In League with the Moon : Interview with Gus Farnes & Amanda Edgcombe

In League with the Moon, the Fairhurst Gallery’s first exhibition in the newly acquired and renovated space, saw the work of artists Gus Farnes and Amanda Edgcombe united through their relationship to the Suffolk landscape. Both exhibiting artists reside and work in rural Suffolk, allowing their surroundings to engage with and inspire their art practice, with a significant focus on natural bodies of water, allowing an essence of liquid fluidity to surround their individual creative processes. Notions of water further united Gus and Amanda’s work under the concept of the Wild Swimming movement, introduced and catalogued by Roger Deakin, whose accounts of swimming through Suffolk’s natural waters, among many others, gave a fitting title for the show. “Nevertheless I felt that the whirlpool, in league with the moon and being itself at every tide, could likewise renew the swimmer bold enough to seize the moment and cross it in a moment of repose.”

In this exclusive interview with the Fairhurst Gallery, Gus and Amanda each share their relationships to the ideas underpinning the In League with the Moon exhibition, as well as their influences and processes, both thoughtful and creative, along with details of their artistic journeys, past, present and future.    

The title of the exhibition, In League with the Moon, is taken from a text by Roger Deakin, titled Water Log. Deakin paved the way for the Wild Swimming movement, sharing his replenishing experiences of swimming the natural waterways of the British Isles, beginning his journey in Suffolk. As Suffolk based creatives, do you and your artistic practice identify with the natural British, and specifically Suffolk landscape and its waters in the same positive, uplifting and restorative ways as that of Deakin?

G: “I have lived pretty much my whole life in Snape, I feel embedded here and my work has grown from it. More generally I find the Suffolk landscape invigorating, the vast sky, seemingly endless horizon, the solitude found in its woodland, meadows, creeks, estuaries and when travelling the spaghetti road network, not knowing what’s around the next corner feeds curiosity. It offers space for introspection and observation.”

A:  “I have always loved water in all shapes and temperatures, if not to swim in then to just look at, listen to. The unpredictability of the Suffolk coastline and searing heat of summer holidays are deep set in my memory from childhood to now and I have realised its importance on so many levels, but ultimately how it represents the opportunity to stop everything else, in that sense it is quite transportive for me; calming.

Growing up in London, the Thames was always a marker in getting around the city, all the bridges and differences between south and north were set by the route of the river, areas between which were quite sparse as I was growing up are connected now but the route of the Thames remains constant.

As we moved away from the city – my proviso was to be near to the sea; my go to in the midst of everything else happening- we could never have imagined when we lived in busy Hackney that we would be living in such a remote and different environment, except that we are surrounded by water.  With a moat surrounding us, we are on an island and the whole experience of where we live now is animated because of the water. It lets the whole family escape and stop.”

Whilst In League with the Moon holds a predominant focus on how the rural Suffolk landscape relates to each of you and your work individually and collectively, can you give us a greater insight into who or what are also your greatest influences?

G: “At present, I am mostly researching African and Oceanic works of art and objects, in particular utilitarian objects that I see as having figurative elements. As for art, I look mostly to midcentury and post-war sculptors but I particularly admire the work and approach of Tom Sachs, Aaron Young, Germaine Richier, William Turnball, Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick, Elisabeth Frink, William Tucker, Henry Moore and Anthony Gormley.”

A: “Water and the elements are key in my work; but perhaps I didn’t register this fully until our second move to a more rural, wild Suffolk. It’s all around us and the markers and evolving patterns of human impact and the elements that pound the land are things we observe and absorb subliminally. Instinctively I am constantly aware and rethinking how one thing affects the other, which probably relates to my design interests and combinations and relationships between patterns, colours, light , etc., that I have always looked at, but from the tiniest marks, accidental or planned, to the biggest plan, I am thinking about such influences.    

Colour is intrinsic to me. From a young age I remember the Rothko rooms in dim light and the visceral nature of expressionist art work; the effect that colour could create in you, but also the freedom and liberty to describe “experience” was something that I could relate to somehow, a resonant reverberation between elements that got me. 

Also my experience of visiting incredible places from childhood was so very important, my mum was an actress and her designs for our home were really personal and dynamic, bold colour- deep purples, turquoise, viridian greens took centre stage. I was also very lucky to have as my godmother and mothers best friends, Sonia and John Ingram, designers and influencers in the 70’s. Their home had a really strong impact on me, although don’t think I twigged how different it was until much later.  In Hyde park, a part of an extending grand terrace the architecture was special, and inside a magical extending set of diverse spaces: staircases, Indian panelled rooms, emerald green felt walls, marble black and white chequered floors, a long white galleried sitting room with raised mirrored library and an infinity mirror wall bathroom, brought together contemporary design, global influences, paintings and prints, artefacts and iconic modernist furniture in front of double height regency windows! It was stunningly beautiful and impacted my interest in how interiors weren’t just cushions and swags but held the potential to be connected, lively and creative environments.

Influences also come from artists such as Agnes Martin, Anselm Keifer, Josef Albers, Mark Rothko, Fernand Léger, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly.”

Can you share how your art practice arrived at where it is currently, reflecting on what skills, inspirations and knowledge you may have acquired throughout your journey thus far as an artist?

G: ”I cast my first bronze at the age of 16. The sculpture was inspired by Moore’s reclining figure located at Snape Maltings, I made an armature from sticks and modelled the piece in clay, with help from Laurence Edwards I made a two-part vinyl mould and cast a wax reproduction which he poured in bronze. This was a long and costly process especially for a teenager so when I got to art school where I had access to a foundry and was able to pick up casting again I  started looking for alternative ways to simplify things. To learn the process your first need something to cast, like many aspiring sculptures/founders I began with slices of bread, bits of fruit and carved waxes, which can be run up, invested and cast direct.

Thinking back to the first piece I cast I thought why can’t the sculpture be made from combustible materials and cast direct creating a unique, I cut the clay, plaster and mould making out and worked directly with what was in front of me, wax, grass and reeds gathered from my immediate environment. This process gave rise to a unique series of figurative pieces that I cast direct to bronze and is something I continue to explore today.”

A:  “A portfolio career? I have always had an eclectic way of seeing and doing things and partly due to financial constraints ended up doing jobs that weren’t part of the plan but inevitably steered the course. Visiting places, holidays and work types have all contributed to that mixed experience. 

The layering of colour and shape has threaded all my work…patterns and the relationships derived instinctively, by luck and serendipity. Printmaking is a terrific medium to work in if you aren’t entirely sure of the way to proceed and I loved the aspect of chance; as the image would be transferred onto paper in a mirrored format, colours may reveal a different sort of layering. 

Assessing the results was the way I moved forward, trying to edit and see what worked  and building the framework of line and shape as the backbone. Moving between media – architectural glass, print and painting, presented constant challenges to wake up the senses through a different way of creating an image. Everything starts from looking and drawing, then working it out gradually. Layering parts and reducing them again revealed the possibilities. 

Working for an architects I wasn’t able to make studio work as much but what I did learn was through a diverse range and resource of books that my boss had me looking through as part of the research process for designing projects. His influences were diverse and expanded my visual understanding of art, topography, craft, architecture and landscape design. Working for clients afterwards and developing our own renovation projects allowed me to be creative with spaces and not to be tied by fashion, deliberately choosing a perspective that wasn’t on trend! It was fun and actually predicted quite a lot… mixing colours that hadn’t been manufactured as part of paint makers palettes and mixing styles and periods to a non formulaic mixology.    

Being very practical, out of budget necessity, you learn on the project and actually this all became part of my vocabulary in the studio as I really rather liked the mistakes and cover ups from renaissance buildings to more recent architectural changes; deciding what to keep and what not to. Creating a balance for interiors spaces, landscapes and studio work relies on the same challenges of balance and creating an individual harmony, at some point.”

The layers, colours and tactile materiality of each of your work gives a beautiful visual finish, whilst also hinting at extensive, complex and potentially laborious processes of creation. Can you relay the types of techniques and procedures which go into the making of the final pieces?

G: “The production of my work is involved, my hand touches every aspect from ideation, modelling, investing, casting, metal finishing and patination. Most pieces are unique and a collage of materials and process. My modelling process can incorporate 3d modelling on the computer, 3D scanning and 3D printing in addition to carving, hand-building, and mould making techniques. My work is a balance of artistic flair and exacting craftsman ship.”

A: “Making my recent paintings has been a cumulative process, reflecting on ways of working previously as well as the speed of getting through the home build project we are on now- they have been made in tandem and so are quite relatable. I have been stripping back the surfaces to see the beams in the case of the house and selecting which trees are pivotal in the landscape; working to shape the surfaces with keen attention to not dilute or damage the intrinsic nature, adding only what makes the original building itself and layering a contemporary nod that picks up on the history and precedence of the architecture and location. 

I would adore to have an exact plan and make perfect work to fit that idea but I don’t. My work is brought together through various media, and I often switch between drawings and paintings. I don’t want a rigid setup, it’s actually harder to release that tendency and force myself to work through a loose, untidy experience in order to make something that does start to work.

Loud music helps distract from other things when I need to cut something out, and creating a situation where something else can come in is my goal. I work quickly and hard but I may return to work many times, over months or as in the recent collographs, I have to rely on a spontaneous set of circumstances and responses to make the work. Often a restriction sets up a reaction and hopefully that will make something a bit unexpected or truly responsive. 

Since moving to this extraordinary moated property I have become obsessed with imagining aerial views of the site, the wild swimming pond and moat that joins it, creating a circle of water in the landscape. The circle and sets of geometric shapes and lines of fields, hedges, hare scored paths and gravel walkways all constantly being permeated and managed by ourselves. So it’s pretty natural that it automatically comes out when making sand and cardboard plates to print. Each print was made uniquely using a combination of rotations, plates and inks; I ended up using other peoples left over inks as I work quite quickly and didn’t want to be wasteful, which also created a palette that was a bit predetermined. 

The colours and movement of the water, sky and landscape here have really altered my approach, whereas I was comparing solid with ethereal as in the ALTO series; the sky and autumn clouds in contrast to the forms of silhouette trees and  buildings in front. I am now more direct with the fluidity and mineral natures of the aspects that drive the weather and experience of the landscape.”

Would you consider that there are underpinning personal attributes to your work in an emotionally driven or autobiographical sense?

G: “For sure but its not something I am conscious of at the time of making, often a year or so down the line I might post rationalize a piece and realise it was a response to something I had experienced. This is particularly true of the work I made whilst living in London, I’d read ‘Life and Death in the Capital City’, ‘People of the Abyss’ and was very focused on the people living on the margins of society, I created a body of work in response to those who I saw daily on my commute to the West End or my studio in Homerton. In terms of personality, I am very focussed but can quite happily discard or let go of ideas, this means I can sculpt fluidly but also undertake meticulous metal finishing and casting techniques. It’s a strange combination of being super relaxed but also serious.“  

A: “I am quite impatient and want to get as much done as possible. Water does encourage me to stop, look and listen. A good discipline. I have always recognised the need to get things done in myself, to make something and see it through, even if it isn’t something I am relishing. I suppose an element of justification is always present, trying to prove and validate- probably a sign of my age and era I was brought up in.  Everything is a reflection of something and I suppose seeing a way through that and allowing the negative as well as the positive side to things all plays a part. It’s a tricky balance and a constant challenge.

Equally, I know there is a lot we can get done when we put our minds to it, and with help it’s achievable whatever the project; working to optimise, even  though I have relentless self doubt. I also trust my judgment when I know something is right or finished- whatever that might be.’ 

As practising artists during the year 2020, do you feel that the events of the year and living through lock down periods as a result of the pandemic had an impact and shaped your practice or the ways in which you are creating artwork?

G: “It hasn’t changed my practice at all, I live in a bit of a bubble anyway and had spent much of 2018/19 setting up a new studio to be self-sufficient so I have been able to carry on at my regular cadence.”

A: “I think its a bit too soon to recognise the effect of this year on my work… it will probably come out a bit later.”

 After the tumult of the last year, it has been a real treat for the Fairhurst Gallery to have artwork on its walls once again. It must have been a useful opportunity to take your work away from the studio and view it objectively against white walls and plinths. Has ‘In League with the Moon’ acted as a beneficial means for evaluation and inspiration for future directions?

G: “Like many people earlier in the year my diary collapsed and the exhibitions and shows I had lined up simply couldn’t happen or at least in the capacity we are accustomed to so being able to participate in this real-life show and share work created in 2020 feels like a real triumph, for me sharing art is vital and I am grateful for the opportunity and to those who came and engaged.  Meeting and working with Amanda for the first time has been so great, our work crosses over in so many ways and I hope in the future we can show our work together.”

A:  “The show has really emphasised the effect of the scale of the work to me and how it changes when hung somewhere different, in an alternative dialogue. As the work represents quite a lot of changes and moves since relocating to Suffolk I have been excited to see how it works together now and I think the work that I will make next year is bound to reflect this review.

Even though Gus and I didn’t know each other before this exhibition, I think that Dulcie spotted a really interesting overlap between our work and approach in creating the multi surfaces to our pieces. I particularly like Gus’s Jazz inspired pieces, the forms, spaces and abstracted movements are to me like silhouettes. To me they suggest and inspire a long overdue incorporation of glass to introduce a solid form to my own work, which I had planned a long time ago but which is yet to be realised. I have hankered after finding a way to blend shapes and hollows and the depth of colour in black opaque glass. Bronze holds that inky depth, a watery black that also reflects its surroundings when highlighted. The varied qualities of water and liquid nature of both mine and Gus’s work seems to relate through the sense of stopping time through the process of making; capturing a liquid moment.”  

Can you select one piece from the exhibition at the Fairhurst gallery, which could be instrumental to you and your practice in some way, and in your words give us an overview of this key artwork?  

G: “‘Man with Hands in Pockets’, it was an experiment in 3D printing that kept growing – for some time I’ve been looking for ways to make large scale unique work whilst staying true to my process, I worked out a way of printing a combustible armature on a large scale and so was able to reproduce an intimate work by scaling it up from 20 cm to 200 cm and I modelled over the surface, creating the same level of texture and detail that can be seen on my smaller works.”

Do you have any views of what 2021 might hold for you or what your hopes are for your artwork in the near future?

G: “I intend to keep following my instinct making work that feels natural and continue sharing and engaging with people.”

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