Kitty Finer you are an artist creating painting, performance, music, singing, songwriting, script writing, bar events and more...There is so much to talk to you about.
Let's begin with your EP Lobby Star, as we have danced to this record many times in our bedroom and in the Tracey Neuls shop. It's one of our favourites, can you tell us a bit how the title "Lobby Star" came about and did it influence the track "Down In The Valley?"
Down in the Valley contains the line "Tonight I am a Lobby Star, a star away from home, it's easy to get noticed when you are dancing on your own"
This describes a brief moment that I had in a lobby of a casino in Las Vegas. A group of us arrived back from a gig - entering the hotel we watched a band playing in an empty lobby.
Somebody dared me to go and dance for the band. The ratio of one member of the audience to 6 musicians on stage instantly flipped the balance so I became the spectacle and they almost became my readymade audience as I danced for them and anyone else who happened to look up from a slot machine in the casino. My mum filmed this on her phone and put it on YouTube giving it the title "Lobby Star". It was so long ago that it was pre Instagram etc but if it happened now I guess it would have been a live story. I show students this footage when I'm teaching undergraduates as was a pivotal moment that shaped my practice and sensibility- paving the way for future impromptu performances and spontaneous happenings.
What's this record here... The Veils. Have you worked with this band? What is your favourite track on this album
I have worked with Finn Andrews who I first met years ago as he was originally a friend of my sisters. She actually did the merchandise on a tour of theirs - I nicknamed her a "groupie with a responsibility" which couldn't be further from the truth. Finn and Ella's great friendship lead Finn to become a great friend of the whole family and he has given me a lot of encouragement. We worked on 3 of the songs that are on Lobby Star. I would send him my words and he would choose which ones appealed to him. We have worked on a Christmas duet too and a song called Johnny Love. These songs aren't on Lobby Star.
My favourite song of theirs at the moment is "Swimming With The Crocodiles" but it's not on this record!!
We like changing the space inside our shoe shop. There are many pops ups around which are a great thing but we always quote the Kitty Finer Pop Up you once curated called "Pop Up and F**k Off" - Genius! You also had an exhibition called 'Never Lasting Signs" which you called "a one night spectacle made to fade." You have created many makeshift bars that are like impromptu performances. Can you tell us about the event that you concocted "Kitty Finer's Artist Behind Bars?
Long before the term "pop up" popped up, I created makeshift shops, bars and galleries which appeared under the influence of interim interventions, the oftentimes illicit social spaces of raves, fiestas, carnivals and beach bars.
Summer holidays were spent in the south of Spain, we would revisit the same beach every year and I would always look forward to seeing the new bar shacks that had appeared but would be gone by September .
One year we met a man named Jesus who had turned an old boat in to a bar . From the beach you could see the boat up on the cliff looking as though it might dive in to the ocean. I love the ingenuity of spontaneous makeshift spaces, shops and bars like at Notting Hill Carnival when front steps become bars or stalls - the simplicity of a hand made sign and a bin full of ice and cans is very appealing to me. Artists Behind Bars is an installation that curates itself as it goes along and brings together artists who also share an interest in spontaneous structures of hospitality and the (part time) role of bar tending. It is a group show, where for one night shift only the bar is the work of art, the artist is the bartender and the spectator is the punter. Artists are invited to to build, install, host and run their own bars. This collection of one day or night only bars - creates a total installation within a chosen space and brings together artists and audiences from all practices from theatre and performance to visual art and socially engaged practices and club culture. The thing that I really love about ABB as well as the visually immersive aspect is the fact that each bar can control the music ( for 40 minutes) so they can mark their sonic territory. Some nights can be very extreme.
Artists Behind Bars first began at my favourite place in London - The Horse Hospital and has manifested numerous times in various places: at Matt’s Gallery, MKAC , and most recently in collaboration with Fierce Festival and Grand Union Gallery in Birmingham. I have also started doing private parties which is exciting.
Do you have a favourite cocktail?
I had a great one the other night that was made with gin and nettle beer. If it had a name I would name it my favourite.
Your paintings have such a signature Kitty Finer style to them. How would you personally describe your paintings and some of the 'characters' that feature.
I often paint on found scraps of card and I love the way bright watercolour paint takes to it. There is a particular cereal box that when turned inside out has the best brown that works very well with the bright children's paints that I use.
I combine a traditional and mute watercolour pallet with bursts of synthetic candy colours that I get from sets of paint that were initially given to my daughter. My paintings are small - usually postcard size so I use fine paintbrushes and strokes.
The choice to make small scale work developed as a way to keep my work literally in my own hands and to limit overheads e.g. assistants, studio and storage space but also I am free to work anywhere. I could paint on a train, a plane, in bed etc. I like adding familiar characters some that I have made up and others that come from other well known sources whether its Mr Peanut, the Michelin man or the well known Bosch bird.
(Above, Kitty Finer's 'Bunch of Friends' painting)
Who or what inspires you?
Well I always say family (and friends) come first so this is where I shall start. I am hugely influenced and inspired by family on both my mother and fathers sides. Warmth, wit, wisdom and mischief run through the Jewish and Celtic roots that make the family tree one that I am thrilled to be part of. My mother Marcia and grandmother Jean are compelling storytellers and have the most beautiful way with words. My love of words comes from them. My grandmother Jean has a fairy godmother (on a shoe string) gift . If she was asked to turn a pumpkin into a carriage she probably could. Whether she was making clown costumes for a kids party or mending broken furniture she would apply the same resourceful approach to sourcing materials and treat every task with her own idiosyncratic precision and signature style.
I have just seen The Ballad of Shirley Collins and am blown away by her story. I would say she is an example to all as she didn’t ever give up on a dream despite facing great challenges and heart break. I don’t want to give too much away but I would recommend it. Her story goes to show that you don’t need the whole wide world to champion your creativity, sometimes it can be the encouragement from one person that can help keep you motivated to carry on. I always have Jane in mind when I wobble. She is a massive influence and inspiration.
(Above, picture of Kitty as a girl dressed in a costume made my her grandmother Jean)
Is there a relationship between the paintings that you paint and the lyrics that you write?
Not usually. I often find that I need one thing to be my escape from the other.
Recently you have began a beautifully ambitious project - your one woman show "Me and Johnny Love" I don't want to put words in your mouth (a another project...listen here) But Inside this installation, you set the scene for your script of characters that were a mix of imagination and sourced from real life, all played by you. And you wrote all the songs to go with it. I'm not sure I'm even covering it all... Can you talk a bit about your One Woman Show and when can we see it again?
I turn away from the audience and respond as if the voice is coming from above (with a deep echo effect)
“you are not lost- you are ahead of your time- watch out- don't get left behind-when other people come and do what you've been doing all along” .
One liners, songs, anecdotes, jokes, observations, and stories were piling up so I began to work out how all my writing was tying together. I found that the dominant (current) theme has been about an elected loneliness that comes from resisting going along with people and trends that I don't believe in. I have written it based on the format of the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland where the “me” character embarks on a trip and encounters characters on her way. The Me finds herself in a Beckettian / Lynchian space that represents the place you find when you are “ahead of your time”.
I play all the characters and am my own stage hand too.
I have designed and set up a “pop up and f@!K off” set that I perform within. I have done this 8 times in my living room for intimate crowds.
I have been invited to perform a one off version at The Horse Hospital in November. Day and time TBC.
You curate events and you collaborate with different musicians. It's so cool that you work together on projects with your family. Your mother Marcia Farquhar, father Jem Finer and sister Ella Finer. Are you collaborating on something at the moment?
Look here is a flexi disc I recorded on to at the British Library last night. It was the opening of the Season of Sound. I am really excited to be part of the this programme at the British Library alongside my family:
Family Album is a 4-way DJ set by Marcia Farquhar and Jem, Ella and Kitty Finer, all of whom work with vinyl in distinct ways. Each member of the family will mix sounds that they have individually contributed to the British Library Sound Archive over the years with other records of their own. FAMILY ALBUM, 24 November 5-6pm
This is fun hanging out in the Tracey Neuls bedroom with you, what's your bedroom like?
A friend came to stay recently and I commented on how I have tried to keep it really tidy and she said "it's because you have a boyfriend" in a funny voice like a girl at a sleepover in a movie. There is some truth in this though. I spend so much more time in my bedroom now so it can't be a dumping ground for things that I want out of the way (to make the rest of the flat clear). It's simple though- a bed, a chest of drawers and a little shelf with perfume bottles and curiosities on it.
Anything interesting under Kitty Finer's bed?
Whatever it is that is there is making me sneeze but it's not interesting.
What books do you have by your bed / are reading at the moment?
I have just read Hot Milk which is set in a region of Spain that I feel deeply connected to so I really enjoyed the familiarity of the location. Mother and Daughter relationships also always fascinate me.
Is there a book that you particularly enjoy reading to your daughter at night time?
I love children’s books and have so many favourites. now that my daughter is 7 she reads to herself a lot more so I don't get to read as many beautiful picture books.
There are just so many brilliant books out there - I absolutely love “I Want My Hat Back” its dark in the way I remember “Not now Bernard “ being. My daughter often asks me to make up stories for her and I love this but often get interrupted and told what I should say next or how the story should develop so I think they are more collaborative now. My favourite story I made up was about a lamb called Martin who didn’t fit in because his name didn’t conform to the alliteration rule on the farm…There is a nice twist at the end- can you guess? I hope to actually get this written up with some drawings one day. I would love to write and illustrate a children's book.
Did you have a book read to you when you were younger that you have a good memory of?
Ned and the Joybaloo by Hiawyn Oram and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. Both the story and the illustrations have stayed with me.
"Ned is grumpy every day except for Friday - the day when his Joybaloo comes to visit him. All through the night they play the most wonderful games until it is time for the Joybaloo to go back to sleep. But one day the Joybaloo disappears and Ned has no choice but to learn how to make his own joy”
Quote from Ned and the Joybaloo - Anderson press
My mum read this to me and my sister and at times she would feel the need to say “remember the Joybaloo” as a way of reminding me and my sister that nobody has an unlimited supply of energy. I guess as a kid when you have great fun and energetic adults in your life you don't stop to think that they might need to rest and refuel. Now that Im a mother I understand why its great to have picture books that can help children on their way to understanding bigger pictures and complex/challenging ideas.
What's is the most unusual place you've slept?
I remember being a kid and falling asleep in a dressing room and opening my eyes to see multiple pairs of hairy legs and men in pants changing outfits. I was so embarrassed so I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep but there is nothing worse than pretending to be asleep because faking waking up is actually quite hard.
Do you feel more creative in the morning or night time...Do you ever write in bed?
Definitely in the evening. I definitely write in bed. I keep a note book by my bed (although I didn't mention that ) as I have ideas all through the night.
Are you working on a new album?
It wont be an album it will be two EPs. Volume One is getting closer to completion.
My songs are delayed reactions to things and I had a feeling that some of my new songs were actually feeling stagnant - so I wrote fresher songs but this has delayed the process but its been interesting. A lot of the songs in Me and Johnny Love have been recorded for the EP.
Would you share a recent dream you've had with us?
When I was doing my MFA at the Glasgow School of Art , I worked in the Glasgow Concert Halls. It was a real experience of living a double life as I would leave my studio in my scruffy clothes and go and change in to a little pencil skirt, smart shirt , ballet pumps and name badge. I had a dream recently that I was working there again but it looked and felt like the hotel in the Shining.
What your dreams for the future?
To live by the sea so I can paint and write by day and sing and serve drinks by night (in a boat on a cliff perhaps).
Kitty has hidden a tooth under the pillow on the bed - you might recognise this character from her ‘Bunch of Friends' painting. You can be the tooth fairy and slip some money under the pillow if you choose to take it!! Only one available at our Marylebone store for that one lucky person. Comes with its own wooden display plinth too. For more tooth inquires please email firstname.lastname@example.org