Taking an Eileen Agar painting, ‘The Sower’ as inspiration from The Ingram Collection, Anna Liber Lewis has produced a series of paintings demonstrating the artists’ shared interests in natural forms, cycles of seasons, life and death and the subconscious.

If you missed Anna's informal interview in the Art Fund Prize Gallery, you can watch the live-streamed video at the bottom of this page.

Eileen Agar, The Sower (1937), watercolour and gouache © The Estate of Eileen Agar, All Rights Reserved 2014/ Bridgeman Art Library

Your paintings in this exhibition are in response to the work of artist Eileen Agar. Why did you choose Agar’s out of all the artworks in The Ingram Collection to respond to?

The Ingram Collection holds many wonderful works and there are lots of pieces and artists that I’m drawn to for various reasons. In an attempt to whittle it down I decided that is was important for me to try and find some sort of emotional ‘way in’ when choosing a piece or artist to respond to. Initially I thought a tangible object would be a possible way to start: providing me with a thing that I could touch, listen and talk to. Somehow my journey through the Collection, via the sculptural work of William Turnbull and the landscapes of John Craxton, led me to Agar via Dorset.

It was through these artists' biographies - their interests and impulses and their own personal landscapes, that I connected with Agar. I found it quite moving to connect with another female artist across time. I felt an affinity to some of her thinking and approach to her work. I particularly enjoyed discovering the transcripts of her diary. Here she muses over the connection of all things, across time:

“It would be strange to discover that we are going through (in embryo or sublimated form) in this age the forms of life that the world has been through since the beginning. How else can I explain the likeness in build of the giant reptiles and the modern trains, the modern airplanes and immense dragonflies that existed in Paleozoic and Jurassic times? This becomes a certainty for I could develop these connections endlessly. This is a completely magic world for me, it is this quality of magic that I must reveal to this world of sleepers. The magic and dramatic elements.”

Anna Liber Lewis, Open Water © The Artist

You largely paint from memory rather than from what’s in front of you. How do you go about starting a piece and how do you formulate ideas?

I am led by my own impulses and desires. My practice is a form of personal research – a searching. Painting for me is a private dialogue that shifts with my interests, allowing me to continue my engagement with paint and painting. For me, it needs to feel urgent and connected with my emotions.

In the past I would only work from life; looking and responding to an object or objects used to be very important for me. Now I am more interested in feeling. More and more I am listening to my intuition: shape, form and colour develop from this.

I work from a large soup of influences which can be triggered by a range of stimuli: I need to find a ‘hook’ to latch onto, which helps me develop my imagery. When I get in front of a canvas the most important thing is to be led by that moment and I have to be present and have energy to successfully engage with the physical act of painting. I find music often helps me with this: to get into a much more physical space.

Anna Liber Lewis, History Lessons © The Artist

Challenging perceptions of female sexuality comes across as a theme in your paintings. Is it important to you to use art to communicate and challenge existing stereotypes? How do you do this?

This is complex. Because painting has historically been such a male-heavy practice with a particular history of machismo, I do like to flirt with ideas around gender. However it can be very boring to be defined by this as a subject. I have always considered and challenged the boxes society likes to put us in and I am rebellious by nature. However, I definitely have tired of being referred to as an artist who focuses on the female experience and I want to be looked at in the same way men are; they are given a much broader landscape to explore. I don’t like to feel that I am restricted by my gender, but I have found it to be almost impossible to ignore it.

More recently I’ve had my curiosity pricked by discovering that certain female lizards and crayfish have started cloning themselves, making the male species redundant in their evolution: it’s a topic that can be explored in many ways. So much of painting comes out of an attitude and I love to paint large in scale and you have to find a certain amount of bravado for that!

Anna Liber Lewis, Dentata © The Artist

How has winning The Ingram Collection’s Young Contemporary Talent Purchase Prize helped you to progress in the art industry?

Winning the prize was hugely important to me. It was a moment in time that boosted my confidence, followed by a feeling of support and encouragement to keep pursuing my career as an artist. What has been so wonderful is to develop a professional relationship with Jo and Alison at the Ingram Collection. Both women are hugely supportive and fantastic human beings. It makes such a difference to connect with brilliant, talented and good-hearted people. I feel really happy to be a part of an important collection alongside many amazing artists I admire. So far in my young career I feel incredibly lucky to have had the support from some great female curators and to be part of something that is nurturing for the development of my work.

Anna Liber Lewis, I am and I am not © The Artist

Do you have any more upcoming exhibitions?

It’s been a really busy year, because I also won the Griffin Art Prize last year! Right after the opening of my solo show at The Lightbox, I had a second solo show opening at the new Elephant West space. Both exhibitions are really exciting, as they are quite different in nature. The Lightbox is much more intimate and has allowed me to explore the Ingram Collection and research Eileen Agar. The show at Elephant West has encouraged me to expand my practice in other ways. I have collaborated with long-time friend and musician Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, who has written new music in response to this project. The exhibition shows a new body of work that I’m really excited about. Expect an assault on your senses!

It’s been an amazing opportunity to open up and expand my practice and collaborate with other wonderful people from different disciplines – past and present.

See Anna Liber Lewis: Young Contemporary Talent from The Ingram Collection in the Art Fund Prize Gallery for free until 6 January 2019.

Jo Baring, Director and Curator of The Ingram Collection, in conversation with Anna Liber Lewis:

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