WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY RACHEL EDWARDS
Everyone should have the chance to step foot in Salomé Wu’s bedroom at some point in their life. Turning up to the painter and musician’s house in North London is like entering a portal to another world - a world carefully curated by the artist herself with soft colours and sounds and beautiful gowns hanging haphazardly around the room. *M&S voice* Her bedroom really is more than just a bedroom. It’s where Salomé escapes from the mundane and creates her own wonderland. We listen to Leonard Cohen and we jump on the bed (separate occurrences - it turns out Leonard Cohen doesn’t have the same jumping-on-bed energy that LCD Soundsystem does). We take photographs. Salomé laughs a lot.
For somebody whose paintings are often described as melancholic she doesn’t come across as serious or brooding. She’s full of vivacity, her eyes wide as she tells me stories of recent lockdown parties with her housemates and intense fleeting love interests. Storytelling is at the heart of everything Salomé does. Her music and her paintings form an overall narrative, a glimpse into her ever-evolving imagination. Having just held her first virtual exhibition and with the release of her new single coming out this month she has a lot on her plate. I wonder if she feels overwhelmed. She tells me with the same air as somebody telling me they’ll pick up bread from the shop that this year she’ll conquer movement and performance and I realise that when it comes to Salomé it’s not a matter of feeling overwhelmed or weighed down. On the contrary, each time she adds to her narrative she simultaneously sheds layers of herself, becoming lighter, more free. Watching her jump on the bed I realise she’s one of the rare people you meet who will always appear young - maybe we should all shed more layers.
Rachel Edwards: How are you? Salomé Wu: I’m well, I’m very happy at the moment.
R.E: What do you have for breakfast on a typical day? S.W: [Laughs] It’s very boring, something like scrambled eggs...
R.E: So you’re releasing your first single from Ceremonial Collection this month. What’s the process like when you’re making music? S.W: I usually work with another person. This is how I worked on Ceremonial Collection. Usually the other person comes up with a melody on guitar and then we try out loads of varieties of vocal melodies. I just start singing and we create a melody and then lastly we write the lyrics.
R.E: Do you sit down and try to schedule in time to think and work or does it hit you at random times? S.W: It’s quite spontaneous. All my art is based on this ever evolving interpretation of this mythology I created based on my observation of time and fragility and interplay between the seen and the unseen. We would draw from this initial narrative I created in paintings - that’s why there are lots of overlaps between my art and music. The music video we’re going to release for When the Moon Comes Down in Blood is quite special cos we made that song at the end of last year and before that I’d made a painting called Bathing With The Red Frog which I named after I made the song... Before that it was just called Untitled.
R.E: Has your style changed a lot since you started out as an artist? S.W: Painting, yes definitely... It's a longer process. But with music - Ceremonial Collection is my first album. This was my first experience of writing - before that I was just playing drums and I never felt like I was that good. But with painting I started making a lot of independent oil painting work from my imagination when I was 16 years old. The approach and methodology is always similar in terms of how I create but my style has changed. I’ve gone through a period where all of my work is blue coloured - the colour blue really inspired the narrative.
R.E: What does the colour blue mean to you? S.W: I started writing about this world that I feel belongs to me where I can detach myself from everyday reality and where I felt secure. In the beginning I imagined this world where everything had this blue smog. I describe the air in that space as blue and poisonous so it kills the sunflowers. Then a girl in a blue dress who’s used up all of her own tears collects tear drops from everywhere, believing that she can water the sunflowers with them and bring them back to life. But for me blue symbolises a transitional portal before darkness. So with the narrative, I might not write anything for six months and then I’ll introduce something else, for example the colour red. A few months after I painted Bathing With The Red Frog I wrote the lyrics to When the Moon Comes Down in Blood. The lyrics are an extension of the painting. It’s like a vocalised painting which I always wanted to produce.
R.E: So this brings me on to your next question... You’re going to start a project soon that combines both? S.W: Yes, I’m planning a theatre show. We want it to be as minimal as possible! I’m also working with my friend Ian who has his own record label and I’m writing a new song with him. I feel more independent now, he gives me the space I need to express myself. He understands that it’s very important that I do this for myself.
R.E: Has this year stopped you feeling creative or has it spurred you on?
S.W: It’s spurred me on!
R.E: Are you an introvert or an extrovert? S.W: Extrovert, absolutely.
R.E: But you spend a lot of time by yourself! S.W: Yeah I’m that type of extrovert where I need time to recover from social interactions but I do enjoy spending time with people a lot. But a lot has changed during this time, it’s definitely made me more
introspective. Just spending lots of time reflecting on my past memories has been an exciting period of time for my artistic creations. I can see that there is this catharsis.
R.E: There is a melancholic feel to your work. Has loss inspired you? S.W: Definitely. I think I’ve always had a focus on things that are slowly disappearing. From a young age I’ve been very sensitive to the fact that things are not permanent which is quite a real thing but a concept that people often ignore. I draw a lot of inspiration from things that are disappearing or deteriorating and I see the beauty in them just as much as something that beautiful and lively. Is that morbid?
R.E: I think it’s interesting, the way that we view death as something we don’t want to see or believe even though it’s one of the only certainties in life. What do you think happens after we die? S.W: I don’t know. I think our consciousness continues to exist through other people but it will be a different type of thing.
R.E: What do you want to be remembered for? S.W: Something positive I guess! [Laughs] Not anything evil. I’d like to be remembered for my work, I’d like my work to exist for a long time. You can’t control what you’re remembered for.
R.E: Maybe it’s just the small interactions everyday that stick in people’s minds
S.W: [Laughs] Something virtual... I mean virtuous.
R.E: Well speaking of virtual, what was it like having a virtual exhibition? S.W: It was amazing to be able to have that solo exhibition with Guts Gallery and Soft Punk Magazine who I’ve been working with for a long time and I absolutely adore Ellie and Jacob and everyone. But it also feels like something’s missing, being able to take people through the gallery and the validation I suppose... [Laughs] If it was a show where I could be surrounded by friends then they might not give me the most honest feedback but they’re still going to tell me it’s amazing and make me feel great!
R.E: But it’s the atmosphere too isn’t it? The feeling in the room when you’ve been working so hard on your art...
S.W: Yeah it’s a frozen moment in time where I can show what I’ve been working on for the last month. But because it’s mainly Instagram based now it felt like my attention shifted to the number of likes I got which is a cold kind of validation.
R.E: Do you feel sucked in by social media? Does it affect your worth? S.W: Yes, this year especially when everything comes down to engagement on Instagram. I do feel that I spend a lot of time caring about whether my posts were successful or not. This year I’ve struggled more than others.
R.E: Do you compare yourself a lot? S.W: I do catch myself comparing myself to other people and then I calm myself down a bit... I make sure I don’t get sucked into it - Nothing good can come of it.
R.E: Your whole aesthetic has a dreamlike quality. Do you often remember your dreams? S.W: No I don’t and I don’t want to because a lot of my dreams are fucked. They’re nonsense, they don’t make sense. I don’t think my work is related to actual dreams, just exploring otherwordliness.
R .E: Do you think it’s important for artists and musicians to study? S.W: I think it is, yeah. I probably got this from my family but my experience at university was transformative. It made me challenge boundaries a bit and get into discussions about things I wouldn’t otherwise have spoken about. Self expression was celebrated in a way that other studies might not encourage as much.
R.E: Is there a specific era or place that influences your art? S.W: I just try to look for the weirdest music or art from all different eras. The least inspiring for me is contemporary style. I don’t connect to it.
R.E: Who did you grow up listening to? S.W: It’s funny, I grew up listening to my grandma’s gospel music. I grew up in a christian household - my grandmother was christian and my grandfather was quite atheist. But she would decorate the room with lots of pictures of Jesus and she’d sing gospel a lot. I didn’t listen to music until I was a young teenager and I started listening to Nick Cave and people...
R .E: Did you always know you would be an artist? S.W: No never. I never thought I would pursue this career path. I never thought I would be an artist but I’ve always been doing something creative from a very young age. The idea of being an artist intimidated me - I thought I’d be a fashion designer and I pursued that for ten years, until I was in Central Saint Martins doing a foundation degree in fashion and I realised this isn’t what I wanted to do. From first year I knew I wouldn’t be doing anything related to fashion and it took two years, until I graduated from fashion, to realise I wanted to be an artist.
R.E: It does feel like fashion is important to you S.W: It is extremely important. I’m influenced by my mum who was always extremely well dressed. I used to steal all of her clothes to wear and this style I’m in now ties in with my art. I want everything to be cohesive
R.E: It doesn’t feel like you follow trends - it feels like it’s just complete expression with you S.W: [Laughs] Thank you. It’s the people I imagine in my art - they all have gowns on or loose fabric. Not necessarily clothes that we see people wearing. And the pieces of clothes that I collect have special meanings to me because I see them as triggers for my art.
R.E: Where’s your go-to hidden gem for clothes in London? S.W: [Laughs] I go to The Market Cartel. Dani [the owner] is going to love this - I’ve been shopping there for ages. It’s just outside of Hackney Downs and it’s such a beautiful shop. I also get loads of things from ebay because people sell their shit and a lot of it’s really old which I prefer.
R.E: Do you have a playlist when you paint that you listen to all the time? S.W: Yes I do- it’s quite sad. The song names include A Song for Deaf Ears in Empty Cathedrals, ‘O’ Children and The Bells Shall Sound Forever. It’s quite dark - 13 Angels Standing Guard Round Stage Side of Your Bed.
R.E: Well the last one’s just lazy - they just couldn’t be bothered to come up with a short name could they? S.W: [Laughs]
R.E: You can invite one painter and one musician to dinner (dead or alive) - who do you invite?
S.W: Salvador Dali and David Tibet.
R.E: Do you think they’d get on? S.W: No it would be so intense. So much talking about faith, religion, witchcraft
R.E: Do you believe in fate?
S.W: I think fate is what we make it. At the end of life when we look back it might seem like fate... but I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s fate that I don’t believe in fate [laughs] oh my god here we go...
R.E: Do you believe in karma? S.W: I think people have a pop culture understanding of the word in terms of consequence but I think karma in buddhism actually means action. It’s more like all actions have consequences rather than just consequences. I healed myself through buddhism.
R.E: Really? S.W: Yeah I used to go to the buddhist centre three times a week. Since quarantine I haven’t, but I listen to lectures on the website.
R.E: Do you think anyone can be an artist? S.W: Yeah if they want to, for sure.
R.E: Do you want to be based in London for a long time? S.W: Yes for now. But I have plans to go to the US at some point.
R.E: What is beauty to you? S.W: These are deep.
R.E: Yeah it starts off with ‘what do you have for breakfast?’ and ends with ‘do you know how you’ll die?’ S.W: Beauty is more of a response when you experience something. When you become whole with everything around you.
R.E: So you make music and paint - do you want to go into anything else in the future? S.W: I recently got into performance and video art - together that’s a bridge between my art and music. But you never know, I just fall into things.
R.E: Yeah it feels like you just follow your intuition and go with things. Do you have any regrets? S.W: No... I think I can’t see regret as a productive emotion. Everything that’s past has past. You can just ruin the present moment by thinking about the past.
R.E: Are you looking forward to playing live again?
S.W: Yes I really am. I just want to perform.
R.E: They say do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life, is this true? S.W: Yeah I feel that. It never feels like work when everything’s true to you. When you’re being authentic it doesn’t feel like work. It still gets stressful. I get scared of stepping into a commercial side of what you love because you become a product and part of consumer culture and there will be lots of demands. I pay attention to balance.
R.E: What’s your new year’s resolution? S.W: I don’t have one. I never do them. Every time I set them it just gives me an expectation and I end up disappointed. Two years ago my new year’s resolution was to do things I don’t usually do, so I started eating chicken. That worked well...
R .E: [Laughs] What’s your favourite F word?
Salomé just finished her debut solo show Ode to Oaths at the end of 2020 with Guts Gallery. She is about to release her single and music video When the Moon Comes Down in Blood through Ceremonial Collection on the week beginning 22nd January.