In the latest edition of FAD’s column spotlighting upcoming contemporary artists, Lee Sharrock interviewed Poppy Lennox. London-based artist Poppy Lennox creates unique pieces combining hand-stitched elements with bold typography, contemporary catchphrases, a striking palette and geometrical depictions of fauna and flora.
Her bold typographic style has led to many private and commercial commissions, and she recently designed a limited edition artists’s label for Berry Bros & Rudd.
She incorporates gold leaf, embroidery and paint into her works on paper and wood, and explores the interplay between symmetry and geometry found in nature. Lennox studied Fine Art at Newcastle University and is part of the London Creative Network/ Space Studios professional development programme. She exhibited at The Other Art Fair in October 2021, and in February 2022 will be hosting an arts workshop with mental health charity Hospital Rooms.
Lennox talks about how her interest with stitching began after studying the work of Rachel Whiteread and Columbian artist Doris Salcedo for her University dissertation, and how she combines design-led typography with a more painterly element in her work.
Lee Sharrock: What was the path you took to become an artist, and can you give a brief summary of your work and the meaning behind it?
Poppy Lennox: There are two strands to my practice – a design led, typographic style and then my more painterly work. With both, the mediums I use are paper and wood, 24ct gold leaf, paint and thread. The colours are often bright and bold and the use of gold leaf creates a rich movement and texture.
I’ve long held a fascination with stitching into unexpected materials and some of my first works were a series of stitched Polaroid photographs. These I have kept as a reminder of where I very first began on my thread journey. The stitched wooden pieces and works on paper followed shortly after.
I want to maintain a curiosity for experimentation in materials and method; seeing how I can manipulate shape and form with the use of my materials. Experimentation led me to my current, slightly unusual, style of stitching and I hope I’ll always allow myself a freedom to see where the work is next taken.
I am drawn to geometry, colour and light. Often taking influence from the patterns of nature, I’m interested in how the objects of compositions interplay and the tension in the space between them. Symmetry plays a large part in my work and I often explore how repetitive pattern sequencing creates order and balance but also leans towards a sense of control and tension.
Whilst I think I work intuitively – feeling my way through how a piece develops in relation to the colours and composition – my work is geometric and ordered in style and so must be predetermined on some level. The stitch lines, drilling the holes into the wood and connecting with blocks of colour and thread. I like this tension of intuition and predetermination.
My path to becoming an artist began with the most wonderful primary school teacher who encouraged art and creativity in all aspects and gave me a thirst for making. After school I completed an art foundation and then to Newcastle University to study Fine Art. The first year was like another foundation course and so I was able to experiment with many different mediums and methods – screen printing, welding, woodwork, photography – like a big playground of experimentation! I focused on sculpture and in the final year did some performance work and my final show was a series of video installations – a lesson that you never know where your work will lead you!
Once I left Newcastle and moved to London I worked in a number of creative industries; for a production company, in film set design, the Barbican Centre and in Development for curators and artists. During this period, I continued creating work and selling a few pieces. Around 2017 a curator friend who was visiting me at home and looking at my work suggested I should think about focusing on my art practice and commit to it more full time. It felt like the right time to do it.
In terms of selling my work, Instagram has been an integral platform for me and how I started getting my work out there. In 2020 I was invited to create the 5th limited edition artist’s label for London wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd’s ‘Good Ordinary Claret’, following on from Paul Smith and Luke Edward-Hall. This was a fantastic project which led on to a number of other opportunities and commissions. Last year I was part of the London Creative Network / Space Studios professional development programme which helped hugely during the pandemic to feel connected to other artists. I recently participated in The Other Art Fair in London in October 2021, which was a great success so hopefully I’ll do that again soon. I’m excited to host a workshop with arts and mental health charity Hospital Rooms in February 2022 and in September I will be doing a joint show with Dawn Beckles at 99 Projects Space in Kensal Rise. Hopefully it’s going to be an exciting year!
LS: Can you tell me a bit about your artistic practice, inspirations, the materials you use, and where you create your artworks?
PL: I describe what I do as ‘working with thread’ rather than embroidery, as I don’t see myself as an embroiderer. I’m using a traditional, age-old method but creating something current and contemporary. My interest with stitching began after studying the work of Rachel Whiteread and Columbian artist Doris Salcedo for my dissertation. A particular body of work by Salcedo titled ‘Unland,’ fascinated me. The work joins together two different tables, creating one elongated form, with human hair and raw silk sewn through thousands of tiny holes drilled into the surfaces. This process of stitching this delicate material through a hard surface and binding it together is extraordinary.
The stitching of my work can take many hours and this meditative process is an important part of each work; not only because it alludes to this idea of repetition and sequencing but also that by stitching through the hard surface of a wooden ‘canvas’, the subject of each piece becomes eternally bound to it. The resulting effects are rich and textural works that seem to float three dimensionally from their surface.
Inspirations comes to me in many forms. My eyes are always out on stalks – I see pattern, symmetry and colour wherever I go, and my phone is full of notes and images of quite random things! My recent body of work has been exploring the geometry of nature – in particular bird wings. I was interested with the idea of flight and movement that is then counterbalanced by the forms being bound into their wooden canvases – tied down and contained somehow. I am reading a book at the moment called ‘Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle’ by Clare Hunter. The importance of embroidery being so integral to history – the needle being another form of memory and storytelling. This is something I’d like to explore more.
I have a studio space at home in Kensal Rise, at the top of the house and looking out over the London skyline. Seeing as we are up on a hill, on a clear day I can see right across London to the Shard. I love having a studio at home but as my work gets bigger and more ambitious, I think I may need more space.
LS: Women have historically been underrepresented in the art world, but things seem to be changing gradually. Have you come across any obstacles as a woman in the art world?
PL: Not directly, no. Rather, I feel prone to creating the obstacles myself. I believe women more generally suffer confidence issues and tend to question ability and decisions a lot more. I definitely think it’s a balance and I like being contemplative and taking my time. It’s when it teeters towards avoidance that I need to check myself!
Poppy Lennox will feature in a group show at 99 Projects this spring, curated by Lee Sharrock.