For the first interview from Candid's series on emerging artists, Issey Scott spoke to London-based artist Frankie Roberts, who has just graduated from Slade School of Fine Art. Her work crosses several disciplines including performance, sculpture and text and delves into the workings of the artist’s mind and observations by incorporating humour. Her next project is a performance at Alice Black in London on 19th July, 6.30pm and 8pm.
Issey Scott: Your sculpture ‘Bad Self Sad Shelf' is reminiscent of Rachel Whiteread's work, yet the sense of humour of your work makes it unique and accessible. Do you have a particular attitude to critiquing either the canon, or modern practices?
Frankie Roberts: I just had to Google what the canon means so evidently not! It’s always interesting to see what other artists are up to, but I tend to work pretty intuitively and generate ideas from general observation of the human condition – feelings are important, the evocation of them, because in the large part these are universal and dynamic. Gut over brain always. I’m mistrustful of esotericism or arty in-jokes, I don’t think limiting emotive response due to lack of understanding is fair.I suppose in a roundabout way my practice critiques that sort of elitism through turning my back on it.
IS: “The female condition”often feels like it’s transforming, most noticeably in the way that various industries are responding. How do you see visual artists adapting and responding to this?
FR: I don’t necessarily think attitudes are changing; it’s more a matter of general exposure. I see historic, engrained oppressive attitudes like cliffs, unperturbed mainly by the moving shingle but over a long period of time it can be weathered by aggressive tides, until a huge chunk may chip off and fall into the sea. Then it’s kind of buried under the sea but still exists as part of history, shaping the movement of the water. The hope is that the coastline will change with the tides; it’s a long, slow, evolving process that requires time, patience and effort.
I feel as though there shouldn’t be pressure on artists who’ve experienced trauma to expose it in their practice, or wedge activism into it either if they don’t want to. Most importantly I think is on an individualistic scale to crack on with a strong sense of boundaries. The awareness of developing boundaries is to me the most significant aspect of the changing times, that I wish was as prominent a message in my teens/early twenties as it is now. To come back round to the question, without universal structural change or reform it’s hard to say whether there’ll be a significant shift in terms of output. I’m unfortunately an eternal pessimist in this arena.
IS: In a dream group exhibition setting, who would you like to show with, alive or dead?
FR: I don’t really have idols either in or out of the art world to be honest, with the exception of Kate Tempest, so probably a hyped up rap battle with her. I saw Roland Carline’s work at the RA Grad show this month and thought it was brilliant so definitely him and his performance partner Francis. I’ve been meaning to do a show with my friend Jos Nyreen since forever so also her, and an ex-homeless guy I work with, Brian, who used to do stand-up comedy. Most of his material is about his late mother-in-law and Rotherham United. Maybe we can have Martin Creed thrown in there for fun as well. Also my brother Max if only he’d let me work with him… We’d all make a pretty explosive combo.
IS: Which medium did you begin with when you first started making art? Have you persevered with it or do you prefer newer methods?
I have always been a big writer, less so of a visual processor. I keep endless diaries full of raw brain vomit, a soft schizophrenia with many different voices and moods. This will always be my starting point, then I try to configure ways to make the gut punch or emotive essence from the writing more immersive, so as to cocoon or envelop in the meaning of the words. This could be in any medium and I try not to limit this. However, as a young artist I’m finding certain things off limits due to cost (painting in particular). To be honest I really don’t understand how the hell you’re supposed to afford making a lot of material work, storing it etc.
During my degree I started making animations, which was new and I took to somehow. It can be a bit problematic figuring out how to “release” them beyond a square format Instagram snippet, a finite digestible segment that somehow serves like a promotion of individuality, which I don’t like but can be an easy trap to fall into. That’s how my degree show piece came about really, it was a way of trying to solve this problem. I think play is hugely important in early material stages and also using whatever is to hand: blu-tack, little plastic statues of cats, sellotape, hair, biscuits, false nails, hula hoops, tampons (just looking at my studio table…).
IS: Outside the art world, what or who is your biggest inspiration?
Honestly, even including the art world, eavesdropping is my biggest inspiration. I’ve worked in a homeless hostel for the last fiveyears and then through my degree to support my studies; before this I trained to be a nurse and worked in an HIV/AIDS unit. There’s no veneer to conversations in either place; it’s bodily, raw, angry, naked, terrifying, hysterical, often what would be generally considered as bizarre. It demands an open mind and a sense of objectifying some of the things you’re dealing with. There’s little room for shallow or aesthetic concerns, no niceties, you’re dealing with all the stuff beneath that. Human cores. I think this is why I find the flippancy of everyday concerns quite humorous and fascinating, including my own. Watching under-table nervous ticks of people who seem comfortable above it, how the person in the adjacent seat gives you a quick corner-of-the-eye survey as you sit down, suited men who wear their potentially absent personality on their Simpsons socks. All human behaviour is fucking bizarre in the same way it is entirely expected, predictable, boring.
Words by Issey Scott
Frankie Roberts will be performing at Alice Black, First Floor, 47 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 8SQ, on 19 July 2018, at 6.30pm and 8pm