Meet the Artist – Ali Carpenter-Hughes: Going with the narrative flow…

How did you get into art/How did you get started?

The urge to create started at a very young age – I was given a drawer in the kitchen to store my arty bits in, so given time and space to be creative. Later, I was going to leave school to become a hairdresser, but on a dog walk across Hampstead Heath, my sister persuaded me to carry on to university and follow a creative path. After a very brief stint doing fashion at Bretton College (now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park) I found my place and essentially myself in Exeter doing fine art.

What artists do you admire and who has influenced you and why?

There are so many… When I was at art college in the nineties it was unfashionable to say you liked pre-Raphaelite work, as everything was conceptual. To a certain degree it is still the case that liking a piece of work because it is beautiful is not de rigueur. But, I like work that moves me. I also love the weird and the wonderful, so other than pre-Raphaelite, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt are old time favourites. More recently, the strange and hauntingly beautiful drawings of Craww and Marco Mazzoni and photography by Oleg Oprisco are among those that I admire.

Although you will think me biased, I also love the artwork my son, Ruan Hughes, produces. He has taken sewing, collage, graffiti and the idea of David Hockney’s ‘Joiners’ to new levels, boldly using colour and technique.

The theme for this show is Light and Dark – what inspired you to choose this theme, and would you like to say more about your work for this show?

I felt the themes of light and dark reflected the essence of my current work – these themes are often found in fairy tales, myths and legends – the idea of storytelling, but in my case from a personal point of view. Inspiration can strike at odd times and sometimes there can be a long gestation period before I produce the work, as I am perhaps not ready to create when the idea appears. This was the case for the work for this show. My painting ‘What dreams may come’ is a line taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

‘…To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come’

Viewers might see connections to Ophelia, but the psychological/emotional elements of the image are far stronger. They embrace both light and dark; on the one hand the ideas of sadness, loss, suicide, hidden thoughts and a thin grasp on reality, but also at times of duress; strength is found and endurance tested and so once again finding hope, resilience, positivity and dreams fulfilled. The water can signify deep emotions and suspension (holding oneself still) but also cleansing, rebirth and renewal. This could also be said of death (of a situation, a part of a person, a way of thinking, a relationship, etc), a death takes place, change happens and then the new can be ushered in.

I am very interested in the folklore of flowers and these stories from different cultures have weaved their way into my consciousness and ultimately my work. The theme for the show has inspired the use of symbolism in the narrative flow of the image.

Ali Carpenter-Hughes - Image 1 - What Dreams May Come
What Dreams May Come

Where do you make your work?

I have a teeny weeny space in my house where I work. It’s essentially the laundry room and downstairs loo, as was, but I’ve squeezed my mountains of art and craft materials in and put my creative mark on it. Hey, it’s a space to create that I can call my own and so I’m happy.

I have crammed it full of all the weird and wonderful stuff that interests me visually. I have a penchant for kitsch, vintage, old and new toys, the bright and colourful. I am a messy person in essence but with such a little room I do have to keep on top of it or I become overwhelmed and can’t work! Saying that I have just had a mass clearing of my room and reorganised everything. It took me a week and the day I finished, I sat in my little room, all clean and tidy, and suddenly felt I didn’t know what to do or where to start. My conclusion is a little chaos can help get the creative juices flowing! When I need a bit more space to spread out, I use the front room table or my son’s room when he’s at university. I also occasionally work at the Leicester Print Workshop.

Ali - Image 2 - Workspace.jpg
Ali - Image 3 - Workspace
Workspace II

What process(es) do you use to create your work?

I work with different media – sometimes it’s difficult to pin my thoughts down as my mind can leap about in a creative flurry. There often doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day for all I’d like to achieve. I try to scribble as many ideas down as possible so as not to forget them. Sometimes I will do some research into a project, working in my sketchbook to formulate my ideas and then other times I just go for it and create a piece organically, working it out as I go along. I find inspiration in stories, colour, music and moments in my everyday life.

I find my paintings often need more deliberation, particularly if they are very detailed, but I also enjoy the spontaneity of working quickly and fluidly with paint, including using acrylics, water colours, gouache and spray paints. As well as these, I work in textiles, print, collage, papier-mâché, photography and quite frankly, whatever takes my fancy. I enjoy the freedom to explore.

I mostly like to work on my own, as I like to be introspective as I work. I also, in general, like quiet, but I do occasionally live it up with a bit of classical music or Radio 4 in the background. If I put on anything too groovy, I can’t sit still!

Ali - Image 4 - Various Works
Various Works
Ali - Image 5 - Photographic Work
Photographic Work

What goals do you have and where do you want to be with your work in the future?

After a long break from art, I am edging my way back to a creative life – it is essential as making stuff keeps me sane! I have spent nearly twenty years teaching creative workshops/classes including at festivals, schools and community college, but I had a period of time where I did this less. I am now going back to facilitating more workshops, which is very exciting, as I am creating a series of workshops that give participants a chance to find and develop their own creativity and draw it into their everyday lives. I have received wonderful feedback, which is encouraging to keep going! Some of the workshops help the attendees to set goals and put them into action using visual and written tools/techniques, but I also plan to set up journaling, textiles and other creative workshops in the next few months.

As well as getting on with a number of new paintings, I will be producing further products for my Etsy shop. In general, I would like to get myself out in the wider world a bit more as I’ve kind of been on hold for a while! I have a number of projects in the pipeline, including some illustrative works.



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