Artist Liza Mackintosh on her inspiration and a return to Lewes Artwave

PUBLISHED: 09:58 29 June 2017

Liza Mackintosh on the common with her work

Liza Mackintosh on the common with her work

Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

The landscape and vegetation of North Chailey have both found their way into artist Liza Mackintosh’s paintings. Duncan Hall visits her studio

At the heart of Liza Mackintosh’s work is Red House Common.

It’s where she walks her dogs and where she finds inspiration for her paintings, which break down the landscape into its simplest parts, almost to the point of abstraction. Her latest project – A Walk Towards The Heath – is set to blur the boundaries between the figurative and the abstract even further, as she pushes images of the landscape further towards abstraction. In other pieces she has incorporated physical elements of the landscape itself – bark, leaves, moss and twigs – and uses both stitching and carving to turn her 2D canvases into 3D works.

Her canvases line the walls of her naturally lit little studio, upstairs in the recently renovated St Helen’s Church, incongruous in the centre of the modern New Heritage Way housing estate in North Chailey. The Grade II listed chapel, which was built in 1931, is now a community centre, a project Liza’s mother Sarah was closely involved with. Sarah was able to secure Liza the otherwise unused space. A keen artist herself, Sarah encouraged both her daughters to explore careers in the arts. Liza’s sister Alie launched the Lewes-based women’s clothing brand Boom Boom The Label, beloved of Kim Kardashian, in 2012.

With her work illuminated by the morning sun 23-year-old Liza’s enthusiasm is palpable as she talks about her early degree work, proudly displays a pile of canvases handmade by her firefighter boyfriend Ruairidh Martin and brings out the branches, leaves and handmade nettle paper she incorporates into some of her paintings. She gradually began focusing on the natural world during her art studies, which began with her GCSEs at Chailey School, through to applied art and design at South Downs College and a foundation year at Falmouth University in Cornwall. “At Falmouth I started looking at natural forms,” she says. “I was really into drawing and I was interested in landscape.” One of her early projects was a concertina book of drawings, focusing on different angles of a periwinkle shell – inspiring her to look as closely as possible at natural forms. When she moved to the Wimbledon College of Art, from where she graduated in July 2015, her choice of natural forms was instilled in her. “At Wimbledon we had set projects we could develop into longer ideas. I did miss the countryside a lot when I was in London – especially my last year when I lived in Stratford.”

As Liza moved back to North Chailey late last year, much of her recent work reflects the wintry season with a blue and white palate. She expects this to change over the coming months. “Green shoots are popping up everywhere.”

For her forthcoming exhibition she has taken inspiration from a 2014 collection by Copenhagen artist Tal R entitled Walk Towards Hare Hill. His 37 small brightly coloured canvases were painted en plein air in three locations. “He’s not an artist who influences me, it’s more about the concept of the exhibition,” says Liza, who has chosen Red House Common as her subject. “I’ve found a few spots I quite like and I keep returning to them again and again. My favourite part of the common is in the centre – it’s quite wild and grassy with a little bit of marshland on the fringes. I sit there drawing while the dogs run around. The colours are always changing.” She takes photographs for reference, and collects interesting items to stitch into the work. “I’m interested in how the marks on branches and leaves can suggest landscape – I’m into chaos theory and the idea that shapes are constantly repeating themselves.” She has even gone so far as to study cartography to see how those shapes are magnified in a larger sense.

Another philosophical element of her work is the concept of rhizomes –that everything is connected to each other on a plateau without a centre. Anyone who has ever tried to clear bindweed from a garden bed will be familiar with the idea. Those tangled elements create a flow which is augmented by her combination of stitching and natural elements – something she hadn’t seen in artworks before. “It’s the real and recorded existing in one place.”

And it is clearly striking a chord with art lovers. Some of her work can now be seen on the walls of Hackney restaurant and wine bar Farley Macallan and was on display in Alfriston’s New Art Gallery on the High Street through April. Last year she was selected to appear in the biennial Lewes Hop Open, while her work Leaning Branch was shortlisted from more than 1,000 entries in the prestigious Lacey Contemporary Summer Arts Prize.

As for the future she is working towards her return to the Lewes Artwave festival.

“I can’t believe how much my work has changed since last year,” she says.

“I might have changed quite a bit again by the time of Artwave.” 

Good to know

Liza posts her latest work on Instagram at @lizamackintosh.

Her new show A Walk Towards The Heath will be at the Old Brewery in Lewes during the Artwave festival, which runs across Lewes and Seaford from 19 August to 3 September.

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