Carys Reilly and Brian Daines have exhibited work focused around womens’ chronic illnesses across the UK . Their current exhibition Inside Out, currently showing at Six Foot Gallery, addresses womens’ health issues and how they are portrayed in society, where they are often minimalised, trivialised, and ignored. Carys and Brian want to challenge the lack of awareness and inadequate diagnosis and treatment that leaves many women marginalised in the world of work, and everyday life.
How did you come to work together?
Brian: While visiting an exhibition in the gallery at my studios in Sheffield, I came across a piece of artwork created by Carys’ partner, which prompted me to search for her on Instagram. As a result of this, Instagram’s algorithm suggested one of Carys’ endometriosis-themed works which caught my attention. I explored her profile, liked her work, and decided to reach out via email to enquire about a potential collaboration. Over to Carys …
Carys: I actually had thought I was finished with the topic of endometriosis and was starting to look for a new project to work on when I received an email from Brian asking if I’d be interested in collaborating. I’d never worked with another artist before but had always wanted to do collaborative work, and it seemed like such an interesting new take on the topic that I just said ‘sure!’
How did you arrive at the theme of your exhibition?
The general theme of endometriosis emerged from our shared interest in this area, which prompted Brian to initiate contact. Carys’ lived experience of endometriosis has been a driving force behind her interest in this area, as she has personally experienced the physical and emotional impact of the condition. Through her artwork, she aims to challenge the social narratives that often portray women’s experiences with endometriosis and other gynaecological conditions as trivial or unimportant.
In particular, Carys’ practice focuses on critiquing the ways in which gender roles intersect with societal ideals of womanhood. She is interested in exploring how cultural norms and expectations shape women’s experiences with chronic illness and pain, and how this in turn impacts their sense of self and identity. Through her work, Carys aims to create space for these experiences to be acknowledged and validated, and to challenge the patriarchal structures that often silence and dismiss women’s voices.
Brian’s interest has its roots in his work as a psychotherapist, where he provided therapy to women with chronic illnesses and lectured medical students on related topics. When he established his studio at Yorkshire Artspace in 2014, he intended to explore the theme of chronic illness through his art. It was during this time that Brian met a woman in London who was interested in collaborating on an art project related to her experience with endometriosis.
The themes that emerged during the development of Inside Out were the result of ongoing discussions between us about our collaboration. Our conversations explored the cultural attitudes towards chronic illnesses and pain experienced by women, which are often dismissed or ignored. We also discussed subverting the tendency to romanticize and trivialise women’s experiences with menstruation and gynaecological conditions by exploring the messiness and complexity of these issues.
How does collaborating with another artist differ from working alone? Has it required you to change aspects of your practice?
Brian: Although I have devoted a significant amount of time to working independently, I have found that collaborating with others has been the most enriching and rewarding creative experience, particularly when exploring and responding to other people’s stories. As a psychotherapist, I have always been fascinated by the narratives of others, and this curiosity has translated into my art practice. The main difference I have noticed when working collaboratively is the need for openness and receptiveness to others’ ideas, allowing their influence to shape my work in a way that is not purely introspective.
Carys: I usually work in a very insular, isolated way so having another person to discuss the work with throughout was very different. I actually found it really helped with my confidence in the work, and it was just quite fun to talk to another person throughout rather than working entirely by myself.
What’s your favourite piece in the exhibition?
Carys: My favourite piece is just called ‘Endometriosis’, I think it sums up the exhibition and its aims in one image. I like the fact that it looks so visceral and painful, and doesn’t shy away from depicting the anatomy in question (a uterus) rather than trying to be euphemistic. I also like the visual reference to Rorschach Tests, as our project critiques the way that women’s pain and symptoms (especially gynaecological) are often seen as partly psychological in nature even by medical professionals. I just think it sums up the work and conveys everything we want in one image.
Brian: My favourite is untitled and is a composite digital photograph from photographs of one of my mixed media works with one of Carys’ paintings superimposed. As a joint work it represents our collaboration and, as with Carys’ favourite, summarises the main themes of our work together.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
Carys: My creative process was different for this project as I mostly work in sculpture but I felt that painting was the right medium. Usually, I have an idea of what I want to convey but not how I want it to look, so I take out my entire collection of found objects and just start putting them together and seeing what works. For these paintings I had to really give up a lot of control over the outcome; they were created by wetting the paper and dropping ink onto the page or painted objects into the water. As a result, I had to create hundreds of them as some would just not work at all.
Brian: Ideas would emerge out of our conversations which often lodged in the back of my mind and creative thoughts would then suddenly occur to me later, often at a time when I was away from the studio. These were such aspects as a media to try, some ideas around colour or combinations of colour, a shape, or a way of making or modifying a photographic image.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
Brian: Fortunately, I don’t experience creative blocks when working collaboratively as I thrive on the collective energy and flow of ideas. Rather I have an overload of creative ideas! However, when working alone, I sometimes struggle to generate new ideas. This can come out as a sense of frustration, spending hours contemplating a partially completed painting with no clear direction or feeling defeated and discouraged enough to consider giving up. Sometimes you just have to go to the studio and sharpen the pencils!
Carys: Usually I just create and create, and eventually will end up with something I like, but I just force myself to make something. This time it was a bit different as I had Brian to discuss the work with at various intervals. Sometimes I’d think I was ‘done’ with a certain method or theme, and then through our discussion I would realise there was a different way I could push it further or adapt it – for example when we came up with the ‘disrupted narratives’ theme I realised I could push my paintings further by dropping objects into the water and ink to disrupt the flow, and could create these very ordered backgrounds like grids and then print on top of them with my ink and water.
Who influences you? Which other artists work do you love?
Carys: I’m influenced by the ‘radical narcissism’ of 1970s performance artists. My favourite artist is Hannah Wilke, I also love Jo Spence, Cindy Sherman and Tracey Emin. Hannah Wilke, one of my favourite figures from this movement, was known for her provocative and boundary-pushing performances, which often incorporated her own body as a central element. She was interested in exploring the ways in which gender and sexuality intersect with power and politics, and her work often challenged traditional notions of beauty and femininity. The work of Jo Spence explores themes of illness, trauma, and healing, often through the use of performative and photographic techniques. Cindy Sherman is also noted for her explorations of identity and self-presentation, using photography to create complex and nuanced portraits of herself and others. Finally, I feel that Tracey Emin’s work (especially My Bed) was revolutionary in showing the messy and imperfect side of illness that women have always been encouraged to hide.
Brian: I have gained valuable insights on the art of balancing control and spontaneity from the works of Jackson Pollock, while Mark Rothko’s minimalist approach has taught me that simplicity can be a powerful tool in art. Additionally, I find the works of Pauline Boty and Evelyne Axell, two prominent female pop art artists, to be highly inspiring. In particular, I admire their ability to challenge societal norms through their art. As for contemporary artists, the German abstract painter David Ostrowski’s works have caught my attention, and I find his unique style to be both intriguing and captivating.
What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
Brian: Allow your interests, passions, and creativity to guide you as far as possible, while keeping your need for commercial success or financial gain at a minimum, based on your circumstances.
Carys: I think once you lose the community that you have at college or university of people around you creating work it’s very difficult to inspire and motivate yourself. I would say finding a creative community (whether through an external studio, crit group or even just online art groups) is essential for recent graduates.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about the exhibition or your experiences as an artist?
Carys: The main thing I want people to take away is that any pain that disrupts your ability to live your normal life isn’t something you should have to ‘put up with’, and that periods aren’t supposed to be agonisingly painful. If they are, something is wrong and you deserve to have help and medical care.
Brian: I hope that the exhibition helps to raise awareness of the important issues we have addressed in our artwork. Through exhibiting my art in these areas, I hope to encourage a more open and honest dialogue surrounding these topics, which are often seen as off-limits, and to counteract the tendency for men to avoid discussing these issues.
Inside Out runs until 18th May at Six Foot Gallery.