In conversation: Bethan Hamilton

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Bethan Hamilton’s work is a deconstruction of female sexuality and body image through mark making. Her ambitious drawings exude personality. They have an onomatopoetic quality to them which is probably a strange thing to say but to me they are more sensory than just visual, they conjure up all sorts of adjectives. I asked Bethan to talk a bit about her practice and subject.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Bethan Hamilton. I am a 29yr old Visual Artist from Manchester and I currently live and work in Stockholm, Sweden.

How was the transition from art student to artist?
 It was pretty tough for a while! After completing my Masters degree in Drawing at Wimbledon College of Art in 2009 I really wasn’t prepared for how challenging the next few years were going to be. I spent my first year post graduation working for free at art galleries in London and Brighton, taking part in craft fairs where I (unsuccessfully) attempted to sell drawings, applying for at least 8 jobs a day, attending interview after interview and eventually working a job that made me quite unhappy just to pay the bills. So in 2010 I decided to quit my job and move back to Manchester where I worked part-time at a Primary School, got myself a studio in the city and began to exhibit in galleries. I joined the neo:artists (Greater Manchester) in 2012 which turned out to be an amazingly supportive community of artists which really helped to push my printmaking practice to the next level. 6 years later I have a solo show opening here in Stockholm this August.

Do you keep sketchbooks or a visual diary?
 As a first year BA hons student I practically slept with my sketchbooks. In fact I produced more completed sketchbooks than I did actual pieces of finished work. However, when I began to feel more confident and began drawing on a larger scale it felt as though my ideas were too large to be condensed and worked out through sketchbooks. The walls of my studio space became my sketchbook instead. I still use sketchbooks when I’m in the print studio or throughout a residency to document my development work and scribble down important notes.

What’s it like to place yourself at the centre of your own artwork?
 I would say self portraits grant you a lot more freedom than portraits do. When drawing friends I worry about causing offence by focusing on their ‘imperfections’. But it’s those imperfections that make a person who they are. When drawing myself I don’t think twice about depicting every dark shadow, every wrinkle, misplaced hair or roll of fat. Other people will usually feel self-conscious when being photographed for drawing studies too. When I photograph myself I will usually step out of my comfort zone to get the image that I need.

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Someone looking at your work for the first time may make a comparison between your work and Jenny Saville’s. Can you speak a little about this, whether you agree or disagree.
 I would be incredibly happy to have my work compared to Jenny Saville’s. Since discovering Jenny Saville’s work as a college student she has been a great inspiration for my practice. Whenever I get to see her work in the flesh I am consistently blown away! The work of Nicola Hicks and Frank Auerbach have the same effect.

What’s your take on the term postfeminism?
 We need feminism more than ever. Women are shamelessly objectified through media and popular culture and it has become second nature for both men and women to casually pass judgement on women’s bodies. On a personal level, I often find it difficult to picture my self worth outside of my physical appearance. Despite my achievements or the opinions of my loved ones I can’t shake a feeling of failure or inferiority. Specifically in regards to my weight. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. So I communicate my anger and frustration through art.

What’s the process of sourcing imagery like?
 For my most recent bodies of work Takeaway & Splosh I sourced all of my images from online fat positive ‘Feeder’ networks, BBW and Splosh/WAM fetishism and pornography websites. As you can imagine, my browser history is quite interesting..

Have you spoken to any of the women you have drawn?
 If I wanted to use an image from a social networking website I would always contact the women directly to ensure that no one was upset or felt that their privacy had been invaded. I’d forward them information about my practice, images of previous work and direct them to my website to reassure them that I didn’t have any sinister motives! Unfortunately correspondence never really extended any further than that.

How important is marketing yourself and keeping your social media platforms up to date?
 Social media plays a very important role when it comes to networking and marketing myself. For me, networking at private views and arts events can feel quite daunting. I’ve found opportunities to apply for, been invited to exhibit and even sold artworks through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Now that I live overseas it also allows me to keep in touch with and to continue working with the artists I know back in the UK. I’m actually a member of Studio 44 here in Stockholm and I help by running the groups Instagram account

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Have you any advice for students who may be struggling to move work forward?
 Whenever I’ve found myself struggling to move forward it’s usually due to boredom. I put aside what I’m working on and try something new. Working collaboratively with other artists can provide a fresh perspective too.

How do you see your artwork evolving?
 I am currently working on a new series of Splosh portraits using myself as the subject matter. I plan to experiment and ‘interact’ with different foods with varying consistencies for this series of portraits.

Have you any advice/tips for students who may want to apply for residencies, how do you set yourself apart from the competition?
 I was an AA2A artist in residence at Manchester Metropolitan University and a print resident at The Bluecoat (Liverpool) and both times I submitted a proposal to create a body of work completely unlike anything I had worked on previously. I was interested in using both of those opportunities to soak up as much information as possible and learn techniques I hadn’t used before. I think arts organisations and universities just want residents who are excited, eager to make the most of what’s on offer/facilities and to drive their practice forward.

You are represented by Paper Gallery, how did that come about?
 After exhibiting some large scale self portraits during an open studio event at AWOL Studios (Manchester) in 2012 I was invited to exhibit in another group show at Bankley Studios called 60 Drawings where the director of PAPER Gallery, David Hancock saw my work for the first time and got in touch. I’ve been represented by PAPER ever since.

In terms of contemporary art where do you think Drawing is positioned, do you think it holds its own as an art form?
 I believe drawing really does hold it’s own as an independent art form and universities offering BA and Masters degree’s in fine art drawing as a single subject help provide extra credibility. There are plenty opportunities available for artists that specialise in fine art drawing — exhibitions, art prizes, grants and residencies.

You can see more of Bethan’s work on her website here.

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Originally published at WeAreOCA.