Soraya Smithson is a multi-disciplinary artist interested in the daily rituals of life and the relationship of the domestic environment with the outside world. She produces prints, ceramics, collage, books, sewn pieces, paintings and other objects but drawing is the mainstay of her practice. Drawing, but in its broadest sense, using scissors, needles, tin snips, fretsaw as well as pencil, ink, paint and clay, which she says is “…about making shapes and forming space within a line”.
Where are you based?
I live and work in the small Georgian market town of Stamford, Lincolnshire, though even after twenty years it feels an odd place to have ended up. I have a studio at home. When I first moved to the area I went in search of an arts community and discovered Leicester Print Workshop (LPW). Traveling into Leicester has become part of my art practice, both to use LPW and a Leicester City Council run ceramic studio. For obvious reasons my home studio has had more use in recent months than for many years. I have returned to some neglected projects, re-discovered old material and have also been writing.
Describe your practice for us
I am a small object maker and work in many mediums from clay to cloth, to ink and wood. I am always idea led. First the what, then the how, followed, sometimes much later, with the why. Even traditional 2D formats such as print and painting I somehow wrestle into 3D or even 4D by making books, films, scrolls and raised surfaces.
I have three threads to my work; self-generated ideas, work in response to a theme for an exhibition call-out and commissions. I like commissions because one works in collaboration, in response to location and they always take me outside my comfort zone.
How long have you been practising and by what route did you come to your practice?
I believe I’ve always been practicing; I never wanted to be anything other than an artist. I am severely dyslexic and as a child found it very difficult to express myself or engage with academic study due to this language barrier. Creating is how I articulate myself and navigate my way through what can sometimes feel like an alien and hostile world.
I did Art Foundation at Chelsea School of Art, BA Fine Art at Middlesex Polytechnic, both in London and then MA Fine Art at University of Northumbria in Newcastle. I have done various day courses over the years from gilding and various print courses and a lithography fellowship at LPW. If an idea requires specific a process I’ll search out how to do it. The Internet is a fantastic tool for a quick fix, from how to make waxed paper flowers to ecclesiastical cloths. I’m not an expert at anything, I glean what’s necessary to proceed. I like to be doing and to discover whilst I make.
What is important to you in maintaining and motivating your practice?
Making makes me happy. I have always got projects on the go, whether it’s sewing, printing or constructing something. Finding ideas for things that I want to make is easy. The difficult part is articulating verbally the ideas behind what I create; I do a very good squirm dance when asked what I’m up to. I am trying to develop a more assertive voice and to write more as a way to think through my inspiration and motivation.
I am a member of two peer mentoring groups and a blind crit group, which are very useful in helping find my voice. Nothing is really finished until it has been shown. Sometimes a piece of work might need time to settle and the resolution of how to display or complete project will come. I always have more ideas than time. And I don’t draw enough.
Which other artists’ work do you admire, and why?
Assorted, probably best describes my interest in other artists. My top three would be Hannah Höch, Joseph Cornell and Kurt Schwitters all of whom my mother introduced to me a small child. They all have an As Found aesthetic combined with transformative reuse. Art, architecture, museums and theatre played a big part in my growing up. I am drawn to artists who use colour, shape, and space in an interesting way, from painters like Van Gogh, Klimt, Matisse, Stanley Spencer to sculptors such as Louise Nevelson, David Smith, Alexander Calder and Bauhaus theatre design. With print I look to David Hockney, Paul Peter Piech, Albrecht Durer and Sister Corita. I am drawn to the everyday and have a passion for still-life, particularly food paintings from Clara Peeters to Francisco de Zurbarán. Currently I am fixated with Hieronymus Bosch, and starting a flirtation with the Breughel dynasty. Then there’s Betye Saar, Lubaina Himid, Aligiero Boetti. The list could go on, and on.
Where people can see/ hear about your work
I have an exhibition of my ceramics, based on objects found in Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, opening at the Willoughby Memorial Trust Gallery, Grantham, on Wednesday 19th August 2020. My work can also be seen on my website and Instagram, and sporadically Twitter.
So’Bosch will be at The Willoughby Memorial Trust Gallery, Morely Lane, Corby Glen, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG33 4NL, from 19th August to Tuesday 16th September. It is open 12 to 5pm Tuesdays to Sunday – closed Mondays except Bank Holidays. Soraya will be at the gallery during the opening weekend – Saturday 29th – Monday 31st August – and on Wednesday 9th and Tuesday 15th September.
Soraya was interviewed in August 2020.