Here is the text of our interview for the Axis ‘Artist of the Month’ feature.
April 2015 Christopher Rutter and Evelyn Bennett
This month we talk to the collaborative duo Christopher Rutter and Evelyn Bennett. They tell us about processes that drive them and the importance that family life has had on their work.
Lesley Guy: Describe what you do and the ideas that drive your work.
Christopher Rutter: We have made a variety of work – large-scale public art, collage installations, sculptural performance pieces, soundscapes and smaller collages and sculptures. These are often integrated with each other and relate to our own experience and lives. They are dependent on our circumstances and current inclination.
Evelyn Bennett: Inspiration comes from everyday family life with our son Alfred and from our own childhoods. We have a big book, in which we write down ideas and they are revisited later. We have travelled a lot as a family and these times allow reflection and new ideas to form. Colour is a constant source of inspiration for me.
CR: All our work comes from two different perspectives – one is our own personal experience and how we see the world and the other important one is the nature of our collaboration and the process involved. There is an excitement of seeing ideas appear from nowhere. Much of the work is directly personal and to an extent comes from a desire to reflect and create our own private world.
LG: How did you come to be working together?
EB: We started working together while on a pilgrimage trip to Santiago Compostela in Spain. We cycled there and gathered ideas while looking at the mediaeval sculpture, which was coloured, and then after the trip we started making coloured sculptures together.
CR: When we met we had very different creative practices but we gradually drew together in the work we were doing and eventually had to acknowledge that nothing we made individually was without input from the other person. From 1995 we decided to credit all our work to us both.
LG: Do you come from similar artistic backgrounds?
CR: I come from a sculpture background, particularly working with stone, and for a number of years made a living as an architectural stone carver as well as doing my own work. Evelyn comes from a design and printed textiles background and worked in industry for a while designing ceramics, graphics and book content as well as printed textiles. So we have both had quite a technical training and perhaps working together has forced us to find new ways of working that enable collaboration and co-authorship.
LG: How important are traditional crafts such as textiles or ceramics to your work?
CR: I think traditional methods have been very important to us in that any creative act is to some extent mediated by the techniques, materials and situations in which it is created and experienced. So it only makes sense to try and have some control of the technical aspects of our practice. Having said that we are definitely not reverential in our regard to traditional techniques and materials. No amount of technical competence on its own can make a work interesting. We are also very aware of the possibilities and excitement that comes with allowing chance and intuitive experimentation to play a large role in creating work.
EB: The applied arts are very important to me. Being trained in a craft gives a deep knowledge and skills that can be applied to other disciplines.
LG: How much time do you spend in the studio? Is it a full-time job?
EB: I have been teaching full-time for the last three years so time to spend on artwork is a bit limited, although the University is quite good at supporting the practices of staff with grants and research time.
CR: We tend to be thinking about work and talking about it all the time and then spend periods of time making work in concentrated bursts. This is mainly because of the way our life works at the moment with commitments to teaching and bringing up a child.
LG: You been working together since the 1990s, how has being an artist changed since then?
CR: When we were at college in the 1980s the art world seemed small – we had little idea of what might be going on outside our area or city. Artists’ Newsletter (a-n) was the main source of opportunities for artists and things tended to be quite local. Although the squatting and DIY music scenes in south London created possibilities for creative people outside of the closed international art world that existed at that time.
Opportunities for artists and creative people are so much better and more exciting now than they were then. Today’s practice is much broader and more exciting in many ways and the possibilities for cooperation and support and finding a place in the world for your work are greater now.
EB: It has changed a lot with the arrival of the Internet. We had the first computer in our street (!) thanks to an Arts Council grant and before that contacting galleries and promoting your work was quite difficult and time-consuming. It is great now as it is so instant to connect to other artists and opportunities through the internet.
LG: What advice would you give to younger artists setting out on their career now?
EB: Enjoy all the opportunities that come your way and experiment in other disciplines. Working outside your comfort zone always brings new ideas and possibilities. Have a strong belief in what you produce because if you like it someone else will, too.
CR: Well, despite all the worries over tuition fees and the appropriation and academisation of creative practice by universities, I still think the pursuit of a creative career is a worthwhile and rewarding way of life for those who have the energy and enthusiasm for it. I would say trust yourself and have confidence in your work, because the possibility of finding a place for your work in the world has never been greater.
LG: What have you got coming up?
CR: We have the Collagistas International Collage Festival in Thessaloniki in May and a sculptural performance in June on the lightship LV 21 on the Medway. We are also looking for the next location for our evolving and travelling collage installation – any ideas anyone?
Interview by Lesley Guy
Published April 2015