Interview by Susan Wood

Born in Montreal and raised on the west coast of Canada, Liz moved to London at the age of twenty-four to work in theatre on some really big-budget shows. She’d studied set design and prop-making in Canada and thought she might stay a year or so. She has been here ever since, firmly established in south London with her husband and two sons. She started making props at English National Opera - anything from a huge fibreglass statue of Ho Chi Minh for Miss Saigon to props and sets for the touring show of Cats - and from there went freelance. In 2008 Liz did an MA at Camberwell, where she decided to focus on enhancing her understanding of tone in her drawings, a departure from her previously highly coloured work.How did doing an MA affect your practice?For the MA I started to use charcoal for the first time; my project was the Thames. I was fascinated by waterways and thought of comparing and contrasting them with those in Canada. Then I looked at the reaches of the Thames you can get to in an inflatable kayak, where you won’t be dragged off-course by the current – started upriver near Hampton and continued on downriver towards Putney, the stretch where my sons row. Out there the Thames is not walled, so you can get right down to water-level. I took lots of colour photographs on and next to the river, from which I chose subject matter for my charcoal drawings. Areas of surface water with intricate random patterns fascinate me – they are the starting-point. I’ve a definite affinity with water: I was raised by the sea and my mother still lives about a quarter of a mile from the Pacific Ocean. We were always going down to the sea. I find it immensely calming – that’s the effect of water, even if like the Thames it may in places be full of silt and refuse! The Thames, being entrenched in history, exudes a sense of place and a sense of time. And because a river travels from A to B, from one destination to another, things travelling with it can end up anywhere.Do you ever include figures?No. I find them intrusive and don’t want to share the landscape with them. And I don’t want the viewer to have to share the landscape with another person.How do you work?I use soft willow charcoal and a tiny bit of compressed charcoal for the darker areas, and use my fingers to smudge the charcoal and create the tones. Then I use an eraser to make white marks by lifting off the charcoal. The finished drawings, which take about 4 or 5 days to complete, need three coats of fixative to keep the charcoal from rubbing off.Who are your influences?Vija Celmins, in particular her graphite drawings of water, and the Japanese-Canadian artist Takao Tanabe’s breathtaking large-scale landscapes.What do you think of SLWA?It’s great to be involved and meet and have a dialogue with other women who are raising questions about their art and how it fits in with raising a family and holding down a job.What have you got in the pipeline?In February I have a piece of work in the Jealous Gallery – they liked my more unfinished drawings. And I’ll be exhibiting in Lucy Bainbridge’s studio as part of the Dulwich Open House in May.Look out for Liz’s highly original charcoal drawings, where the emphasis is on composition, tone, shape, and ‘maybe a hint of mystery’.

Posted: 2009-03-24 10:45:00