It would be a mistake to assume ‘Family Matters’, the name of sculptor Jane McAdam’s current exhibition at the Gazelli Art House in Mayfair, is simply a tribute to her father Lucian Freud.
While it incorporates this meaning, the words, like much of McAdam’s work, are 3D and made to be twisted. ‘Matter’ refers also to what we are made up of and to the materials McAdam uses, the clay and earth to which we all return. Her work is similarly ambiguous as she works innovatively with dualism and pairings, her sculptures often in relief and boasting opposing sides. The exhibition includes a bust of her son, a larger than life-size sculpture of her half-sister along with other sculptures and oddities, and the striking and somewhat imperious image of her father’s head. Her work appears fresh and honest, but also brooding, demonstrating a keenness of thought perhaps inherited from her infamously thoughtful grand-father.
The Freud lineage might seem a tricky one to tow to, but McAdam retains a sense of freedom in her work, refusing to be shackled by a rebellion against her father; rather the two worked together towards the end of his life, embracing their relationship and shared interest. Indeed McAdam seems to apply herself to her work in a natural, somatic fashion, becoming almost a conduit for creativity that doesn’t seem to allow for too much interruption. She is constantly scratching away at the surface of things, and of ideas in her speech, her thought processes, like her pieces, deeply layered and intriguing as a result.
i-D online sat down with the self-aware artist to talk about the meaning of her show, her work and a few of the big themes.
What first drew you to sculpture? I was interested in art from about the age of three; I remember putting my hands through the water into the sandpit and thinking ‘this is heaven, this is what I want’. There are those distant memories from which ideas take form. I suppose sculpture is also something that made my work distinct from my father’s, though that wasn’t conscious.
Are there any particular traits as an artist you share with your father? He knew exactly what was going on with regard to himself moment to moment. He was very true to himself and in tune with his animal processes – his hunger and thirst; I remember him saying things like “oh I’ve had too many cups of tea today”. And I think I live like that too and similarly work with the awareness, but hadn’t really acknowledged it before. Neither of us subscribe to the rational and feel the need to make conscious every thought and feeling. We both understand there are other ways to channel these – through our work.
It seems unsaid communication and what was happening around the obvious was important in your relationship? Absolutely, I have always been fascinated with the edge of things, making a lot of my sculptures there. The sculpture of my father’s head has three sides, there is the main side, the other side which is in repose and then there is the edge which has another face on it, quite serpent like and elongated as it’s on a thin piece of clay. I find it extraordinary that the two sides joined together like that and created something that looks so three dimensional, but which is actually a relief.
Can you describe your motivation behind this sculpture of your father, now on exhibit? I started it before his death, knowing perhaps he wouldn’t be around for much longer. It was more a driven thing than a conscious thing. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but was just thinking and feeling and working; my husband kept asking “what’s that going to be?” But then I focussed in on it and started channelling his likeness and it began to take shape. I suppose the somewhat overbearing result is representative of his presence in my life; our parents are our greatest oppressors as well as our greatest inspiration.
What was the effect of your father’s death on your work? A river of work with his image poured out of me when he died. Outside of working with him on the sculpture I couldn’t work with his image before – I wanted to, but couldn’t. But when he died it was almost like he gave me permission and his image became the content of my work as if it had been sat there for so long; there was a huge release of energy. He was always very private, but towards the end he began to let go of that, letting me draw and take photographs of him more. He did inspire loyalty.
What was the experience of sitting for your father? It was in the 1990s, but we both sat for each other as were both keen to keep working. It was a very intense, almost explosive experience and afterwards I was utterly exhausted. But he did ask me to teach him sculpture, which was so modest and humbling; I loved the contradictions he contained. We learnt from each other by working together and watching each other, picking things up, rather than through specific teaching practicalities.
What familial message are you conveying through ‘Family Matters’? It is quite a retrospective show, going back a long way. I like the idea of how our relationships are a part of us as one piece, Duo Head, demonstrates; it is one head encompassing two heads, a bit like Cain and Abel, and illustrating how we contain a part of the other.
What other works are in the exhibition? Well there’s my old fridge, which I filled with a lot of waxes that I forgot to mould about 20 years ago. They were formed from this big block of wax my father gave me. And there’s also my neighbour’s front door. She was always a hoarder, but when she died it all got chucked away so I salvaged the door. I put it in my studio against the fence at the back; it was leading nowhere, but you could see through the cracks in the fence other people’s families and matter. I never worked on it as it wasn’t my door to work on, but it has its key.
How do you approach your work? I work more with my body than at set times. You get out what you put in, so there has to be passion and commitment. I never work on something when I don’t want to; it has to feel right. Sometimes I work on pieces at night with my family around, perhaps watching a film. They always complain I never pay attention, but it doesn’t matter.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m doing a lot of drawing for a show in Milan. Transporting big sculptures over there is such a nightmare, so I suggested drawing the pieces from a body of work called After Bacon. It makes sense to me to draw original works that have already been made, though it’s clearly unusual to work this way round. I like breaking rules; I think my father first taught me how to break them; he used to do etchings of people, after he’d finished the painting.
‘Family Matters’ by Jane McAdam runs at the Gazelli Art House until 29th May 2012.
Text: Connie Allfrey
Images courtesy the artist.