Sofia Martins-Gray is an artist, a painter, she paints with her camera, she paints beautifully with her camera, Sofia regularly exhibits around London, she was recently a guest artist at my Fruit Shop show (guest artists are always an important part of my solo shows), she was also part of the recent Over and Over group show put on by Cultivate, indeed Sofia has taken part in a number of Cultivate shows (Cultivate and Organ are closely entwined, Sofia Martins-Gray is one of our favourite artists right now). Sofia is also a performer, a singer, she fronts a rather unique band called Stasha Lee, we not asking her about her band today though, we’re asking her about painterly photography and her art process, although line between her band and her photography is a deliciously blurred one, (there might not even be a line) The Thirteen Questions series is an ongoing thing, a set of mostly identical questions we occasionally put to artists, here’s what Sofia made of the thirteen…
1- WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
Now that’s a serious question. To avoid the complexity of it I’m going to enumerate a few facts about me in order to answer both questions. I’m currently writing a master’s thesis in Philosophy. I also create images in photography or drawing and, whilst I do this, I usually write prose and verse, and I perform with my band, Starsha Lee. At the moment, only my work as a performer and my works in photography are made public.
2- WHERE ARE YOU TODAY? WHERE ARE YOU MOST DAYS?
At home, I seriously dislike getting out of the house.
3- WHO OR WHAT IS EXCITING YOU RIGHT NOW?
Making corpses come alive. I’m making archeology with memory and I want to turn it into visible language, into images.
4- WHY DO YOU MAKE ART?
I honestly have no idea, sometimes I wish I was a scientist, scientific people seem to have more certainties. The problem with Art by comparison to Science is the lack of universal criteria, the lack of an absolute criteria about it. You cannot argue with the efficacy of painkillers for example, that’s science. If you read art critics, philosophers and artists manifestos it will always come down to your and others aesthetical judgement. We learn what is Art in college as a concept, but the concept as such is sterile – like all concepts. Art is a form of each persons own experience. So therefore the result of this can be stated as a subjective concept! A path amongst the fog.
Anyway, my artistic beginning started without notice when I was about four years old. My father, every six months, would bring me a box of Caran D’ache pencils from Switzerland. I became completely addicted to the scent of the pencils, the stroke with different colours, and so I started drawing. Drawing lines gave me an unexplainable pleasure, especially when I drew people’s faces. I was extremely passionate about it and extremely active until late teenhood. I went through piles and piles of paper, drawing even on shoe boxes, but my mother would dump it all in the garbage thinking she was doing me a favour. I remember my shock when I realised not everybody drew, I was convinced everybody was like me. I never had much interest in showing my drawings to other people. I stopped drawing around seventeen because of social interaction and I must say socializing was the worst thing that happened in my life. Very rarely have I got something good out of it, and slowly I realised that, so I started to speak my own language again. I began to be more conscious of who I am and started to create my own silence as a form of speaking. I love silence, in silence everything speaks louder. It took my a long while to accept the fact that I must show to people what I do and I still struggle with it massively. The worst part is the social part of it.
5- HOW DO YOU WORK?
Spontaneously and not spontaneously. It depends on the intensity of the image.
6- TELLS US ABOUT THE ART YOU MOST IDENTIFY WITH?
Butoh – where the lack of technique is plausible and the Self is revealed as coming from the depths of your origin. Our origin is extremely important to create our own language and performance brings the whole of you at once. To me the body is never excluded from art.
7- WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT YOUR OWN WORK?
Not much, sometimes I dismember my own body as a concept which can be pleasant to the eye. The worst part in doing self-portraits is having a head.
8- WHAT DO YOU DISLIKE ABOUT YOUR OWN WORK?
When the body doesn’t follow my voice and when the voice doesn’t translate into image.
9- WHAT HAS BEEN THE HAPPIEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE SO FAR?
My great grandmother’s lap.
10- WHAT MAKES YOU ANGRY?
11- WHICH SUPERPOWER WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE AND WHY?
Immortality, I’m too lazy for life. I need more time.
12- WHAT COULDN’T YOU DO WITHOUT?
13- WHAT IS ABOUT POLAROIDS ANYWAY? OR MAYBE WHAT IS ABOUT SELF-PORTRAITS?
It was never a plan, my father had a Polaroid 600 and I started to shoot with it. The sterile colours and the cutting-edge flash attracted me, and with time, the uniqueness of Polaroids started to make sense to my sensitivity. Polaroids simulate time and life very well: it’s one shot, one go and that’s it. Deal with it. As I said above I’m constantly making archeology with memory and I’m compulsive about revisiting aesthetical situations, so therefore I work (or damage if you prefer) on my Polaroids very much. I use fire burns, knife cuts, oil painting and other ways to extract the meaning of the image.
The self-portraits are another department, they had a tragic origin. I didn’t have any intention of doing it. It all started when I was homeless and I had to live in my late grandmother’s house. It’s a house that’s more than one hundred years old which had lost it’s roof in a huge storm. At the same time I had no job and me and my cat were cold and hungry. Whislt I was putting my life together (and luckily I had some neighbours who gave me meals) I had to live with broken windows, cracks in the walls, and a temporary plastic roof for a while…
Strangely, during constant dispair, I started to feel the house as an aesthetical place so I started to photograph with a very cheap camera I had. I wanted to see myself in the photos as a diary of what I was going through. Because I felt it didn’t matter if I died the next day, the self-portraits started as a testimony and a salvation simultaneously. They would tell what happened if I was dead, but at the same time, prevented me from going insane if I remained alive. I did survive because of those pictures – something highly spiritual happened. Still, I hadn’t yet recovered totally from this as I stopped writing at the time due to constant fear, and it’s taking me years to write verses as fluid as before. But I never give up on me, I died and was reborn many times already.
I’m a work in progress.
Sofia’s first solo exhibition will be at Flaxon Ptootch gallery on the 6th of June, Starsha Lee will perform on the opening night. Flaxon Ptootch Gallery is at 237 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2JT.
Starsha Lee also play on the 13th July at The Unicorn, Camden and at the Slappers Club (Katharine Blake from Mediaeval Babes/Miranda Sex Garden) on the 20th July.
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the slide show and get a small taste of the way Sofia paints…