In the latest Odd Jobs Journal series I chat with artist Imogen Taylor about painting, the power of colour and Orville Peck. Accompanying the journal are beautiful photos of Imogen in her studio wearing our new M.N SHIRT range and custom Coveralls shot by my fave photography duo Veronica Crockford-Pound and Joseph Griffin. Imogen's solo show 'Quiet Motel ' has just opened at the Whangarei Art Museum. If you find yourself in Whangarei to see the show, feel free to drop by our studio for a coffee, a try on and a personalised map of things to see and do in Northland.
Matt: There is a massive power in naming and giving things titles and the imagery and reference this conjures for people. Do you have a naming convention for titling your paintings and shows?
Imogen: My work had always been more on the abstract end of the representational spectrum until recently, so I used to give paintings coded titles that involved double entendre or queer slang. This allowed me to speak directly to queer audiences, as well as reference historical queer practices that had previously been erased from the modernist art histories most of us are familiar with. Now that the work is more representational and unapologetically depicts queer sexual scenarios, the titles have naturally become more abstract, sometimes even poetic.
Matt: I'm so mystified as to how you know when painting is complete. I've seen works in your studio that with my limited knowledge of art, I view as done. You'll say 'that's not finished yet'. What does it feel like when something is complete? How does the work tell you that?
Imogen: I get asked this question a lot and it’s kind of one of those famous painting questions that will always be notoriously hard to answer, possibly because it’s deeply personal and involves a painter’s intuition. I think for me it comes down to balance. Balancing depth with flatness is a major challenge for me – and I try to accomplish this through colour, linear arrangements, composition and paint application.
Each painting has its own set of standards or requirements, but works within a suite need to complement or challenge one another in order to work as a kind of family. I think after years of doing this, I just have a sense for what feels right, and how much I can push myself to make something not require further attention. But perhaps you’re mystified by the process of completing a painting for a reason – it’s low-key mystical!
Matt: Being a small batch producer, we are at the mercy of working with shades of fabric rather than being able to produce our own perfect shades. I'm envious that you can dial down into the perfect shade and present this colour. Can you tell me about what informed your use of colour and colour mixing. Do certain colours symbolize different things and as you work with new colours, do you have an inner dialogue running trying to name the colours or find a real life reference for them?
Imogen: I try to make paintings using colours that I don’t get to see day to day. I was lucky enough to grow up around a lot of colour in my parents’ 70’s/80’s furnishings and other junk they collected, so for me it’s possibly nostalgic too. I do think that using colour requires constant education and research, and working at an art shop and learning about colour theory and pigments was invaluable for my practice. It mostly taught me that investing in high quality pigments means you have the most wild ride ahead of you – you can mix any of those colours together and they will produce something that’s beautiful and luscious, and feels completely unchartered.
‘Quiet Motel’ includes a suite of nocturnes, night scenes. I’ve enjoyed learning this new process of building up light and then glazing over top of it with dark, vivid blues and purples, to create that sense of when your eyes adjust to the darkness of night.
Matt: I've had the chance to see loads of the beautiful and influential works that your Dad created in his time publishing and writing books. Has seeing your work printed in chronological order made you see times in your life differently and view themes in your work that you can only see now it's all laid out in print?
Imogen: Yes, for sure. I still love my earlier work quite a lot, and sometimes even more so than the more recent work. It’s more direct and because I potentially knew less about painting at that time, so the paintings are quite brave. I grew up surrounded by the books my Dad published, often art books, which helped when it came to working with images of my own work in this kind of format. A lot of works were edited from the final cut, but the ones that survived are mostly the strongest works that show progression of themes and styles. It’s far from over though, and I’m not sure I’ve made my best work yet – well at least I hope I haven’t!
At this point, Imogen flipped the script and began to interview me...
Imogen: So, Matt - Having known you for going on ten years now, I’ve admired how your practice has always stuck to its roots. The more I think about it, a lot of what you do overlaps with art and art history. For example…You were really influenced by Glenn Busch’s ‘Working Men ’series a few years ago and even made a look book of your workwear range restaging his photos. The detailing in your clothing has always referenced your great love of geometric abstraction and artists like Malevich and Milan Mrkusich. And more recently you made a line of collaged bags which remind me of Matisse’s painted cut-outs. Can you tell me about why what you do overlaps with art and where this may have come from?
Matt: I have a massive appreciation for artists and I feel really energised and inspired by art. As a Gwyneth Paltrow sliding doors moment I was going to apply for Art School but had my confidence knocked out of me in 7th form so decided to do fashion which I then viewed more as a trade. I Studying fashion was a way of being able to work with my hands. I carry my love of art with me and try to tie this extra narrative and layer of thought into my projects when I can. As far as geometric shapes, when you cut out bags or garments you always end up with scrap pieces of fabrics in really interesting shapes. The collaged bags started as a way to use these scrap pieces as I can't bear wasting fabric and the waste of the clothing industry. The shapes can conjure and represent so many things just by giving them a different title, this is why I'm so interested in the way you name your works. In the future I want to work on one-offs and mini collections which are more like a shoppable hobby and a way to explore new ideas that I always have percolating.
Imogen: You grew up in Northland and then came to Auckland for University and stayed. But more recently you returned to Whangārei and you have a place in Bland Bay. Having grown up for a very short period of time in Northland myself, I’m interested in how living up there affects your work?
Matt: Being based in Northland has its benefits and disadvantages. The ease of access to nature is a massive drawcard. My studio is located in a light industrial area which provides a tonne of inspiration for tradie fashions. With studio space being more affordable I've been able to buy up vintage machinery and have space to do all our garment finishing in house. The main downside of Northland is that I miss my Auckland community and miss the face to face contact with people that buy and wear our products. A lot of the projects I work on are custom or collaborations, so being able to chat in person and hash out details is super energising and leads to better results, faster. Another thing I miss is the spontaneity of running into people and the chats and projects that emerge from those interactions. Lots of this now happens online, but I'm excited to do this IRL in a series of pop-ups I'm planning for later this year. Food, I miss the quality of Auckland food so bad!
Imogen: You are easily one of the funniest people I know, and this is a general consensus within our group of friends, and most people who meet you. I love your obsession with campness and colloquial New Zealand attitudes. This doesn’t always come across in what you do, though there is always a playfulness in your design. Luckily you have given us ‘Interiors of Northland’ on Instagram. How did you start doing this and do you think it relates to your workwear now or potentially could in the future?
Matt: I feel like when I went to university there was a snobbishness, seriousness and an elitism to fashion which was drilled into us as this was the mode at that time. Attitudes have changed so much now and I want to be part of this change where fashion is more inclusive and is about clothing being a way to enhance the way people feel and add an ease to the way they work and go about their lives. My challenge to myself currently is to add a bit more of me and my viewpoint into my work.
Interiors of Northland started when I was looking for a place to live when I moved back up North. It was the first time I had realised that fast fashion was not just for clothing, it had flowed into the way people decorate their houses! Painting beautiful wood detailing out white and artfully tossing a Kmart mustard throw across the bed has become the go to look. ION came about wanting to document original features, interesting colour combinations and capturing rooms and houses from childhood that made me feel really nostalgic. I have a range of anti-kmart homewares in my head that may see the light of day sometime!
IMOGEN TAYLOR, the first monograph dedicated to the artist’s work, is now available at Michael Lett . Imogen's show 'Quiet Motel' runs until August 20th at The Whangarei Art Museum.
Afterpay Available. Free NZ shipping on all orders over $200 NZD.