Lindsey Mendick on oversharing and the therapeutic quality of clay
Repetitive and meditative, intricately modelling clay enables ceramic artist Lindsey Mendick to stay grounded, process emotions and make her mark.
A version of this article first appeared in the winter 2022 issue of Art Quarterly, the magazine of Art Fund.
Who is Lindsey Mendick?
Lindsey Mendick (b1987) creates elaborate installations, comprising myriad detailed components, painstakingly sculpted in clay. Vermin and insects, food items and clothing, grotesquely subverted pots and fragmented domestic spaces – no stone is left unturned as the London-born, Margate-based artist, who has been a recipient of both the Henry Moore Foundation Artist Award (2020) and the Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award (2018), rakes through and spills out her innermost feelings. She is showing a new commission, Till Death Do Us Part (2022), at the Hayward Gallery, London, as part of the group exhibition ‘Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art’, on until 8 January 2023.
Q. How do you use clay to work through the emotional highs and lows of relationships?
I’ve always been an oversharer, but there was a point, when I was younger and ill with obsessive thought disorders, when I didn’t have the luxury of being honest about how I was feeling. I felt as if I was almost bubbling over as a person.
Since then, I’ve utilised my work to be more honest about these things in the hope that someone might see it and not feel as alone as I did. But there has to be an element of censorship, because the darkness sometimes gets really dark, and it can be misunderstood. Since my audience has grown, there has to be a way of protecting myself. But I probably still say way more shit than a normal person. My ‘reserved’ is a normal person’s ‘deep sharing’ in therapy.
When I’m making work, it has to feel honest. I can always tell when someone’s pretending to be someone they’re not. My work never tries to be cool or something it’s not. It’s just trying to say something I really want to say.
Till Death Do Us Part is one of my most personal and revealing works to date. Looking back to the second lockdown, when everyone’s homes had become their entire domains, this piece is about the internal wars within our homes – within mine and my partner’s [fellow artist Guy Oliver]. Growing up in North London, the houses were close together, so if one family was arguing, the whole street knew about it. There was nothing shameful about arguing, it was just something that happened.
As I’ve got older, it feels like it’s something that we keep hushed. If you say that someone did something shitty towards you in a relationship, the response is likely to be: ‘That’s abusive, get out of there now.’ There’s no space left for nuance. If someone heard some of the shit I say to Guy or my mum, I’d be devastated, but one of the things I like about myself is I have the capacity to be good and bad. I’m not afraid to be the villain of the piece.
The work is made up of hundreds of little objects in a fragmented bit of kitchen and a fragmented bit of living room. There’s the Trojan War being played out by mice, and there are SWAT teams of cockroaches, air-raiding in down Tiffany lamps and coming out of speakers. There are spiders in the drainpipes going through a cyber war, and slugs that form a navy, but then the mice are coming out of the kitchen and rolling cans, squashing them and throwing salt at them.
I talk about things that are difficult, while trying to be funny. It’s too painful otherwise. Guy is my confidant; he’s my pleasure, my pain. Our relationship is all-consuming. I don’t know how I could make work about anything else – except, perhaps, our pug, Telly. Dogs are very special. I want to do an exhibition where I paint Telly as Christ and myself as Mary. I would like it to be around Christmas, but the idea is on the back burner. I’m not sure everyone would like that show.
I’ll always find something within myself to dredge up and rake through. But it’s a form of catharsis; clay is so therapeutic. Modelling it is repetitive, and it can be really meditative. It’s so ‘of you’. When I was younger, I felt transient, as if I wouldn’t be able to keep afloat for much longer. When I compare working with clay to having children, people get really weird, but the idea of wanting to create something and leave some permanence in the world is the same.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.