In the Studio with Hilda Kortei. Words by James Ambrose

I wanted to talk about your current exhibition at Cob Gallery in London, the show ‘Waitless Beyond Blue’ which is your first solo show with the gallery. Can you speak about its concept and how this series of works came about?

The show is my debut show with the gallery and acts as an introduction to my practice. The work on view was mainly created in a period of time between 2018-2021. However, some work has been made with the show specifically in mind. The theme of the show comes out of my relationship with water. I thought a lot about water during the initial lockdown as I swam regularly before the pandemic hit so it was something I missed dearly. “Waitless” is a play on time and weight and “Blue” is a play on water, or the surface of water before it turns black. I thought a lot about what it means to be above and beneath the water, in an in-between state, floating, and blurring the lines between the two.

I believe Cob gallery first came across your work when it was displayed on a billboard in London?

Yes, so during the initial lockdown, I was lucky enough to continue to exhibit work. The curator of Molasses Gallery contacted me to see if I’d be interested in displaying a painting on a billboard as part of an open-air show he was curating. I think he said he had come across my work through Tumblr way back in the day. It’s kinda cute that Tumblr has had an influence on me being recognised as an artist. I think the platform is a bit irrelevant now. Cob Gallery then saw the billboard and the rest is history.

Installation View, Waitless Beyond Blue, 2021, London, Courtesy of Cob Gallery and the artist.

At what point did know you wanted to be an artist?

As cliche as this sounds, as a child, I never saw myself doing anything else. It has always been a significant part of my life and I don’t really see it as a job or a career, it’s just something I have to do. I had a ‘real job’ immediately after graduating with my BA in Graphic Design but after about 6 months I took a short visit to Hong Kong and met an amazing woman. She was a full-time artist, still living with her parents, didn’t have much money but she was making it work. I guess I had some sort of an epiphany, I realised that was possible to live my life as an artist. I quit that job as soon as I flew back and I have been working on my practice ever since. She really inspired me.

You said you were not as influenced by art history too much, more contemporary culture has an effect on you?

Inspiration for me comes from general life, it could be music, reading, sitting in the park, people watching, all of these things are inspiring to me. Art history has never played a huge part in my practice. But I do enjoy visiting exhibitions and shows occasionally. When I’m making paintings, the work will most often come from a subconscious state so I feel anything and everything is an influence.

What are the primary materials you employ in your practice?

I paint on fabric specifically Calico Fabric. It is a material I came across when I first started painting and was the only ‘canvas’ that was really affordable to me. Cheap is good because it allows for experimentation and I don’t freak out so much about making mistakes or making a ‘final piece’. It’s a fabric that’s also used as prototypes for clothes as they are being designed. This dual functionality is also really appealing to me. Paint wise I use acrylic, spray paint, paper, felt, and other fabric. I am not strict when it comes to what I will use - it’s often scraps from previous unsuccessful paintings or found materials.

Installation View, Waitless Beyond Blue, 2021, London, Courtesy of Cob Gallery and the artist.

The work you produce is so vibrant, what informs the colour choices you make?

Colour is something that I love, I always try to include as much colour as possible, strip it back and then add more. I like playing with colour and creating illusions with their hue’s. For example, a colour will look black from afar, but as you get closer and closer to the painting it will change…. Suddenly what you thought was black is actually a dark green then all the different shades of green employed in the work start talking to each other and the painting is then communicating a different message to the one it was before. I tend to mix new colours every time I go to the studio so they’re never an exact match. I’ll add a bit of this and add a bit of that and see what happens.

What does your normal studio day entail?

Really there is no such thing as a normal day for me. I am in the studio for around 3 hours a day, a few times a week. In this time I’ll work on around 4-7 fabric paintings at once. Because the inspiration for me comes from everyday life, I feel as though I am always working and researching outside of those 3 hours so I really value time outside of the studio. In terms of my approach, there are days when I want stuff to be immediate and to the point, those days I will work on paper, but the works I create on Calico Fabric need a more measured approach, every mark is intentional, the painting builds up over time and there is a structure to the work.

Installation View, Waitless Beyond Blue, 2021, London, Courtesy of Cob Gallery and the artist.

I believe you are starting your MA at the RCA this September, how do you see your work evolving?

I feel right now that I am ready to start taking some big risks in my work and practice. I see it evolving rapidly and I am ready to push boundaries of how I see contemporary painting. I want to explore the make-up of paint itself. I see paint sometimes as a very static material so I am keen to explore different mediums and ways of working. I’ve always wanted to paint with cement.

What is it about painting and the act of creation that you love?

I asked myself do I love painting? I don’t always love it. I see it more as something that I need to do, maybe every artist does? However, I love to play, and that’s what making art is for me, playtime. There are no expectations or boundaries when I am painting. I can’t go wrong. I’m just excited to see what I make at the end of each day.

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Photography by Zach Zonomesis