Anna Ketskemety is an artist based at Arena Studios in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle. Arena Studios is made up of one large warehouse room, divided up into smaller studio spaces, a common area, which is also used as a gallery, and a small kitchen. Anna occupies one of the smallest studio spaces. She works around this with a moveable studio wall, a worktop on wheels and carefully designed storage.
Our discussion focuses on three artworks in her studio. One is an object mounted on the wall, made from an old wooden blind and resembling a fan. The second is a painting mounted on the wall above her worktop and the third is an object which she has assembled underneath the wall mounted fan. This object is made from pieces of wood taken from various pieces of furniture, chair legs, wheels, a frame and another old blind that has been made into a ‘fan’. Anna has started painting on the fan. The assembled object stands on the floor but is also attached to the wall next to it. Anna has placed a mirror on the wall above the object.
Anna talks about the fan on the wall. She made it as a bit of an experiment for the third assembled object.
“I thought about using these [the individual fan slats] as steps and having people climbing up and down steps. I used pictures from the internet. I don’t usually like doing that, but I had the idea and wanted to try it out. Actually, then I did take a load of pictures of my son, Jack, going up and down the stairs in our house. I took all those pictures, but then I didn’t use them because they didn’t really work on the flat…it works on a vertical, but when it’s on the flat and you’re looking down on it you don’t read it properly, because in that case you should be looking at the figures from above. The images are taken side on. It’s the thing of combining an object with a painting, with a 2D image.
It’s because I’m combining the actual with the illusory. If I had images photographed from the top, looking at people walking up and down from above, I think it would read, because we are actually looking down. Also, we’re used to seeing images on the wall, so when it’s flat you’re forcing the viewer to acknowledge the fact that they are looking down on an actual object and so the reading of the painting is in that context.”
We discuss the painting.
“For the painting side of it, I take photographs. I don’t take photos specifically for painting, I just am in the world and I see something and I think wow! And I take a picture of it. I suppose I’m more interested in using images from my everyday life, so the recurring theme will be that I’m using everyday stuff, things that are just discarded. This also happens in the images, sometimes they are indoors, sometimes outside.
This is a place that I pass on my bicycle every Thursday when I’m going to clean on Menlove Avenue.”
“It’s funny”, I say, “because it looks exotic because of the palm trees. I would have thought it’s LA or something.”
“Exactly, well that’s what I’ve thought when I’ve cycled past it. I’ve cycled past it loads of times. I think I might have been on foot this time. It was a really, really sunny day and I thought, wow that’s amazing. I didn’t originally plan to use this image on anything, I was just interested in it.
With this painting I was trying to say something about the context of those palm trees. When I saw the roundabout, I thought about the palm trees, in that area of ground and it being sort of transplanted somehow, from another place. But I felt that I needed to put in the buildings because they are very much of… well they’re Allerton. Then I put in all the cars as well.”
“How did you choose that particular piece of wood?” I ask.
“I picked it out because it’s the right size and I kind of liked that curve. I think I was going to chop it off originally, but now it wouldn’t work if I chopped it off. I think, with me, there are some decisions which are very conscious, but some that aren’t. But then when you look back on it, it makes sense. I didn’t really think of the painting as an end in itself. I started painting it to see if it might work on the fan and then I carried on painting it until it was finished.
There’s always a point when I’m painting where I hate the painting, I absolutely loathe it. I can’t stand it and then it comes around. I have pulled back on this one in some places. This building in the background was the hardest thing because I didn’t want it to be too detailed, I didn’t want it to not speak of the kind of building that it is, but I didn’t want it to be too far forward in your consciousness, because the painting is all about the palm trees really. The building has got white rimmed windows and quite complicated glazing in it, so it did go through different incarnations of more or less window. That building is saying something about place, which is at odds with the palm trees. It’s the thing of how much to put in and how much not.
When I decided to paint this, I thought, I’m interested in this roundabout, and I want to see how it’s going to be to paint those kinds of trees, what kind of marks am I going to need to make? I wanted to see what the image is going to look like and also if it will even work on the fan, because it’s not flat. Actually, having painted it I realised that particular view isn’t going to work, because I need the whole island for it to make sense on the fan.”
We turn our focus to the third object – the floor standing one with the fan – on which Anna has begun painting another image of the palm trees on the road island.
“This started off as a drawing. One day I came in and I hadn’t been doing any work for a while and I just did some brainstorming, just thinking of lots of ideas for things to make. Most of the time I just have it in my head and then sometimes, for objects really, I’ll probably do some brainstorming type things on paper. It was just sort of like a doodle.
When I started making the fan element, I tried it with paper to start with and I had it folded in different ways, then I remembered I had this blind that someone gave me ages ago. I’ve probably had that blind for about 6 years…I thought, this is good, because it is wood and I’d rather continue painting on wood. It also ties in with previous work that I’ve made, where there is a thing that opens and closes and then there’s a reveal. So, I was quite excited about that.
I looked at lots of images of fans through the ages and so I’ve got a load of images of fans on my phone and what people have done with them and stuff like that.
There’s one where there’s a woman holding a fan, on a fan. I love that the image is a tiny version of the actual fan it’s on, like the fan’s own memory or fantasy laid bare. They’re so lovely. What I want on this fan is a vignette.”
“When you’re carrying a fan it’s like you’re carrying a painting with you,” I say.
“Having a version of this image, on there,” Anna says, referring to the painting on the wall and the fan incorporated into the floor based object, “is completely different from my first experiment [the fan mounted on the wall], because I’m not making the object so much a part of the illusion of the painted image; the relationship is to do with the curve. Although this is actually a triangular traffic island, I am thinking of it as a roundabout because of the flow of movement around the island and about the connection between the curve of a roundabout and the fan’s curve. Then obviously there’s that connection with wood, because the image is of a wooded scene and this is made of wood. I suppose you could go further and think about movement, because obviously this does close…the foot is on a wheel.”
Anna demonstrates closing and opening the leg of the object, which in turn operates the fan, opening and closing again.
“So, the style of painting has to be different on the fan surface than on here [the painting on the wall]. I’m going to be working quite small. Whereas the original painting is a partial view, on the fan there will be the whole triangle. There will be the whole mass of the island, but then it will have these traffic signals and things on it. I don’t think I’ll put all of them in, because there’s too many and then you’ll lose the sense of it being a kind of oasis. But I’m going to play with that so we’ll see what comes and what doesn’t…
I’ve got this mirror here and I don’t know if it’s going to stay or not. I like the idea of the extended fan and I also like the idea of the mirror image. The double is another theme which crops up in my work; the real and the facsimile. I don’t know whether I might even display the painting and the object in relation to each other. The wood that the painting is on has a curve as well.”
We examine the pieces that make up the assembled object.
“All of this is nice solid wood. They are all furniture pieces. All of these bits and pieces came from Selwyn, from Pilgrim’s Progress. Years ago I went down there because I was looking for something and he said, we’re getting rid of loads of stuff, we’ve got all these chair legs, do you want them? And I was like, yeah, I do. So, he drove his van here with all these old chair legs and stuff that was all filthy. There were three bin bags full, I could have had more. I had to wash them all. So, I’m still making stuff out of them.
I know it looks like I’m some crazy collector, but I know at some point I will use things. I’m often offered things and I tend to say yes, but sometimes I don’t have enough space. Then I’ve got these tins that are full of screws and stuff that you just accumulate over the years.
All the fixings and all the wood on this piece are just things that I had. I was a bit anal about it. I thought, I don’t want to buy anything, I just want to use what I have and see if I can. I’ve been wanting to use these wheels for ages… that piece came from an easel…
This part is also a frame, which is another characteristic of my work. I’m not sure what’s going to happen underneath here.”
“You mean it could be a picture, you could add a painting in there?” I say.
“I might be investing too much in one piece. I had a go with some light earlier and what’s really nice is when you use this light it casts a shadow through the fan slats, which echoes the palm leaves. So that’s quite a nice thing.
I don’t know whether I would bother with that or not because, ultimately your focus is on this image, because it’s the thing that you find when you open it…
if you start putting in all these kinds of bells and whistles, is it then detracting from the focal point? Is it about the painting or is it about the object? So, I’m kind of feeling my way though, because I’m kind of excited about… you know… is it about light, about movement? But then there’s the painting, you could miss the painting, in a sense. Depending on how it’s painted, the painting might become just decoration.”
Anna demonstrates opening and closing the leg on the wheel again.
“It might just have to stay open all the time, because you can’t really have people opening and closing it repetitively, because it is delicate, it’ll just get broken. The potential of it opening and closing means there is the suggestion of movement. But if it is in an open position all the time then there isn’t any reveal, because the painting is always there. “
“When you were opening and closing it,” I say, “and talking about how it would be too delicate for people to do it themselves, it was really reminding me of The Antiques Roadshow.”
“I watched it yesterday! Well I just really felt like watching it. I was like, it’s Sunday night and I’m actually really enjoying this. I just found it interesting… all the objects they have.”
“You are like the furniture expert,” I say, “and you’re the only one who can open it.”
“Yeah I’d have to have white gloves on.”
“Could this be a performance? I think a video wouldn’t be good enough, instead, everyone would have to turn up and the performance would be that you would open it.”
“Well I think, if you go to a stately home or a museum and there is a bureau or actually even better, if there’s an organ or something like that, an object that has a function and you’re dying to see what that function is, if there’s nobody there to show you, it just feels a bit dead. There’s the possibility, sort of pregnant kind of ‘urgh!’, you know, but if there is someone there to show you, oh my god, it is like magic isn’t it? Yeah open the drawer! I want to see inside!
So there are all those ideas about the object and how precious we view those things to be. How important are they really? I mean essentially it’s just a load of junk, but then you kind of put it together and you put it in an art gallery setting and go, ‘this is a thing’ and I’ve got to wear gloves to handle it.”
It’s better than junk though,” I say, “because we don’t make things anymore like things used to be made. Like those wheels, they are really beautiful. I think of ‘a load of junk’ nowadays as being more like plastic or cheaply made.”
“I mean it’s got lovely crafted elements to it. It’s just all the pieces on their own were not useful anymore and they were all things that would have otherwise been thrown away. So, in the painting and the object there is an interest in taking something and elevating it. Taking something and making you notice it perhaps and recycling of course.”
We move our focus back onto the painted element.
“If you think of it without the painting,” I say, “there will be a whole load of people who would say, what’s the point? And then you put the painting on and suddenly then there is a point, even though you could say there’s no point to any art anyway!”
“I know! It’s very interesting, isn’t it, because I’ve been thinking, will I even put a painting on here? And there was a point where I thought, if I show this and then if I show a painting with it, then you’re making a connection between those two objects. This [the painting on the wall] is an object because it is on wood. I did think about how I could hinge it on here… And then I’ve got the mirror here and I could put the mirror closer to this… I might play with having another painting in the frame…
The objects that it is made out of are, themselves, speaking about their history. This is all about the home, but then I have brought it outside with the image. I thought about whether I should make it all about the home, but the fan already speaks of foreign lands although you could be sitting at your dressing table with your fan.”
“I automatically think of fans as exotic,” I say. “We don’t use them so much in this country.”
“But this is exotic as well,” says Anna, pointing to the twisted furniture leg. “I mean where did this curve come from? The barley-sugar twists and all sorts of other things in here, it will have been stolen from somewhere. But now we live in a global world, so who do these things belong to anyway? You see something you’re influenced by and you want to use it. It’s an interesting area isn’t it?
I don’t have the time and space to make a lot of things. Partly maybe, the scale of this will relate to the size of my studio, which is the same with all objects that I make. And the fact that it closes and folds away means that I can have it in here and still be working on something else, because it doesn’t take up any room.”
We talk a bit more about Anna’s previous work.
“Maybe painting did come first, certainly drawing did and painting is an extension of drawing. When I was younger I would want to use paint but because I was in drawing mode I didn’t spend enough time thinking about colour and mixing colour. It felt like mixing colour was a barrier to being able to just draw.
When I was at university I was in the sculpture department. I was working with colour, light, paper, perspex, projections… All the ideas I had for things I wanted to make were in my head, but there was a component you had to do, to show people what you are doing, so I did draw for that, just little drawings.
I drew as a younger person. I did my degree when I was 26 but when I was doing my A levels I drew all the time and I drew when I studied architecture, before deciding to study Fine Art instead. We did life drawing and went out onto the street and drew buildings. I drew all the time, probably until I did my degree in fine art and then didn’t do much after that.
So, when I started painting I took out the drawing element, That’s why I started with using photographs and tracing the images, because I needed to spend time mixing colour and thinking about colour, so removing the drawing element meant I was free to focus on that. But then of course, once you remove the drawing element you’re not practising it so much. When you’re drawing you can just draw! But putting paint on seemed to me like, urgh I don’t really know. So all of that was me finding my way and now I feel like maybe I can get back to drawing a bit more.
I am working without a traced element now. So the process is different because it is less time intensive As it means I don’t put every detail in. It’s more expressive. Because I am painting from images on a screen, they are freer in colour as well. The way you see colour from a screen is very different, it’s much more vibrant. There are draw-backs to using a screen. One of the main ones for me is reflected light. I find it so hard on the eyes. But you can zoom in and out. I tend to not zoom in too much. I might do it to check what I see or to get shapes. It’s very dangerous when you’re painting, to zoom in and not look at the whole. I think it is easier to be freer in painting if I am incorporating it into an object, somehow. I think it’s really important to just get freer and freer as I go along.”
Below is a slideshow featuring more images of Anna’s work.