what the water gave me: Q&A with Lily Rigby

by Kitty Bew

Ahead of her second solo exhibition at ONCA: what the water gave me, we caught up with the amazing Lily Rigby!

You had a very successful solo exhibition with us in 2018. How has your work developed since then?

Lily: I think my work has become freer and some paintings are more abstract too. I have become more experimental with how I apply the paint …there is so much you can do with paint, the way you can make it move, the layers you can build.

I am spending more time thinking about my work and more time researching around the subject that I am painting. I have been reading a lot about the history of certain colours in paintings and what they might symbolise, which is helping me form ideas for my upcoming exhibition with you.

In my last exhibition with you ‘where sky meets land’, the paintings were of places on the Isle of Skye. However my work so far this year has been inspired by places as a starting point but I feel like the work has taken more of its own path and the paintings are becoming their own places, rather than a painting of a place. If that makes sense.

I am realising the importance of privacy when I’m creating art and I am letting the paintings develop without feeling the need to post and share on social media. Whilst I think Instagram benefits my work in lots of ways I also find it quite draining, so I am really enjoying the step back from it and I definitely have more headspace to create the work. Which also makes me more excited for people to see my work at my exhibitions this year.

Which landscapes / seascapes in the UK, or beyond, do you find especially stirring?

Lily: This April I spent 10 days in Cornwall, on an Art Residency at UNSIGNED.COWBOYS.GRUDGING studio and I definitely fell in love with the Cornish landscape. The light on the sea there is so amazing, in the evening it has a sort of silver glow to it. I can understand why so many artists are drawn to Cornwall.

I also really love Italy, the food as much as the landscape. And it is a dream of mine to live there and spend some time travelling around Italy and Sicily painting, eating and getting inspired.

Your work often depicts quite turbulent, tense and unruly scenes. Are your paintings purely about the force of nature, or do you see aspects of your own self in the work that your produce?

Lily: I think it’s both. Nature has been the starting point for all my work, especially the sea which I seem to have an affinity with.

But I definitely think that my paintings are a part of me. When I paint, it is a really personal experience, I get a feeling that I haven’t felt in anything else I do. I think my paintings come from the subconscious part of me – it’s all of my experiences, memories and emotions that get poured onto the canvas.

Some of your paintings are completed on large-scale canvases, and there is a real physicality to them. Is it important to you that your paintings have a strong physical presence in the gallery space?

Lily: Yes definitely. I want my paintings to have an impact on people, in the same way that the landscape can. I want people to come away from my exhibitions still thinking about my work. I don’t think the paintings have to be large-scale to do this, but there is something about a large-scale painting that can completely absorb people.

You originally completed a degree in Illustration. Do you think that this is reflected at all in your current style of painting?

Lily: I think my degree definitely taught me the importance of always experimenting; which is reflected as my painting style progresses.

I went to UWE in Bristol and the course wasn’t as traditional as other universities. During my degree I was given the freedom to use unusual materials and I was encouraged to push the boundaries of what being an ‘illustrator’ meant. I signed up to lots of different workshops, including print making and digital embroidery – I used to spend hours in the print rooms. It taught me a lot about how you can produce art in different ways and the importance of pushing boundaries.

How do you feel about the term ‘abstract painter’?

Lily: I haven’t had a question like this before! Some people have described my work as abstract, although it is only now that I am starting to look at some of my paintings in this way.

I think sometimes abstract paintings allow more space to evoke emotions in the viewer, people are able to see what they want to see in the painting; abstract art allows more room for emotion. The way I am actually painting is becoming more abstract too… using raw canvas and also lying canvases flat on the ground to change the perspective when I’m painting.

There are a lot of abstract painters who I really admire; including Sam Lock whose work I have been looking at recently. And I will always love Mark Rothko’s paintings, you can get lost in them. I could sit in the Rothko room at the Tate for ages.

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

Lily: Lots of photographs that I’ve taken and quick sketches that I have done outside. I use both of these as starting points for my paintings, to get colours and movement. Pages from magazines – I love flicking through magazines and ripping out anything that I find inspiring. This could be imagery or words.

When I visit exhibitions I always buy a few postcards at the end, so I have these in my studio too. Including a beautiful photo of Frida Kahlo, who I have a bit of an obsession with at the moment. When I’m having a bit of a block or need a break from the painting, I like to flick through some of the art books that I have in my studio.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an artist?

Lily: It’s hard to know the best – I feel I have been so lucky and received so much advice along the way. So a few things that have really stuck with me are…
“When you’re an artist you’re a one man band, nobody else is going to do the work for you, and so you have to keep painting!”

And, that amazing opportunities can come along, but really you have to make things happen for yourself.
I’ve always liked the saying ‘what you plant now you will harvest later’. I am learning the importance of setting goals for myself as an artist, and to never give up on my dream.

what the water gave me opens at ONCA gallery on Saturday 9th November.

Image credit: Charisse Kenion