Interview by Annabel Rice
A green siren eating sushi, a Birkin bag, a fluorescent Fortune Teller sign, a butterfly, a glowing bag of money, an amputated hand, a bright blue Cadillac, a dragonfly, a smoking skull with mega lashes, a Chase bank- Graceland’s bold, colourful pieces are an event in themselves. A mixture of religious, cult film, Art history and pop culture iconography, Graceland’s work takes us on a journey through weird and wonderful universes. I meet the London-based artist to discuss her obsessions, her motivations, and what the future holds.
It’s so lovely to meet you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm Grace, known as Graceland London. I’m a contemporary artist represented by Maddox Gallery. I’m a Londoner. I did a foundation degree in Graphic Design and went on to do a degree in 3D digital design and animation. I saw myself becoming a concept artist, specifically character and scenic design.
You reference a lot of classical art, like your reworking of Botticelli’s Venus in your piece ‘Fatale’. Who are your influences?
I went on school trips to cities like Florence and Venice while studying for History of Art A-Level. My favourite period is Renaissance art and Northern Flemish art. You’ll be able to see some similarities between my work and these periods. I mirror the storytelling-through-symbolism technique. In the Renaissance period, most people couldn’t read and write. So, they would learn about biblical scenes and religious history by going to cathedrals and seeing the painted images in the frescos and stained-glass windows. They would learn about the crucifixion of Christ and the lamentations through visual imagery. I’ve always been fascinated by this idea and want to be able to tell a story through my work- a story that is both accessible to everyone, but also subjective to the viewer. I also love the Art Deco period, and you can notice these kinds of Art Deco designs and structures throughout my work.
"I’ve always been fascinated by this idea and want to be able to tell a story through my work- a story that is both accessible to everyone, but also subjective to the viewer."
I think you definitely achieve that. Do you think lockdown and quarantine has changed your relationship with your work?
I was working from home during the first lockdown. I found it really difficult to work in my house, as I needed to separate the workspace from the home-space. It was also scary because nobody really knew what was going on, so my anxiety was intense. I didn't really want to do any work for myself, so it wasn't an outlet for my anxiety. At the same time, though, my work is very influenced by current events. I try to employ the same strategies that the old masters of the Renaissance would use. So, for example, I made a painting in 2020, called ‘Cwarantine’. It was made in 2020 and represented what we were all going through collectively. I exhibited with JD Malat gallery in a group exhibition called “Isolation Mastered”. There were about 20 other artists, and all the pieces were a sort of mirror for what we, as a global collective, were all going through.
Your virtual exhibition, ‘As Above, So Below’, paints apocalyptic scenes and end-of-the-world imaginaries. How did it feel to artistically engage with these themes during the pandemic? Was it therapeutic?
It was reflective of my surroundings, as well as reflective of a collective anxiety. At the same time, I paint what feeds my fascinations and interests; and I have always been obsessed with the apocalypse. I’ve got so many obsessions in my work. I love America. I love horror, anything dark, anything to do with the unknown and mystery and the world’s end, human psychology, anything. I think people believe there’s going to be a sort of earth-shattering Day of Judgement. But, in my vision, we are just living in one, long Judgement Day.
"I love America. I love horror, anything dark, anything to do with the unknown and mystery and the world’s end, human psychology, anything. I think people believe there’s going to be a sort of earth-shattering Day of Judgement. But, in my vision, we are just living in one, long Judgement Day."
Are horror films one of your obsessions?
I have loved horror since I was about 10. I had just seen Creep, and my mum was so angry that I watched it. I guess because I’ve started watching horror so young, I’m immune to it. I want to write a horror movie one day. I feel like you can’t compare horror to any other film genre. You can only compare it within the realm of Horror. It’s the aesthetic within the film as well. This one film I love, called ‘Deliver Us from Evil’, focuses on the intersection between religion and horror— a theme I love to explore through my art.
When I first saw your work, my first thought was, “Wow, it’s so beautiful and fun”, and then suddenly, when I focused for a bit longer, I was like “wait, this is actually quite dark.”
I try to contrast dark subject matter with the colourful. Before I started working with this style, I used to paint dark things. While there is an audience for that type of art, I was thinking of a way to enable more people to approach my work, and to recognise elements that they can relate to. The art critic Maeve Doyle at Maddox Gallery said that my work was like ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove”. I also incorporate a lot to do with the planet, and ways we are taking advantage of the earth. I also focus on topics like mental health and social empowerment. I want people to look at my work for ages, and to suddenly notice something they hadn’t seen before. I have to create art that uplifts people, as well as to make people laugh. We go through a range of emotions daily and I want my art to reflect that range.
Much of your work seems to take place in America. With pieces like ‘Hell Is Real.. Welcome2America’ and your vision of the New York skyline in ‘They’re Gone Now’. What is it about American culture that you find so fruitful?
I’ve had a fascination with America since I was a child. I go to America every year for two, three months. I don't even think any of my work ever takes place in England. I don’t paint real places, but it registers as America—with the motels, deserts, the specific aesthetic. In my next show, with Maddox Gallery, I will have paintings that will take place in England as it is my home at the end of the day.
Your work holds a mixture of religious symbols, as well as consumer brand logos. What kind of iconography are you drawn to?
I love symbolism related to church and religion, for example the polar oppositions of Heaven and Hell, and Satan and God. Have you heard of the 12 universal laws? There’s one law, called the Law of Polarity. It’s essentially the theory that everything has dual opposites - bad has good, night has day, up has down. People are driven by their needs and, depending on whether they are embodying ‘bad’ or ‘good’ in that moment, they will consume different things. I am so engrossed by this concept of consumerism and its interaction with religion and human psychology, and spend a lot of my time researching this.
"I am so engrossed by this concept of consumerism and its interaction with religion and human psychology, and spend a lot of my time researching this."
Do you do a lot of research before you start a piece?
Oh my god, yes. Everything I do has to do with my research. If I need to be inspired, I'll look up Russian spies or demonology or drug cartels. Like all this weird stuff that people aren't interested in, but I love ghosts, philosophy, human psychology, conspiracies. Literally everything. Knowledge is my whole entire life.
Have you been to the ‘Museum of Death’ in LA? I think you’d love it. There’s a cult room and then a room on public executions and then a Charles Manson room.
No I haven’t! See, I'd rather go to that than go to Disneyland… Have you seen where I put the Charles Manson reference in my work? It’s in ‘Fatale’ near the Botticelli reference, on the floor by her laptop.
Oh no, I didn’t notice that. I’m going to look it up again.
See, you missed it. This is what I love, when I mention something, and people don't notice it. So, then they keep going back to it, to discover new things. That’s the reason my work is so busy. I want people to look at it again, and remember something, or remember how they felt that one time. It’s like a ‘Where’s Wally?’ kind of thing. For example, viewers like searching for a fried egg in all my paintings. This is an allegory to my paintings depicting the ‘start of life’ to come, good or bad.
What is coming next for you?
I have a monthly newsletter when you go onto my website. It’s also counting down to my solo show with Maddox Gallery in 2022, called ‘Realms: South of Heaven’.