Nettie Wakefield. Artist., living and working in London. Nettie has been exhibiting in London since early 2013. She has been exhibiting between London and Los Angeles and had her third solo show, ‘Brandy’ at the Jason Vass Gallery in Downtown LA. She also showcased her work at Banksy’s bemusement park, ‘Dismaland’, in 2015. Alongside artists such as Banksy himself, Damien Hirst and 55 other artists by doing a live demonstration of her Reverse Portrait series. Nettie Wakefield has been commissioned to illustrate Mark Hix’s new anecdotal cook book, ‘Hooked’. The book launch coincided with an exhibition of all the drawings at HixArt, Shoreditch, which happened in June 2019. Next up she’s doing a duo show called ‘Painted Blind’ which opened Thursday 29th August 2019. We at Those London Chicks are pleased Nettie took the time out to chat with us.
Nettie, we love your work. It’s clearly a passion. Was that always the case or had you other ambitions as a child?
Drawing has been something I’ve done since I was a little girl. My mum will second that if you ask her about the doodles of gagged mermaids drawn in permanent marker on the walls (slightly worrying in hindsight).
Did you have formal training, if so talks us through it?
I knew when I left school that I wanted to go to art school so I applied to Chelsea college of art. However, when I got there, it wasn’t what I expected and I felt as though I didn’t fit in. So, I dropped out and went to study Art History at Leeds University instead. The reason for this is I thought there must be something I didn’t get at art foundation and so I went to try and figure that out…. although I’m not sure I ever did. When I graduated, after hardly picking up a pencil in five or so years, I felt sad about being so disconnected from something I used to get such pleasure from. I applied to a MA at Wimbledon in drawing and graduated some years ago. To go back and do an MA was the best decision i ever made because it gave me the space i needed to create a body of work. I started the reverse portraits on my MA but we will come back to that later.
As far as formal training goes, I went to Florence three times in the summer to do short courses at Charles Cecil Studios through the British Institute. I was taught technical things like how to measure proportions with a plum line. I also did a few short courses at the Royal Drawing school (meaning i found out when the classes were and just pitched up seeing as i was a broke 20 something year old!) There i learnt how to really understand the power of really looking when your drawing and i suppose you could call those experiences my most formal training.
I can imagine making a living as an artist is hard. Did you face any, “I can’t do this” challenges at some point in your career? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
Absolutely – Often! It’s usually the result of a dry spell. However, i find the panic of dry spells often push me to work harder and then of course the result means i’m overloaded with work. The only way to overcome them is to keep working.
Your work now is predominantly pencil work, always the case. Or has that evolved?
The reason why i love it is because there is no hiding with pencil. It’s where so many artists have started; the source of the stream. It’s perfect for me because I’m far more interested in tonality than colour. It also adds to the mystery of the piece. Most people associate it with the beginning of something, a plan. I prefer to use it as my main medium: the end product. I feel it is able to capture both simplicity and the provocative depth of the subject….Having said that I did make a life size blow up doll made out of polished bronze for a show in LA last year, which was a huge departure….Always come back to drawing though.
We LOVE your ‘Reversed Portrait Series’. Where did your inspirations for that come from?
My ethos behind this series is about mystery, intrigue and about challenging the assumptions and preconceived ideas of the viewer, what we project onto that head. Can you really be sure that one of the feminine looking ones with a ponytail or plait isn’t a man? While giving a little hint of identity with a scarf or an earring, we make a judgment based on that information. It began when i was doing my Masters degree and I was under a lot of pressure to come up with a project. I was sitting in a lecture, half listening, when i started to draw the girl in front of me. She had a really intricate hairstyle and i couldn’t see her face. I realised that the mystery of that made it really interesting. I tend to veer towards working in a series. In fact looking back, I’ve always done every idea in a series. Hmmm.
“I get my inspiration mainly from my subjects.”
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Its hard to describe yourself but I suppose perhaps people might describe my style as quite tight, considered, soft, delicate, detailed… and usually in series!
What is your process?
I get to my studio at Make Space Studios in Waterloo, obviously after rush hour and obviously after ESSENTIAL morning coffee. Probably attempt to tidy any mess I had made from the day before then swiftly giving up. As far as drawing goes, ill map out the subject and then I have to work in sections usually from the top left hand corner in order to avoid smudging the work. I work with very soft pencils such as an 8b so this is a constant problem!
You have such a huge varied body of work. Are you continuously creating art. Or is it a case waiting to be inspired?
I am constantly working but at the same time I work very fast. I’m a completionist so Once i start going, i can’t really stop until my body forces me to.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given and why?
The day I learnt imposter syndrome was a real thing that was a game changer. I was sitting in a bar with the wonderful portrait artist who is Johnny Yeo. Someone asked him how his work was going and he replied with ‘still getting away with it’. I thought i was the only one. Thats not really advice is it? I suppose it’s very simple really, “keepgoingkeepgoingkeepgoing”!
What has been your crowning moment so far and why?
Possibly being involved in Banksy’s Dismaland. It was very exciting for me. I had my own area, next to the carousel and the remote control boats carrying Syrian refugees. I had been working on my reverse portrait series since my Masters degree a few years prior, but the concept of what I was doing specifically at Dismaland was Banksy’s input. His idea was that I would be set up one of those street artists you see drawing peoples portraits in Leicester square or any tourist area, except the weird and wonderful twist would be that firstly, I’m not drawing your face (who wants to see that?) and secondly, they are extremely detailed pieces of work that take more like 8 hours than 8 minutes.
I spent most of the six weekends doing a demonstration. I brought a model with me each weekend and worked on that same drawing of the model for both Saturday and Sunday – usually in Minnie mouse ears or a party hat to stay aligned with the Dismaland theme. Being watched while I work all the time was something i had to get used, seeing how I’m usually alone 24/7 and my work had transcended from wall art to more of a performance completely taken out of the context of the gallery.
I felt extremely honoured and privileged to be able to take part in such an interesting project and I’ve made some close life long friends. Getting rather nostalgic now!
I’m risking sounding like such a cheese but what I get most pleasure from is personal commissions. Getting to work one on one with clients and to see how happy it makes them is extremely rewarding.
Who or what are your inspirations and why?
I get my inspiration mainly from my subjects. If I find something aesthetically interesting for whatever reason, I have a bit of a compulsion to draw it. I get this quite a lot with old masters’ paintings and used to draw a lot in the National Gallery.
This is a toughie I’m sure, but who are your top 3 artists and why?
I really like Jessica Albarn, she combines strict geometric drawings with soft butterflies. I love the Chapman brothers, especially their exquisite corpse drawings and Hell sculpture. I can’t see there being much correlation between me and the Chapman Bros but I love them nonetheless. In the dead category, I love Degas’s dancers and the realists, Courbet and Millet. More than anything, I would love to get inside the head of Hieronymus Bosch!
Finally, what’s next for you?
At the moment I’m making some prints with Jealous Gallery for the next Art Car Boot in Margate on 25th Sept. I’m learning all about silk screening which is fascinating. I’m also doing a collaboration with another artist called Dave Bounaguidi launching also at Jealous Gallery. AND I’ve got a two wo(man) show opening tomorrow at the Soho Revue Gallery on Brewer street. Here’s a little info on the show, and please come for a drink!
About the Exhibition ‘Painted Blind’
Hosted at the gallery’s new premises at 8-10 Brewer Street, the exhibition is a celebration of female empowerment and exploration. Representing two different artistic disciplines, their contrasting styles reinforce each other throughout the collaboration: an ode to the intersections of creative practice, mythological influence, and friendship.
Wakefield’s works – her largest original pieces – are four anatomical studies of mythical creatures in signature pencil. In light of the advent of a ‘post-truth’ society, and the ever-increasing ambiguity around truth and reality, Wakefield finds herself drawn to fairytale, fantasy and mythology. Evoking classical draughtsmanship, Wakefield’s work draws on a personal interest in science and anatomy. The result is an eerie reflection of what happens when cold, detached scientific observation meets the rich living world of myth and fantasy. Her hyper-realistic craft results in creative “proof” that these fantastic beasts were, in fact, living creatures, further blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction.
Fitch is presenting four oil on canvas works, using her self image as the primary subject. Manipulating her own image to build her own mythological dream, self-portrait moulds with foliage, blossoming into something entirely her own. “My garden is an installation created in collaboration with nature. Once I plant something it is free to do what it wants, it chooses which way to grow. It is my primal need to tame nature, to cultivate it, and then to use it as my inspiration.
“When a small bud presses against my leg and it reminds me of my ripe electric youth. It’s passing me by, but it’s not passed yet. Maybe they’ll wilt, but for now they are rich and full.”