: I’ve entered a piece into Masterworks’ Charman Prize so, fingers crossed, sometime in October.

Abi Box’s exhibit at the Bermuda Society of Arts, Easily Distracted, runs through Tuesday

On exhibit: Looks Like Noise by Abi Box, oil on board (Photograph supplied)