I follow several generations of women artists on my mother’s side. I grew up in Malaysia immersed in art and surrounded by painters and sculptors and their work. I went to art school first in Paris, and then completed a degree in sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art. From then on, I spent several years living and working in Portugal and Hungary before settling on the Isle of Man, UK for twenty years, exhibiting widely and running workshops for all ages from my studio.
I have a fascination with materials; my work is a constant exploration of media. I love the Annie Albers quote ‘ Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of the materials’
I have enjoyed collaborating with artists and poets and many of my recent projects have been the result of this cross fertilisation. Themes of history, sacred landscape, myth and liminality interest me along with anything Neolithic.
But the core of my practice is drawing - from life, from landscape, from artifacts in museums – just pencil to paper and from thereon work develops.
Threads Across Waters
an essay by Phoebe Colley
“The task of real, effective presentation is just this: to liberate knowledge from the bounds of compartmentalised discipline and make it practical.”
- Walter Benjamin
Carola Colley is not one for writing about her own artwork. She is far more a doer than a describer, and this motivation is clear throughout her creative process; from first glance to final product, what Colley depicts is never a landscape that she has understood, or mastered, but rather a representation of how what she has seen has impacted her. There is no set image to work from and no final success to contemplate. In a work titled Garlanded Entrance, Walter Benjamin suggests “What there is to see should never be the same thing as, or even approximate, what the inscription says it is. It must bring with it something new, a twist of the obvious which fundamentally cannot be achieved with words.” Whether the following piece of writing will prove him right or not remains to be seen, but ultimately what I think Benjamin takes issue with is the self reflexive nature of language: when initiating a discourse with art each statement made affirms both its own and the artwork’s legitimacy, turning the ‘practical’ product into a ‘compartmentalised discipline’ that can be ratified. But this also may be a consequence of the way words are read.
Where alphabets necessitate construction, with the imperative of conveying a specific word, thought, or message, their archaic counterpart, symbols, invite the interpreter to actively participate in their meaning. As researcher Carolyn Marion Mitchell Stancioff once maintained,
Symbols are ambivalent, often multivalent, and therefore are not susceptible to dictionary treatment… They cannot be studied one at a time because they are not an alphabet but a form of speech, and it is impossible to understand a language by studying unrelated letters and words only… [It is] only possible to study the language of visual symbols as a whole, each in relation to the rest.
Not only are symbols a language of their own, but they are a language that has throughout history infiltrated more cultures and continents than the West.1 Mythologies from every ancient civilisation we know of have common threads that can be traced through icons, laments and events now long preserved into social memory. To attempt a full elaboration of a visual symbol is to acknowledge its passage across waters and through centuries; “each in relation to the rest.”
An example of this is the number 9, which has had a specific resonance across cultures. Strongly associated with the Chinese dragon (who has 9 forms and 9 sons) and the 9 muses of Ancient Greece, 9 can also be found within Hindu astrology, in the form of the 9 Navagraha - the planetary Gods that echo our own solar system.2 The title of Colley’s latest series of paintings, 9 Threads Woven is thus not a reference to a finite collection or the specific canvases. Instead it hints at a back catalogue of influences that have intersected within her practise and that continue to expand, ranging from celtic knots and mussel shells, to the poetry of Usha Kishore and Rainer Maria Rilke, and the histories of landscapes.
Tim Ingold, when discussing ‘the meshwork’ of existence in his collection Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, argues
…we must cease regarding the world as an inert substratum, over which living things propel themselves about like counters on a board… Whatever surfaces one encounters, whether of the ground, water, vegetation or buildings, are in the world, not of it. And woven into their very texture are the lines of growth and movement of its inhabitants. every such line, in short, is a way through rather than across.
9 Threads Woven illustrates this sentiment completely. By utilising a multitude of locations and view points to create these scenes, Colley taps into spaces that exist between stagnant snapshots of landscapes; the artist liberates her habitat from the primacy of our visual ideals and returns it to a multiplicity. Benjamin states that montage was invented “…when it became clear to the avant guard that reality could no longer be mastered. The only means we have left, for gaining time and keeping a cool head, is above all to let reality have its say - in its own right, disordered and anarchic if necessary.” It is with similar intent that Colley allows her environments to exist outside of representative schemas. They are strands, rather than subjects.
1 Just kidding, nothing has infiltrated more than the West.
2 VIVA LA PLUTO.
1983 - 84
Academie Charpentier, Paris
1984 - 88
Edinburgh College of Art
July 2022 LINES OF FLIGHT Galería 4Elementos, Olhão, Portugal solo show
April 2022 LINES WOVEN Artesis Galería, Tavira, Portugal solo show
August 2021 INTERCONECTADO República 14, Olhão, Portugal solo show
March 2020 LIMINAL POINT WOA gallery, Bampton, UK solo show
July 2018 CONTRAPUNTAL Stables Gallery, Hastings
June 2018 SYNERGIES Galería 4Elementos, Olhão, Portugal
March 2018 SALTMOTHER Hodgson Loom Gallery, Laxey, Isle of Man
2017 Oxfordshire Open Studios
2016 THREADS ACROSS WATERS The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury
2016 NINE THREADS WOVEN Memorial Gallery, Hastings solo show
2014, 2015 Stableyard Gallery, Trelowarren Spring Art Fair
2013 - 2015 Lander Gallery, Truro group shows
2013, 2015 Open Studios Cornwall
2011 ROCKSANDSEA Sayle Gallery, Douglas, Isle of Man
2010 CONTRASTS Hodgson Loom Gallery, Laxey, Isle of Man
2009 ORPHEUS 55 paintings The Sayle Gallery Douglas Isle of Man solo show
2009 BONES OF TIME Villa Marina Gallery Douglas Isle of Man
and KIKK galleriet Katrioneholm Sweden
Artesis Gallery, Tavira, Portugal
LiR Gallery, Lagoa, Portugal Artesis Gallery, Tavira, Portugal
Wychwood Gallery, Deddington, Oxfordshire, UK
4Elementos Gallery Olhao, Portugal
Memorial Gallery, Hastings
Arts Council Collection Lousa, Portugal