Bislacchi, April 2017

Alexi Williams-Wynn is a Welsh born and London based artist. Her work Echoes of the Kill is currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery in the exhibition Iconoclast: Art Out of the Mainstream. The show includes the work of thirteen contemporary artists and explores their practices in relation to a modern interpretation of the term “iconoclasm”. Alexi relies on the appearance of her work and the impact that this might have on viewers. In this interview, I asked Alexi to talk specifically about her practice in the context of this show.

Alexi Williams-Wynn

Echoes of the Kill, 2015

Wax, wood, steel

170 x 120 x 110 cm

© Alexi Williams-Wynn, 2017

Installation View, Alexi Williams-Wynn

© Stephen White, 2017

Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery

Bislacchi: Alexi, what does it mean to you to be included in a show called Iconoclast: Art Out of the Mainstream?


Alexi Williams-Wynn: Well, first it’s a fantastic opportunity to get seen, and the actual idea, “art out of the mainstream”, I think is quite interesting. As an artist, I have always been slightly out of the mainstream.


B: Did you know that before the modern definition, the term “iconoclasm”, in the Byzantine Empire, forbade the making and worshipping of graven images?


AWW: Yes.


B: How do you think the term “iconoclasm” has changed, what does it mean for you now?


AWW: I think it’s quite difficult because iconoclasm has very much shifted. I think it has become very much the norm now to break the rules. I think that fashion and culture now is about breaking rules. So, I think, to be a rule breaker, in a way, is to go your own way.

B: Indeed, if we analyse the word iconoclasm, it comes from the Greek meaning breaking icons. How did this concept attract you when making your own work?


AWW: It’s not something I naturally think of, but as an artist, it was very much about searching for my own language and what made sense to me. That in its nature was breaking away from trends. Whatever I was preoccupied by, it was about my own journey. I’ve never been a trend follower.


B: Can you tell me more about the work Echoes of the Kill that is currently on display?


AWW: Echoes of the Kill is an oversized butchers block with these rather beautiful organic forms that have a real delicacy about them, coming out of it.

B: It’s very beautiful.


AWW: It is very beautiful and I think this work can be interpreted in more than one way. I wanted to make a forest-like arrangement. For me, it’s about keeping it very open but it has a much darker truth. The forms come from making corrosion casts of recently deceased animals’ lungs. 

B: How would you describe the relationship to iconoclasm in this particular work? 


AWW: I don’t think there’s a huge history with this type of work, in the canon of art history. In that sense, I’ve always felt this great freedom in what I do. I think it’s certainly rule breaking in the sense that it’s dealing very directly with death. The process itself goes from extremes of abjectness to beauty. For me that process is important but I don’t think it’s essential to the full understanding of the work. What is interesting for me is the way that this work can put you on one foot. It can destabilize you. So, in one way you can see that it’s very beautiful, but when you realise what it’s coming from people are quite often shocked. In that sense I think it is iconoclastic. 


B: How do you think your work in the exhibition interacts with the work of other artists?


AWW: Well I think, in this particular room, there’s a very strong element of natural forms but also something with a darker sort of underbelly. With Douglas White’s work, this is inspired by the witnessing of a carcass of an elephant in Africa. It looks like elephant skin. So, that’s got a bit of an undertone which connects to my work. Also, with Kate MccGwire’s work, you’ve got this real sense of suffocation, constriction. The form is extraordinary and it is made out of crow feathers. You don’t quite know what you’re engaging, but it has a connection to something more visceral and I think that’s what all our work is rooted in.

"The process itself goes from extremes of abjectness to beauty."

Alexi Williams-Wynn

Echoes of the Kill (detail), 2015

Wax, wood, steel

170 x 120 x 110 cm

© Alexi Williams-Wynn, 2017

Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

B: Twenty years ago, almost to the day, Saatchi opened the infamous Sensation exhibition. Do you see any connections between Iconoclast: Art out of the Mainstream and Sensation?


AWW: In a way. I like the fact that, certainly in this room, there’s something about rule-breaking. I don’t think the climate is the same as it was twenty years ago. Back then, this whole notion of bringing art out into a broader public was quite a new fresh thing and I think Charles Saatchi has done a lot for the art world. But I think the atmosphere is different now.

Douglas White, New Skin For an Old Ceremony, 2011. Clay and steel table. Dimensions variable.

© Douglas White, 2017

Installation View 

© Piers Allardyce, 2017

Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery

B: In what ways do you think the art world has changed since Sensation was exhibited? 


AWW: Firstly, I think that art has become a lot more mainstream. There are more artists attempting to make a career. 


B: In this case, mainstream is the right word to use.


AWW: Yeah! Absolutely!

B: You were once a student at City & Guilds of London Art School and I am currently studying there myself. I am interested if you can share your experiences as a student, at City & Guilds of London Art School and beyond.


AWW: City & Guilds of London Art School was the perfect place for me, it gave me a lot of freedom. I don’t think I was very popular with health and safety, I was always breaking the rules. They were very nurturing; they gave me space, because I was searching at that point and I was not sure exactly where I was heading. I think the fact there were so many practising artists made it a very privileged place to be. Most art schools now have much less support for students. 

B: What was the difference between City & Guilds of London Art School and the Royal Academy?


AWW: At the Royal Academy, you had to grow up quite quickly. Again, that gave you the scope, but it seemed to be much more of a finishing school for me. You didn’t feel you had the same amount of freedom. I think during your BA you have an amazing amount of freedom and you have to use that.


B: Tell me about your life as an artist after you graduated. Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates? 


AWW: I think the most important thing is to keep persisting and even though you may not get to where you want to be immediately, you just have to keep going. Be stubborn and persistent. 


B: How has your career as an artist progressed since leaving university, up until being included in this show?


AWW: This is really my first show. I haven’t taken a conventional route to get here. I spent a long time really working out what I’m about as an artist. I was not in a hurry to try and ‘make it’. To me, it is more important to understand what you’re doing and to keep trying. This work has been quite demanding in that way.


B: Do you think that the show has met your expectations?


AWW: So far…so good!


B: What are your plans next? Do you have any other projects or exhibitions coming up over the next year?


AWW: Yeah. I’m setting up a show right now in Ghent in Belgium which opens in a week. I’m also working on developing a new material for my work too. 

"...the most important thing is to keep persisting and even though you may not get to where you want immediately, you just have to keep going"

Kate MccGwire, Corvid, 2011. Crow’s feather and mixed media. 122 x 331 x 149 cm

© Kate MccGwire, 2017