Lucinda Mudge’s solo exhibition Love Story, which opened this month at Everard Read gallery in Cape Town, marks the first time she has done paintings for a show. Describing her latest work as “a celebration of failures around the world”, Mudge’s unique, “semi-evil” sense of humour weaves its way into the visually rich narratives on her large, hand-coiled vases.
Gary Cotterell spoke to the artist about her relationship with her chosen medium and how this informed the title of her show.
On the surface, the title of your new show Love Story: an exhibition of vases & paintings, suggests it will be all lovely and “civilized”, but it’s actually about the dark side, the harsh reality of romance gone wrong. Explain what appears to be a dark, sharp-witted view of the world that informs your narratives? I may have a dark view of the world because I have life experience here. However, everyone has something that sent them reeling, so I like to make work that is honest about heaviness. My work actually embraces difficulty. It is not in denial but is ultimately beautiful and uplifting. Like a Bon Jovi song.
I listen to a lot of radio schmaltz – radio songs are good like that. Song lyrics form the titles of my pieces. I also observe the actions and behaviours of the people around me.
Who or what inspired the new work and your work in general? I am inspired by my own struggle. My own ego, my own failure. Love Story is a celebration of failures around the world.
The opening statement of your catalogue describes the intimate relationship you have with failure, due to the fragile nature of clay, and how this possibly informed the title of your show. Beyond this, what is the significance of your chosen canvas as a visual and a socio-political record? The vase is my canvas. A vase is round and, as such, we cannot see all sides at once. The beauty of a canvas in the round is that the story will link up and repeat. I use this as a reference to the human condition – the idea that we are on repeat.
With a vase, it is not possible to see the whole picture at once. The image on the back will always be hidden - but we know it is there. This is a reference to the way that we live – what we choose not to see even though we know it’s there. Some of my vases are built with this in mind; there are two different sides to the vase and only one is visible at any one time. If you don’t like the message, you can turn it to face the wall. I engage with that and I most probably do it all the time. We all do.
In this exhibition I have used the idea of turning the vase around but taken it one step further. For example, “Bad Boy” - if you don’t like reading that, you can turn it around so that it says “Bad Bad Boy”. Even worse, LOL.
A vase is also a calm and traditional object. I am neither calm nor traditional. I guess we offset each other. I like to think I am not an object either but you never know.
What originally drew you to clay? It is cheap. I have many times regretted my choice.
What made you decide to present paintings on traditional canvas as part of your show?I have always liked to paint and have always felt deep jealousy towards successful painters. However, the act of painting has always seemed too personal to me. It is too revealing, the act of mark-making. With my ceramics, I am hiding behind a smart trick – the nature of the medium – the piece comes out of the kiln and it is finished. With oil painting there is far more of the painter in the piece. My solution was to make “veiled, chaos paintings”.
The six paintings were made over a period of one and a half years. The idea is to conceal the image underneath by painting over it with another image, in this case the drops. The drops are painted in reverse, revealing only drop-sized sections of the painting behind. They explore the idea of what we choose to reveal about ourselves and what we choose to hide. My original painting is hidden.
How would you best describe yourself? My friend just did that for you - he said I am semi-evil but also completely hilarious.
Is there a recurring icon or symbol in all your work? I use the idea of “fear”. I am not afraid of anything. Maybe puff adders.
What is the relevance of your work or message as a contemporary African artist? I used to feel that we were at a disadvantage – geographically placed at the bottom of Africa. However, I now think that we are at a huge advantage. South Africa has amazing artists and I associate strongly with our aesthetic. In general, we are a people who care for each other. People in the UK all seem to hate each other.
You have a special relationship with all your work but which one piece really resonates with you right now and why? Always, always, I’m focused and loving the one about to go into the kiln. My new pieces are carved vases, vases with large chunks removed – just so that people stop asking whether they can put flowers in them. They are semi-grotesque but very beautiful, black, yellow and gold. I’m making 10 vases for a group show in London in April next year.
• Love Story: an exhibition of vases & paintings runs until November 30 at Everard Read Gallery, 3 Portswood Rd, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town.