by Miranda Ward
Rose-Marie Caldecott is a fine artist whose work explores and plays with the tensions between what is fixed and what is fluid. Born and bred in Oxford, she studied fine art at Falmouth before returning to Oxfordshire and setting up her studio near Freeland, on the edge of a working sawmill.
It is Caldecott’s ethereal paint textures that adorn the amber glass bottles of La-Eva, lending an element of her philosophy and the beauty of her work to the packaged products. We met one afternoon, early in springtime, at the La-Eva studio - a space that Caldecott knows well, just a stone’s throw across the court yard from her own - to speak about how she became involved in the La-Eva journey and find out more about her paintings, her conceptual explorations and her ambitions.
Rosie, it seems somewhat unusual for a fine artist to be involved with a beauty project. How did your collaboration with La-Eva come to be and what has it involved?
I had known Louisa [founder of La-Eva] for a while - since I moved into my space - when this was still an artisan soap studio. We connected from the start, chatting over mugs of tea on breaks, offloading frustrations or sharing excitement, talking about courtyard life, every day moments. When the work on La-Eva began Louisa approached me and asked me how I would feel if we were to explore some of the artwork together. I have to say that initially I was unsure, I had never expected myself to be involved with packaging. Nevertheless, we spent a lot of time talking about the ifs, whats and hows. Louisa was particularly interested in using textures of paintings - unfinished pieces of art that would reflect a philosophy against perfection, of beauty in the process. I respected this thinking and understood her interest in the pure paint textures because, in many ways for me too, that first part of my work is where the essence of what I want to say rests. The gardens, or other details that end up being part of my paintings - they are just an added layer of meaning. The more we spoke, the more I felt open to this territory, which, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been under other circumstances. After a while, there came a natural point where we both thought - why not just have a play and see what happens?
I started taking pictures of whatever I was painting at the time, which resulted in a lengthy process of staring at hundreds of photographs of paint textures. Initially it was very much a case of trial and error. We realised quite early on that we needed to be very careful about the quality of the images we were taking. The next challenge was to figure out which section of the photographs to use, which sections of the paintings, as what we focused on made a huge difference to what was being conveyed. With time though, it all began to come together. Eventually, one summer evening Louisa and I just sat down and there we were. We had Blū and we had Rosēum, and others that were to come. It was an exciting moment!
I actually really benefited from this whole process. For a painter, there is nothing more pleasing than sitting and examining up close the marks and effects of paint. This project provided me with the excuse to spend quite a bit of time doing this, truly relishing in the details of the work. I actually now find myself looking at the paintings and thinking ‘oooh, that would look great on a label...!' [laughter]
Tell me more about your work, the processes behind your etherial paintings.
Nowadays I primarily work with acrylics, though not exclusively. I have always found myself intrigued by the results of mistakes and am intrigued by how nicely paint ‘misbehaves’. When I look at my work, I love that there are elements that I simply could not have predicted.
Most of my paintings begin life with what I have come to call ‘the great splash’, where I pour paint directly onto the board (wood or aluminium, a surface that is as flat and smooth as possible). This is the chaotic element, the part of the process that can’t be too closely planned, though it can be guided. Often it can be pretty frustrating, because I want things to be a certain way when, actually, I just need to let them do what they need to do. After the great splash the paint dries slowly, with forms and patterns declaring themselves over time. Throughout the course of the day you can see the paint moving and changing, and if you get the right balance, these amazing textures start forming, like rivers.
I leave the paintings at this stage to dry flat on the table, before hanging them up. I spend time getting to know the landscape that has emerged on the canvas, and sit with it for a while. Once I feel familiar with the terrain, I find spaces within it that I know need to be left alone, and areas that perhaps might make room for something else. How I then choose to work differs every time, but generally involves carefully and subtly painting in depictions of landscapes or gardens, only hints, working towards a balance between the image and the natural paint textures. Other times I work in a more intuitive manner, pushing new paint on and pulling it back again to reveal the original layer, until something meaningful evolves from the conversation between chance and decision. These paintings appear more abstract but are exploring the same core concepts.
What underlies your work conceptually?
I was brought up in a family of theologians, philosophers and writers, people who think a lot about the human condition. Over time I have come to realise that I too am preoccupied with similar questions, and although I may not choose to explore them as an academic, I am doing so instead through the language of paint.
I have a long-standing interest in how everything in nature – including ourselves - exists in a state of flux. To be alive means to be in a constant state of change. Yet we seem to resist that reality. We invent stability; we build solid places within which to live, we tame nature and push it into manageable spaces. We like to feel some sense of permanence and security in the face of our ultimate fragility. The decision to stand apart from the storm interests me. What lies at the heart of this, and how it relates to our greater existential struggle; these are the questions that I have in mind when working.
Going through the painting process helps me to live life in a similar way. It reminds me that underneath every decision I make and every action I undertake, there lies the reality of something I can’t entirely plan for. I can go about disguising this truth, but it is always there. Whether I choose to allow for it or not, the fluidity and uncertainty at the core of life will continue to remind me that it, too, has a part to play. If we get on the same page, if we can reach equilibrium, something beautiful can result.
You mentioned incorporating garden scenes into your paintings, adding a layer of complexity to the depths of the base textures. Where does your interest in gardens stem from?
I have always loved gardens, though have never gardened much myself. The garden somehow feels like an ideal setting in which to explore and expand my interest in comparing human forms of order with those found in nature, in pulling apart where they overlap and where they conflict. In many ways I feel that gardeners are involved with the ideas that I am playing with in my paintings — they are trying to guide and constrain nature, compose it, but not so much that it becomes stifling. I started to get my hands in the soil this year though, and I think that it is starting to help inform my work, as well as being therapeutic in its own right.
Are there any pieces of your work that stand out for you as being of particular importance?
Fractal Landscape is an important piece of work for me in many ways. It is one of my earliest paintings, about six years old now, and it is pretty big. It was my father who introduced me to the term ‘fractal’. It refers to self-similar, irregular patterns that occur at all levels of nature, small and big. Self-similar means that any part will be the same shape as the whole and vice versa. I am not a mathematician but, essentially, fractals are a natural form of geometry. I guess one of the easiest ways to observe these fractal patterns, at a visual level, is to look at the branching of a tree or a river. The branch shape itself is irregular, but as it splits again and again it repeats that same shape in ever smaller form and creates a pattern. This type of pattern- which can be even be seen within the human body, for example in our lungs- has a deep natural logic that is not created by human reason. It fascinates me.
Fractal Landscape evolved after I discovered that I could create a texture of fractal branching by laying down thick paint and applying and releasing pressure across the surface. Even when the surface was dry, I could apply layers of colour and tone over the top and rub back to reveal the patterns again and again. For me this process was reflective of that of human life- the conversation between our form of order and the natural form of order, and, internally, between our desire to control everything and our ability to ‘go with the flow’. In reality, the conversation is on going and never ends. But when I create a painting, there comes a point when I choose to call it finished, when I feel a good balance has been reached between what nature has to say (the fractal blueprint) and what I have to say (the painting upon it).
What are your hopes for the future? What would you wish for in terms of the journey that lies ahead?
Well, the art industry is still quite a mystery to me, how it operates. Where I belong within the vast art world – this is something that I am still figuring out. But I would like to establish relationships with good galleries, ones that align with my philosophy and aesthetic. More broadly I hope that my paintings find homes where they can be as therapeutic for the owner, or the passer by, as they are for me when I am making them. And of course, I will carry on being open to collaborations... Everything I have learnt during the past year with the La-Eva project has contributed significantly to my practice, and will continue to remind me that my journey is just part of a greater universal one. It is really nice to share ideas and to give them new contexts – even ones we never saw coming!
You can find out more about Rosie on http://www.rose-mariecaldecott.co.uk
Miranda Ward is a freelance writer, editor and researcher. Originally from California, she has lived in England since 2008.