An Interview with the Photographer Anouska Beckwith in Le Marais, Paris
Anouska Beckwith is a British photographer living in Place des Vosges, Paris. We were first introduced by a fellow writer and I soon crossed the channel to interview her for Suitcase Magazine amongst her collection of art and antiques. As both a fine art photographer and the founder of the all-female artists’ collective World Wide Women, she lives the bohemian dream surrounded by creatives in the City of Lights. Known especially for her nude photographs, Anouska shoots mainly in nature, but also with a focus on the life and death cycle with rebirth and transformation being central themes within her work.
We first met in her Le Marais apartment filled with works by Egon Schiele and Yayoi Kusama amongst antiques, crystals and Buddhist icons, which rather capture her spiritual presence. It’s always telling when an artist has started to build a collection of their influencers’ work. Wearing patterned flares and delicate jewellery Anouska’s sartorial choices and lifestyle reflect the nostalgia for the 1960's and 70's, which still occupies Paris. As we drank turmeric tea and ate mulberries, it felt like I was hanging out with a modern Jane Birkin – especially with her portrait hanging on the wall.
As well as showing with World Wide Women in the Ritual exhibition curated by Andi Potamkin at Cob Galleries, London, Anouska continued to promote female empowerment and equality within the contemporary art world at her solo show Transcendence at Three Squares Studio, New York featuring one of her muses Flo Morrissey. Also travelling to Ibiza and LA to develop her work, she’s an international artist and there’s always a project on the horizon. A dedicated environmentalist, look out for Anouska’s upcoming installation room, I am the Other You, which considers our relationship with nature and the importance of the rainforest to our planet.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion for art?
My grandmothers taught me how to knit and embroider and my mother always encouraged me in art classes, ceramics and photography from a young age. Art wasn't necessarily something I decided to do, but rather I just felt very free when I was creating. Then it got to a point where I was about 22 and I wasn’t happy being an actress. I asked myself what would make me really happy in life, which led to me exploring photography once again. After a year of seeing what inspired me, I knew that photography was the field I wanted to go back into. I experimented with different techniques like collage and painting on top of a photograph to make the final works more three-dimensional.
What piece of your artwork would you like to be remembered for?
My installation room I Am The Other You I have working on for the past four years with the architect Omar Ouazzani Touhami. The room is about the relationship of human being to nature - especially trees - and how important it is to preserve the rainforest and for us to live in harmony with the planet. I came up with the idea four years ago after a shamanic ceremony and envisioned eight rooms called the Infinity Series, which seemed overwhelming until the curator Andi Potamkin suggested I create one room at a time.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
It really depends on my state of mind, because I like to be in a positive place when I make my work, which is about hope, inspiration, nature and the esoteric. I get a lot of ideas when I'm out in nature, reading a beautiful book, watching a film or even listening to music. After I have an idea I usually like to process it for a while until it evolves into another form and then I bring it to life. I don't like rushing my work, because one day I can love something and then see it with a fresh perspective a week later and wonder what on earth I was thinking. My current photographic work is made with a broad spectrum of mixed media like gold leaf, dried leaves/flowers, glass, butterfly wings and embroidery.
If you could be born in another period of history, when would it be?
I would love to have been born in Ancient Egypt, Atlantis, the 1920’s or the 1960’s.
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
There are so many aspects to defining beauty that I can't do in 140 characters. In terms of nature I'm moved by a newly sprung flower bud, the way the leaves rustle in the wind or seeing birds come to my window in the morning. But also seeing someone happy or in love can be an incredibly beautiful moment within human existence - even seeing someone at their most raw and vulnerable can be beautiful. The night skies reflected on the ocean is equally mesmerising or watching the sun fade at twilight always fills me with wonder. Talking late into the night with someone you love whilst listening to music can be a revelation of beauty and sharing of souls. I find our world and universe to be filled with beauty everywhere, you just have to remove the dust from your eyes to see it.
Do you have a favourite book, film or painting, which inspires you?
Two of my favourite books are The Prophet by Khalil Gibran and Women That Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. In terms of films I love The Dreamers by Bernando Bertolucci and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief. For paintings I love Egon Schiele’s Black Haired Nude Girl, Standing and John Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
My greatest indulgence is travelling, because I like to be exposed to and learn from other cultures. I think experiencing different ways of living is a gift for oneself. I find a lot of inspiration for new projects when I am travelling, so I try to save up enough money to see one or two new places a year.
What fictional character from literature or film would you like to meet?
Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby. I know the film was not well-received, but I am a romantic and I loved Redford’s portrayal of Gatsby. I would also like to meet Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre as he has both an intelligence and intensity with this masculinity that draws you, yet he is equally vulnerable and tortured at the same time.
Do you believe that true creative expression can exist in the digital world?
Yes I do, but it depends entirely on what you are creating. The benefit of the digital age is that many more people can be exposed to an artist's work who wouldn't previously had access. However, I do believe that technology is merely a tool and should be used with caution.
What do you wish every child were taught?
I wish every child was taught to do 15 minutes of meditation a day. I believe that if every child was taught to live in peace and mindfulness we could create a harmonious planet for future generations to come.
Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?
Yes, all the time. As an artist you are always torturing yourself for each work to be better and more original than the last. But, as artists we dip into a collective consciousness so it's very hard to make something truly original. Having a long career as an artist is about persistence and belief in oneself.
What is your favourite art gallery and why?
My favourite art gallery is Galerie Da-End in Paris, because it's beautifully curated and has a very different aesthetic approach to most galleries. It's owned by a Japanese couple who have an incredible eye for detail and have a storage room filled with decorations that the artist can use to decorate the burgundy walls, which I think makes the experience more original.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
Yayoi Kusama, because I feel she is one of my biggest inspirations and her body of work is so vast. Her Infinity mirrored room is one of the best installations I've ever experienced. I also find it inspiring that she took her mental illness and made it her trademark, which is incredibly brave and shows that one should never let perceived limitations override your calling in life.
What is your daily routine when working?
My daily routine varies from day to day. Usually I like to wake up and do admin for two hours before beginning the creative aspect of what I am doing for each project. I work for around 10-14 hours a day sometimes into the early morning. It really depends on my mood and what I am creating. Sometimes I am editing a magazine editorial or painting so it really depends on the project.
What has been your most inspiring travel experience?
One of the most inspiring travel experiences was when I was eighteen and went to India for the first time with my first boyfriend. He was an incredible traveller and really showed me a different way of living. I had never seen a shooting star and one night we were driving through the jungle on his motorcycle to where were staying and the whole sky light up with these incredible shooting stars. I remember feeling this beautiful peace inside myself and felt truly alive in that moment. He was my first love and I think the memory will forever be engraved in my mind. I find backpacking to be a very humbling experience as you really get to see the true essence of oneself without the trivial distractions and you feel a sense of oneness with your environment.
What advice would you give to a young person following in your footsteps?
Don't give up, keep trying and keep believing in yourself. Just believing in yourself is a very important thing. Follow your dreams. Life is so short, I try to live everyday as if it were my last. If you’re constantly wishing you were doing something else, then you should probably be doing that instead. I feel very lucky that I’m at the point in my life that I can explore what I want to. Even if you’re not in that position, having a sense of hope is very important.
Do you find that Paris’s culture inspires or influences your art?
I love Paris, because it's such an inspiring city. It feels like a living museum. I love Tim Burton’s aesthetic and Paris definitely has a very gothic and romantic feeling to it. You feel like you're in some sort of dream world. I find myself walking around for hours and often glimpse the smallest things that inspire me. From the way people dress - which is very 1960/70’s - to the way they present food, Paris is a visual feast for the eyes and if you are lucky enough to be in love then the city lends itself as the most magical backdrop.
Why do you love what you do?
I love what I do, because it is like breathing to me. I had a period in my life when I stopped creating for a few years and found myself in a very dark place and as I began again I found true happiness and understanding within. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of frustration with my work, but I feel that I can now see a bigger picture and my work is inspired by the beauty of life and what that entails; birth, life, death and rebirth. Transformation and change are the two things we know we can rely on. The soul is constantly evolving through the darkest moments and blooms towards the light if you allow it to. That’s what I love about creativity, it's always evolving into something new and you never create the exact same thing. I feel there is something very special about that.
See our collaboration in Suitcase Magazine - http://suitcasemag.com/travel/insider-guides/anouska-beckwith-paris-guide/
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com