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Artist Interview with Ally Rosenberg

"I have never made an actual baby, but for me, making art feels like the opposite of what I imagine that is like. Conception is painful, but pushing the thing out is the fun bit."

Artist Interview with Ally Rosenberg
Ally Rosenberg

Ally Rosenberg

Oct 7, 2023

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your artwork?

I’m from Manchester, based in London, having studied fine art at Central St Martins and the Pratt Institute, before doing a masters in neuroscience at UCL. I mostly make sculpture and installation and I have another side of my life in education, writing and illustrating educational books/products for all ages. Sometimes it feels like my life is fragmented into all of these disparate realms of sculpture, drawing, teaching, writing, neuroscience etc. and sometimes it’s clear to me how they are all interconnected branches of the same thing. I live in a factory building where my studio is, with my boyfriend and our dog.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your background shaped your artistic practice?

Since my work looks at the shaping of consciousness, I suppose everything about my background has shaped my work, just as it has shaped me. I refer to elements of masculinity, ego, sexuality, psychology etc. in the work, so that must come from wherever it has done in my life. My mixed education, particularly the stint of studying neuroscience, has influenced me in how I think about consciousness, but also in the structural, imagery aesthetic of my sculpture. Spending a couple of years looking at MRI scans must have done something to the way I see the body.

Photo Credit : Brynley Odu Davies

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your creative process changed over the years?

I have learned to work more intuitively and be really clear with myself where the theoretical or academic thinking can come into it. My art school experience placed a really big emphasis on the cerebral side and I struggled to figure out when in the making process this was important and when it was actually detrimental. I have since learned where to prioritise play and when it’s safe to bring in analysis. I am also more comfortable bringing personal elements into my work than I used to be. The cartoonish representations of the body were, I think, initially a way of distancing myself from the work and making it somehow insincere, generic or overly stylised. Whereas now, I treat it as part of how my psychological reality was formed, allowing idiosyncrasies of my personal experiences to speak. They say of writing a pop song, the more specific the references, the more universally relatable it becomes.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your artwork evolved since you first started making art?

There are some constants and some things that have changed drastically. I have always been very material-focused, since a young age. Representing the body has always been what I was drawn to, although I went through phases of striving for a certain objective of ‘realism’ like children are often taught to prioritise. Certain styles of cartoon illustration have always spoken to me, so that is still relevant and works well with the flat cut-outs I often make these days. I am also more open to revisiting old ideas than I used to be. Rather than thinking I should have moved on from them, I now believe I am better equipped to bring an old concept to fruition. It means I reflect on some of the constants within my thinking, even if the execution has evolved.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What inspired you to become an artist?

I have always made things and was lucky to get enough affirmation from it so that I never stopped. Many people give it up when the feedback doesn’t affirm their inner experience of making it and adults stop saying “wow” and putting it on the fridge. So I am grateful that I was always encouraged and got enough “wow”s to stop me from stopping. I think I have always been more motivated by making art than looking at it. I can’t say it was certain artists who made me want to be an artist. It was the process of making art.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any particular artists or movements that have greatly influenced your work? In what way?

Yes, but I find it hard to pin down any top influences. I am just as influenced by things outside of art and we take in so much visual information that it’s hard to pick apart the way it all embeds itself into our thinking. All of that imagery and experience is our diet, that gets mulched up, digested and excreted as the whopping, steaming shit of art. So who knows.

I’m more interested in the emerging art scene and what my contemporaries are doing and, with the bombardment of Instagram, that surely has to have influence in good ways and bad.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Can you tell us a bit about a few specific pieces you have created that you are particularly proud of?

I am really proud of the floor installation I made for my first solo exhibition at the Bomb Factory. It was a series of huge puddles, with wooden parquet flooring laid on top of two layers of upholstery foam. They spread out across the gallery and forced the viewer to step onto them to get close enough to the wall works. Some strange visual-neural trick of expecting the ground to support you, but sinking deeper with your weight, was successful. It was great to see how much it affected people. I think I am proud of it because it was the first time I have returned to a really old idea, which I first conceived at art school. The intervening decade or so allowed it to percolate in my head somewhere, until it was ready to be properly realised. It tied the show together and made it something experiential and playful. I want to come back to it again and do new things with it.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What has been the most rewarding part of your career as a studio artist?

Showing alongside artists I admire; exhibiting work internationally; receiving gallery representation; taking opportunities that allow me to be increasingly ambitious with what I make; getting to a place where all of those things are secondary to me being able to stand by my work and know that, if nothing else, I am happy with it.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you are excited about?

I am in the early stages of a new body of work, for my third solo show. This will be in Athens in 2024, with Dio Horia gallery. I can’t tell you much, but I have a strong starting point and ideas that I am itching to realise. My previous two solos have been made in residence, with a very quick and frantic turnaround. I’m really looking forward to having a good few months to make this one and see how the work evolves over a more sustained period.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important aspect of creating successful artwork?

I think successful means different things to different artists, according to the inner logic of their own methodologies. For me, it is a certain combination of materials and their associations; a certain ratio of image and form; a balance of playfulness in style and weightiness in concept. But most obviously and often said, it’s the ability to really avoid pandering to what you think anyone else wants to see.

Not getting too caught up in trying to please anyone but yourself is the hardest thing but probably essential.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Describe your process of creating a new artwork from concept to completion.

I will force myself to draw. Just loose, judgement-free sketches, trying to think on paper and get all options out. These are not ‘good’ drawings by most measures. They are just vomiting ideas into a sketchbook and most of them are useless, except for getting me to the next iteration. I will fill up an entire, cheap sketchbook on variations around the same idea, prodding at it from all sides until I start to feel like it’s getting somewhere. This is usually when I doubt myself the most and convince myself I’m useless. But I have done it enough times now that I recognise it as part of the process and just allow myself to feel shit until I don’t anymore. Then I might start turning some of these paper drawings into digital drawings. If I work with a fabricator, I send them any relevant renderings and/or get to work in the studio. Once I have started physically making, I am happy. I am in my element when I am actually making the work and, even if there are hiccups in the building process, I am pretty confident and things flow. At this point, is much more about problem-solving than expressing myself.

"I have never made an actual baby, but for me, making art feels like the opposite of what I imagine that is like. Conception is painful, but pushing the thing out is the fun bit."

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What is your favourite medium to work with? Please tell us a bit about how the medium influences or supports the ideas behind your work?

I work with so many materials, but there are some that crop up again and again: OSB board, marble, tiles, Jesmonite, concrete, brick. They all have their appeals, but it is the combination of them that interests me.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any techniques you have developed that you use consistently in your artwork?

I do a lot of cutting with a jigsaw, which I am pretty nifty at these days. I also make a lot of moulds and casts, which I am decent at, but would probably horrify people who really know their mould-making onions. These days, I get quite a few things cut by water jet, which is an amazing process and has allowed me to finesse some aspects of the work and be more adventurous with materials.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What has been the most memorable artwork you have created? What makes this piece memorable?

Memorable for other people, I don’t know. Although people seem to often refer to my bricks with sperm shapes cut out. Or the huge papercrete figure I showed in Five Hides (Thorp Stavri) 2020, called Homunculus. Some people also seem to selectively remember the works with penises, although surprisingly few of my pieces have a penis. For me, I find it hard to think of what stands out as most memorable, because I have usually mentally moved on and I’m thinking about the next thing shortly after something is made/shown.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What was the most challenging piece you have ever created? How much do you think the effort you put into creating a work is important vs the idea behind it?

Some works are challenging in conception, but relatively easy to make. Others are really simple ideas, but take a lot of work to execute. In terms of basic, physical exertion, the papercrete figure, Homunculus, was a few months of graft, a lorry, a scaffolding tower and 8 people to install. But any piece of work is the culmination of all efforts leading up to it. The years of study, the failed attempts, the lifetime of experience etc. All of that combined can make it feel like making a work is effortless, but a tonne of work goes into making something effortlessly.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What themes or topics are you exploring in your current artwork?

You’ll find out in Athens, early 2024!

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important skill a studio artist should have?

So hard to answer, because it depends on the artist and whatever values they work by. I am conscious that I can sometimes sound quite confident in things I say, so I don’t like the idea of preaching on something like this, when really I can only speak for myself. Probably all of the obvious things like routine and discipline, but those can mean different things. There has to be a certain amount of tenacity and ability to cope with rejection, which you develop over time.

For me, it is the ability to create a space where you can really play and suspend judgement, to reach a state of care-free intuition and forget any critical eyes looking over your shoulder. You can pick it apart once it exists, but you have to make it first.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think has been the biggest challenge in your creative career?

I don’t think I could pin down certain specific social obstacles or ways that I have been excluded by gatekeepers of the art world, as many people are. I understand my relatively privileged position and to have any kind of career as an artist feels like an unlikely and privileged thing. Then again, I was out of art school for 8 years before I was included in a group show and had turned 30 before I had a solo show. It took a long time for me to understand anything about how things worked, how to get a studio, how to cultivate a practice or how to exist as an artist outside of education. And I am still learning. So most of the challenges have been in the slow, ongoing slog of figuring it all out.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What advice would you give to aspiring studio artists?

There is no one way of doing anything. There is no one way of earning a living from/to sustain your art practice. There is a lot of art in the world and most of it isn’t for you and your work isn’t for most people. The art world owes you nothing, but you don’t owe it anything either. You don’t need to know what you want to ‘say’ or to have the answers about your work. Be skeptical of overly romanticised ideas about what it means to be an artist and learn which advice is worth taking on board and which advice can be ignored. Almost everyone worth admiring is also anxious and self-critical, like you are. Try fitting all that on a fridge magnet!

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