WORDS CHARLIE NEWMAN – IMAGES COURTESY OF CONSTANCE READ
Being an artist (never mind putting on an exhibition,) during a global pandemic feels a bit like putting on a panto during a funeral; impossible, but we’re craving a bit of fun. We’re all thirsty for beauty, hungry to empty our minds of worry; young artist, Constance Read, provided just that. For one day only on the 1st of October, 10 at a time, mask clad we basked in her technicolour prints, strolling past the ‘Mud Series’ based on Constance’s hometown North Norfolk mudflats. So far, so normal, but these seascapes are not as you know it, “loads of artists in Norfolk portray very traditional seascapes. Because I live there I really wanted to do that too but just in my own way.” Indeed she did just that, like a Rothko on acid, each landscape is divided with the “hard-line of the colour break that represents the sea level.” Splayed on top of the print sits colourful cells, “blobs depicting the shape of the mud when the tide goes out. Obviously, I’ve interpreted this in a very abstract way, no one would ever look at that and think ‘Oh that’s a seascape!’ but it’s a modern, abstract take on a seascape.” The nautical theme extended with garish slabs of foam plonked across the gallery’s floor “made of expanding foam signifying the sea foam” and a mirrored strip running along the floor, adding a watery element to the space “so it all ties together.”
Depicting a local seaside might feel all too quaint and obvious to some, but instead, Constance embraces the idea of finding beauty in the banal. During her 5 year tenure at Central Saint Martins where she studied Graphic Design (she jokes that she “couldn’t get away!”), completing her foundation, degree and gaining the prestigious ‘Artist in Residence’ place, Constance quickly established her belief that art can be beautiful, or eye-catching, or provocative and these qualities are simply enough. We don’t need to always intellectualise or rationalise everything, “I sometimes felt CSM was so concerned about being very conceptual that people's outcomes to a project weren’t very good because they had such a strong idea, but they hadn’t spent any time creating something beautiful, they’d only made time to think about it. Plus, sometimes it’s such an abstract concept that it could never work out in a physical sense…Sometimes I would worry if my pieces weren’t conceptual enough for the course which is a bit stupid. People forgot that sometimes you’re just inspired by something and it’s not conceptual and there’s nothing wrong with that. As much as people don’t want to admit it, you are just naturally drawn to things you like and want to look at it. It’s like when you go into a gallery and you want to read about a certain piece on the wall because you like the look of it, you very rarely have it the other way around, you’re initially drawn to look at the particular piece because you like the look of it.” This was certainly the case for her ‘Mud Series’, you were immediately attracted to the bold lashings of psychedelic colour sweeping across the gallery’s walls, splashed upon lycra tops suspended from the ceiling by thick silver chains and silk scarves resting atop candy coloured plastic plinths.
As a multimedia practising artist, Constance has always enjoyed pushing the boundaries of her artistic practice. Her art is not only restricted to the walls but hopefully will be found on rugs and other wares in the future, “the beauty of rug tufting is that I can do that from anywhere, I don’t need a massive studio for that…Nothing makes me more depressed than going into a beige house with beige furniture and black and white prints on the wall.” You can guarantee this would not be the case for Constance, she is the very embodiment of her work, donning bubblegum pink hair paired with chic, Japanese style, oversized tailoring, proving that more is definitely more. Her eclectic taste and nuanced style of art (and in life too) is the perfect balance between poppy kitsch and paired down modernism, like watching a rainbow or a cartoon slowly melt on-screen/canvas. Spreading her skills and practice across 2D and 3D elements might be Constance’s saving grace throughout this tumultuous year. The Government may have just released its damning ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.’ campaign for the arts industry, but Constance is one step ahead and has already contemplated on adapting her practice to make it work for the current climate, even considering learning how to make her own frames to help save money.
So how exactly did she organise an exhibition in 2020? Constance first wanted to exhibit back in April but Covid19 quickly put a stop to that. Without her ideal creative environment, the pressure of a deadline, Constance was lost for ideas until Sook gallery messaged her via Instagram to present an exhibition. The majority of the works in the exhibition were ready to go having made them previously during her Artist in Residency at CSM. It was within these prestigious walls that Constance finally had the space and time “to silk screen print but in a much more experimental way.” It was during this year that Constance graduated away from stencil printing and onto mono printing, enjoying the precision and uniqueness of choosing the exact colours within the piece whilst also embracing the “imperfections” of traditional silk screen printing, as a result, “The Mud Series are all one-off originals, they cannot be replicated.” Whilst the majority of the exhibit was made within the distant safety of pre-pandemic life, the largest, and arguably most magnificent piece of the show was made within the confines of quarantine, “the degradé square gradients, made of 24 small squares which I made at home during lockdown because, they’re so small I don’t need a vacuum to suck the paper down”, proving that you do not need a studio, nor the right equipment to create your best work.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, as a child Constance always loved colouring, however her art teacher disagreed. To prove her wrong, Constance’s Granny encouraged her to enter a portrait competition judged by Grayson Perry, of which she won and was shown at the Tate-not bad for a 10-year-old! Later at CSM she quickly discovered that designing other peoples logos, websites, typography etc. was not enough for her so instead she dashed off to New York for a year abroad with the hopes of becoming a “super coder, but it was taking so much of my time up. I then realised that I needed to actually spend time in New York not just working at my desk which so happened to be in New York. So much of getting inspired is about exploring and getting out there and I didn’t have any time for that so I ended up quitting my course out there and just focussing on printmaking and that made me way happier. I literally found my calling and my passion, and became obsessed with it.” Without grasping this opportunity to go to New York, perhaps Constance could never have found her calling, “New York was way more of a skills based course whereas at CSM it was way more concept-based, you could do a three-year course at CSM and not know anything about Photoshop. But the thing is, you need both, you need to be able to think and do.”
Since Constance’s studies, the traditional university experience has been turned on its head. Her advice to up and coming artists “sounds so cliche but basically take any opportunity that comes your way, you should just try and do it. Another thing is that at CSM your first and second year don’t count, you only get marked on your final year. I was so concerned with getting good grades and making work I actually liked, that I never made time to be experimental. I could have gone down a lot of other paths, I should have done loads of other experiments.” Since experimenting “over the past year I’ve definitely evolved into my style. I know more what I like now” and the people of Instagram like it too. It may not be the type of exposure she wanted, but it definitely gave Constance the show she needed, “it’s really fucking sad because I hate Instagram and I wouldn’t say I’m a massive user of it but I have realised over the past couple of months that the more you post on it the more success you have.”
Her success is coming in thick and fast, what with a sellout show and various commissions in the pipeline, nothing, not even a pandemic can stop Constance Read. Whether she seeks inspiration from flowers at the New York Botanical Gardens or at a blockbuster Matisse show, there’s magic to be found in the generic; a token we should all follow as we wade into the grips of a possible second lockdown. For the finale of our chat, when asked what her favourite F Word is Constance replies on brand, “flavour or fizzy.” Like a walking Willy Wonka, Constance has a penchant for the sweet stuff but I would place her F word as ‘fun’, heck we all need a bit of that right now and you can purchase your very own HERE.
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