Updated: Nov 20, 2020
I've been so excited to read Caley's response to my questions; her work has captivated me ever since the Lockdown Exhibitions, where she explored the misogynistic attitudes spouted out in mainstream media and pop culture. Caley herself has talked about how she was as young as 13 when she first came across the 'pencil test'; the general idea being that if you are able to place a pencil under your boobs and they don't drop... they're saggy. To quote her exhibition submission caption "where have the seventies tits gone?" Seventies tits are everywhere and I would hedge a bet that most women can hold a pencil under their breasts, hell I could hold the whole damn pencil case. But the point that Caley makes is that certain aspects of NORMAL anatomy have been eradicated from the mainstream media, whether its saggy boobs (check out @theslumflower on Insta, the founder of the #saggyboobsmatter movement), body hair, body types or scars, Caley's work celebrates every aspect of the human body and the fluidity and confidence in her strokes blows me away every time. You can view her beautiful work here: https://www.instagram.com/caley_draws
Can you give us an intro and snippet of your ethos?
My background is in the Arts, and working in NGO. Since graduating with a BA in Fine Art 4 years ago my career has been largely working with women and girls from a refugee and migrant background at different capacities. Most recently I deliver Arts and Wellbeing workshops to refugee youth as a freelancer. My activism and passion for human rights, and advocacy for Women and Girls’ rights in particular informs my Art Practise, albeit from a different angle. Through my Art practise I am interested in exploring stigmatised issues around our bodies and sex, and dismantling shame as it relates to women and girls in particular. I am investigating the concept of body autonomy, and I strongly believe we all need to de-stigmatise our bodies and sexualities in order to free ourselves from the inordinate misplaced shame that has been installed in so many of us early on.
Where did it all begin?
I was a creative child, but in my late teens and beginning of my 20s I neglected my creativity as I went through an extremely self-destructive period in my life. The beginning of the end of this period started at a small Art school in Barcelona in my early 20s where I started exploring themes of sexuality, gender, and women's issues in my practise for the first time. When I started making art about things I had never been able to express before, it was a revelation to me and deeply therapeutic. It still feels like this creative self- expression saves my life, no matter how dramatic this sounds to anyone. My practise is informed by trauma that started in my childhood and carried through into adulthood. This trauma is directly related to my gender, hence my practise is engaged primarily with women’s issues, issues that have shaped my life.
How did you develop your techniques?
I have had a natural ability and passion for drawing since I was a small child. I also had the privilege of attending regular life drawing classes at a small Art school in Barcelona several years ago and studying contemporary Art at University. My love for figurative art led me to enrol for a semester at a Drawing Academy in Denmark, an incredible space where I got a diploma in constructive drawing. This technique is essentially learning to draw the nude figure (from life) from the inside out, skeleton, muscles, body mass, then skin. I learned so much in one semester, it was an incredibly enriching experience and has given me a strong foundation and understanding of the human form that is reflected in my work today.
Which is your favourite medium to work with?
When I was at Art school, I used to do a lot of performance Art, installation and some sculpture. I was inspired by performance Artists like Ana Mendieta, and installation artists like Felix Gonzales Torres, amongst many others. After leaving University I found it hard to create that type of work at home and prioritised my career in NGO. It is only in the past year I have dedicated myself to recommit to my Art practise. Life drawing/figurative art was always something I did, but it is only now that I have put it at the forefront of my practise. Life circumstances, and the global situation has led me to this new exciting stage where I am engaging in drawing and painting like never before. Painting and drawing really suits this time in my life as it is accessible and doesn’t require a studio. I am loving discovering, learning and experimenting with these mediums.
What does intersectional feminism mean to you and your work?
I am openly and unapologetically feminist because it is extremely obvious that women and girls lives are negatively impacted directly because of their gender, on a global scale. Sexual violence against women and girls is a pandemic in itself, and the gender pay gap is ever present. This evidence is just some that makes it undeniable that we need feminism. In my career working in social inclusion charities I saw first hand the levels of discrimination and inequality a woman and girl faces based on her race, ethnicity, socio-economic background... This experience, alongside listening to amazing activists and intersectional feminists, helped me understand aspects of my privilege more profoundly. Intersections MUST be taken into account in order to fight effectively for women and girls’ rights. In my current Art practise, I attend life drawing classes that focus on diversity and inclusion. I try and paint many different people and represent different bodies in my paintings. I have also explored themes concerning issues of the sexualisation and abuse of women’s bodies in my earlier works and in my recent self-portraits I am trying to find my own emancipation as a woman who as experienced a lot of gender-based violence. This is a new chapter for me, I am still exploring how I want to incorporate my passionate feminism into my practise.
Are there any hurdles you have faced?
Last year I was burgled and I lost around 70% of my Art documentation, almost all my performance Art videos, and my final piece from my time studying Art at University. This hurts a lot to think about to this day. So I have had to create new Art, and let go of some treasured works. But this also helped me let go of some of the identity I had adopted at Art school. Studying Art at University was amazing, I am so lucky to have gone. However it can be very self-conscious and judgemental, and what is perceived to be “good” Art is dictated often by trends generated by a pretty exclusive Art world. I had to free myself from some of those ideals to be the Artist I am today. This has been absolutely liberating.
What is your favourite part about what you do?
At the moment, my favourite part of what I do is connecting with people locally (in the UK) and globally through what is essentially the only platform I have to show my Art; Instagram. I have built a community with talented like-minded artists and with the incredible humans I have drawn and painted as well as other humans, and this has led to exciting collaborations and a couple features in magazines that align with my values. In a very lonely time it has been a lifeline to have this connection and support. The fact I paint real people who I have connected with online feels very invigorating to me. Going regularly to Zoom life drawing sessions is also a massive part of my practise, and such a soothing activity for me through lockdown.
What would you like to achieve with your art?
My earlier practise was more conceptual and posed questions around identity, sexuality, and gender... I think in some ways my practise does this but more directly. My Art currently is mostly a collection of nude paintings of people I have connected with online through the pandemic, alongside confronting text works around issues I am deeply passionate about. I have had feedback from the people I have painted that this can be an empowering experience and this of course if something I hope for. I also paint myself nude... I think my practise is almost an investigation into the nude form, our bodies, and our sexualities and our varied modes of self-expression. This may confront the viewer with their own perceptions, and preconceptions around these themes. I think I am trying to free the nude from the constraints imposed onto it through lenses like the male gaze, and cultural shame. I also just want to enjoy making it, which I really do! This in itself is an achievement, as I denied myself the pleasure and fulfilment I get from creating for a long time!
I am in a creative flow and I am extremely grateful for that. I feel like a volcano that has erupted and I seem to have this new found endless energy to create, which as I have mentioned has definitely not always been the case. My plan is to just keep going! And try to focus on making the nude commissions financially viable so that I can dedicate this much time to my Art practise passed the enforced time at home imposed on us through the lockdown. I am over the idea that making money from Art is wrong. It isn’t! It is incredible to see so many womxn artists on IG smashing it and making their Art forms into steady streams of income. I am so inspired and am learning all the time how to build a small creative business virtually. My other career is on pause so I am working hard to make this work for me!
Do you have any lockdown projects planned?
My Art practise has blossomed in lockdown. And it feels in a way my whole recent body of work has been a lockdown project. I started painting nudes for an online Instagram exhibition early on in the lockdown and this has kick started a whole practise. I would not have started painting nudes sent to me by consenting adults across the globe had it not been for this extraordinary strange and turbulent time we are living through. I also model and have collaborated with photographers across the world through Zoom virtual shoots to incorporate my drawings onto plastics and fabrics which I have posed with. I am very interested in extending this concept and I am collaborating with a talented artist to create something I can wear. More will be revealed!
Thank you Caley, for letting us in and sharing with us a little of the why. It's been a pleasure getting to know you a little more. Your work, your Art and your activism and passion for human rights, and advocacy for Women and Girls’ rights is truly inspiring. I can't wait to see your upcoming collab!
Thanks everyone for coming along and reading!
Lotsa love, Rach x