Jen O'Farrell, Guts Gallery Curator, 24 Feb 2022

Sophie Vallance Cantor, is a Guts Gallery championed artist. Curator Jen O’Farrell talks to Sophie about her latest body of work and recent solo exhibition ‘BAD AT LIFE (GOOD AT PAINTING)’.


JO: This show lets us into your studio, your world and into an artist's perspective with a lived reality as a neurodivergent person. How did it feel to expose a deeper part of yourself and your process?


SVC: Being an artist is really interesting because for me it has felt a lot like a really slow peeling back of layers getting closer and closer to some sort of truth of the self. (I am able to see this now, in retrospect, however in the throws of the process especially early on it often feels as if you’re getting absolutely nowhere). So, the idea of exposing and peeling back is happening all the time in the process of making the paintings in my studio, however the bringing together of a large body of work like this into a clarified moment with an explicit honesty about personal themes definitely took that to the next level. I think I made some sort of peace with how the themes in the show would be understood / not understood by people viewing it, and how ultimately, that isn't to do with me.


 Installation Shot


JO: What is your favourite part of your process? 


SVC: That's a good question and a hard one! I think it really depends on where I am meeting the day or the moment at any particular time. 


Sometimes the best part of making a painting is the idea and the initial drawing on paper when I'm really excited about the image and it almost feels as if it's already made before I make it.  Sometimes the joy is in the choosing and mixing of colours and how they sit together on the canvas. Sometimes it's seeing something change and become realised through the process of actually making it. 


Something that is pretty much always a joyous thing is after I’ve created the large work on canvas I often go back and turn the initial drawing on paper of it into a painting on paper. That's often when I'm free-est because the paper is smooth, the paint is creamy and there's nothing to lose.


JO: The installation creates a sense of mystery and an invisible barrier between the imagined scenes in your work and the outsiders’ perception. Do you feel this is a metaphor for how you perceive the world?


SVC: Yes, this is definitely a mirroring of my own perception of the world that I wanted to bring to the exhibition. For me neurodivergence often creates the feeling of being on the outside of the circle looking in, I can see what’s going on but I’m not quite invited to join in. I wanted the viewers to see where I make my paintings, the marks I left behind, and to see the finished works and the world within them; but not be invited to be a part of that world. I often talk about my works being in conversation with each other, and I loved the idea of the characters in the works talking between themselves about the people viewing them: with a little humour and curiosity but maybe also a little elusiveness and distance. Ultimately, I think the people in my paintings don’t care what anyone thinks of them! 




JO: The backdrops, characters and stories in these works almost stalk, follow and watch you. The shadows, tigers, dimly lit bar scenes become so cinematic and powerful. Exaggerated daily life into a magical, brave alternate world. Who or what were your formative influences when you started painting?


SVC: I have a really eclectic range of visual references for painting and have done for a long time including works by other painters, photographers, filmmakers, fashion designers etc but something that has really shaped who I am as an artist was a fascination with some specific artists and writers who I felt really embodied their own work within their life, and really lived the pursuit of being artists creating authentic work firstly and foremostly. To name a few Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Frida Kahlo, Sarah Schulman, and my partner Douglas. These influences allowed me to search for and find a voice unique to me, and I am eternally grateful.


 Installation Shot


JO: Do dreams play a role in your practice?


SVC: In a real-life way I don’t really enjoy dreaming whilst asleep, I have a mistrust of something so elusive and hard to pin down, easy to forget yet perplexing and scary at times. However in a broader sense what I'm making in my practice is sort of like the ultimate ‘dream world’ for me, a private alternate world where I make up the rules and get to totally be myself.


JO: What do you do when you have periods of stillness between making art?


SVC: I have a great love of ordinaryness in some ways, of daily tasks, taking some time to cook something delicious and eat with someone I love, cleaning the space around me, going for a walk, swimming in the sea, stroking my cats, taking a long bath. I think that when I look back, slow ordinary moments have been some of the happiest of my life. I also appreciate the more hectic ones, but just not as often. 


JO: Your paintings - especially the self-portraits - almost hold conversation with each other and with you. Which work in particular do you feel a special connection to? 


SVC: ‘And We Try Again tomorrow’ is a really special one for me, it’s a double portrait of me and my partner sleeping at night with our two cats. It was the first painting I decided would definitely go in the show and definitely informed the majority of the others which were made after it. It was the first really intimate painting I made of a real life setting from my life. I wanted it to be restful but not idealised. The title is a reference to patience and work being put into the relationship, and despite the reality that things can be hard for both involved, at the end of each day comes another day and another chance. 




JO: Which book has been the most important to you this past year?


SVC: Rat Bohemia by Sarah Schulman / A dictionary of Colour Combinations


JO: If you could make a work without limits - total freedom of space, of budget, of location what would you create?


SVC: In some ways I don’t think the core of my practice would change too much, I think I would still make paintings in the format that I do. I dream of a giant open plan space to live and work in though, overlooking London or New York but even then I would probably be painting on 150x150 square canvases, which would probably still have a touch of cat hair embedded into them.



Photography by Rob Harriss 

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