Lulu Manasseh: Locating One Self

This week we meet artist Lulu Manasseh to talk about her process, inspiration and the body of work in her current solo exhibition at Gallery Elena Shchukina, Mayfair. 

When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?

I always knew, there was never a decision time, it was just a question of how to follow through with that journey. I had an aunt who was an artist so I did get some encouragement to move in that direction.

Pink and Blue, 2017 | Mixed Media on Canvas | 80 x 80 cm

You went to Wimbledon School of Art, was this your first proper training in the arts?

I did go there, but I never actually indulged in the fine art department. I moved towards design; I wanted to use the machines and the tools and things like that, so I ended up following a degree in three dimensional design. There was a part of me that knew I didn’t want to be taught art, because there was something within me that I didn’t want to be moulded or shaped by anyone. I went the design route because I knew there were specific things you needed to learn, such as how to answer a brief, etc. I did furniture design for my degree at Leeds Metropolitan University and I won young designer of the year with the Royal Society of Arts back then. I had the choice of going into industry or winning a travel award, so I went travelling to South America, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and that informed me in a whole new way.

 

Travel is very important to you, how has it influenced your work?

The most striking thing for me was when I landed in Brazil, it was so vast that I felt like an ant flicked across the planet. I thought, "okay, do I turn left or right?" I think that is when I started to understand that I could follow some other intuitive guidance; my inner sat nav. That is how my work is produced, there is no preconceived idea. Whilst travelling I would open up a map with eyes shut and wherever my finger landed on the map, that is where I would go to next. I was following a different kind of guide, the same one that informs my work. It is an inspiration, an intuition, you reach for something and make a mark. 

Detail of Three Crosses, 2017 | Mixed Media on Canvas | 60 x 60cm

You use a big range of materials, give us a few examples.

I have a series called “The Heart of the Matter” which is really about exploring matter and materiality. This is the first of four bodies of work on display in my exhibition.

The base of the canvas is all Nepali handmade paper called Lokta paper, created high up in the Himalayas. When I prime my canvas with this it begins the artwork with a whole new resonance, unlike the canvas which is mass produced in China. It becomes interactive, engaging and speaks to me in an entirely different way. That is the starting point, then other mediums I use are clay. I love working with clay because it dries in its own way, it directs itself and I don’t have control over it. I have developed ways to make it breathe more or crack more, there are different combinations of the binding mediums that I use and I know that if I want a lot of crackage then I need to use less of the binding medium.

White Arrow, 2017 | Mixed Media on Canvas | 60cm x 60cm

Tell us about your hieroglyphs.

Whilst in Nepal I was in my room writing a journal and I had reached a point where I was a bit bored of my writing of daily events. Suddenly, this script came through and it just took over. I was filling pages and pages and it was very satisfying because I was writing which is what I wanted to do but I didn’t have to create a story. It wasn’t controlled and it came from somewhere else. It was twenty years ago when this happened and over the years I’ve just continued to allow it to happen and it features in many of my paintings.

What does it mean?

I feel it has a recognition on a deeper level, it comes from a deeper place and I think it speaks to us all, it is a universal language. It doesn’t limit itself to place, location or culture.

 

Would you say you are expressing your unconscious mind in these works or rather allowing something to guide you?

Mapping Infinity Chart #4, 2017 | Paper on Canvas | 40 x 50 cm

I have watched the progression of my work and I have seen the journey where I was going from the personal, which was about me expressing myself and my feelings, to now getting to a place of the impersonal which belongs to us all. My work in meditation is really to become that instrument. I find I have to keep expanding myself for it to come through in its greatest capacity. Meditation is a huge thread of my life and my work and it is really to have that purification on some level. So I am connecting to something greater and I am putting the focus on something other than myself.

So the second body of work is called, The Notebook Series, ‘Mapping Infinity.’ There was a realignment in my practice and some completely new work started to come through. On reflection it was about constellations, how who or what we align ourselves to affects the state of our wellbeing. Whilst doing this series there was this sense of infinity. I was working with paper in collage and I would just keep building and changing direction and the different layers were showing me this whole connection.

Between Here and There, Map H, 2018 | Reconstructed Drawing on Canvas | 60 x 60cm

From here there was the breakdown of the structures and then the work began moving into the maps, where I started to rebuild, to navigate a new way forward. I was taking my drawings, breaking them down and then rebuilding, I had all these pieces around me and I would be reaching and pulling pieces together that seemed to fit perfectly. I felt this magic process happening and when I was creating I was part of it.

I work on the floor which makes a huge difference, when you have a canvas on a wall it is always a window. Whereas when you’re creating from the ground it becomes something different. There is a very different experience of control. When I worked with a canvas on the wall I would stand back and I would judge, that was the problem. I would be judgemental and get in the way.

The final series is called "Locating One Self" which is the name of the show and it is one – self as opposed to oneself and really it is about finding that one place where we all connect. Where we go beyond personality, opinion and judgement, where we all meet and can unite in harmony. This final series is an integration of the maps and the heart of the matter. It was like bringing heaven and earth together, they happened almost instantaneously and with great ease; it was like boom, done, and yet they have this incredible quality and detailing in the textures. Being black they hold the light and become vessels; the light is super important, they need to be by a window or under decent lighting. They were the last pieces and two of them were gold and to me that is symbolic of striking that gold, finding that gold, I have been digging and digging and I struck gold, finally! It is also the symbol of something that endures and that stands the test of time.

 Locating One Self, Black and Gold #1, 2017 | Mixed Media on Canvas | 40 x 50 cm

Locating One Self, Black and Gold #1, 2017 | Mixed Media on Canvas | 40 x 50 cm

All the pieces in this show don’t really have a title, though they do have names for reference and administration. The reason I didn’t want titles is because I didn’t want to lead people into fantasy worlds, I want people to have an experience with what they are engaging with. It is all about relationship at the end of the day and about us being able to relate to each other from a place of real connection. It was very important to me that I didn’t use titles which would lead people away from that.

Beyond The Red Line, 2017 | Mixed media on Canvas | 102 x 91cm

Having said that I did recently name one of the pieces, “Beyond the Red Line” which is very symbolic of what the paintings are about. Because it really was an archaeological dig, I was unearthing and trying to get to the roots of who we are and go beyond the surface. And a red line is reminiscent of the red tape and the red line is as far as you can go. It’s about limitation in the material world and so this work is really an exploration of what is beyond the point of our conditioning and programming. It was a struggle like you can’t imagine, but it was a break through and that is why I love this work because I know the journey I went on with it. I kept on trying to make something familiar, and found that no, you need to undo and not try to control it and recognise it. The minute I let go there was such a deeper recognition of what it was speaking to me.

How did you come to exhibit at Gallery Elena Shchukina?

I was invited to participate in a group show at the gallery last year and there was a public vote; whoever won the most votes would win a solo show. I got everyone I knew, even to the taxi driver, the hairdresser and I really went for it. I think as an artist you know you have to go for these opportunities and to have the chance to put bodies of work together is huge. You rarely get to see your work together and to create this narrative. It was a hard journey, I mean the minute I won it, it was like a guide on how to end your creativity! So I had to move through a lot of my own issues, judgement, acceptance, what am I going to create? All of that had to be moved. It was a very testing year.

Now you have spent the year creating this body of work what is next?

I am in a transition. The goal post has shifted but I can’t quite see it, yet. I already started painting only a few days after the opening of this show. The greatest thing for me has been to stand back and think about which pieces really excite me and which mean a lot. I can see the compositions much better in the gallery space and also seeing the paintings in the context of each other. I’ve never seen my artwork together until I came into the gallery and saw it hanging. I don’t really know what is next I am just in it. 

Lulu Manasseh's exhibition Locating One Self will be on show at the Gallery Elena Shchukina in Mayfair until the 2nd March 2018.