Imagine an artist who specialised in photography but went through their entire BA degree without taking a single photograph? That’s Lily Wales, emerging photomontage artist and MA Fine Art student at Birmingham School of Art. Originally from Leeds, Lily moved to Brum to start her career in the arts with some sweet success, having regular commissions and exhibitions in and around the city.
Lily’s work has a raw authenticity about it; only original, hand-crafted montages are available that are strikingly colourful and cleverly composed while surveying serious concepts that she says you can take at face value or go as deep as you want.
We met Lily over a bowl of soup and dripping candle wax at her studio on Margaret Street to discuss why galleries like Argentea are asking her to exhibit.
What made you come to Birmingham?
I’m attracted to big cities but didn’t wanna move to London because of the whole chaos and competition of it so Birmingham seemed like a natural choice. I came here after finishing a foundation and started a BA in Visual Communication, specialising in photography. But it’s funny because I went through the entire three years without taking a single photograph. I’m actually quite shit at photography but I found a love in playing with it by hand – creating new images from existing images. There’s something fascinating and limitless about it.
Is that what inspires your work?
Yeah absolutely – that and I think my childhood had a subconscious effect on my creativity. I grew up with books by Patrick Woodroffe that embedded themselves on my brain. His paintings are really surreal that I still look at even now. I’ve also got a weird obsession with old 80’s horror movies, ‘body horror’ to be exact. I’ll find them on the internet and sit at home watching them, screenshotting anything that catches my eye.
Is that how you source your material?
No, they’re more for inspiration or for reference. The internet is mainly my source – I’ve got a huge archive on my hard drive that’s literally years old, full of images that I’ve plucked from the depths of the internet. I always go back to that hard drive and find images or concepts that I want to explore. Occasionally I’ll use images from books or magazines from charity shops but I always feel guilty about chopping them up.
And your prints? How do you format your work?
Even though my work is digitally sourced, the finished image is always the original hand-crafted version. I never sell prints because I think what’s the point? You could just print it straight from Instagram otherwise… A lot of people think my work comes from photoshop but it’s all 100% handmade.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m really trying to push my material usage. I stuck to paper or paper-thin materials in the past but studying a Masters has really made me branch out. I’m using candle wax, all different types of glue and tape to see how far I can go. That’s the good thing about the arts – you can take it anywhere. I’ve also recently exhibited at the Argentea Gallery in St. Pauls Square, showing selected work from my ‘War is a Predator’ Series.
That’s my favourite series from you actually. Can you explain the concept?
I’ve got – well I guess you can call it an obsession with the appropriation of nature in weaponry and war. For example ‘The Mushroom Cloud’ is the icon after the atomic bomb. In ‘War is a Predator’ the work juxtaposes the predatory instinct of war with the need for survival. That’s what it’s all about – exploring those ideas against each other and linking them with imagery.
What’s been a highlight in your career so far? Is there anything that made you think ‘Yes I’m on the right track’.
The work I did at B.O.M (Birmingham Open Media) in 2014. It was a collaborative exhibition with Chaos Computer Club, an infamous hacking group and Leon Trimble. Together we created interactive installations about the issues of personal data’s security and how vulnerable it is to exposure. So when people came to the gallery to view mine and Leon’s work, CCC hacked into the wifi router and live streamed any active un-encrypted sites from viewers phones and displayed them on the walls as part of the show. We had a lot of tinder and Instagram shots which was funny. That’s probably been my favourite experience so far.
What can we expect from you in the future?
From February I’ll be exhibiting with Mark Murphy in the opening of Yorks Café at The Ikon but generally speaking, some newer pieces with newer materials – she says while squeezing out a shit load of UHU glue onto a sketchbook – and the MA show later this year. It’s intense but it’s everything I’m working towards right now.