Maisie Cousins uses photography to embrace the grotesque beauty found in nature with her now recognised images that often include flowers, sweat, rubbish and the body. Her close up still life’s of varying textures, fluids and forms capture details that would otherwise be impossible for the human eye to see. Fed up of sterile images that present the female form in a conventional and ultimately damaging way, Cousins embraces the body for what it is. Inspired by the way creatives manage to incorporate their work into their everyday lives, Cousins explains to Marguerite why she draws influence from artists such as Lee Miller and Alice Neel, whom she is currently showing alongside in the exhibition ‘In The company Of’. To celebrate the show at TJ Boulting, curated by Katy Hessel, Founder of @thegreatwomenartists, Marguerite collaborated with Cousins to host an evening named ‘Ants & Appetisers’, where she served ‘Surreal drinks and canapés’ for members of Marguerite. Read on to find out why she finds the work of theorist Julie Kristeva frustrating and why the gross things in life excite her the most.
Your work is an intriguing mixture, as it juxtaposes the beautiful with the grotesque – would you agree?
Absolutely, that is what I look for when taking a picture. I feel those emotions when I make work, grossed out, but finding beauty in it.
Themes of power, femininity, nature, technology, colour and indulgence are often explored in your practice – what draws you to these themes in particular?
Real life draws me to these themes and making work just helps me make sense of it all.
Your work reminds me of the theorist Julia Kristeva and her thoughts on Abjection – are you familiar with her? If not, are there any theorists and or photographers/ artists that have influenced your work?
No I haven’t, I will look it up and print it out right now.
Okay I have printed it out and read it and I hate it. I’m not a theory fan, hence why I found my BA so hard. But this particular text is really difficult to read and in fact it’s made me feel really stupid. I don’t like the way a lot of theorists have to go that extra with their writing, it’s distracting from the actual point they supposedly have. I did however enjoy reading Susan Sontag, but I think that was mainly how to the point her theories were in contrast to the others I had to read. I tried my hardest to get it, looking up every word I didn’t know with a dictionary, but I get more enjoyment and inspiration from listening to someone fart through a wall.
My favourite thing that inspires me about other artists is just hearing about their everyday, their favourite foods, their love in life. I can relate to that, and it makes me like their work more. A lot of the early photography I used to love when I started out (Martin Parr, Gregory Crewdson, Noboyushi Araki) I have since read interviews with them and actually found them really boring or pretty shady. Artists like Lee Miller and Alice Neal lived complicated and really interesting lives that I can empathise with. So it’s not really about other photographers, it’s more about how creative people have managed to make their work into their every day that inspires me.
Where do you create most of your images – is it in the studio?
At at the moment it’s all close up still life, I’m lucky to be able to make work kind of anywhere as long as I have my flash and my lights, a table top, i’m good to go. I’d love to branch out and do bigger set ups, but finding a suitable space in London to work in is so difficult! I’m desperate for a proper studio but I may have to look outside of London.
Is there a particular reason why your imagery is often of close ups?
Because this is what makes using a camera worthwhile. I can’t see how my camera sees, so that excites me.
You often explore the intricacies of the female form – are you confronting themes around body politics by doing so?
I’m working against what I see all the time, and what I see all the time is so boring and sterile. I just want to see the body for how it is.
You are recognised for your textured images, are there any materials that you prefer to work with and where do you find them?
Anything oily and greasy is a treat. Usually found in the kitchen cupboards.
Do you have a favourite subject matter?
How do you come to visualise an image that you wish to photograph, is it spontaneous or meticulously planned?
Very little planning happens, but I do a lot of prep, I shop around and wait for things to ripen and go over, I like to watch materials change, then I shoot often quite quickly and work instinctively. I can usually tell when somethings going to make a nice picture or not, I think the more thinking I do beforehand the less I like the image.
Do you have an image you are most proud of?
I don’t, but I do feel proud when I look at them altogether like a big collection. I do feel proud after I shoot a commercial job because it’s a lot of people and a lot of work and that’s the hardest thing, organising.
You are included in the group exhibition In The Company Of, curated by Katy Hessel. Can you tell me about the work you have created for the exhibition?
I have 4 original collage pieces in the show. I made collages for a brief period last year when I found myself unable to find the space to make photography. I was going through a lot of personal things and I needed that outlet that I could tap into whenever I needed distraction and to keep busy.
Career wise, what are you most looking forward to in 2019?
I’m going on a residency in Brazil in January, very excited about that. Career, who knows - life as a freelance means you pretty much never know what the hell your career even is.