Cornwall-based artist Laura Menzies creates calming abstract paintings often described as ‘visual poems’. Drawing on constructs of memory and emotion, her captivating work has been showcased extensively throughout the UK, as well as internationally, gracing the walls of prestigious galleries such as The Tate Modern & Tate St Ives. As Laura showcases her biggest collection to date at Morgans Gallery in Falmouth, we caught up with her to chat about live music, her relationship with Cornwall and how the seasons inspire her creativity…
Laura, how did you become an artist?
I did a BA in Performing and Visual Arts at Birmingham University in 2008 and then an MA in Fine Art: Contemporary Practice at Falmouth University in 2013. Since then, I’ve been a self-employed artist and have had my own studio, which has allowed me to expand my ideas and output. It has been a gradual process, but in many ways this has been a positive, as it has allowed me to really understand myself and my work and what it is that I hope to communicate.
How would you describe your paintings and what do they mean to you?
I think of my abstract paintings as visual poems, which are inspired by my memories, emotions and imagination. They are lyrical in style and often contain organic shapes, rich textures and gestural mark making. In terms of the colours, they are often harmonious and soft and inspired by living a stones thrown from the coastline. I hope my paintings encourage whoever views them to slow down and that they provide a gentle space for reflection and contemplation.
What do you like to do outside of art?
Outside of my art I enjoy many things including yoga, meditation, gardening, cooking, live music, ceramics and travel. These activities provide fresh contexts that allow me to see things from new perspectives, which are essential to me as an artist.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
To listen to and trust my intuition. Also balancing all of the aspects of running a creative business can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially technical jobs that don’t come easily to me.
What music or podcasts do you have playing whilst you’re working?
This really depends on what mood I am in. I often work in silence as music or audio can be distracting, especially when trying to resolve a painting and bring it to completion. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered the Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi whose music I love. It’s soft and meditative and can really help me get into a flow with my work. In terms of podcasts I flit between many, but my current favourites include Desert Island Discs, Under the Skin by Russell Brand, Talk Art by Robert Diament and Russell Tovey and Changes by Annie Macmanus.
How are the paintings created?
My mixed media paintings are created slowly using an intuitive process of layering oil, coldwax, spray paint, ink and collage to conceal and reveal sections. I scrape, sand, and pour the materials to create rich and evocative textures, which hint at what lies beneath. I work on many pieces at once, adding layers and then looking at them together to see how they connect.
What influences do you find yourself drawn to – musical, natural, artistic or cultural?
I’d say a combination of all of the above. Live music energises me and I love the feeling of people coming together for shared experiences, especially outside in the summer. In recent years I’ve also understood more about my creative practice by connecting to the seasons and cycles of the calendar year, which has helped to guide my process and connect me better to that large-scale rhythm.
How does Cornwall influence your work?
Living in Cornwall I have a strong connection to the natural world and there are echoes of this rugged and beautiful landscape in much of my work. The colours, shapes and textures of the coastline regularly appear as well as the hedgerows, boats, horizons and footpaths I see from my studio, which overlook the Penryn creek. I also enjoy the slower pace of life here in Cornwall and do think this influences my subject matter as I feel I have the time to notice the delicate details of the everyday, which often feed into my work. This could be paint peeling off of an old door and revealing years of history or the fading smoke trails from an aeroplane in a bright blue sky.
And how do (or don’t) you fit into the Cornish art scene?
I’m a member of the Newly Society of Artists, which is a diverse group of approximately 85 professional artists who are either living in or strongly connected to Cornwall. We exhibit as a group twice a year in the gallery at Tremenhere Sculpture Gardens, which provides a lovely opportunity for us to come together and form new dialogues. I also have links to Tate St Ives; through freelance gallery education work I undertake there and regularly teach at the St Ives School of Painting. These opportunities all feed into my work and provide a nice antidote to the solitary days I spend at my studio.
Any advice for people wanting to develop their artistic skills?
Start slowly and embed it into your day wherever possible. This could be dedicating 10 mins at the start to drawing in a sketchbook, it could be collecting found materials on your daily walk to the beach or creating collages from discarded materials. Whatever it is, find something that interests you and slowly let it grow.
We know you have an exciting exhibition coming up in Falmouth, what other plans do you have for the year?
Yes, I currently have 24 new paintings on display at Morgan’s in Falmouth as part of their current exhibition, which runs until May 22nd. The collection is my biggest to date and many of the pieces were completed during a residency I did in the gallery earlier this year. I’m currently working on a few large-scale commissions and I am about to start a new body of works on paper for my own website launch in late summer.
Find Laura online at: lauramenzies.co.uk
Feature Image by John Hersey Studio