For this new journal feature, I am honoured to share my conversation with the utterly talented Eleanor Herbosch; a British born Belgian multidisciplinary artist that not only inspires me but that I also greatly admire and you will see why... Her work is characterised by expressing the potential of natural materials with the intent of enhancing their intrinsic qualities. She has always been drawn to a very tactile method of working and she wishes to create an enhanced visual experience that’s a pure pleasure for the senses.
Can you tell us a little about your background and journey?
Firstly, I’d like to thank Emilie for inviting me to write a little bit about my personal story for Iya Gallery’s journal. It’s been such a pleasure getting to know her over the past few years. We are yet to meet in person, and I cannot wait to sit down with her to discuss our connections and passions together over a cup of tea.
My journey started in London in 1999 up to the age of 10, when my family suddenly had to move to Antwerp in 2009. At this stage in my life, I had not yet discovered my Belgian identity, and was still fully embracing my British upbringing, I didn’t even speak the Flemish language - thankfully, that has changed now! After finishing my secondary school education, I left for university in London. Antwerp has a lot to offer in terms of culture and creativity, however, I felt that I partially lost touch with my British identity after 8 years. With strategic life guidance from my lovely and supportive parents, I went on to study a Bachelor's degree in Ceramic Design at Central Saint Martins in London. I mention strategic because my parents were incredibly open-minded when it came to mine and my brother's education. Strict but not restrictive, and they helped guide us in the direction they knew we were good at, and where our passions lay. To this day, we are appreciative of their guidance as sometimes that's all you need to start a happy career path. That being said, I was so thrilled to be able to study something creative that allowed me to make my hands dirty. I started painting when I was little, but only started to realise I could make a career out of it in the last year of my high school education when I started to get positive responses to the work I was creating for my own amusement.
As a family, we always visited museums, galleries and exhibitions on the weekends, London was a wonderful place to grow up in, in that sense you can learn a lot by just observing in such an international hub. With parents sharing a great appreciation for unique design and this in combination, I suppose that my attraction to visual arts doesn't come as a surprise. I am having a tremendous amount of fun, and at the end of the day, that is the most important.
Do you have a favourite medium to work with and why?
My favourite medium to work with is one that I started using very early on in my exploration of making bodies of work, this being soil from my garden. I have discovered many joys of working with soil. It's accessible, and malleable, it has a pleasant aroma, or at least I think so (!), if you dig deep enough, sometimes you can source clay, my other favourite medium and I am passionate about it for all the same reasons. The possibilities are endless. I think there is a lot of charm in working with such primitive materials. I am constantly exploring the use of these materials in less conventional ways, using clay as a form of paint that I dehydrate and grind down to create powdered clay pigment, mixed with soil.
What does a working day look like for you? Do you have any rituals? How do you structure your day/week?
I am a creature of habit. If you ask anyone I know, I rely on my rituals heavily in my day to day, and it helps me set the tone for the day.
It would be a sin if I wouldn't mention my coffee, and I will explain why it is such a crucial part of my routine. Recently, I have found quite the fascination in preparing freshly brewed coffee and have acquired a beautifully crafted espresso machine and grinder. From weighing the grams of my beans before grinding them down, to whisking the ground coffee, to levelling it, to tampering it, to then finally placing it in the group head and pulling a freshly made shot of espresso, well it's magical! You are encouraged to hyperfocus on making this shot of espresso and all external distractions are gone, your patience is equally challenged. It really can be interpreted as a form of relaxation in the morning, and my father agrees!
Since we experienced lockdown during the pandemic, I learned to become a morning person and I cherish my morning moments more than ever. My day usually starts slowly with my freshly brewed coffee in hand, and not too much talking is going on. Currently, I try to read a few pages in my book ‘Another Kyoto’ by Alex Kerr, whom I later found out that you had the privilege of meeting in person! That is a conversation for another time. I am preparing for my travels to Japan this April/May and I would like to educate myself more on Japanese culture prior to my arrival.
I try and optimise my studio time as much as possible in sync with the natural light outside. I am very lucky to have my studio located in the garden, and I have decided to refrain from using artificial light. I, therefore, need to choose my time wisely. This helps support a healthy routine and structure as I am encouraged to start when the light is at its best and stop when it's getting too dark.
Do you approach each piece with a consistent structure? Or do you let yourself be open and free to what is to come?
The only predetermined element of a painting would be the materials I use, I enjoy the freedom that this gives me when I am working, and I suppose it makes it all the more fun. You really can see this in the finished result and I believe the work is better because of this. Once a painting is finished, you can almost analyse it and visualise a timeline. If the weather conditions are moist and damp whilst I am in my studio, the soil maintains a darker tone on the canvas, if I were to use the soil on a warm summer's day, it stays lighter. By simply learning this, you can start to visualise the process of making the painting. The ink gesture, another key element in the majority of my paintings, is frozen onto the canvas and is a visualisation of the gesture and motion that I performed. If freedom wasn't a word, it would look like this. The ink is the protagonist in my abstract painting.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I have been thinking about this question quite a bit. My inspiration comes from using a variety of the senses, and I think it's important that everyone recognises this if they are feeling slightly uninspired or in a creative dip. For example, by simply burning an incense stick before I start to work, the unique smell triggers my focused headspace and without doing much I am overcome with a feeling of readiness. The fresh smell of the grass outside of my studio after it has just rained makes me feel somewhat nostalgic. As Spring has just started, I get so much joy in hearing the birds chirping more frequently. Coming to think of it, as the seasons change so do these moments. When Winter comes I am at ease when I make fresh masala chai, the taste and smell of it gratifies me. I’m convinced that these little moments can be interpreted as inspiration, the elements of the everyday that make you happy and make you, you.
I am encouraging myself to be a more avid reader as I feel very content afterwards. I like allowing my mind to visualise the setting of a scene simply by analysing a few words on a page. I figured out that my genre is books set in Japan, a big surprise to most, and I like where it allows my mind to travel. A holiday for the mind. This has recently gotten me feeling very inspired and I hope to keep up this habit.
I wouldn't be truthful if I wouldn't mention photography in this answer. I have been testing the waters (shallow waters) of this craft ever so slightly over the past few years. It allows you to capture moments entirely, a photo can reveal a lot about your passions and inherent style. I like to take pictures that feel silent yet share a whole story, or capture specific textures, perhaps all relating back to my paintings, informing one another. I won’t be travelling to Japan without my camera, so I look forward to revisiting all the moments captured frozen in time upon my return and gaining limitless inspiration from them.
It seems we both share a connection to Belgium, do you often travel between there and London? Have you managed to establish a creative presence there too?
My current home is Antwerp, although I still spend time in London, I do not have a studio facility when I am there, so I cherish this time to spend acting as a sponge in such a multifaceted creative city. There is always something new to explore. I love the inspiration that London offers you the ability to manifest. I like to treat Antwerp as my reality, and I visit London when I am in need of a little bit of daydreaming. I am privileged to be able to live and travel between both cities and I am grateful to be able to utilise them both in different ways. That being said, I would love to find representation in London in the near future as that feels like the natural next step for me. I am currently working on a project to use waste material, clay and earth to be exact, from housing projects in West London to then reuse to create bodies of work and bring it back to the site. A full circle story. I look forward to this one and hope to share more soon.
How do you hope your work makes people feel or think?
During the recent opening of my exhibition ‘Unearthing I’, I had the pleasure of conversing with previous clients as well as new ones which was a joy in itself. During a few of these conversations, I was told that seeing several of my paintings hanging together in a single space allows the work to transform itself into a hypnotic yet tranquil experience, and this made me smile. I myself find that the paintings are silent and composed at first glance, but also have the ability to be loud and elaborate the longer you observe and experience the painting in front of you, all the textural details that lay on the canvas. I believe there is a very uncomplex answer and reasoning to this, that this is through the use of organic colours and simply by using the earth.
Head over to Eleanor's instagram and website to discover more about herself and her beautiful work.
Photos: Portrait and artwork by Thibault De Schepper & Vittorio Marrucci.