«Working on a painting can often be like trying to complete a puzzle – moving pieces around over and over again, until something just clicks and you know its done.»

Tess Williams
London, United Kingdom.


Tell us about yourself. How did your work in art begin?

Growing up in London meant that I was lucky to be surrounded by great art … The first type of work that I really loved were many of the abstract expressionist painters – Rothko, Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell. Being enveloped by materiality, scale, colour and painterly rawness is something that I have always been drawn to from a young age. And as a kid, making art was always my favourite form of play and escapism– and still is now… All through school, art was the most enjoyable subject for me and then it was an easy decision of what to study at university.

I am a very visual person – I just love looking, and thinking about what exactly I am looking at… in particular, the ambiguity of abstract art.  

The process of transformation of materials has also always been something that has engaged me. What had an artist done to something to make it into what it is now…. The texture, tactility, form, shape. Being able to manipulate a material, to visually and physically change it into something new.

I guess it’s these interests that have led me to where I am now.

How does your painting begin? How important is the inspiration and what role does the mood play in your work?

Research wise, I make a lot of small scale collages and constantly take photos on my iPhone as I’m walking around day to day. The aesthetic of the city landscape plays a big part in my work. The industrial roughness, structure, decay, contrasts of harsh lines against soft materials. Lots of physical and compositional details that can spark the beginnings of a painting.

Sometimes I have a clear idea for a piece of work before I start, but as a process-based painter, I often like the materials to guide me.

I have an openness to the way I work. Not too structured, just enjoying the way that things can unfold. One work often leads onto another, carrying through elements that I think have been successful and leaving out ones that haven’t.

Working on a painting can often be like trying to complete a puzzle – moving pieces around over and over again, until something just clicks and you know its done.

If I worked in a very planned and systematic way I wouldn’t enjoy the making process so much, as there would be less room for chance and surprise. I try to keep a sense of play and freedom in the way that I work – It’s a continual flow of experimentation and learning, which is what keeps me so engaged in the process.

Tell us about your studio. How much time do you spend there? Describe your usual working day in the studio.

I am very lucky that my studio is really near to where I live. So I get in early – 9am most days. Then stop to have lunch with friends in my studio building. After that I work through to the early evening. If I have a deadline coming up then I sometimes stay later into the night, which I like because the studios are quieter and it’s a good time to really focus and concentrate.

My current studio is quite small, but we have a large gallery space in the building that I use when I am making bigger works. In the next two months I am moving into a bigger studio next door to mine. I have had to wait a long time to get a larger space in my building as no one ever really leaves! Having a bigger studio is going to make a massive difference to my freedom of making.

Was there a defining moment in your career that played a key role in choosing this profession?

There was a period of four years between finishing my BA degree and starting my Masters degree. During this time I was working full-time as a picture researcher at a magazine to save money. Although it was a job that required visual skills, it was nowhere near as creative as I need to be. I think when you are working everyday in a job where you feel creatively frustrated it fuels your need and desire even more to do what you feel you should be doing.

So when I then started studying for my Masters at Central Saint Martins, it was like a breath of fresh air to be painting everyday again. I haven’t looked back since.

What are your plans for this year?

Well I was away from my studio for alot of last year – first for a two-month residency in Berlin, then I was back and forth to Munich for my show there, and then I did a residency at Griffin Gallery in London.

So this year I am really enjoying staying put at my studio – just concentrating on pushing my work forward.

Being away on residencies is great and challenges your work, but it can also sometimes be a little disruptive as you are getting used to a new place at the same time.

I am excited about the ways I am changing and evolving my work at the moment – so that is my main focus right now.

In the next couple of months I have a two-person show at Eagle Gallery in London, and then a couple of group shows, both in London and abroad.

Your thoughts that you want to share with our readers.

Just to say thank you Abstract Mag!


PHOTO CREDITS: Nir Altman Galerie, Dirk Tacke, William Webster

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