Lubaina Himid, 67, who won the Turner Prize in 2017, has done a lot in her four-decade career. She has been a curator, teacher and cultural activist; also a theater decorator and waitress; but still underlying everything, she said Squire, as his new historical show opens at Tate Modern in London, an artist. Born in Zanzibar and raised by her mother in Britain following her father’s sudden death from malaria when she was four months old, the professions are something that interests Himid, who was a pioneer in the arts movement. blacks in Britain in the 1980s and is now a professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire. One of the subjects she has returned to often in her vibrant and absorbing paintings are the depictions of men at work (also, in other works, of women): she has painted tailors, bakers, shoemakers. , dog walkers, cartographers, musicians and footballers, often in moments of intimate conversation or quiet rest. Several of these works are included in the Tate Modern exhibition; she says Squire on the attractiveness of men at work.
Your new exhibit at Tate Modern includes several paintings of men with jobs. Can you tell us about it?
There is a painting that I did called “Le Rodeur – La Cabane” that I painted in 2016, 2017 [see main image]. I only lived with it a fortnight after painting it, and then it was acquired by a museum, so strangely it’s one of my favorite paintings. It’s about two men, one of them is dressed as a chief and the other plays an instrument, and this is from a painting by Hogarth [“Captain Lord George Graham, 1715-47, in his Cabin”]. Hogarth’s painting contains many sailors – a captain and his posh friends all seated around a table – and a black musician is playing for them, and a chef walks into the room with a chicken. I got rid of all the fancy aristocrats and left these two men together. I like it a lot because it’s a Hogarth painting that I messed around with, which I do quite a bit, and because I only really saw it while I was painting it and then very shortly after. It was really beautiful to see him.
Why did you swap the chicken for jelly?
I just have a real fondness for jelly mussels as they are smooth on the outside and patterned on the inside, and so their beauty is hidden. I wanted to make a painting that was funny: all that thought that you took a moment where one man plays an instrument and the other brings this very delicate candy, but they’re on a boat so anything can happen within 30 seconds.
What other paintings in the exhibition explore the idea of “men at work”?
There are three works in particular: one is called “Remove From The Heat”, one is called “Cover The Surface” and the other is called “Stir Until Melted (The Fortune Teller)”. They both have men in them. I imagine the end of a day, where the pastry chefs spent all day making the most intricate, beautiful and delicate creations, and now they’re in the alley, outside the kitchen , and it’s “OK, what are we going to do now?” Let’s go have a drink ? We’re going to my house ? Your place? Who is responsible here? I’m trying to paint two men in a space where neither is the boss, neither is in control, and they don’t try to be. I think men tend, even unconsciously, to want to be “more” something than the other. Even if he’s nicer, or more charming, or more of a new man. But they’re still trying hard enough, in a weird way, to compete. And I’m trying to make sure these men aren’t competitive, because they’ve been competing with sugar and spices and all the good stuff all day. And so each of them captures a moment when a decision is made between them to be equal.
Do you think of this idea of male hierarchy in the world, or as it has been represented, traditionally, in art?
I think both are the same. The history of painting is not that different from the history of the world: what is painted in paintings is often an attempt to reflect what is in the world.
When did the idea of men’s work start to interest you as a subject?
A very long time ago. I was making a cutout of 100 pieces, “Naming the money” [in 2004], where there were 10 dog trainers, 10 shoemakers, 10 cartographers, all men. They were all life-size painted wood cutouts cut in the same pattern, but each of them wears different clothes and has a different expression on his face, and is, in fact, a different man. I then began to take an interest in the way men are usually represented. I always look at great paintings and see what their relationships are and what the hierarchy is: who is left out, who is left in. This installation of 100 die-cut pieces was a chance to get everyone I wanted in, which is usually left out.
Are there particular professions that appeal to you?
I probably wouldn’t do a cutout which was something I really didn’t understand. There are obviously some incredibly creative and poetic things about being a lawyer or a banker, but I don’t know this complex world of money and trading well enough not to guess. And I am the complete opposite of wanting to perpetuate a stereotype. I try to break down stereotypes.
You have done some work involving tailors. Why?
I am very interested in the relationship of men to their clothes. How, when they put pants in one fabric or another pants in another fabric, it makes a difference in how you walk into a room. And I’m really interested in the bespoke suit: that the skill and art of making a bespoke suit can really change the way a man feels about himself and how he looks; that if his left shoulder is not as square as his right shoulder, a costume can adjust that. I think the art of carving and understanding a man’s body is fascinating.
Is there a relationship between these jobs and traditional fairy tales? The Elves and the Shoemaker, say, where Bremen city musicians – in which they often appear?
This is a very interesting question actually, I have never made this connection before. But you’re absolutely right, maybe when I imagine I come back to those old-fashioned fables and stories, moral stories, I guess. But I had a lot of books when I was a kid with these kinds of pictures. When I think of my childhood I think of myths and legends and Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen and the owl and the kitty going to sea. All that.
You also mentioned a story in your own family’s folklore that you referred to as “the grocer’s curse”: Your father was once asked to take a grocer’s sick wife to the hospital. , but he refused and she died.
It’s really interesting. I was four months old, so I was there but I wasn’t there, but I can see the grocer, and I can see the store, and I can see him on the street waving my dad down in. his car, and telling him he didn’t have time to stop. So yes, it is very strange. Maybe it’s a picture that I need to paint.
You grew up in a female-headed household – did this give you any particular ideas about what “the men did” and what “the women did”?
I guess I knew absolutely what women were doing, because of my mom, aunt, and grandmother. But men weren’t the enemy in my house – my mom and aunt were big party girls, party people, they went to clubs and they always looked fab – so it wasn’t like that. there was a binary opposition. But to me, men were a hazy stranger. I didn’t have any brothers and went to a girls’ school, which makes men even more mysterious of course, but it gave me a chance to not understand myself in relation to men. I liken it to driving a car: it’s good if you can learn to drive where there aren’t any cars on the road, and actually learn to drive. But clearly everyone thinks it’s much, much better to get in a car and go straight into traffic.
Has your idea of your own profession as an artist changed during your career?
I started out thinking that I was going to be a stage designer, because I thought I could work in political theater and do things that would make a difference. I went to art school and learned opera and ballet, and although I fell in love with the very idea of opera, I began to understand that it was really not the world for me. I worked for a long time as a waitress and I started to put the work of my friends on the walls of the restaurant, and to make exhibitions; then I started to think of other black people who were making art but weren’t able to display it on gallery walls, and I started to put that into practice. But all the time I was doing work myself, work on paper or carvings on wood, and I would always wake up in the morning and consider myself an artist. My mom, who was a textile designer, never questioned that, and I was lucky enough to be raised by people who if you wanted to be an artist it didn’t matter. Before she died, my mom knew I had this show at Tate Modern, and she was very happy with it. She never pressured me to have a good job.
Looks like it paid off.
Lubaina Himid is from November 25, 2021 to July 3, 2022 at Tate Modern, London, tate.org.uk
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