Repaint History Call For Art Fund Recipient: Bex Massey
Tell us about yourself.
I am originally from Newcastle upon Tyne. I moved to London 17 years ago to study art and never left. So now I have a BA FA from The Cass, an MA FA from Chelsea College of Art and no Geordie accent to speak of. I am a figurative painter and installation artist. My work examines the role of painting and the language of display in the face of popular culture. Motifs commonly found in my work to express this consumer gluttony are extracted from the 80s/90s overlap of my childhood. I return to the Northern palette of my adolescence as it remains a slower era-pre computer, internet and cloud.
Image courtesy of the artist, @mitsukomoulson
Tell us about an encounter with art that has shaped your practice.
Towards the end of the 90’s family friends bought my folks the Saatchi ‘Sensation’ exhibition catalogue. This book changed everything: Gone were the still life and female nude of the classroom and in their place were pop, shock and a heap of talented female artists. It was on these pages that I realised that art could be made by women, wasn’t limited to observational painting and was now all I wanted to do.
Bex Massey, Hawez & Nah Man
Which artists inspire your work?
I adore everything about David Hockney and Victoria Wood. I have put both artists on a pedestal since I was a child. I never cease to be overwhelmed by their endless supply of talent. Hockney’s wizardry with colour and ability to continually reinvent classical techniques for a modern audience is second to none and the late Wood’s sense of humour and intelligence during a period when women weren’t really allowed to be either is truly mesmeric. In contemporary terms-and as a reprieve from the usual testosterone heavy history of art-I have a whole host of female/non binary artists who also inspire me daily. To name but a few: Heather Phillipson, Tai Shani, Sol Calero, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Nicole Eisenman, Lucia Hierro, Jordan Casteel, Julie Tuyet Curtiss, Chloe Wise, Marta Galindo, Mickalene Thomas, Tanya Moulson, Sarah Roberts, Cherelle Sappleton, Michaela Yearwood Dan, Lindsey Mendick, Katelyn Ledford, Kilee Price, Cherelle Sappleton, Joy Labinjo, Francesca Facciola, Lucia Love, Hannah Antalek, Lizzy Lunday, Sun Woo, Pippa El-Kadhi Brown, Ella Walker and Julia Garcia.
Bex Massey, I'm every woman
What challenges have you faced throughout your career as an artist and what advice would you give to artists beginning their career?
I think the main challenges I’ve found have been surrounding money/life/studio balance. Creating a sustainable practice is difficult. If you are lucky enough to find the equilibrium necessary to facilitate all/most facets of daily life you can still have dark days when you question ‘why am I doing this? If I did a ‘9 to 5’ I would have money’. I’d say ‘Keep on going if it is your passion!!’ Having this level of determination shouldn’t be undervalued as it’s sometimes the only thing that draws apart a very talented individual who isn’t practicing and someone who’s just put their head down and cracked on. Every year you’ll make more connections/exhibit/sell more and at some stage you can do the jump into being a full-time artist and when you do all the commitment juggling, feelings of missing out and late nights will feel totally worth it.
Bex Massey, Primaries, Red
How has your practice been affected by the turbulence and uncertainty of the past year? Has your work or the way you approach it changed at all?
Like most, last year was chaos and I had loads of exhibitions/sales cancelled. By contrast I also made new connections with galleries/artists across the globe; gained a sense of community and some cracking art via Artist support pledge and Abs from Five (90s boy band) liked and commented on one of my paintings all via Instagram and all because every one of us was stuck at home and on our phones-so not all bad!! My working methodologies of late have changed dramatically though as I would usually do very long days at the studio. In light of National and London lockdowns my practical/theoretical split has recently tipped towards research in an effort to ‘stay at home’ as much as possible. Likewise, when the R value was lower in 2020/when the vaccine starts taking effect in 2021, I intend to motor on making. Roll on the spring and thank you NHS and front-line workers!!
Bex Massey, God Complex
What has your experience been in terms of mentorship and a sense of community in the art world, particularly among women artists?
I have had a very positive experience with mentorship and community in the art world: None more so than with women artists in fact! I worked on SHELF between 2015-19 with the irresistibly talented Sarah Roberts. SHELF-Like its namesake-was a concept of display, function and support. We curated nomadic shows, started a residency program in Wales and opened a gallery in Tynemouth to exhibit emerging artists. They were four great years as we met loads of wonderful artists/curators/collectives across the UK. I think being part of the ‘a-n Artist-Led Hot 100’ really cemented our sense of community as the list brought with it a sense of belonging. I was also lucky enough to be awarded an a-n mentoring bursary in 2019 where I was afforded the help of the hugely inspirational independent curator Lucy Day. She taught me so much and also recommended that I seek out a new mentor to continue my professional journey with. It is tricky to say anything with absolute certainty at present-but fingers crossed this year (failing that 2022) Heather Phillipson will be taking up the mantle of my new mentor. So big BIG thumbs up for women artists (and curators).
Bex Massey, We didn't start the fire @mitsukomoulson
How will the Repaint History fund support your career?
The fund has afforded me a space on East Bristol Contemporary Night School which I start in a couple of weeks. I am super excited to see artists again (virtually) and talk making and thinking for a couple of months. Much less good: When lockdown is concluded my studio is getting knocked down so the rest of the fund will go towards temporary storage/transport/muscle/overheads to get me into new digs which is also super helpful.
Bex Massey, Studio WIP
Are there any new projects you are currently working on?
Presently I am embarking on my first autobiographical series: The LGBTQ+ community are struggling with dwindling mental health (like so many) and feelings of exclusion/re-closeting due to Covid 19. Conversely, living with my partner and separated physically from society, I have existed in a bubble far removed from the heterosexual norm for the first time in my whole life. Understanding this privilege of expression and owning my recent overwhelming acknowledgement of ‘otherness’ has made me feel the need to investigate these themes further in my practice. I am therefore researching the repercussions of ‘Section 28’. This law meant that I didn’t see any examples of ‘Gay’ growing up. This negation posed/poses problems for the entire Queer community and I am keen to shine a light on issues faced by my generation because of which. I will however be approaching the theme with a degree of humour-as per-and I am therefore bringing the Greek Goddess Aphrodite and Dana Scully along for the ride. I am also currently collaborating on a Jacquard/loom based art work with the mega talented Sally Holditch. We are having a look at contemporary still life with Covid and Art Historical undertones. This project is so fun as Sally is just so blooming gifted and it’s such a beautiful new way of looking at collage making.