INTERVIEW WITH SIENA BARNES


A Hard Rock female artist from the deep South London. 




A00

"Where are you from?"


S.B

"I’m from Bermondsey in South London. Before the craft beer and penthouse apartments brought down the neighborhood. "



A00

"What was childhood like growing up in South London?"


S.B

"For a few years, my mum and I lived on the island of Lipari which offered up the Black Madonna of Tindari and iced granitas. Bermondsey was a council estate in the middle of a bombsite filled with drug dealers driving Rolls Royces to the dole office. Bermondsey and Lipari provided a crash course in the innate violence of humankind and the unpredictability of existence. I still love iced granita."



A00

"Did you start painting at an early age?"


S.B

"My mum was an artist, I grew up in her studio. My first painting was of a big smiley sun on a gallery wall. I was eight. It’s still one of my best pieces."



A00

"Do you share similar artistic taste with your mother? Would you say that she inspired you to do what you do today?"


S.B

"I didn’t share the same artistic taste as my mother (she died from cancer in 2017). She was into artists like Louise Bourgeois, Howard Hodgkin, and Mark Rothko. Her use of religious iconography was pure imagism. She made shamanic death rattles and had a witch's cauldron. But didn’t actively use any of these things, they were artifacts, not tools. I’m exploring religion from a narrative perspective, wondering how these stories shape us. My mum would hate my stuff.

My mum took me to countless exhibitions in London growing up, some of which had a huge impact on me - Hokusai’s wave, Isaac Julien’s lurid color split screens, pop art socks from the RCA. Her books and music made a big impression too, ‘From A to B and Back Again’ by Andy Warhol was my teenage bible, flags of the Asafo, the cassette tapes of Tom Waits and Etta James.

I use her paintbrushes to this day."



A00

"I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. We had not idea. Do you have any daily rituals or routines you do before work?"


S.B

"I meditate, do yoga, and put on my studio boiler suit. I turn off the internet. I drink tea and eat breakfast. Some days starting is easy, some days it’s the hardest thing in the world."



A00

"What’s your studio like?"


S.B

"I prefer working from the comfort of home. I can’t separate art and life. I just moved into a new place with my studio on the top floor. It’s filled with everything I need to make work and I’m delighted to finally have a dedicated space for my work."



A00

"Do you listen to music while you work?"


S.B

"Music and talks. Crass, RuPaul and Camille Paglia."



A00

"What drove you to do what you do? Where did this style of work emerge from?"


S.B

"I spent a long time trying to avoid my creativity. I saw how hard it was for my mum as a single parent artist and tried to avoid becoming an artist for as long as I could, but it’s what I am now. In the last six months film has become my primary guiding medium. My movies are my source material. From cinema, I uncover alchemical stills that inspire paintings, drawings, and sculpture. I’m excited by the transition between digital and physical art, between the dreams of night and day. "



A00

"You adopted 3D digital sculpting recently. What’s the story behind this?"


S.B

"I love the idea of 3D printed antiquities and I’m expanding this concept with an NFT that forms part of the exhibition. With the 3D bust, I wanted to honor mourning and melancholia, inspired by Carl Jung’s interpretation of ‘The Descent of Inanna’, which celebrates the dark night of the soul. The bust serves as a reminder – when you visit the underworld, always book a return ticket. "



A00

"honor mourning and melancholia”. Can you tell us what you mean?"


S.B

"I experienced depression from a young age and I’ve come to learn that this is my shadow. Society has become far more open about mental health but there is still a long way to go. I want this exhibition to honor sadness and explore the societal shadow in a wider sense. We all experience pain. No one is immune from it, no matter what their Instagram feed might have us believe. My intention is that The Night Star celebrates the things we keep hidden, particularly the 3D works which act as touchstones for the survivors of us, the warriors of us, the kick-ass bitches of us."



A00

"Is this a key theme you pursue?"


S.B

"In 2012 I made a series of mirrored works that disclosed my secrets like ‘Alcoholism’ and ‘High and coming up again. I was suffering and the work was consumed with my wounds. Now it’s more whole. I’m whole. In 2021 I made my first scripted film ‘Post Gravity Citizen’, a psychological horror movie about madness based on my own experiences. It’s got a happy ending."



A00

"You’re one of the many artists living through the Covid pandemic. Would you say that much has changed? For the better or worse?"


S.B

"The pressures are real and it’s been hard not to exhibit physically (physical shows have been my main source of income for years). Lockdown in the UK coincided with a time where I was moving between bodies of work. My work has always been a reflection of the outside world. During Covid, I went inward and ended up making digital work about katabasis, the downward spiral. I’ve noticed more connectedness between people though, and I enjoy that. "



A00

"If you could travel back in time, what era would you visit?"


S.B

"Going backward doesn’t feel very appealing. I try to be here, in this moment, now."



A00

"Babylonian era, why is it a special time for you? What inspired you to look deeper into this historical timeframe?"


S.B

"Coincidence led me to a depiction of Babalon. She is the pagan siren of nature that Christianity could not eradicate. She is the wild feminine, the uncontrollable, unpredictable force that lives in us all. She cuts through distortion with her sword. She is the apocalyptic force of our time. Because, now more than ever before, what is hidden must be seen. Turns out I’ve always made work about Babalon, I just didn’t know her name."



A00

"You seem to find this sense of peace and balance in this rather powerful, and seemingly destructive character. Why is that? Why does this “she” relate so much to you?"


S.B

"Sexuality has always held a deep fascination for me and I’m intrigued by Babalon’s explicit, unapologetic sexuality. Her movements are serpentine, she traces the line between body, earth, and heaven. The Whore of Babylon is a cipher for the shadow of femininity. The flipside of the shadow is freedom, and she frees me up. I believe that something transformative lurks in the Sacro-sexual. I realized this on the ley lines of Walkers Court in Soho where the smells of sex, puke, and Chinese food merge and the night is filled with transgression and desire."



A00

"Powerful female character seems to be an ongoing theme for you. Can you name a few that inspired you?"


S.B

"A friend’s mum growing up was a drug dealer, tough as fuck and funny as hell. She seemed to be impervious to everything. I wanted to be like her. Watching my mum embrace her own death was powerful. She made conscious decisions about her ending. She was lowered into the ground, wrapped in orange fabric. Uncompromising to her last breath and beyond. "



A00

"Your older work with Hysteric Glamour. Tell us a little bit about that."


S.B

"As a kid from a south London council estate I used to go into Soho and look at Hysteric Glamour clothes and wish I could afford them. I contemplated shoplifting them many times. Also, Jennifer Herrera modeled for them and I had a massive crush on her. While deep in a series of oversized drawings exploring Prozac, porn, and politics I recognized that my work resonated with Hysteric Glamour’s sleazy reimagining of the American dream. I shared my drawings with Hysteric’s founder, Nobu Kitamura, and my work is now exhibited in his Osaka and Nagoya stores. We created four pieces of menswear clothing together in AW19/SS20 and are working on new ideas for the future. Nobu’s cool as fuck."



A00

"If you were to give any advice to a younger version of yourself what would you say?"


S.B

"One day you will know love and purpose."




Photo by Sebastian Bruno

 
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