Meet the Artist: Anna Mawby

Anna Mawby is a visual artist based in Derbyshire. She creates contemplative pieces that explore the nuances of life. In a world where shouting louder is seen to be the only way to get heard, Anna’s work invites the viewer to quietly contemplate their own life, to evoke the thoughts that lie hidden below the surface of your consciousness, and provide a space for reflection. Since graduating with a first class degree in fine art in 2007, Anna has pursued her practice and has shown her work locally and internationally.

Anna Mawby, Sadness photos
Sadness photos

Where are you based?

I am based at Haarlem Artspace, a multi-functional artist-led space in Wirksworth. It is a beautiful old mill that has recently been converted into studio spaces, it also has a gallery space and hosts events and talks by inspiring artists.

Describe your practice for us.

I create text based, barely- there sculptures. Working with ideas of absence and presence, I install, place and construct works that situate the viewer within the work physically and in terms of a mental contemplative space.

There is a quiet, performance based aspect to my work, and what is created is the residue of this performance. I am often repeating simple manual tasks. It is the kind of repeat where something is happening, in a process of becoming but it’s barely perceptible until you look back.

I am drawn to exploring ideas of uncertainty and vulnerability and I use short phrases to create subtle artworks that resonate with the viewer.

Anna Mawby, You photos
You photos

How long have you been practising and by what route did you come to your practice?

It took me a while to realise I was an artist. I originally began a nursing degree, but realised I could not cope with the intensity of the life and death situations I would be frequently exposed to. I left university and moved to Exeter where I spent my mornings working in the train station cafe and my afternoons on the beach. When I was 21 I got drawn back to creativity, I went to study art at college and then continued to university. I graduated with a Fine Art degree in 2007 and since then I have continued to make and exhibit my work whenever I can.

Your work invites the viewer to contemplate their own life and pause for reflection, to what end do you hope that this will happen?

The work is an invitation to do that. It’s a gentle nudge that is non-confrontational or demanding. I give space. That is not to say the space is completely ambiguous even though I want the viewer to read and engage for their own ends, there are nudges towards particular ideas for contemplation.

My work is not spectacular, it avoids being loud or announced. It is intimate and personal, it frames the subjectivity of the viewer and provides the opportunity to reflect.

Anna Mawby, Interminable photos
Interminable photos

You use text in your work. Where does the text come from, is it from your own reflections or gathered from people you work with or is it “found”?

It comes from a variety of sources. It is not necessarily a direct quote from somewhere but the coming together of my thoughts. I am an observer, I notice patterns and connect things. I listen to what is happening around me and relate it to what I have been reading.

The phrases are isolated. There is no build up or follow on. I filter my ideas until what is left is a suspended thought. The text can come from anywhere, it is the process I go through to form the phrase that is important. ‘In the Time That I have’ was created as a response to Kazuo Ishiguro’s book Never Let me Go, it was based on my own reflections after reading the book.

The pieces I made for the Can You Hear Me Now exhibition used text gathered from the public, they submitted responses to questions about their emotions and the art was created from that.

Are you drawn to particular materials or do the materials you use become the best platform for expressing an idea?

I use simple materials; paper, glass, water. The work is concept driven and the materials relate to the idea. The material and structure are crucial in conveying the thought and text, they have to work together as one.

I am interested in translucency, shadows, light and dark. The materials I use are delicate, they are under stated and often barely visible. They are easily overlooked, but when noticed there is a quality about them that is captivating; a purity, a fragility, a quality of light.

Anna Mawby, In the time photos
In the time photos

What is the most interesting or inspiring thing you have seen or been to recently, and why?

I have just returned from How The Light Gets In philosophy festival at Hay on Wye, I find listening to people passionately talk about their studies really inspiring. All of the talks are recorded, so any I didn’t go to I will listen to on podcasts as I walk to my studio. I frequently listen to other podcasts, particularly On Being with Krista Tippett and Art For Your Ears by the Jealous Curator. I am currently reading Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit and The Tyranny of Choice by Renata Salecl.

Which other artists’ work do you admire, and why?

I am always impressed by how Bill Viola confronts the big questions in life and how he creates an immersive environment that evokes so many emotions for the viewer. I like the way Ann Hamilton constructs the space, her use of light and vast space and the performative element to her installations. Philip Perreno’s use of light, the apparent simplicity of the work, his use of everyday objects, and his ability to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Anna Mawby, Stuck in photos
Stuck in photos

Where can people see your work?

My work can be seen online.

This summer I have been invited to take part in Edgelands group exhibition with Liverpool Biennial Independents. I will also be showing my developing ideas during Wirksworth Festival, Haarlem Artspace will be open and I look forward to showing everyone what I have been working on.


Anna was interviewed in June 2018.

The images are courtesy of the artist.