Heather Tobias in conversation with Colin Ruffell.
Introducing Skylark artist Heather Tobias.
You may already know Heather Tobias as an established film and TV actress whose credits include the Singing Detective, Bleak House, Crime and Punishment as well as guest appearances In Holby, Midsummer murders and numerous other roles. She has done seasons at the National Theatre.
But to her other fellow artists in the Skylark Galleries she is highly respected for her paintings and sculptures.
CR: Heather, you have actually studied and graduated into to the art world, only a couple of years ago, after a very successful career as an actor. Did one branch of the creative world lead onto the other. From stage to studio? Or did you always want to be an artist?
HT: When I left school I had the choice between going to art College or LAMDA. I chose the drama route however over the years I would go to art classes. However when the magical age of 60 arrived I decided to challenge myself and embarked on a Foundation Course which led me to a Degree in Fine Art.
CR: Your website shows a list of exhibitions that goes back much further than the last couple of years. So I guess that you have been a part-time artist for a long time.
HT: As I explained when not working as an actor I would go to classes. Richmond Adult College was a great place to learn.
CR: Your interesting artwork shows that you enjoy creating colourful two dimensional wall art, and creating sculpture in three dimensions. Most artists are in one camp or the other. How is that?
HT: I am in the wonderful position of doing what I want to do. I enjoy playing and seeing where it leads me. With this exhibition I have taken work from different stages of my practice and that has been an eye opener for me. The colour came when I was doing my Foundation. When I embarked on my BA [hons] my palette became very limited and dark. I think it is now time to return to colour again.
CR: You have said, I quote, ”There is a theatrical element to my work as well as humour and irony. When starting a piece of work I find the image within the work as it is revealed. So although I start with an idea it is soon changed into something unforeseen. I find this exciting and respond to the journey unraveling in front of me.”
HT: I think this is true maybe subconsciously I create an audience waiting for me to do something interesting.
CR: So you seem to enjoy the creative process in your studio. This is a thing that we artists each do on our own. We start from scratch with our own unique language. How did you choose the style of art that you do?
HT: I really do look to the past to inform the future. I find used objects for example old photos or postcards fascinating, as they each have a history to tell….
….I suppose I am primarily a mixed media figurative artist whose practice explores the arts, mythologies and histories of many cultures including Norse myths, Oceanic art and Mediaeval religious iconography. This enables me to create stylistic abstracted images and characters that recall allegorical traditions but exist in the present. The materials I choose can be dictated by their past existences as I like to scour car boot sales and recycle centres for unusual objects. My present enquiry is looking at groups of figures or tribes and how they confront the viewer.
CR: Wow! So the groups of figures theme could be an influence from your days on the stage I guess. Your acting experience must have involved much interaction between people. Whereas many artists, without that dimension, have to discover themselves and their art language alone, by them-selves.
HT: I don’t know, I try not to think too much and just go with the flow when something seems right.
CR: Your art is very much people based. Not much in the way of landscapes for instance.
HT: I have a landscape at home on the wall, which I love so anything is possible. It seems in the art world you have to find labels to be taken seriously. I learnt very early on about Art Speak. I love working with clay and have suffered from tutors accusing me of being too craft minded. Personally I am combining the two challenging Fine Art and Craft. In my mind there is no difference.
CR: I see from your website that you have spent a while in Denmark doing work in a ceramic research centre. How does that affect your artwork? What did you discover there? You have already said that you explored Norse myths and other cultures. Is that interest from your time in Scandinavia, or the other way round?
HT: Ever since going to an exhibition on the Vikings, I have enjoyed the myths. In Denmark I was inspired by an artist called Hammershoi and I have done a series of images inspired by his oil paintings. They have theatricality about them, Women peering out of windows. They remind me of Ibsen or Chekhov plays I have been in the past. Again I return to my theatrical roots. However I am so happy to be able to create any time and not wait to be offered a job to be creative.
CR: You said that you scour car boot sales and other places for art materials for your sculptures. Do you also make sculpture using traditional materials like clay, or carve from wood etc?
HT: I have never carved wood as that takes a lot of strength. I love beach combing and finding rusty objects, which I store in the studio; they will make an appearance one day.
CR: Thanks Heather. I am looking forward to seeing that in future shows at Skylark Gallery 2.