Eleanor Bedlow was born in East London but spent most of her childhood in Japan. The need to explore ideas surrounding this living between cultures has brought strong references to maps and fragmented land into her artwork. Eleanor is best known for drawing large, imaginary landscapes and cityscapes in graphite. She has a BA from Falmouth College of Arts and in 2008 completed The Drawing Year at Prince’s Drawing School. In 2013 she travelled to India for the Prince’s Drawing School’s International Teaching and Art Residency. In the same year she was shortlisted for the Griffin Art Prize. Eleanor teaches drawing and has just begun her MA in painting. I asked Eleanor some questions about her practice.
Julie: You have said that your cultural background is an important aspect of your identity and your work, that fragmentation and displacement are recurrent themes in your work. Can you talk us through your creative process?
Eleanor Bedlow: The ideas for the landscapes I develop are often triggered by real spaces and structures.
I grew up in a rural town surrounded by mountains where I enjoy the rhythms of the vast expanse of rice fields and houses. Later, while in India, I experienced the scale of the mountains on the tip of the Himalayas. These landscapes have contributed to the sense of scale and space I try to create in my work. I am interested in describing states of mind through landscape. I often manipulate the individual elements of an imagined or observed landscape in my sketchbook. Once I’m happy with a scene I’ll look for references to help construct the final work. This can be drawings, photographs and I also construct installations to draw from.
Julie: You mentioned your constructions. Your imaginary cities and landscapes contain fantastical structures that you often draw from observation after first building them as maquettes. Do all your drawings have this preliminary sculpture step? Why is the sculpture an important part of the process?
Eleanor Bedlow: Creating models is a way to combine my interest in drawing from observation with wanting to develop landscapes from imagination. If I want an imaginary element to have a solid sense of light and dark, working from a model helps achieve this.
Julie: Most of your drawings are quite large. What interests you about scale?
Eleanor Bedlow: If I’m creating a landscape from imagination I like to feel like I could be drawing from observation. At certain scales I can trick my mind into imagining that I am looking into the landscape I am creating. There is also the joy of the physicality of drawing at that scale. There is something satisfying about using the whole arm to draw. I am also interested in the creation of an expanse of space within a work. I turn my head when I am drawing from observation to help describe the space. I like to try and bring in the same feeling of space into my studio work.
Julie: You are best known for your drawings, as finished artwork, not as preparatory work for painting for example. You are about to start the one-year painting programme at Turps Art School. Are you moving more towards painting or has painting always been a part of your practice?
Eleanor Bedlow: I see this as an opportunity to expand the languages I use in my work. I have recently been working in other media, mostly ink and oil pastel and am now exploring the possibilities of oils. I see this as an extension of my current practice as well as a way to keep moving forwards. I believe some of the questions I am trying to answer in my work could be found while moving away from pencil. I also enjoy how different media can inform each other and moving between different ways of working can feed new work.
Julie: Like many artists you have moved studios a few times. You had a studio at Blackhorse Lane Studios (Barbican Arts Group Trust), Norlington Studios and studios at various art colleges. Where do you draw now? How does the space you work in affect your work?
Eleanor Bedlow: After being in several studios I have now come to the conclusion that I enjoy sharing spaces with other artists. I need to have my own corner so I know that I can come back at anytime and start working with everything I need, but I also like be in an active space where there is a collective focused energy. I haven’t worked in a dedicated studio space for a while so I am looking forward to working in the Turps Banana studios and sharing a space again.
Julie: What is a good day in the studio?
Eleanor Bedlow: It is one where I have had time to think as well as actively make artwork. A lot of the time I feel pressured to just create work in the limited time I have. I value the time I can spend thinking about the direction I am taking in a piece of work and about my practice as a whole.
Julie: I am always interested in materials. What drawing materials do you use?
Eleanor Bedlow: The Faber-Castell Pitt oil base pencil (extra soft) is my favourite pencil. I can achieve a great tonal range including a dark without the shine that comes with graphite. I also discovered Sennelier oil pastels which I enjoy working with outside. Although I’ve learnt to keep them in the shade as they do melt in hot climates. I’ve been using Somerset Satin White paper for quite a while now. It’s a printing paper but I like the powdery surface to work on. It also doubles well if I’m creating an etching or monoprint which I later want to work into with pencil.
Julie: You have been teaching drawing in unusual spaces like cinemas, with Emma Seach at Root Drawing for a few years. What is your approach to teaching drawing? How does teaching feedback into your practice? Do you plan to continue teaching?
Eleanor Bedlow: I try to teach different ways to observe through drawing. For example simplifying and seeing the subject through line, shape, light, scale or tone. I find it important to create an installation or chose a subject that would enable students to use the drawing strategies I give them. I enjoy experimenting and building installations for the students to work from. The classes I teach are often inspired by what I am developing and thinking about in the studio. The Root Drawing classes we did were quite experimental and we were able to float new ideas in these classes. I found that the discussions I had with students would in turn feed into my own work. Teaching is a positive way to support my practice both financially and through the ideas that are thrown back and forth between lessons and the studio.
Eleanor Bedlow: After moving back to London from university I wanted to get involved in organising projects as a way of getting to know other artists and to learn how to coordinate my own projects and exhibitions. I was asked to come along to an Arts Trail meeting after exhibiting as an artist. I took on the graphic design work soon after and taught myself how to design publicity material. I coordinated The Leytonstone Arts Trail this year, which was a great challenge and experience.
The Stone Space, which is an independent volunteer-led gallery space, came about through the Arts Trail. I was involved in the first year of setting up the space. It was a fast learning curve where we organised a new exhibition every 10 days for the first 3 months. One of our core aims was to develop a gallery run by local volunteers that didn’t compromise on the quality of the artwork or the curation. The Stone Space is still being run by a dedicated team of volunteers and I always enjoy seeing the eclectic range of exhibitions they organise.
Julie: You co-curated ‘Drawing Crowds’ at The Stone Space in 2011 with Carne Griffiths. Have you organised any other exhibitions, are you interested in doing more curation?
Eleanor Bedlow: I have co-curated several exhibitions at The Stone Space with Gillian Swan and Carne Griffiths. One of them, titled ‘Inclusions’ was a group show for artwork that isn’t easily categorised. I find a lot of call outs for exhibitions are quite narrow and artists are forced to make a certain type of artwork if they want to take part. We wanted to see what kind of work would be submitted with this broad call out and we had a brilliant response. I think it is the most varied show they have had at The Stone Space to date. Similarly, we curated a show called ‘A Space Between’ last year, which aimed to exhibit work that inhabits the space between perceived reality and abstraction. I would love to continue organising exhibitions and hope to do so when new ideas for exhibitions emerge.
Julie: Who are your favourite contemporary artists?
Eleanor Bedlow: There are so many whose work I appreciate but as a starting point I would have to say William Kentridge, Do Ho Suh, Hurvin Anderson and Julie Mehretu. I’ve been looking at the work of a lot of painters recently but drawings by Giacometti and Seurat continue to influence my work.
Julie: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or on-line?
Eleanor Bedlow: I’m participating in the Turps banana studio programme over the coming year and it will be interesting to see how this will progress my work. Throughout this time I’ll be keep my website up to date with examples of my work and information about where I will be showing it. I also have a Facebook page.
The image at the top is:
pencil and oil pencil on paper, 101.6 x 76.5cm, 2016