Alexi Marshall: It’s been an affirming experience to return to the coast. I always feel this town formed me in a way. I miss London, and still consider it a home of mine, but life feels softer and kinder when breathing in sea air. A connection to nature is important fuel for my sense of being and art practice; here in Hastings I feel that bit closer to the wild. It’s provided connection in many ways actually, a town full of artists with a strong sense of community and support. You & I spoke about being on the London art world periphery in the car the other day and how when you’re on the outside of the city, you sort of have to take it seriously because it's harder to be seen. I think there’s truth to that.
AM: I often say that my process makes no sense, the time, the labour, the risk, all to make one print, which can never be reprinted. I’m clumsy too, the opposite of what it requires to be a proper printmaker, yet somehow lino cut printing is the main modus operandi of my practice. I’ve really enjoyed claiming the term ‘linocut painting’ lately. I am a lapsed painter who turned to linocuts after losing faith in my paintings at art school, and now I suppose I am coming back to the idea of being a painter, except my ‘brush’ is a large sheet of linoleum. I don’t aim for perfect registration, it's near impossible for me to achieve when working on such a large scale with so many layers of ink. I also don’t use a printing press, I never found one big enough for the work I wanted to make. Instead use my body to print on the floor of my studio. My press is my weight; my hands and feet stomp on the paper and my fingers feel the grooves of the lino for registration. Sometimes when I am so tired from applying the ink and cutting these giant sheets of lino, I simply lay on the paper like a bed to press it down. After each colour is printed the block is carved to eliminate that colour from being reprinted. This process continues until only the last colour remains and the block is destroyed; there’s no going back, that’s why the method is sometimes known as suicide printing. Once the last layer has been printed, it’s ready. There’s no editing like with painting. When carving the blocks, each decision and cut is final, and despite all the preparation you can do beforehand- when you peel the paper off the block there is always the element of surprise. For me, this way of working has granted me the perfect balance of control and the complete lack of it. My power is always slightly taken away, I am at the mercy of the ink & paper, and once I peel the print, I have to accept the fate of the work.
AM: Cursebreaker’s title was inspired by the local folklore of Hastings. It refers to occultist Aleister Crowley’s alleged curse, cast upon the town when he died here in 1947. The story goes that those who live here would never be able to free themselves; anyone who left would feel compelled to return. The only way to truly leave is to always carry a pebble from the beach with a hole in it, otherwise known as a hag stone, in your pocket. For me, this was fitting for a show containing work about breaking destructive cycles. Ironically, I moved back here after the run of the show, succumbing to the curse after all. For ‘Under The Pomegranate Moon’, this title came from my incessant research of pomegranate symbolism during the production of the work. I was fascinated by the transcultural bond to fertility and death. As usual with my practice, a connection to the cyclical nature of time was important in the show, so this seemed apt for the ‘moon’ part, in particular its relationship with womanhood. I feel like all the scenes and figures I draw take place in the same world. Another realm, under the same moon, contained together.
AM: I can only hope that I can continue this lineage and contribute somehow… I have always been obsessed with stories of women, particularly those who are flawed, strange, dark, or divine in some way, even better if a combination of it all. My favourite artists are women too, not on purpose, it's just always been that way, I connect with the work more. Mendieta and Sjoo as you mentioned, but also Belkis Ayon, Nancy Spero, Frida Kahlo and Emma Talbot. I have postcards of their work pinned to the walls of my studio amongst my sketches, like a cocoon of inspiration holding me in the space. I suppose my practice can be driven by narrative, and subversions of narrative. I like to tell stories, unearthing women trapped in the confines of a narrative or history. I use mythology, folklore and fable to process deeply personal experiences, which allows for inner meditations & societal reflections, internal and external. Making the personal political has always been a feminist lineage of resistance. I attempt to centre womanhood, it's just always how I've lived my life, it’s what genuinely interests me.
AM: Some of the landscapes were inspired by the description of a dying earth in the Ancient Greek Demeter/Persephone story; as Demeter searches for her daughter the world is plunged into barrenness due to her grief. For these works I was looking at images of cracked, dry earth and desert sunsets. I was also thinking a lot about the Mad Max universe, as well as the visceral earthiness of Ana Mendieta’s work. A connection to the body, the earth and the ancient is what I was trying to go for with the colour palette.
AM: I’m really enjoying being around other artists and makers, the studios have been slowly growing and evolving and we are making a real community here. It’s not something I’m used to as in London my studio was quite isolated. I’ve always wanted to have studio practice with more people around, that was one of the best bits about art school. Even with others around, the studio is always quite a solitary place, I’m pretty used to that by now and stuck in my ways, but I love the knock on the door and natter. The atmosphere is supportive and open here; In the same building as the artist studios, we have a ceramics studio, Common Clay - and a bookbindery, Unit 33, who I collaborated with to make a booklet of drawings and editioned risograph print recently. Being on the Flatland Projects Early Career Artist Programme has been particularly special, I feel bonded to the 5 other artists on it with me and I don't want it to end!
AM: I run a linocut workshop called Peculiar Arcana. In it, each participant makes their own unique tarot card, a manifestation of their hope and intention for the future; I wanted to marry the stereotypical aspect of tarot being a ‘fortune telling’ device, and the more universal idea of it allowing for meditations on the self. The participants then print these designs using lino onto tarot card templates and eventually leave with their ‘peculiar arcana’ – a deck that is unique to the group, containing a card from each participant. A bundle of hopes and dreams and manifestations for the future. I am really inspired by the tarot, the symbology in particular. I use it as a tool in life and art and I see these workshops as an expansive collaborative project - I love seeing what people come up with. I have collected a card from each workshop; it's an ever-growing deck.
AM: No tele in my studio, but I do listen to an incredible amount of podcasts while I work! The mosaics came into my practice during lockdown, after a trip to Rome. The embroidery has been around a bit longer, bits and pieces have appeared since graduating art school. I feel like a novice still, I am playing about in crafts that are so technical and have such a huge history. The embroidery I wish I could do more, it is just so incredibly time consuming so those pieces are few and far between. My mum is amazing at sewing and embroidery, I have learnt so much from her.
AM: At the moment I am obsessed with Ethel Cain and her concept album Preacher’s Daughter, it was on repeat in the studio while making this show. I’m a huge fan of the folk horror genre too, it's been having a moment in cinema and TV for a minute now and I’m loving it.
AM: To Rome! I'm going to be expanding the pomegranate moon universe, working towards a solo show with Sara Zanin Gallery for their project space in October. Perhaps adding mosaics into the mix to bring that part of my practice full circle - after all, when in Rome..