Mindy Lee’s paintings use figuration to explore shifting autobiographical narratives and memories. Mindy was born in Bolton, UK and graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA Painting in 2004. Since graduating she has exhibited worldwide with solo exhibitions at Perimeter Space, Griffin Gallery and Jerwood Project Space in London and in a wide range of group shows across the world, including at the China Academy of Arts.
“I love working with acrylic paint. It’s versatile and adaptable, with rich pigmentation. It can be applied like watercolours, ink, oil paint, or sculpturally. There are no rules for the order of application, so you can freely explore.”
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you started out?
I grew up in Lancashire, in a family of creative scientists. I always wanted to be an artist and I moved around with my art education; a Foundation Course in Manchester, BA (Painting) at Cheltenham and Gloucester College, then a 3yr break, before an MA (Painting) at the Royal College of Art. I then worked two or three (sometimes four) part-time jobs whilst also stubbornly crowbarring my art practice into my routine. I currently live and work in London.
Can you tell us a bit about your art practice?
My art practice evolves alongside my own experiences. I mainly use painting and drawing to explore everyday family activities, rituals, memories, dreams and other internal stories and interactions. They have a strange feeling of slipping between one state and another as bodies and scenarios are left open-ended, so there is always the potential to change.
Do you remember the first art material you were given or bought for yourself? What was it and do you still use it today?
When I was 9 or 10 years old my mum let me use her oil paints. I felt very grown up! I don’t use oils now, but I still treasure and use a few of her brushes.
Do you have an art material you particularly enjoy working with and what do you like about it?
I love working with acrylic paint. It’s versatile and adaptable, with rich pigmentation. It can be applied like watercolours, ink, oil paint, or sculpturally. There are no rules for the order of application, so you can freely explore. It can hold a drawn line and a crisp edge, but also dissipates beautifully. It’s resilient and its quick drying time is also very appealing… what’s not to love?
As the Head of Art at Blyth Centre for Music and Visual Arts, you run a gallery and art education as well as maintain your art practice, how do you balance the two?
I am very disciplined with my time and myself. I carve up my week into specific chunks of work, so some days are studio, and some are Blyth. I work with intense focused outbursts in both disciplines. Each has moments of needing more of my time, so there is give and take between the two. It took a few years to learn how to do this! But I have now found an adaptable rhythm that works for me. It is also important to take some time out of doing, to think and reflect, to let new creative ideas surface, both for my own practice and for the Blyth Centre.
Do you feel that your art practice is influenced by curatorial projects?
Absolutely. Curating is a great opportunity to learn about other practices, meet new artists and to increase my own research into the contemporary art scene. I love seeing how art changes when hung alongside other artists work. Spending time working with other people’s practices and projects naturally informs my own work.
How has the experience of motherhood influenced your art practice?
Becoming a mum radically changed and intensified my practice. I now work more intuitively and go with my gut feelings. I think it has given me more confidence. I have less time to procrastinate over my work, so I have become much more focused and direct in both the subject matter and the process of making.
Can you tell us about your double-sided clothes paintings?
These were made when my son was a toddler. They grew out of my experience of responsive parenting. I created extended paintings in response to and on top of my sons’ paintings. They explore our daily routines and rituals as we moved from a hybrid state to individual people. Using the clothes as canvas allowed them to play an active role in evidencing our bodies changes. (My physical metamorphosis through and after pregnancy alongside the discarded clothes of my growing child.)
What are you working on in the studio right now?
A series of small, semitransparent, silk paintings exploring an intimate inner world of love, loss, longing and revival. I’m at that exciting stage where something new is begging to happen, but I am not exactly sure what it is, so nothing is pinned down and the work is shifting and surprising me.
Do you have any go-to tools in your studio that you could not make work without? How do you use them and why?
My rigger brush, rags and a water sprayer. The brush makes a fantastically variable line and holds a lot of paint for a longer gesture. Rags are used to apply and remove paint and the sprayer wets the surface, so the paint can do its own thing. I use them together to create a flux between adding, shifting, removing, and reapplying.
Do you have any routines in your studio to get you focused as you start the day?
I think about what I am going to do in the studio, whilst walking back from the school run. I make a brew then relook through my sketch pad pages, where I have quick drawings and strategy suggestions for making. I then get straight in there, forgetting about my tea and always end up drinking it cold.
What do you listen to in your studio?
I prefer a quiet studio, so I can focus in on what I am making.
What was the best piece of advice you were ever given from another artist?
Paul Westcombe gave me this advice when I was pregnant, but it is good advice at any time. ‘When time and space are limited and your studio practice seems impossible, adapt your practice so it works for you.’
Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are happy to share with us?
I am looking forward to exhibiting in A Woman’s Place Is Everywhere, co-curated by Boa Swindler and Infinity Bunce at The Library Gallery in Stoke Newington, opening on 8th March 2022. I am also very excited to share that I will be exhibiting my new silk works in a solo show at Arts Space Portsmouth in 2022.
To learn more about Mindy’s work, you can visit her website here or find her on Instagram @mindylee.me. All images courtesy of the artist.