Ali Gunn: Your current exhibition On Brown and Violet Grounds features works on paper, which is a break from your usual methods. Can you tell me a bit more about this shift?
Liz West: I had a show at Cornerhouse in January alongside three other artists, where I made a light piece that was inside a wardrobe. That felt like a shift from other works because it was incorporating video. But when I finished that commission, I was really stuck. I came into the studios most days and was at a blank. I really struggled to find a way forward so I decided to give myself a project to make a drawing a day in order to prompt new ways of working.
AG: So it was a successful task to set yourself?
LW: Yes, I started making not one drawing a day but maybe 5 or 10, and I have been using my systems that I would usually use in my installation work, but adapting them for works on paper. I’ve made a distinction between the drawings and works on paper, as I see the works on paper as being workings out for three-dimensional work and the drawings as existing as drawings as in themselves. Now, I have got to a point where I am working from the drawings and translating them into space, so they become spatial drawings. This is the first time I have ever shown work that has been made through that method.
AG: When you get a block, it’s easy to panic. But sometimes doing something really simple like mark making is the best thing to free you up.
LW: Yes, just pare it down. Actually I find that some of the most successful works on paper are the ones where there are maybe only a couple of elements. That made me realise that with my past installation work, like the Chamber series, I was almost over complicating things. As beautiful as they were, there was a gap – there was the lighting, there was the object, there were the mirrors – and so this new body of work is just about taking it down to the things that interest me, which is saturation and light.
AG: So you are freer through this process?
LW: Much more.
AG: Where does the title of your exhibition come from?
LW: The title comes from Josef Albers Interaction of Colour. On Brown and Violet Grounds is describing one of the slides in the back of the book. All my titles come from that book and every piece of work in the exhibition has a title taken from that book.
AG: So is Josef Albers is one of your main influences?
LW: He is the guy, the main colour theorist who people look to and I think his book, for me, is essential reading, along with David Bachelor’s Chromophobia. Anyone who is interested in colour really needs to be looking at those two.
AG: And what other artists inspire you?
LW: Where to begin! Obviously David Bachelor, we have very similar concerns. He is someone I would like to show with one day. Olafur Eliasson, has really inspired me in terms of how he uses colour and light and especially within space, and so many more.
AG: Is it an important part of your practice to respond to or work within the paradigms of other artists?
LW: Definitely, I think if you are going to be an artist, a proper artist, you need to be constantly referencing what has come before you so you know where to place yourself alongside them.
AG: What interests you about the dynamic between space and colour?
LW: So, the first work that ever got my heart beating really fast was Jim Lambie’s floor piece at the Tate Britain in the Days Like These exhibition. That was a piece that made me go a bit dizzy. It had quite an overwhelming effect on me, and I thought to myself, ‘if and when I become an artist, that is the kind of work that I want to make and have that effect on my viewers’.
AG: What is it about light that interests you?
When I make light works, and I switch them on and turn the lights out it does something to me. It’s so psychological, warming and has such an affect on me, and what I am trying to do is give my viewers that same experience. I should also mention that I have Seasonal Affect Disorder, so I am basically making my own light boxes.
AG: So there is almost therapeutic element to it?
LW: I hate the word therapeutic, but kind of. I mean, I was playing around in the studio the other day in the dark with two very intensely coloured lights, and it’s like something is switched on inside of me instantly.
AG: Have you always used light as a material then?
LW: I really went through all different mediums, I’m not scared of using whatever medium suits the idea.
AG: Have you responded to the space at Piccadilly Place for your exhibition?
LW: Oh yeah, I mean it’s such a stark space and quite a difficult space. I wanted a space that suited the work, not the other way around. It’s a solo show in a massive space, so it is quite brave. It will give me a really good opportunity for fantastic documentation of new work in a space that suits it.
AG: This show is the result of an Arts Council Research and Development funding, was it important to have an exhibition as a conclusion?
LW: In the proposal I just stated that I was going to show new work at the Open Studios, but being ambitious and also the scale of the work I was making, it seemed like that wasn’t good enough for me. So I thought; how am I going to push myself?
On Brown and Violet Grounds is on display at 4C/D Piccadilly Place until 2 October 2013
Image by Stephen Iles