Artist Anna Liber Lewis and musician Kieran Hebden (better known as Four Tet) are life-long friends, and their deep-rooted dynamic fuels Muscle Memory: an exhibition of Anna’s art soundtracked by exclusive Four Tet music. We were lucky to see a live performance at Elephant West in London. The exhibition is on until 17 March, so we had a chat with Anna to find out more.
Anna, I adored your exhibition, and found it to be a really interesting experience looking at your art and listening to Four Tet, tell me how the collaboration came about? Thank you. I’m so pleased you had a good time. It was all organic. I listen to music when I am painting. And it became an important part of my process. I was spending a lot of time dancing to Kieran’s New Energy album, and it went from there really. I went down this rabbit hole, through music, that took me to our youth and the music we used to go out dancing to. I mentioned this to Kieran and asked him what he thought about putting a show together, he was into it!
What's it like working with your friend? Did you have any input into the music, and vice versa, Kieran with your art? Working with Kieran was so easy. We’ve known each other all our lives and we fell into a symbiotic way of working. I’d send him an image of a work in progress or track I’d been listening to and we’d reminisce about past times. Then he started sending me new music he was creating. We found ourselves communicating through the work we were creating. When you’ve known someone so long and you both work with your intuition, it doesn’t take much to have a meaningful exchange. We were both in charge of our specialist areas. The input into each other’s work was minimal, which I loved. I was always surprised by what he was creating, it made me listen harder to my gut. He changed a track slightly after my dad died, because it was too painful to listen to – too linked to that traumatic time. Layering became more important for me in this body of work: painting over, erasing, scrubbing back, his music helped influence this.
Tell me about the physical process of painting… It’s taken me a while to realise that I paint from my gut. In the past I have likened it to boxing or sex. I really love to create quite big paintings so that the canvases are almost a stand in for the body, it enables me to move my whole body, feeling the sensations in my arms and legs as I move myself and/or the canvas around. I love a good vigorous brushing action or squat to get to a place on the canvas. It can get exciting in the studio, although I wouldn’t want an audience! Painting is a unique space and it requires time – time to develop and time to digest.
Where does your inspiration come from? I spent a bit of time in the Natural History Museum thinking about whales while making this body of work. I was trying to wrap my head around quite complex books on the theory of time. Mostly it came from trying to be present, to listen to my body and let the painting create this kind of feedback loop, which comes with time.
What’s the thinking behind the title of this body of work ‘Muscle Memory’? Titles are funny, sometimes they just arise. I’ll be painting, and a word or phrase will enter my head. Other times titles require a lot of thought, I may need to retrace my steps and follow the thinking or research I was doing during the making of a painting. Muscle Memory just came to me. I liked it for this show as it points to something physical; athletes and dancers talk about a muscle memory that develops after training. It implies that time is integral to the process, that maybe it can be left dormant, but the body can click back into it via a sixth sense: that’s what painting is like, you develop a muscle memory. It’s like learning something physical like swimming, which you can’t learn by reading a book, you must do it often, develop the muscle memory. Kieran and I liked that title as it could be interpreted in many ways and it also pointed to history of a very long friendship.
How does it feels to put something out there that you’ve worked on, on your own, into a very public space? Once paintings are complete and go out into the world, they become something else and you must let go of them. This exhibition is quite a unique experience for me. I had to make a large body of work in a relatively short period of time, which was punctuated by one of the most significant personal losses in my life. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to process it all. I’m so glad that the show has touched people that don’t know me and it has introduced me to people I may not have met otherwise. I’m so happy to have had this experience with Kieran. When he played live in the gallery I went into a very private, personal space. I was able to dance like no one was watching. I almost didn’t notice the crowd, I just felt the energy between Kieran and me. It was good to have our families in the space and I’m sure my dad was there for a moment. Both our dads would have got a real kick out of it.
Elephant x Anna Liber Lewis x Four Tet: Muscle Memory is on until Sunday, 17 March, 2019 at 62 Wood Lane, London, W12 7RH. Find out more here.