We invited Rafaela de Ascanio to share with us what life is like in her studio.
Photos by Louisa Tratalos
SEAM: What does a typical day in the studio look like?
RdA: I am a Capricorn so everything is quite ordered in my process- Monday to Thursday 9 to 5! Over the winter months I work around the light; Ill build ceramics in the garden shed first thing in the morning, painting indoors between 10 and 2, and back to ceramics in the afternoon. I love my little library and there will be periods of reading, writing and sketching ideas before embarking on a couple of months of solid making. Friday is my day with Luna Vita, my two year old, who luckily loves going to art galleries, so I get to have a day of seeing shows and experiencing spaces and art through her eyes! Its particularly fun because her response to work is expressive and untamed - so suddenly I have licence to dance in a museum, sit on the floor and laugh.
SEAM: You studied at Central Saint Martins. Did you enjoy your time there? How has your time there gone on to influence your practice?
RdA: I was at Back Hill in Farringdon, before the new CSM was built at Kings Cross and I think all funds were being funnelled into that development. It was a lot of students milling round together sort of exploring London more than making art! I remember the painting tutor really disliked figurative work, so I ended up being put off and going to the Courtauld Institute for Art History instead of continuing Fine Art. That said, when I look back, it was an incredibly creative time and my closest friends became really interesting fashion designers, musicians and curators. Apparently the tutors still talk about our Back Hill era as the singers!
SEAM: Who are you favourite artists at the moment?
RdA: I've got my staple favourites - Niki dSP, Louise B, Alina Szap - that I constantly go back to. This month I've been most interested in Zoe Williams use of lusters, kicking myself for not making it to Anousha Payne’s show with Anna Perach. The textures looked so rich and I found it interesting how they deconstructed the sculptures in a second phase of the show. I've just found a ceramist online called Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran who builds these immense colourful totem ceramics. I love the energy! Alison Katz’s show at the CAC is fantastic as a whole - I had to buy the catalogue to try to understand her conceptual process and decode some on the puns in the imagery. I am interested in this world building, and even in the more elaborate form for example with Toyin Ojih Odutola who made that gesamtkunstwerk fantasy narrative at the Curve in 2020.You work in various different mediums. Does the subject matter dictate the medium or the other way round?
SEAM: You work in various different mediums. Does the subject matter dictate the medium or the other way round?
RdA: Both as I use various mediums for the same subject matter. Once I get fixed on researching an image I'll tackle it from different angels across, drawing, painting, ceramic and text. And recently I have invited poets and dancers to respond to a body of work, stretching the subject matter further.
SEAM: Are you working on anything new at the moment?
RdA: I've just finished an installation for Berntson Bhattarchjee Gallery, in which I looked at two ancient goddess’, Inanna and Freyja, and a small part of their evolution over time and cultures; the way they retained symbolism but changed names, or retained names and came to symbolise demons rather than goddess’.
I am now experimenting with bringing together ceramic and painting in a more literal way, by sewing them together.
SEAM: Your work explores the female experience. Can you tell us more about this?
RdA: Where to begin? I am excavating my early patriarchal education, hacking it apart and reassembling it from my female experience, stitching over my collection of feminist paraphernalia. It's a magnificent monster that just keeps growing and sprouting heads!Your work explores the female experience. Can you tell us more about this?
SEAM: How has your work evolved / changed during the pandemic?
RdA: I actually feel though I was making a lot, the work as a whole, was stunted. A reflection of the plug in movement. In the last few months I feel the flow is rapid and real. How has your work evolved / changed during the pandemic? I actually feel though I was making a lot, the work as a whole, was stunted. A reflection of the plug in movement. In the last few months I feel the flow is rapid and real.
SEAM: How do you choose the subject matter for your work?
RdA: Reading books and going on deep dives online. I'll end up finding an image, theory or story, almost always about an intriguing female character, and obsessing over it.
I love going to the library to read and just started a project in response to the collection at Reference Point- the fantastic library at 180 The Strand. In this instance a 1960s publication called ‘Eros’ is the springboard for new ideas, but rather than the subject, it is the diverse use of paper, photography, text, collage and print that is fuelling me.
SEAM: How has your work evolved / changed during the pandemic?
RdA: I actually feel though I was making a lot, the work as a whole, was stunted. A reflection of the plug in movement. In the last few months I feel the flow is rapid and real.
SEAM: What are the ideas that inspire your work at the moment?
RdA: It's early days, but I am interesting in the relationship between my desire to find a female deity, and the repressed, disempowered female I was served up by society - in particular the Spanish Catholic tradition I grew up in. Is there a way the two can meet?
SEAM: What is your favourite work you have made?
RdA: Callipygian. It's a diary of a tender moment in my life. New baby, a covid death in the family, struggling to find strength in my postpartum body, and symbolic moments of peace and vanquishment snatched from paintings in the National Gallery. It is deeply personal.
SEAM: What do you listen to while you work?
RdA: We just got in trouble with our neighbours for playing Rosalia’s ‘Fama’ on repeat. My partner Ralph works in the room next to me and we were trying to learn the lyrics while we worked! I also love FKA Twigs and into her new Caprisongs mixtape. Podcasts, meditation, lots of Flamenco and some Cumbia too!
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