Artist Interview with Georgia Mallin
Art, artists, creativity, craft are all at the heart of PHOEBE GRACE so I thought it was time to interview some of these creatives.
I'm kicking off with one of my "The Essential Painting School" scholarship winners, Georgia Mallin. Georgia is not only an artist, but is training to be a lawyer too - #girlpower ❤️
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Georgia
I'm a painter (mostly) and I work in oils, pastels, pencil and charcoal.
I decided not to go to art school for university – I thought having three mad artists in my immediate family was enough of a warning against it! I figured I should get a ‘proper degree’ and that I could always do art ‘on the side’.
How do you like to work?
This is something that’s really changed over the last few years. I’ve been very lucky to benefit from some incredible teaching, both at the Heatherley School of Fine Art where I studied portraiture and figurative painting and drawing from direct observation, and at The Essential School of Painting where I’ve begun to explore working more from imagination, memory and emotion.
Love Letter to Bernini
When you are working, what does it feel like?
It can be a real mix – scary, challenging, exciting, focused, exploratory… Often the process of painting is a confrontation with myself, as the initial idea in my head comes into contact with the limitations of reality and my ability. It can go well and it can go very badly! I’m still learning to take risks and accept failures, after many years as a controlling perfectionist…
Generally though, I tend to progress a painting quite quickly at the start, and then it can become quite contemplative and slow towards the later stages as I try to work out what the painting needs next. There is a real risk of fiddling and overworking at this stage, so I have had to get a lot better about learning when to leave a painting alone. Often the early, exploratory marks are the most expressive and beautiful, and it’s hard not to lose that freshness as you refine an image.Completely agree Georgia!
Has your practice changed over time?
It really has! I was very restrictive and traditional in my approach to painting for a long time – I thought that to make a ‘good’ painting I had to prove that I could draw and be very accurate, and that my only two options were drawing from life (‘good’) or from photographs (‘bad’ – and a cop out). I couldn’t conceptualise of ‘good’ contemporary figurative art unless it fit into that kind of box. Studying at the ESOP changed all that in a major way and really opened me up to all these other approaches to making images. Its so weird how we allow ourselves to just follow the rules - I'm never going to get my kids to sit for me for hours so a photograph is the best most relaxed way for me too!
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
That’s a tough question to answer. It probably has to be a combination of my partner, who’s always encouraging me to trust myself and take risks, and all the brilliant art teachers I’ve had the privilege of learning from over the years. All of them practising artists, they brought their whole painting experience into the class for our benefit. It’s a real gift, to be taught like that. Making art is so personal and you reveal a lot more about yourself as you paint than I’d originally imagined. I’ve been lucky to have tutors who can appreciate that vulnerability, and nurture you and push you at the same time! It really has been transformative.
Who’s your favourite painter?
In terms of living artists, it has to be Michael Armitage. When I first saw his work in person it was like he’d answered a major question that had been frustrating me for years: what can contemporary figurative painting be? What can it do? In his paintings there’s storytelling, imagination, contemporary politics, everyday life, mythology, responses to art history, incredible skill as a draughtsman and colourist, a beautiful painterly touch…
Where does your inspiration to paint come from?
All over the place, probably – artists can be like pilfering magpies. I’ve always loved reading and having studied literature at university, I take a lot of inspiration from things I’ve read – old stories, poems, plays, myths and novels. That might be the starting point, or perhaps a feeling or memory from my own life that I want to explore. I love that - Im the same but more nature driven and definitely a magpie too!
Other artists are a great source of inspiration too, in all sorts of ways – looking at art history and going to see exhibitions are obvious ones, but I’ve also been inspired in a big way by my fellow students: seeing the ways they apply paint, use colour, respond to the world around them, how they generate and develop ideas, the subject matter they choose and the way they treat it… My ESOP tutors as well – Alison Harper, Dan Coombs and Melissa Kime – particularly in how they shared their research into the work of other artists and the themes, stories and ideas that can be drawn out that way.
What work do you most enjoy doing?
I most enjoy painting when I feel like I’m getting closer to creating the kind of work that I want to make – expressive, painterly, a little bit magical. Ultimately painting people is and always has been my favourite thing – it’s just that the way I do this is changing. I still paint portraits, and I love drawing and painting the people I love. But I’m also interested in less literal painting, maybe pushing more into abstraction – I really admire painters like Cecily Brown who seem to occupy both an abstract and figurative space at once.
What’s your favourite work you have ever done?
There are a few paintings that I’m really proud of – a big piece I did for my A Level fine art exam, the final project I painted for my Portraiture Diploma, for example. They represent markers in my progress as an artist and still feel like an achievement. My favourite piece I’ve ever done, though, is probably one of my most recent – ‘Weight of Water’, a big painting that I developed from a tiny drawing I made from a still from a short film. It’s got a lovely rough texture, in part because I’d already painted over that canvas twice before. Destroying an older work by painting something new over it seems to produce some interesting results for me, so I’m keen to keep trying that. I like how the colours and shapes underneath can introduce an element of chance or accidental influence on the image and layers of paint that you’re building on top. I think its my favourite of yours too!
Weight of Water
Are you drawn to particular colours?
I am, although I didn’t realise it for a while. I love greens, blues and turquoise colours, and the way they interact with yellow-gold, orange and pinky-reds, so when I’m trying to paint something beautiful my instinct is always to surround my subject with those.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s hard to pick just one – but it’s interesting to see how much life advice and art advice can collide. So to paraphrase my partner: “Trust yourself enough to take the risks, and make the art you want to make. Because you can’t make the stuff you consider your proper work until you do that.” And to paraphrase two of my friends from art school: “Wanting change is tough but possible. Struggle and question always, but occasionally you free yourself of judgment and that’s the key.”
Thank you Georgia - you are amazing and inspiring
More about Georgia: Self Portrait Prize 2021, ING Discerning Eye & Holly Bush Painting Prize 2020, Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 competitor, the Esop Scholarship 2019-20, Heatherley School of Art 2017-19