Belinda Eaton

INTERVIEWS

INTERVIEW WITH AAMINAH HAQ, 2010

Aaminah Haq : “Born in Mombasa, school in Franco’s Spain, college in London, early work in New York, lost in rural France, found in Pakistan, now living and working in Pakistan” is how you describe your various migrations in your artist biography. You seem to be attracted to mostly warm vibrant cultures. What made you live this nomadic existence?  What fuels this wanderlust? How does that inform your work?

Belinda Eaton : There was so much movement as a child that its part of my conditioning. It’s my norm. I have no fear of moving or simply deciding to change. I love the way one looks with openess at new customs, colours, smells etc. A shifting panorama is always fresh and the mind always enquiring.  It’s the vibrancy of life. I have noticed that the warmer the culture the more open it is and less claustrophobic and confined. And maybe, there lies the answer. A needing to feel free and to retain a constant fresh vision on life. How its affected my painting? It’s a world with out borders or boundaries, cultures, art, colour, music, food, people, language all melt into one, It lends it self to so much freedom. Freedom of vision, thought, possibilities that can pour out of one’s imagination, only reigned in by ones emotions whilst painting.

AH: Lets speak a little bit about your early years in Mombasa, how do you think your work has been affected by your time and experiences in Mombasa?

BE: I left Mombasa when I was 6 years old. My memories are somewhat surreal but very real to me. Chameleons changing colour. Lion’s footprints outside the door as they had come in looking for water. A leopard coughing in the trees, near our house at night. An elephant eating the straw off our hut when we were staying in a game park. Slowly revealing the star filled sky. A fisherman cutting a female shark in half and her baby sharks, perfect inside her.  Swimming in azure blue sea and squirting sea cucumbers. The sunsets. My ayah’s huge looped ears, a tribal thing. People eating flies that were washed up on the beach, a delicacy. Snow white coral sand. All magic. All, poetic and beautiful. And I feel that, is all some how expressed in my paintings even if the subject is just fabric or a face.

AH: Your work, even your portraiture, seems to have a swirl of energy about it. Where does that come from, and what meaning does that hold for you?

BE: I experience everything as energy, nothing is static. Everything is alive and vibrant and yet there is a pure stillness with in that. When I paint, I become totally absorbed in the paint, the brush stroke and the colour and they take on a life of their own. I think I just keep painting and adding, until the painting becomes alive for me. It can’t be a dead painting.

AH: Let’s move onto your St. Martin’s years. How would you advise younger artists with reference to formal art school training?  Does it help them or work to their detriment?

BE: To have the freedom of 4 years to be immersed in an environment surrounded by other creative people is an incredibly valuable experience. An opportunity to have the freedom to explore so many mediums and find out your weaknesses and strengths, your passions etc.  When you leave and start to work in your own studio you enter a lonely existence. It’s the one thing I find I have in common with other painters is how isolated we become.  So make the most of Art school and use every thing that is on offer to you is what I would advise a young artist to do.

AH: Your work employs a lot of gorgeous decoration.  In the background and on faces and skins you use bold yet delicate patterns.  What does this signify for you?  What sense would you like the viewer to walk away with?

BE: I really don’t know how to answer this. I make no conscious decisions, and really try not to think about or intellectualize why I do this. It’s purely instinctive and a reaction to the moment in which I am painting. One thing leads to another. Although it feels like the pattern is walking across a landscape I have absolutely no expectations of the viewer. I finish my painting and let it go. I have never placed myself in the viewer’s mind.

AH: Your recent work also seems to have some images of “twining.”  Is there any reason for that?

BE: No

AH: Your subjects seem to be in the midst of active living as you render them.  Whether devouring food, engaged in flirtatious behaviour, lounging with friends, playing cards, there seems to be an active engagement with life, with each other and with the viewer.  You can almost taste their food, feel their passions.  What makes you want to employ this technique?

BE: I think this is answered in the first questions. It’s all an expression of my experience of life and feeling alive.

AH: Why acrylic on canvas as a medium of expression?  Have you ever thought of sculpture?  I can imagine you making some gorgeous bold dynamic sculptural work? Or rendering some amazing public works of art.

BE: I was trained as a printmaker, also a filmmaker. But I came to painting and found magic in it.  On a purely practical level, it’s probably the medium that fits best with a nomadic lifestyle. Pack up your paints and canvases. You are self-contained, I sculpted at St. Martins and loved it. Ideally l should go back to Art school for all the materials and workshops and I would be like a kid in a sweet shop.

AH: Art is now, and has been, big business.  All artists need financial support to sustain themselves.  How do you manage the financial side of art?  How have you balanced the creative and business sides of Art?

BE: The eternal problem of an artist. Artists are probably the most resourceful of people, balancing, juggling. Creative on so many levels in order to have the space to work, until one is in the position to be completely self sufficient through one’s work. It is a struggle to work for one’s keep and work for one’s heart. I have been very lucky and have managed to be offered work in films, or fashion lines etc. I had an excellent restaurant C.V. when younger and managed some very good restaurants in both New York and London. Also renovating properties etc. And now I combine painting with my other passion, which is teaching yoga.

AH: What is your routine when you are working?  Is there some timetable you adhere to?  Many writers have commented how they seem to do their best work in the early hours of the morning?  Does that hold true of you?

BE: For me, it’s very important to be disciplined. I enter my studio at about 10.00 am and work through until the evening. My best work times vary with the seasons. I tend to follow the light. Winters are totally different to summer.

AH: You have also lived in Asia.  How long were you in Pakistan?  What brought you there? Do you follow the Pakistani art scene?  If so what do you make of it? And where do you see it heading?

BE: I was in Karachi for nearly 4 years. I came because of my husband who is from Karachi. I was in Karachi last year for my exhibition at the V.M. Gallery and managed to get up to Lahore and visit some studios. As well as in Karachi. I don’t feel I can really comment on the Art scene. I know things have changed so much from when I was living there in the 90’s when it was really hard for Pakistani artists. I am delighted that the world is beginning to recognize them. Especially for the established ones. But I worry about the madness that had existed just before the economic crisis where there was such a demand for anything that came out of Pakistan and India. Prices for unestablished artists just soared. And then there is a danger of crashing. I believe all art needs a career and development other wise it’s work that has no foundation and where will that artist go.

AH: What kind of art work inspires you?  What do you find beautiful and edifying?

BE: I am inspired by anything that creates movement within me. Work that has soul. I love the early Renaissance period when you can see that life, the world was a new discovery. Paula Rego for her complete absorption in her own world. Ron Meuck for the essence he breathes into his lifelike sculptures, that challenge one’s perception of perception. Peter Doig and Vuillard for their use of paint. Lucien Freud, I just want to eat his brush strokes. I have just seen Anish Kapoor’s recent show at the Royal Academy, London.  Fantastic. I love filmmaking. All of Ang Lee’s films. Wong Kar Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’, the great Fellini who I worshipped whilst studying film . Along with Satyajit Ray .Great books, the obvious being Marquez’s “Love in the time of Cholera” Or Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”.

AH: When I was looking at some of your paintings with women in them, I felt like I was looking at a beautiful fashion spread, with all that meticulous detailing you do on the clothing.  What kind of fashion do you look at, feel connected to?

BE: I was at St Martin’s during a really exciting time in music and fashion. I had a Saturday job on the Kings Road when the punks were fighting it out with the skinheads. We were creating the New Romantic look at the college. We had access to an incredible closing down sale of a theatrical costumier’s warehouse. Malcom Mclaren was buying up his costumes for Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow, alongside us. St Martin’s held an alternative fashion show which the artists took part in. Boy George would come along and model. There were always photographers outside the entrance to the college photographing all of us students in our costumes. Art and fashion seemed strongly fused for me at that time. John Galliano and I were together on Foundation before he went into Fashion and myself into Fine Art.

I moved to New York and married a fashion photographer and would edit his photographs. So there is a strong cross over. I have a passion for fabrics and pattern and have a large collection that I have collected over my life . I own a pair of powder blue silk 17th century shoes. I look at them everyday and they fill me with pleasure. They are not shoes to me they are just a beautiful object.

I feel that there is escapism in fashion as well that I probably identify with . For me John Galliano is a great artist and his shows are beautiful. Grace Coddington, American Vogue’s stylist is also a great artist and her vision is pure escapism and beauty. Something I find lacking in Contemporary Art. In fact there is a common theme running through out this interview and that is escapism, ha ha .

AH: Who are these people you paint? Friends, people you see for a fleeting moment on the streets or figments of your imagination?

BE: Friends, photographs of a mood that catches me.  People form my imagination who I meet many years later or just see fleetingly.

AH: After living in Pakistan, how do you respond to its current political climate?  The country is in the news right now.  How does it feel to hear about it now?  Does the way Pakistan is reported about correspond to your experiences in the country?

BE: I feel very sad about what is happening to Pakistan. It’s a country with so much potential and such beautiful warm people.

AH: What do you think you took from your time in Pakistan?  How has your time there effected your painting? Is there work that was solely inspired by your time in the country?

BE: I still have strong connections to Pakistan because of my husband and my parents in-law. I hear of Pakistan everyday. I miss it hugely and if the situation there was different, would love to move back. It was hugely inspirational for me. The people.  The movement, so many people, cars, beautiful trucks. People everywhere being so creative with so little. Life really exposed where as in the west it’s so hidden behind closed doors. A simple trip outside attacked all of one’s senses, constant stimulation. I am trying to think of how my work was actually influenced. If anything my painting became more portraiture, capturing people and more decorative. Probably inspired by the use of decoration to be found everywhere and in the most unexpected places. Under the bonnet of a truck, mendhi on hands. It gave me license to play, which can be seen, in my current paintings of faces.

AH: You have also exhibited in Karachi.  What kind of work did you show?  What was the response of the critics and the public? Do you ever plan to come back and exhibit again?

BE: Yes. I had a show at the VM gallery after many years of being away. I showed all my recent paintings. Some fairly decorative portraiture and more recent, very large canvases with just a face, and some of my group paintings. The response was amazing, absolutely amazing. As an artist who works in isolation for months, a show is always a daunting prospect. Coming out of your world but bringing people into it. You are open and exposed. Pakistan is a place I have always felt received from the heart and I don’t really know what more I could ask for. I had so much exposure. Interviews. An hour long TV interview with Tammy Haq. Loads of students came from the art schools, which always gives me a lot of pleasure. I felt truly welcomed back. I had shown many times in the 90’s and people still remembered me, students were even studying me.

AH: You have painted a lot of women. How do you feel about your evolvement as a woman?  Do you think your work has been effected by your evolvement as a female artist?

BE: I find this a strange question. I don’t really define myself consciously as a female painter, but am aware that at the moment my work has a strong female content. Maybe that’s where I am right now, lost in this world. I know things can shift at any moment. But I try not to think about it and let it just happen. In as much as is my work affected by the fact I am female . Only in as much as my whole experience of being is. I had an unconventional matriarchal childhood where the women have never felt any limitations and I cant say I have ever felt limited by my gender. In fact just very privileged by it.

AH: So much of art is cathartic.  Can you think of periods or experiences that have been painful to you and that have been translated into paintings?

BE: No. I think I have to be clear here. When I approach a painting, I am not trying to express anything. I begin with no intention. I let the painting just come out. If it’s colour, energy, life that pours forth, sometimes mystery, that is all fine.

AH: What kind of work do you wish you had not put out there for the public to view?  Is there some work that is too painful to view again, too painful to re-visit?

BE: No.

AH: How much of your personal life comes into your work?  And what kinds of things get worked into your paintings?  Is there some self-censor that you employ?  Are there things that are sacrilegious, that cannot be used in your art work?

BE: I would not censor anything if it came to me to be painted. My painting is intensely personal .It affects me on every level as I am working .Every painting is a journey and in my experience every painting goes through an intensely difficult patch before it all comes together. And life is hell for me, and those around me at that time. So the journey of paint, brush and canvas is personal , the content , not so much.

AH: Having lived in so many countries, not only have you engaged with the people in those country’s but also with the women of those places.  How has your work as a female artist been effected by those meetings and experiences?

BE: If anything I admire and love the strength of all women. No matter where they are .And they are strong where ever they are.

AH: A large part of doing art work is being alone.  However your work is full of life and people and engagement.  How does that work out?  How do you shut out life in order to make time to visualize and paint?

BE: If I understand this question correctly, it’s a balance. This intense experience of life out of the studio and then the discipline of life in the studio. No one is allowed in my studio . It is my place. It helps that I have built a studio in the middle of the desert in Andalucia. Nothing but ourselves, animals, olive trees, and big skies.

AH: What about your current life in Almeria suits you in terms of you work?  What would you change?

BE: The beauty of the countryside. The big expanses. The rawness of the earth. The countryside is very like the countryside of Sindh. But it’s important to fly to London, Madrid, Barcelona regularly for exhibitions etc.

AH: Where would you like to be next to live and work in, and why?  Is Almeria going to be a long term stopover in the journey of Belinda Eaton?

BE: Oh, I can’t answer that. Who knows what will happen next ? It’s like my painting. Who knows what I will paint next ?

AH: Art has become big business.  Do you see yourself as one of those Artists?  Going into more commercial work as you move forward? Do you think there is a divide between non-commerical and commercial art work ?

BE: If the focus comes back to painting, yes.  It’s looking as if things could change, Damien Hirst having just opened his exhibition of paintings.  I think the divide exists if your intention is to be commercial. I think if you work with integrity and true to yourself as an artist your time will come and your career will build and you will have longevity rather that up one decade and possibly down the next.

AH: Do you see yourself working your art into Fashion ?  Scarves, textiles etc?

BE: I have done this before.  Fortnum and Masons asked me to do a menswear collection inspired by Piero Della Francesca. I did a collection of scarves about 10 years ago sold through Harvey Nichols in London etc. I made exclusive customized jackets when I lived in New York that were regularly photographed in magazines. Anything to do with colour and pattern I love, but I hate the business side of it.

AH: What next for Belinda Eaton?

Well, I am one of the five contemporary artists from England to have been selected for the 2010 International Fine Art Collection. That is an Art project coinciding with the World Cup . 210 archival prints will be produced of my painting “Woman with Football” and they will be Official Licensed Products of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™

The 2010 International Fine Art Collection will be launched in April 2010 through 32 concurrent global exhibitions in leading art cities around the world, accompanied by a major global marketing and media campaign. For at least two weeks there will be exhibitions in cities like London, Rome, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, New York and Johannesburg .

So this will keep me busy for a while and raise my profile hugely. I am painting towards another show but can’t say any more about that. And most excitingly I am bringing out a few limited edition Giclee prints of my work. All this from my little studio in the middle of nowhere.

BELINDA EATON BLUE CANVAS INTERVIEW

1. You are well traveled. How have the different cultures you have been exposed to influenced your artistic style?

I am wondering what my artistic style is! Having lived all over the world and having no feeling of really belonging anywhere, but at the same time belonging everywhere allows me a sense of freedom with no cultural rules or identities. I think the influence has been more on personality that reflects in my artistic style, rather than direct artistic influence. Although I know I have freely dipped my toe in here and there taking what ever has passionately inspired me. The freedom of decoration that you see everywhere in Pakistan, Afghanistan etc. where all the buses and trucks are painted like butterflies flying through the desert and mountains. The sense of magic and mystery from the stories of my childhood in Andalucia. The awareness of colour from my very early years in Mombasa. The Punk Era and theatre of the New Romantics in London whilst I was at college at St. Martin’s. The metropolis and graffitied walls and trains of New York in the early 80’s. An immediate thing though that comes to mind, is , I feel very lucky as a western figurative artist to have experienced showing in the East where figurative art has not suffered as much as in the west. To have that support has allowed me to continue being lost in my world.

2. Can you explain the floral designs on the faces of many of the people you paint? Is there any significance to them or are they just for design?

Uhmmmm. I really try and paint with no thought, painting intuitively. I have no idea why I have started painting designs on the faces. When I paint the faces I am caught up with looking at colour not form. It’s the colour and the brush stroke that create the form. When the face appears maybe there is an element of me that then wants to take control. Who knows, but for me the faces become something else when the markings start to move across their surface . An element of magic comes in. It also anchors all the brush strokes in a weird kind of way. There is probably some psychological reason of which I am thoroughly unaware.

3. The settings for your paintings are very interesting. Almost all of your subjects are painted in the kitchen, bedroom, or living room and are generally in a corner or up against a wall. Is there any reason for this?

Another question I feel a psychologist could answer better than I ! I have never thought about it. I know I hardly ever paint people outside. And if I paint landscapes they never have people in them. In my olive tree paintings the tree becomes the subject in the same way the person is the subject. I just get caught up in the energy of the subject and the brush stroke. There is an intimacy, within which I can get lost and from this point pattern and colour can explode.

4. We noticed there is a lot of food in your work. Do you enjoy cooking? If so, do you find similarities between cooking and painting?

I love food. I love the pleasure a taste can give you . I get the same sensation from colour. I taste colour. A painting for me is a cornucopia of colour or melding of colours, harmonies of colour. Quite delicious. I also find food very happy. Some foods just make me smile like prawns and lobsters. Their form and colour. Fish make me feel free. A beautiful dish can inspire the perfect taste sensation. I have always felt that cooking was like painting. You taste, you sense what is missing. You add a flavour. It’s a blending, looking for as near as perfection as you are able. For me the same senses are used as when painting. Food equates happiness and painting equates happiness

5. How often do you exhibit your work?

Generally once a year. When I feel I have enough paintings for a show.

6. Are there any artists who have influenced your style?

I don’t think there are any artists who have influenced my style but there are artists who have influenced me. Paulo Rego, for getting lost in her strong figurative world. Basquiat, in my early years for his directness. Ron Meuck for the spirit he breathes into his amazing creations. Pierro de la Francesca and Paulo Ucello for perfection and beauty. Peter Doig who I was at St.Martin’s with, for his magic with paint. Giotto for his naive genius. Rothko for his scale and magnificence. Diego Rivera for his narrative and power. Alma-Tadema for his sensitivity.

7. Do you see your paintings as narrative? In other words, are you telling stories through your paintings?

I am not telling stories, the paintings are. And, I believe, a different story to each person who looks at them. I could never tell you what is going on. I really don’t know. Again a psychiatrist might help.

8. Do you interact much with other artists in your area?

No I don’t really. I have always painted in a solitary manner. Lost in my own world. Quite reclusive in a way where my painting is concerned. It helps that my studio is in the desert, fairly isolated. Just my family, some snakes, scorpions, olive trees, dog and cat. But I am connected by the internet, and from my studio I can go out to the world. I make frequent trips to London, Madrid, Barcelona for a cultural injection which is extremely important.

Belinda Eaton was interviewed for Blue Canvas Magazine, issue # 3 , 2010

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