We spoke exclusively to Rosie, who is an award-winning photographer, to find out more about why she felt it important to put celebrated modern artists such as Sylvette David, Danny Fox and the late Sandra Blow in the frame…
Q. Where did your interest in the work of contemporary artists begin, and what did you find so fascinating about them?
A. I grew up surrounded by contemporary art as my father was an artist and worked from our home. Seeing collages and paintings being created around me from a young age meant that I took an early interest in textures and materials. I was naturally drawn to creativity and art and when I got to the age of about 12, I’d ask my father if I could go along with him when he visited other artists’ studios, to see what they looked like. I remember being really drawn in after that first visit to another studio.
Q. Which of the interviews that you have conducted are you most proud of, and why?
A. I think that all of them have elements that I feel proud of because it truly feels like such an intimate process to interview an artist about their inspirations, their tribulations and the difficult moments in their lives. At the end of an interview, once I’ve left the artist’s studio, I take a few days to process what I’ve listened to before transcribing the audio that I’ve recorded. I’d say that I’m particularly proud of one of the early interviews that I carried out when I was a teenager, with abstract artist Sandra Blow. She was one of the first really renowned artists that I interviewed, and I remember feeling very nervous and intent on capturing the spirit of her stories correctly. The words and stories were so precious to me that I didn’t publish them online, or in a blog, for all of those years. I really wanted to do them justice, and to wait until it felt right to do so. 15 years after our interview, Sandra Blow’s stories were published in the book.
Q. Similarly, was there any particular interviewees who surprised you with their responses?
A. I think it would be my interview with artist Sylvette David. David is now an artist in her own right, and has led a truly fascinating life. She was spotted by Pablo Picasso when she was a teenager and became Picasso’s muse. The stories that she had to share about her private moments with one of the most famous artists in the world will stay with me forever. I think the most surprising and refreshing element of the interview was that whilst she is often spoken of as a ‘muse’, interestingly, her experience with Picasso went on to empower her so much in terms of her own personal development.
Q. You made a point of interviewing artists in their studios. Why did you do this?
A. The artist’s studio itself is a key element. I tried to show the honesty and intimacy of the studio spaces in the images that I included in Free Spirits. I always felt instinctively that the artist would feel more at ease delving into their inspirations and processes in the place that they had chosen as their working space—a place that allows them to connect with whatever it is that they need to in order to create.
Q. Why did you name your book ‘Free Spirits’?
A. I’ve always liked the sound of the two words together. For me, the title makes an attempt at capturing what can’t be captured. The phrase came in to my head very often when I was interviewing artists growing up, and I always ask each and every one of my interviewees when they feel most free. Although all of the interviews are strikingly different, the notion of freedom is a recurring theme and one that really intrigues me.
Q. Many people seem to have difficulties understanding contemporary art. Why do you think this is?
A. I’ve always thought that it was because, often, the art is displayed in a way that is so detached from the process in which it was made. Walking into an empty gallery with blinding white walls, and seeing a painting in front of you without any context, can understandably make it difficult to relate to what the artist may have lived through or experienced in order to create that painting. I guess that it would be equivalent to reading the last page of a novel and trying to judge the story based solely on that. I think that’s why it can be so rewarding to delve deeper into the story behind the creation.
Q. Your book was 17 years in the making. How did you fit this into your life, and around other commitments?
A. That part was definitely the most challenging! It can be tempting to procrastinate, or to give in to times where you feel less inspired. The only means that I found as a remedy to this was carrying out another interview. Even if I didn’t feel ready, contacting an artist and showing up to interview always had the same result: I would leave feeling compelled to get back to writing and to document the words, to make them a part of art history.
Q. What are your plans moving forward?
A. After having written about artists’ studios for all of these years, I wanted to take the exploration a step further; to create a space that would exist as an artist’s studio, to see the process happen right before my eyes. For the last few months, I’ve been working on setting up an artists’ residency in St Ives, Cornwall, where artists will be invited by an artist and curator for fully sponsored one-month fellowships to paint in a studio space. The space also happens to be my own home, so the project is very much ‘close to home’! I’m really looking forward to getting started, with the first artist in residence arriving to live and paint in the studio this June 2020.
Free Spirits by Rosie Osborne is available now, priced £30 in hardcover. Visit www.rosieosborne.com