Martha Parsey is a painter and film-maker living and working in Cologne, Germany. She currently has a solo exhibition being held at Die Kunstagentin in the Belgium Quarter, Cologne.
Your women have an intoxicating presence. They are powerful, enchanting, and feminine. Have women always been the focus of your work and what do they mean to you?
Women haven’t always been the focus of my work, in fact when I first started painting I painted almost exclusively men. But I read a quote the other day which read ‘The woman is not really a person, but an entity inhabiting spaces, commanding the gaze of those who surround her.’ And I thought about this that perhaps the women are a tool to trap the gaze of the viewer and entice their interest into the interior of the painting. I think my women have great feminine attributes that transcend the limitations of that phrase, because they not only attract the gaze of the viewer but command it, they not only inhabit the space of the picture but in a sense rule over it.
A strong sense of fashion and design are apparent in the paintings. Where does this interest come from?
From photography. Photography mimics painting, particularly fashion photography takes it’s aesthetic, framing and poses from classical painting, so I’m taking it back but in a much more abbreviated form.
You are also a filmmaker. How entwined are the two practices?
If you’re talking about ways of looking and perception, then film-making and painting are totally connected because we can’t talk about images anymore without thinking about how photography and film has completely altered our way of looking at and perceiving things visually.
But in actual practice, painting is a totally different and a much more physical and immediate process than making films. Making films is about teamwork, convincing people to give you the means to realise ideas and it has limitations because of it’s complexity and the amount of people involved that painting doesn’t have. I have an idea in painting and I can give that idea form almost instantly. I work fast, and it is an enormous pleasure to experience the image emerge and take on a life right before me. People forget when they look at painting the very physical nature of it, how physically involved you are while making it. There’s a relationship there, a struggle, and the whole process that is going on is far more unconscious, allowing room for accident. No one can allow you the freedom in film to experiment like I do with paint in the studio.
You move between London, Berlin and Cologne. Do you find the cities engage with your work differently?
Yes, definitely. In London they see the German influences, and in Berlin and Cologne, the English ones, which always really amuses me- the grass is always greener... There are things that are obviously easier for people in London to understand because of the familiarity with where I come from- the mixture of a long tradition in figurative/portrait painting with a design element from British pop art, and the titles lose some of their humour when you explain them. But Berlin has this marvellous openness, it’s a really open city that is very exciting and almost limitless, one that when I moved there opened me up completely. Cologne is where I turn this all into something real and work hard.
When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
When I was a kid I was an actress and for a long time I was certain that’s what I wanted to do because I really enjoyed acting. I moved from acting into wanting to make films as I’d always been on set and seen how films were made. I made short films and then two documentaries about Francis Bacon and through them I got to know David Sylvester, who taught me about painting. I’d studied film and fine art so it was a natural and logical step for me to move into painting.
In 5 words describe your work:
Look at it and see...
What are you looking forward to within the next 12 months?
The summer! And completing a new series of work I’ve just embarked on which is really very exciting.
When I’m not painting I’m …
Having a laugh with my kids and enjoying life now.
'Out on a Limb'
11 February - 15 March, 2012