Hybrid Artist - Lotte Smith
By Lucy Murray - Images courtesy of Lotte Smith
It is embedded within our human nature to appreciate the beauty of tradition in everything we see in our world. More specifically, within the cultural field of art, the classics are praised for their refined way of expression. Art is always being studied, analysed and reproduced, new meaning created and new pieces hung on the walls of museums.
On the other hand, it can be utterly refreshing to break away from the customs surrounding form and practice and rather invest energy into creating for the sake of provoking joy over self-praise and artistic advancement. Lotte Smith has no restrictions. Her art is flamboyant, comical and engaging. She has mastered a variety of techniques from a range of art-making fields and by dismissing the heavily ingrained art world norms she stands out by making her mark in the form of street murals, tee-shirt designs, prints and wall-hangings.
“The clean line work and compositional elements like negative space and flattening of images I’m really attracted to. Comics have similar elements so they’ve left quite an impression on me.”
Less is more. It is clear Lotte resonated with Mies van der Rohe on this point. Many of her pieces allow the audience to ‘fill in the gaps’ through her exploration of negative spaces. By leaving out what is expected, the viewer is able to interpret and imagine on an interactive level. Her experimentation with embossing allows for a third dimension to her work, a complex but impressionable mode of printmaking that Lotte has acquired. Technically her prints and drawings are highly skilled and showcase extensive training in printmaking, drawing and painting.
Lotte’s style is a hybrid, combining Japanese art, Pop-Art, Expressionism, caricature, Post-Modernism, Surrealism, Realism; and many more. Her fearless exploration of every, and any style is invigorating.
“Increasingly my figures are becoming more ambiguous in terms of gender to try suggesting more universal thoughts and issues.”
Lotte’s subjects are spirited and full of character. Amongst the cartoon-like colouring and exaggeration, there lies an element of realism. Lotte focuses on traits such as pear-shaped figures, disproportioned curves and small breasts that women find relatable and relieving in our contemporary body conscious society.
Stylistically, what has influenced you?
I’ve got a bit of a mash up of influences, I’m not sure how obvious it is but a very significant one is Japanese art and anime. The clean line work and compositional elements like negative space and flattening of images I’m really attracted to. Comics have similar elements so they’ve left quite an impression on me.
Other influences include artists like Ego Scheele, Jenny Saville, Ai Yamaguchi and William Kentridge who all have quite different but interesting ways of depicting the human figure. On that note too, dance plays a huge role in how I’ve been building on my style and how I choose to pose the characters in my work.
What mediums do you like to experiment with and why?
I like experimenting with screen-printing, embossing and lino to play around with building up different layers. Screen-printing particularly, though I initially liked it for its bold graphic quality that reminded me of comics, but I’ve found you can create quite painterly images, which I’ve been playing with at the moment.
I also really enjoy spray painting; I’ve done around 9 pieces now using spray paints, and a few other commission walls but using acrylic paints. That’s one thing I really hope to turn my attention to after finishing my Honours degree. I have the utmost respect for painters, spray can control is a real skill (not going to lie I’m a huge fan girl of people like Sofles, Askew One and the Etam Cru). I like doing it because working big is really liberating, and I think that street art makes cities a lot more interesting and magical.
One other art form I love and wish to experiment with further is animation, I’ve made a few stop/start animations but I am looking into doing a few courses in the near future in 2D and 3D animation. I love the idea of story telling through art, plus Studio Ghibli and Disney/Pixar films make up a huge part of my childhood so the idea of being able to create an awesome animation would totally complete my life.
How have you presented and marketed your art to attract a following?
Being a part of Stayfly Sydney, an all female creative collective, I think the fact that I’m a female artist has helped me gain a stable following. I wouldn’t say the art I make is feminist but you can tell I think that it’s the work is created through a female perspective. I initially saw this as a bad thing, because it could possibly limit who could relate to the work, but now I kind of see it as a good thing. Responses that I’ve had from women say they appreciate the work because the figures are womanly or have bumps and lumps like bodies do. All my figures do, men and women. Increasingly my figures are becoming more ambiguous in terms of gender to try suggesting more universal thoughts and issues. I’m still working on how I wish to market my work, but apps and websites like Instagram and Tumblr have helped me with sharing the progression of my work. Plus it’s been a really nice way of connecting with other artists concerned with similar themes and styles of art making.
Do you have any reoccurring concepts or themes in your pieces?
Yes definitely. Most of my work revolves around the body; I use it as a vehicle between physical and mental states. I’m really intrigued by the idea capturing the figure in moments of strange or surreal contexts, that’s why a lot of my images are seen floating or sinking into some unknown environment. Usually whatever position or surroundings I have placed my characters in relates to a particular state of mind.
At the moment for my Honours thesis I’m looking into the relationship between stress and resilience in the body, but its opened up a whole world of ideas from new studies in neuroscience, to bionics the power of touch on our psychology. All these themes link back to our relationship with the body; I seem to keep exploring anxieties about being a human. Whatever it is themes of imbalance, degradation and transition keep popping up.
Where has your art knowledge stemmed from?
I completed my BFA at the National Art School in 2012, but I decided to come back this year to do Honours. Don’t know if I should share this but Arts:21 on Youtube and podcasts from Tedtalks and the BBC’s Arts and Ideas have helped a bunch too because I’m a slower reader haha.
Have you done any collaborative pieces?
Not big projects that I can remember, I’ve done really little collaborations here and there. One particular one that was pretty challenging but fun was a live art piece I did with Mie Nakazawa for Nuff Jockey’s first SPRAY OUT party at Hermann’s Bar.
I have booked myself in for a few different collaborations however, which I’m excited to embark on after I complete my degree! I’m looking to do a few collaborations with artists such as Amy Sutho, Genius or Gens, Krimsone, Ayla the Caveman and Alex Latham (unsubtle promo, but their work is honestly worth checking out!).
Describe your art making process, from the initial idea to final product.
I work partly with a theme in mind, but a lot of the work I make is intuitive too. Most of the time I’ll start a sketch and then go straight into prepping my layers for the screen print or painting. A huge part of my art making process seems to be working through ideas and images that I end up rejecting, even though I’ve spent ages on them.
The most successful images I make are those that I don’t labour too much over with the initial sketches, which is sometimes hard due to the nature of printmaking where it’s easy for designs to become overworked. To work around this I sometimes work with screen filler and drawing liquid allowing me to draw designs directly onto the screen, or I’ll incorporate ink when drawing up my layers for exposing.
Are there any changes and improvements you would like to see to the Sydney art scene?
I would really like to see an expansion and integration of the crowds that come to art events and exhibitions. Being from the inner west, you see all the same people supporting art events, which is great to have that solid community vibe but getting work circulating and being appreciated on a bigger scale would be a positive step forward. I think there’s an immense amount of talent around Sydney but it would be so inspiring to see artists coming together to form a Sydney equivalent of the YBA’s. I’m optimistic that Sydney is securing itself the reputation for being a creative hub with projects like the ‘Arts and Culture’ section of the Sydney 2030 project, we just can’t be complacent I guess.
What challenges have you faced as an emerging contemporary artist?
Most of the challenges I’ve faced are in my head as corny as that may sound. Thoughts of doubt about my skill and whether I am capable of making art with the level of integrity and thought standard in contemporary art. Faith and lots of pep talks help however. Being business savvy is a lesson I’m still learning; knowing how to price your work as well as knowing where to draw the line on how much of my time and materials I give to different art projects I get involved in.
What direction do you see your art taking in the future?
I’m hoping to explore a whole range of mediums, I still feel like I’m coming to terms with my style so I’m going to use the freedom over the next few years to be as extensive and outgoing in my experimentations as possible. On my to do list so far is to make an animation, make a series of travel diaries documenting different types of dance and theatre and hopefully snag a few mural spaces around Europe. My dream would be to do collaborations with institutions like the Dax Centre in Melbourne, which looks at the connection between art and mental health or to work with dancers and choreographers from companies like Chunky Move or Sydney Dance Company.
Please describe your favourite piece.
This is one of my favourite works. I made it for the Australian Galleries NAS Awards Exhibition that happened earlier this year. My overall concept had been looking at the idea of 'vices' and how you can completely lose yourself in acts of lust, power or envy. When creating this particular work I had in mind a conversation I had had with my mum about the premise of the Great Gatsby and how their lives of excess were almost grotesque from a disassociated perspective, like watching pigs roll in their own filth. This image stuck with me, which has come through in the work of these people immersed in their own world, experiencing an almost gratifying sensation of wallowing.
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