As part of her ongoing residency in the Visual Arts department at West Dean College, Freya Pocklington gave a talk about her work to the full-time students and a number of guests. Freya gave a chronological account of how her practice had developed over the years, before going on to explain her intentions for the three-week residency. Having been brought up in the Lake District, Freya first spoke of how her father’s antiques dealing meant that she was always surrounded by interesting objects (including ubiquitous Spode pottery) that instilled in her an enduring appreciation for craft, hand skills, the art of repair and so on. Another notable exposures to art included seeing David Hockney’s etchings for the sets of The Rake’s Progress at Salt’s Mill in Saltaire, West Yorkshire, a series that underlined Hockney’s ability to shift styles throughout his career, adapting his approach according to different concerns yet maintaining a constant focus on the importance and adaptability of drawing.
Freya soon went on to study Fine Art at Edinburgh College of Art, chosen for its emphasis on teaching traditional and experimental drawing skills. It was during this time, although late in her degree, that Freya began to sharpen focus on her own line of inquiry founded on an interest in working with archives and collections. After making a trip to Florence and spending much of her time at ‘La Specola’, a Museum of Zoology and Natural History (the oldest scientific museum in Europe, first opened to the public in 1775), Freya had absorbed the influence of the collection of anatomical waxworks, particularly the animal specimens, leading to a fascination for stuffed animals and taxidermy (especially its frequent misrepresentations). Subsequent compositions not only developed characters and caricatures from such objects, but also from the spectacle of museum-goers idling around the cabinets of curiosity.
Soon after this Freya began using conté crayon, developing the vibrant palette that would become a feature of her work. As well as pointing out the importance of triangular relationships throughout almost all of her compositions, Freya talked a little bit about the process of building up layers of pencil or charcoal drawing, various washes of ink, then further layers of pastel (Fabriano paper and Sennelier pastels being tools of the trade). This interest in intense colour was also confirmed during a particular residency in Portugal, undertaken after her graduation and following a brief break from art making, where a nearby sulphur mine exposed a bizarre and unsettling landscape of lurid colour, with the powdery, pigmented scene strangely prescient in relation to the textures and hues in many of Freya’s later works. Housed in an historic 400-year-old Franciscan monastery, the artist-in-residence programme at the Convento São Francisco de Mértola (founded in 1980 by Kees and Geraldine Zwanikken) soon led to Freya completing a series of portraits involving representations of objects associated with known individuals. Following this resurgence, Freya undertook an MA at Wimbledon, developing predominately animation-based work under the tutelage of Jordan Baseman. Other residencies followed, both at West Dean College and in association with the Florence Trust, and Freya’s work became increasingly commercially successful. During the talk, Freya was open and generous with advice for the listening students, emphasising the importance of professional practice, such as making sure that basic things such as high quality documentation, the value of framing work, as well as the realities of (and necessity for) self-promotion. The ups and downs of gallery representation were also discussed – an invaluable insight into personal experience that the students could all relate to.
After going on to describe the importance of supplementing her practice with teaching – particularly working with children in healthcare, notably at Great Ormand Street Hospital – as well as working in collaboration with artists such as Rachel Simm, Freya described how a period of prolonged illness meant that she had to spend a lot of time indoors, often confined to her room, creating various difficulties in terms of making new work. The difficulties of this period perhaps inevitably started to come through, both in the subject matter and tone of many new compositions, perhaps referencing aspects of the work of Frida Kahlo, another artist for whom themes of autobiography and trauma would always provide material with which to work. A similar intensity of the gaze, albeit laced with wry humour, comes through in many of Freya’s pieces during this time.
The restrictions also had a productive impact, however, not least the development of a new strategy for using images and stories found on the internet as starting points for new compositions. The strangeness of some of these resources would feed directly into the fantasy worlds created in the pastel and ink drawings: odd tales involving menageries of humans as well as animals, surreal landscapes, occurrences of modern technology colliding with ‘primitive’ cultures, and so on. With the artist no longer able to travel, technology provided a way for exotic climes and a whole slew of ‘otherness’ to be introduced to the work.
Freya ended the talk by outlining her ongoing research interests in the role of animals in healthcare and recovery, again describing the general context of a crossover between art making and medicine that continues to inform her work and to suggest new territories into which it can move.
More information about Freya’s work and the West Dean residency can be found via Twitter and Instagram