Residency : Lea Cummings - July, 2011



The bright colours will attract you at first, slowly leaving you with an uncomfortable feeling. Lea Cummings’ work is anything but bland, usually getting really strong reactions from the viewer, one way or another. But that’s how Lea creates, whether it is music or visual arts, he does not leave people indifferent.

Lea was our artist in residence for the month of July. He set-up base in a corner of the Connect studio, and worked quietly on his not so quiet paintings. “It’s exciting to be able to come in and work on a painting every day, to be in a different environment. Here I can scale up. I usually work at home, I do lots of design, video art, sound, but with the residency I can work on bigger pieces.”

 “People get different things from this space, for some the social thing is important, but it’s not what I am after: I come here and I get on with what I am doing, it’s just the way I am.”

Lea spent the month revisiting and working on paintings he had previously started, as well as working on a new work.  Was it planned? “It wasn’t. I had asked for new canvases to be made for the residency, but decided on revisiting some old work as well. They were paintings I started a long time ago, and I quickly realised they needed a lot more work. Spending more time on it makes me learn more and engage more with the work.
These paintings are different from what I’ve done in the past. Their style is quite similar to design in a lot of ways, like CD covers, but scaled up. They revolve around the theme of fantasy and innocence, the idea of fantasy in creativity. When you are a child, your idea of existence is fluid, and when you grow up it gets boxed in, into what you can and can’t do, what is possible and what isn’t. The paintings have this juxtaposition of innocence and adult world, these two universes exist together.”

Lea Cummings has a varied practice outside of Project Ability. “I do a lot of experimental music, abstract things, nothing commercial. Like with my paintings, a lot of it contains aspects that are not easy to engage with, it’s not about entertaining people, I am not trying to achieve popularity, it’s a lot more difficult than that.” Indeed his colours and imagery are jarring, sometimes even hard to look at. “The paintings relate to the music I make: it’s forceful, it’s asking a commitment from people: you have to engage with it, make a leap to like it. I don’t do it on purpose, it’s just the way it is, it’s what appeals to me. My music can be about distortion and volume, here it’s the same. Maybe I feel like there’s a connection with other people that like this kind of work: while some would walk away, others make the effort to see through it. It feels more important somehow.”

However difficult to view some of his work is, at first glance it is really playful, bright and colourful. One of his latest paintings for example, represents a bulldog dressed as a cowboy and riding a pony... “There’s humour in everything I do. Even in my music, which can sometimes be seen as aggressive and confrontational, there’s always a part of humour.”

Is there a message behind the work? “It is a lot more complex than that. I find it strange that visual artists are asked to use verbal language to describe what they do... You wouldn’t ask a playwright to explain his work through the medium of pottery! If I could vocalise it, I probably wouldn’t do it in the first place. It’s deeper and more difficult than that."

Was the residency worth it? "The residency was a very positive experience for me. It provided me with time, space, materials and allowed me to work within a routine which was flexible to my own needs."

Cummings has developed a reputation for his visual artwork with his first solo exhibition 'An Involuntary Movement' (2006, Project Ability) as well as featuring in many subsequent group exhibitions. Lea is also very active in the experimental music scene with a number of projects including his long running guitar noise/drone band Opaque and his solo noise/performance act Kylie Minoise, "a short sharp shock of slobbering one-man hara-kiri and gonzo pantomime nihilism" (ref The Wire - issue 274). His work will be exhibited in the Project Ability gallery in January 2012, alongside the other artists taking part in the residency programme.





All images are work in progress.