In the Studio with Laurie Cole

In the studio with Laurie Cole, whose work combines old memories with her present life and explores personal experiences through symbolic representation. We met with Laurie to tell us more about growing up in Cornwall, their greatest influences, and unexpected sources of inspiration.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

That’s a difficult one to start with. I have always felt the need to paint and create, but I think I probably only a few years ago when I was able to afford my first studio. The difference of having my own dedicated space that I could go to just to paint, instead of my bedroom, was completely transformative and it definitely changed my practice. I moved from acrylic to oils and was able to work bigger and more freely! 

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?

I grew up in a small village just outside of Falmouth in Cornwall. My parents met at art school and always encouraged my siblings and I to play, investigate and explore the landscape around us creatively. I pursued a few different creative things when I was young; but I used drawing and painting as a way to escape and it has become a medium in which to understand my experiences. 

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice artistic work? 

I remember at college I was painting a series of images of my dad with acrylic, chalk and oil pastel on board. I was going through a bit of a hard time and my tutor encouraged me to just write my thoughts over the image. It was at this moment that I realised the importance between text and image within my work. I loved how with three simple words I could create an entire narrative that didn’t exist before – this definitely connected me to my work in a new way and the process of using words as a starting point has carried through into my practice. 

What’s the message of your work? Where do they come from? 

The ideas I explore are ever changing and autobiographical. I have most recently been exploring my relationship with my mother and the pain or conflict of the female body. My process of making starts quite organically and like a journal I like to write quick notes on my phone, or underline a section of a poem in a book that I find relative. Nothing I write ever quite flows – it always feels intrinsic and patched together like a kind of outburst. Words work as a starting point to my paintings and are often the ending point too. Figures emerge and disappear becoming symbols that take on my fears, dreams, nightmares, loves, my mother, my father, my politics. I use them as a way to try and balance or understand things. 

Who & what are your greatest influences?  

There’s a feeling I am trying to portray when I paint that I can only describe in a few paintings I have seen. Most recently I saw Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘ The Garden of Earthly Delights ‘ at the Prado Museum in Madrid. I was completely transfixed by his ability to be enigmatic, dark, tortuous and beautiful all at the same time. I also feel this in poetry – sometimes in just one line I feel I could swim in the deep depths of an intensely strange and otherly world. 

An unexpected source of inspiration?

Stones, shells and glass that have intricate textures, patterns and colours. I like to collect the smoothed or jagged ones that have been washed up by the sea whenever I go home. Describing the feeling of my home and its ever changing landscape is a bit of an ode to Cornwall in a way. That’s probably not that unexpected though – I find a lot of beauty in standing stones too – they feel like people frozen in time holding the stories for future generations to come.

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?

I think I make my best work while working quickly without too much thought about who will view it.

What events in your life have mobilized change in your practice?

My work is constantly evolving through experimentation. I often look back and draw upon things I wrote or drew years ago that creates a circular/ non-linear narrative running through.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

I like to sprawl my work out onto the floor (probably a habit from working in my bedroom) and work over multiple pieces at a time. It’s sometimes in chaos and haste that my work comes to some conclusion. I also like it when I’m wearing my headphones and I realise there’s not been any music playing for hours… I think I must be focused. 

Tell us the inspiration behind your works?

I have always loved ‘Angel’, 1998 by Paula Rego and the power of the standing figure in a golden dress holding a sword. As I start to grow older, I can feel myself hardening, strong like a shield but weak with worry for an uncertain future. In ‘Golden Shield’, a small piece on linen, I was looking at my relationship with my mother. Two figures, holding shape together, I am my mothers daughter and my mothers protector. 

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I don’t often use sketchbooks anymore, I find them restrictive, but I keep an old cigar box that is filled with my drawings. I like the tactile nature of rummaging through them, pinning them on the wall to create new compositions, and seeing how they play off of eachother. I wanted to play more with my paintings so I have recently started making my own canvas boards. It has allowed me to work flat on the floor, be more playful, immediate and less precious with the surface. It’s something that I am hoping to explore more and see where it takes me!