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Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Scarlett Hope-Gates

Hi Scarlett! Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Scarlett and I'm a contemporary, conceptual artist. I predominantly work with sculpture but I dabble a little with screen printing, paper cutouts and drawings and I have recently started work with hand-dyed paper-pulp. I have very recently graduated from the University for Creative Arts in Canterbury and I studied fine art.

How would you describe your art medium/materials? Why do you choose to express your thoughts in this art form?

I use a lot of building equipment and building materials to make my work. My dad is a builder, so I've always been brought up around these kinds of items. I would always try to help out on his building sites when I was a kid, so I feel like that's definitely one of the reasons why I gravitate towards these kinds of objects; I’m comfortable using them.

However, I contrast these stereotypical male materials with domestic materials. I like to use ‘found objects’ and soft textures like cotton wool and tights to contrast.

I use expanding foam as my main material in pretty much every sculpture. I'm quite an impatient person, so having a material like this (that will cure in about an hour or so) is perfect for me because I don't want to wait too long for a final outcome.

The concept behind my work is socio-political, but choosing to create this kind of work as a female means I could easily be labelled as an angry feminist. Although there is nothing wrong with this label (I am a feminist and we definitely have a lot to be angry about), I don’t want my audience to be put off coming into contact with the work because of this label. I've chosen to take a subtle and subversive positioning with my practice, so you may have to read about the meaning behind the work to fully understand it beyond being just a visual piece. I've chosen to express myself by not following traditional expectations of sculpture in many different ways and this only enforces my views of the patriarchally-led artistic field.

When did your journey as an artist begin and how did it evolve?

I've always been an artistic person, and as a kid I was always encouraged to make artwork at school and paint and draw when at home. My mum signed me up for a weekend art club from about the age of 8. Any way to be creative makes me happy whether it's just picking out my outfit (I love to be creative with my fashion as well) or painting my bedroom a fun colour.

After studying art at GCSE, I was unsure whether I wanted to pursue art any further. I haven't received the high grade that I was expected to get and I got negative feedback from a teacher. This really threw me off and I thought this meant that art would just have to stay a hobby because I wasn't good enough to continue it as a career. After debating this for an entire summer, I finally realised that art is subjective and I'm not gonna please everyone. Although one person didn't like my work, others would. It made me happy, which is all that mattered. So, I chose to study art at college, where I got great support with my work and ideas and that gave me the confidence to dive head-first and study fine art at university. I'm so glad that 16 year old me chose to pursue her passion because now I've developed a practice that I love. I am one step closer to having a career that doesn't seem like work and this is my ultimate goal.

In a few words, can you describe the sculptures in Portmanteau Issue 2?

The large piece is actually hanging from the ceiling with the brown form dangling off of the wire form. I like to suggest suspense in my installations and with this work in particular I was trying to visually show a form of potential energy that was created when I hung one form precariously off of another. That image is also from the Neutral Series I did, which led to me creating the work I do now represented by my other sculpture in Portmanteau Issue 2. This form is relatively new and is covered in hand-dyed paper-pulp that moulds around the internal structure, which is made of expanding foam. Again, this shows a potential for the foam to ooze out of the form and being able to capture the moment in time before this happens is what I find really interesting.

Why do you use such a neutral colour palette?

Initially, all my work was incredibly colourful. When I was at university you could see my studio space from a mile away. After deciding to try out some new things, I really enjoyed the neutral colours better. I felt they were less overwhelming for the viewer. I started to use popular colours of interior emulsion, so the audience is comforted by the calming colours. This provides contrasts with the forms of my work, as some can be off-putting or confusing to look at.

Can you describe your artistic process? How does a piece go from concept to its finished sculptured form?

To be honest, I work differently every time I make a piece. Sometimes an idea just comes to me and I have to make it then and there. Or, I will research other artists, or browse Pinterest to get some inspiration from there. I rarely draw out a plan for pieces of work unless there's precise measurements needed for their internal structure. I just work from my head and into my hands and see what happens. A lot of my favourite works have been accidents or mistakes, or work that is only half finished that I actually prefer in their current forms to the original idea. It all depends on the day and how I'm feeling.

Can you tell us about some artists that most inspire you and your work, and why?

I've got a long list of artists that I love but a much shorter list of artists that inspire my work. My main influence is definitely Phyllida Barlow. The scale of her work is so inspiring to me and in the future I'd love to create work on a similar scale. She uses cohesive plinths and structures to support her work, but blends the lines of where the work starts and ends. I really enjoy this play on form and practicality and I have recently brought that into my work.

Nairy Baghramian is another artist whose work I love. The forms she creates, alongside their colour and installation, are really something beautiful and she creates a really interesting narrative with her use of curation.

I also love the work of the Guerilla Girls, Louise Bourgeois and Franz West, although they don't actively influence my practice.

At first glance your sculptures look almost anthropomorphic, but on closer inspection they are something quite different. Do you need to be familiar with human anatomy to make these sculptures, are you inspired by more cultural references in things that you read that might influence anatomy?

No, you don't need to be familiar with human anatomy. I don't purposely make my work look like parts of the body, they seem to have done that themselves. As the expanding foam grows, they produce their own forms and these just happen to have bodily references. I am definitely influenced by society and politics and I try to bring those references into the works. I am also considering working on a series that is influenced by current events, as so much is going on in the world at the moment.

If we were to visit you during one of your sculpting sessions, what would you be listening to? Snacking on? What does this scene look like?

I'm quite sporadic when I'm making work. I don't like to be too clean about it and I'm not afraid of mess. While I work, I will either be watching something on YouTube or Netflix, or listening to music varying from Grime to Reggae. I usually forget to eat when I work because I can get too into it, but if I had to pick a snack to eat, it would be chocolate digestives.

And finally, can you share an interesting fact about yourself outside of your artistic persona?

Erm… I can say the alphabet backwards. I don't know if that's very interesting but that's all I can think of right now!


Scarlett is a contributor in Portmanteau Issue 2 - Body & Form. If you have enjoyed this interview, please find more interviews with our Issue 2 contributor on our Word Potion blog page. If you want to read/see the work produced by Scarlett and these similarly talented contributors, you can order a copy of Portmanteau Issue 2 from our online shop.

Reading not your thing? You can find a slightly abridged video interview on our Instagram page here. Find Scarlett on Instagram at @modernart.sohg. Give her a follow for more content on her incredible sculptures!

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