Q & A with Edori Fertig

This interview was originally published on the Nunhead Art Trail website.

Edori Fertig is a previous participant in the Nunhead Art Trail. We meet on a Thursday evening in her beautiful East Dulwich home, where she’s lived for 30 years with her partner. She tells me it’s changed very little since then — their only “renovation” was installing a new unit in the kitchen. It’s perfect just the way it is. It’s had 30 years of character permeating its floors and ceilings and staircases and walls.

Edori’s art is as characterful as her home, as magical as her name (invented by her parents), and as colourful as she is. We talk over a cup of tea about the fantastic jackets she’s designed for her band, the importance of recycling in art, and the way South East London continually inspires her and her artwork.


How long have you lived in South East London? Where have you lived previously?

We’ve lived in this house since 1988. Before that, I was in Deptford in a housing coop, and before that, I was in Boston, and before that, Rhode Island.

When did you first think “I want to be an artist”?

The age of five, four, three. That’s all I wanted to do. I was a kid drawing with pen in little notebooks and it’s all I wanted to do.

Which artists inspired your early years of artwork?

Frida Kahlo was a predominant influence because I loved how personal her work is, the surreal aspect of it, the colour, the Mexican influence, the folk art influence… A mixture of her, and maybe Picasso, Matisse, Chagalle.

Which artists inspire you now?

Recently, with the jackets, I’ve been looking at more textile-based people, in particular Nudie Cohn. He was a Hollywood tailor. I sing in a band, and the band wanted these Nudie-style suits. We were doing a take on country Western and everyone wanted these very elaborate jackets. Before that, I’d started a group called Skip Sisters and we used to make things out of rubbish.

Why out of rubbish?

I like anything made out of humble materials. I like that you can find a jacket in a charity shop and you can just fix it up — I love going to Deptford Market and really finding a bargain. A lot of art, for me, starts from a found object. It’s about seeing what it says to me and elevating its status into something precious, when it might have been overlooked initially. The jackets are all about making something out of very little, in that way.

I love that — you’re recycling materials and giving the objects a new life.

And it’s a political statement, too, I suppose. Why create new things when we have so much stuff already in the world, things that have hardly any life? It’s used once and then thrown away. I’m interested in a culture of slow and thoughtful, rather than quick and throwaway. That’s what I try to instil in my students — we just spent a whole unit just on cardboard.

Your artworks are incredibly diverse — you use so many different mediums. Is that fluidity important to you and to your art?

I wish I could stick to one thing! But my nature just doesn’t tend that way. I’m a multitasker. I start one thing on the kitchen table, then I start at something else, then I move to another place and do something different. I grab time all over the place and do a million things at a time.

As educators, you have to know a little bit about a lot of things. I test things out to teach the kids and I run with it then run on to another thing. I wish I could be on one trajectory but it’s never worked for me. In one day, I’ll do a drawing, write lyrics for a new song, practice singing, do an illustration… I’ll make a pair of earrings or figure out what to do with all these plastic bags lying around. This weekend, I’m learning how to make patches at the London Embroidery Studio.

What advice would you give someone deciding they want to be an artist today?

Marry money! [Laughs.]

You will always be an artist if you keep your imagination open and you work at it, like anything else in life. If you can, try to maybe find another way — commercial arts, maybe — of making a living, because it’s virtually impossible. There are over 50,000 artists in London alone. How many of them are able to make a living from their art? Most will be teaching or doing something else alongside their art. My husband was a housing officer. Caroline [Cobb, one of the organisers of the Nunhead Art Trail] was a housing officer. Nick [Cobb, Caroline’s partner and another organiser] teaches.

What advice would you give someone struggling to be an artist, then?

Everything you do should be artistic. It should be thoughtful and individual. That can shine through.

Unfortunately, artists frequently aren’t valued as much as other professions may be valued. The Nunhead Art Trail is a wonderful way of connecting with other artists and giving each other and each other’s work value, meaning, a purpose — it’s for the community. And it brightens lives.

Why do you think art and artists are valuable to a community?

Artists are the ones who have always recycled, in part because we never have money! We’re inventive and we think outside the box. We’re great illusionists. And some of the struggle makes good art sometimes. [Laughs.]

Art is an equaliser. It’s democratic. Everybody can do it — it’s a bridge maker. It should create bridges, connect languages, connect ideas, create and build instead of alienating and dividing.

How has the South East London community inspired and informed your art?

Whenever anybody was doing up their houses, I would collect lino from their homes and make mosaics out of them. My art is physically rooted in my friends’ homes in the area. I did a whole series called Nunhead Walls, which were composites of wallpapers from houses and photographs I found in markets around South London. I’m inspired by the past and history of this area, and those old photographs became a literal part of the fabric of our home here.

Things I found in the garden became things, too — my garden is a constant source of joy, I’m always drawing it and making it. Then there’s the markets, the charity shops. I’m very influenced by South East London.

I love that you’ve incorporated other people’s histories — their memories, their photographs — into your artwork, giving it a new life.

People have had to become very economical about what they keep and what they’re sentimental about. You’ll find photo albums at the market where people wrote on the back of each picture and then they wound up in the market — that’s somebody’s whole history and story! There’s something very tragic about it. I call it urban archaeology. And so I make something out of it so I can give it new meaning.

I think artists are actually natural collectors and hoarders — maybe less so now, in the digital era — but you’re drawn to objects all the time and you see treasures all the time that people will overlook.

What is most special about inviting someone into your home or studio during the Nunhead Art Trail?

It’s like inviting people into your internal world — it can feel very vulnerable. The more you do it, the easier it gets, but it’s still very revealing. It can give new meaning and value to your art because someone else has a response to it. For me, that’s very positive because you’ve communicated something outside of yourself. If I make work but nobody sees it, the process isn’t complete for me.

You’re never finished — I’ve never felt like anything I’ve exhibited is good enough, I always think it could be better or bigger. But that’s the constant journey.

What are your favourite spots in the area?

The Ivy House, definitely! Peckham Rye. North Cross Road on a Saturday. The swimming baths at Dulwich Leisure Centre. Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Horniman Museum, Deptford Market…

Why would you encourage artists to take part in the Nunhead Art Trail?

They should participate if they want to share what they’re doing and through their art, want to connect to others. Everyone might be doing it for different reasons — maybe it’s to sell your work, maybe it’s to promote your classes… But it’s just a really nice community event to show the local colour and soul of a place. It gives colour to Nunhead, it makes it unique.

Why should people visit the Nunhead Art Trail?

To enjoy a day seeing Nunhead through artists’ eyes. How lovely is that?


Edori Fertig was interviewed by Larissa Scotting.

This year’s Nunhead Art Trail will take place on the 29th and 30th September.