CORRESPONDENCE 01 - HELENA MCGRATH & ALEXIS SOUL-GRAY
Letchworth - Turning Harsh Things to Beauty, (2021) oil paint and ink on board
Exeter - I See You in Gleams, (2021) Oil paint and ink on board
The source for “Turning Harsh Things to Beauty” is a Victorian children’s illustration of the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. In the painting however, the luminous figure of Jesus is replaced by a glowing moon that illuminates a mother and child. The text is taken from Lola Ridge’s poem, “Mother”.
“I See You in Gleams” also uses text from Lola Ridge’s poem. The painting quotes from a piece by Alexis Soul-Gray in which the artist has abraded an image from a knitting pattern. A young woman in Victorian mourning dress is pictured breathing the scent from a bouquet of roses.
Both paintings are about the transformative qualities of maternal love, memory and creativity.
About the Process
I was very stimulated by my exchanges with Alexis. For me, our practices had just enough in common to be relatable, but also enough differences to inspire new ideas and approaches. We agreed to make work about each other in a speculative way. Given that we had only met briefly on zoom, we decided to send each other a selection of images, objects and materials as “clues” to inform the work. I felt this was a wonderful gift from another artist and found that two fully felt and realised paintings emerged quite rapidly as a result.
Letchworth - Let’s Go to the Stones, (2021) Ink, bleach, spraypaint and oil on vintage map of Epping Forest
Exeter - Girl With a Shadow, (2021) oil on distressed paper
Devon-based artist Alexis Soul-Gray’s practice is often concerned with loss, memory and grief. Through painting, collage and print she defaces and rearranges found images in an attempt to create a visceral representation of the thought process. Abstraction and figuration hold equal significance, images are continuously intersecting, abrasive, harmonious, removed, a tangible manifestation of a multi-layered interior state.
Helena and I have shared ideas concerning the mother archetype and through conversation she introduced me to elements of Finnish folklore, in particular ‘Sielulintu’ or ‘Soul Bird’, a bird spirit that transports the soul at the moment of death, this resonates deeply with my work. During an in depth zoom call, exchanged post and follow up emails we spoke about interpretation of found image, how we both use personal and collective histories through this media. We decided to share a selection of images with no further information to allow potential layers of fictional narrative to animate them perhaps…or not, we left it open. One Image in particular that she sent to me of a man bending down to look through binoculars (standing behind I assume Helena as a child, her father?), searching, looking…became a figure on my map piece (in Letchworth). The figure is no longer looking through binoculars but is bent down in the same pose echoing a mourner in deep lament. The girl scratched out (in Exeter) sits bent down too, the multilayers of the map and the reductive nature of the scratches speak of the same concern.