Abigail Smith is an artist interested in how words can affect the way in which we visualise things. She concentrates on visual documentation of language and alternates between drawing, film and alternative photography techniques.
What drives your passion – when did you know that art is what you wanted to do?
From as long as I remember I’ve wanted to be an artist. My first recollection was probably when I was about five. Every year my Dad and I would make a Christmas card, and even to this day he still sends out a handmade card out every year. Drawing was always something which made me really happy, and even from a very young age, I remember thinking I love this, it makes me smile! If I wasn’t creating art I would be a very unhappy person.
How did you get where you are now in your career?
During my teens, it was always my ambition to go to Art School. When I was 18 I applied to Edinburgh School of Art and didn’t get in. At the time I remember feeling devastated, however now when I look back I can see it wasn’t the right time. I lived in France for a while and continued to draw and paint, and then in my early 20s, I decided I wanted to go back and study Spatial Design.
There is a history of design in my family as both parents were Architects so I suppose it was another passion which I decided to pursue. This led to my current job, working for a Kitchen Design Company. I have been with them on and off for 13 years, but although I love my work in design I have always known that eventually I would go back and study Art.
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I decided to go to life drawing classes. I knew I needed to follow my dream of to going to Art School. I applied to do a Foundation course in Liverpool, which I absolutely loved. I then applied to do a BA at the University of Central Lancashire which was a fabulous course! I graduated in 2010 and moved back to Scotland. Then in 2012, I undertook a one year Masters at Edinburgh School of Art, which I completed in 2013.
Since then I have taken some time out, continued to make work, exhibited, became a co-founder of Bonkers Contemporary, and set up my own studio in Edinburgh.
What do you make and what are the ideas behind what you make?
Drawing has always been massively important within my work. During my first year at Art School, my practice was mostly drawing and film based. I was experimenting with creating small films and wanted to incorporate my drawing somehow. I then discovered Camera-less filmmaking or direct animation, which is the process of drawing directly onto celluloid film. By eliminating the camera completely my attention was drawn to the relationship between film, drawing, and photography.
My images involve using the very essentials of the photographic process which in essence is drawing with light. I was also hugely inspired by the history of photography and its early techniques. This project lasted for 6 years. However, I knew that I wanted to get back to drawing in its most raw form.
My love of history, specifically photography, and also a personal curiosity, has shaped my most recent work. From an early age, I’ve suffered from stress and anxiety. I wanted to explore the history of female mental health and discover how women had previously dealt with these issues. I became even more interested when I discovered there was a massive link with photography.
Victorian doctors believed a photograph could uncover a link between a patient’s “troubled” mind and their physical appearance. This made me question why photography was used as a tool for diagnosis. How can the way people look at a photograph determine mental health? Through extensive research within the Royal Edinburgh Asylum Archives, focussing between the years 1830-1900, I soon realised there was an interesting relationship between the languages used to describe their patients, to the photographs that assisted in making a diagnosis. Currently, my work is a combination of drawing and installation.
What inspires you?
The history of photography and filmmaking is definitely something that has shaped my work over the years. Film – it is physical, tactile, and real. It’s surface bruises, scratches and reveals everything that is imprinted within its light-sensitive layer.
For 150 years photography has been a chemical process, its images captured on the surface of the photographic film. The transformation that takes place when light hits the surface of a piece of film is magical. The idea that photography, in its basic form, is fundamentally drawing with light is something that has inspired me massively.
Where do you work? What is your average working day?
I work 4 days a week in the Kitchen Studio. I work as a Design Technician creating the technical drawings and perspectives for clients. I started in the business as a technical illustrator. I drew everything by hand back then which is what attracted me to the job. Drawing all day long was my idea of bliss! Eventually, technology took over and computers were introduced.
I try to spend between 2-3 days in my studio at Murieston Lane in Edinburgh. I absolutely love spending time in my studio. It is really important having a space to make work as it’s my time to get creative. I also feel my most relaxed when working on my art, so it’s massively important to me. Historically my time would have been spent in a dark room, however, nowadays it’s lovely to have a light airy space.
What are you working on now?
My work at the moment is in its final stages, as I’m preparing for my first solo show ‘Deliria – The Insanity of Physiognomy’, which takes place at Whitespace Gallery in Edinburgh from the 9th to the 14th of June.
This new exhibition explores connections between photography and history of mental health. The work is a combination of drawing and text, which originates from an interest in how words can affect the way in which we visualise things. I’m concentrating the on visual documentation of language. Through extensive research into the historical use of photography and language in psychiatric care, I’m considering the relationship between text and the photographic image.
In what way does being Scottish/being in Scotland influence your work?
If I was being completely honest it is living in Scotland that makes a difference. I’ve lived away from home and never settled. I always wanted to come back. Living back in Edinburgh has made me realise that Scotland is where I want to be, and where I feel my most creative and happy.
Currently based in Edinburgh, Abigail is a graduate from the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Edinburgh’s MA in Contemporary Art Practice and has exhibited throughout the UK.
‘Deliria – The Insanity of Physiognomy’, is at Whitespace Gallery, Edinburgh from the 9th to the 14th of June 2017