‘I am just fascinated by what makes humans behave’ – ArtAttack meets Teresa Wells

Teresa Wells is a prolific award-winning sculptor, who also uses drawing in her installation work. Inspired by a moral upbringing, she possesses a fascination for the question, ‘How do humans behave?’

Teresa Wells, House of Cards | Image Courtesy Artist

Her work is made to reflect the consciousness of all humans regardless of nationality, and use of text illustrates her intrigue with human stories. After working on large scale installations / sculptures up to 4metres in length, Teresa has recently moved to a more intimate scale, 50 cm in length, where she explores domestic scenarios and disconcerted connections in human relationships.

I had the chance to speak to Teresa about her artistic practise and recent exhibition at the 2016 Art Rooms Fair.

How did you become involved in creating art / was there a specific moment that you decided to pursue it as a career?

I suspect my father wanted boys! After five girls he produced a son, and as the eldest aged 8 with no boy in sight he taught me how to use a pillar drill, tenon saw, and a hammer. We had a workshop in the basement of our 6 bedroom victorian terrace house, where my father would create all sorts of equipment to accommodate his large family, (including a bicycle for four and a motor home ). Intuitively I became a maker. I received tools for birthday presents but I also was encouraged to sew. Alongside the tools I had a foot treadle sewing machine by ‘Jones’ . When I wasn’t making I was drawing or inventing something made from recycled materials. It’s noisy with 5 siblings so frequently I would disappear into the attic or basement and just make. It just made me happy!

Teresa Wells, House of Cards (Extract) | Image Courtesy Artist

 What inspires you?

So many things!

Specifically there are a few things which I can get quite passionate about, for example I dislike injustice of any sort. I can be also driven insane by inequality in education for those with learning differences, speaking from experience!

Generally though, I am just fascinated by what makes humans behave. I read many books on social anthropology during my Fine Art Degree, with my earliest influences being Desmond Morris and Mary Douglas.

Therefore it seemed natural that the first artist to inspire me was Anthony Gormley. However, other anthropologist/artists have also given me inspiration too! More recently Grayson Perry, but also Susan Hiller and Anish Kapoor.

I am a massive music fan and will listen to anything from metal to Mozart depending on what I need to get me through the day.

Oh, and my daughter who has had open and closed heart surgery from the age of 12 days. She always seems to smile and never complains about what she was born with. She has made me question the value of life, and what is important.

Teresa Wells, Long Gallery Selfie | Image Courtesy Artist
Teresa Wells, Long Gallery Selfie (Extract) | Image Courtesy Artist
Teresa Wells, Long Gallery Selfie (Extract) | Image Courtesy Artist

How did you find the 2016 Art Rooms Fair?

I make many applications to show work wherever I can.

After receiving an award from Richard Deacon CBE for ‘Long Gallery Selfie’, London, July 2015, and being shortlisted for Spotlight 2015 in conjunction with The Andipa Gallery, Knightsbridge, I was called upon to submit a proposal for exhibiting work at The Andipa. I was presented with a set of challenges particularly with the way I show my sculptures.

The Melia White House Hotel and Art Rooms 2016, enabled me to challenge some preconceptions about how my sculptures should be shown. As my work aims to create a reflective response from it’s audience the guest rooms provided an ideal intimate setting.

Organisation of the event was professional and the invitations to selected prospective clients enabled me to network with gallery owners, curators and secured some valuable advertising for my art practice.

Your work seems to contain an anthropological element, how long have you been interested in exploring the ways ‘humans behave’?

I guess I always felt like an outsider as a child. I was a loner from an early age and left handed too, which sets you apart from the rest of the class. I preferred one or two friends and always felt awkward in social gatherings. I seemed to be innately curious.

When I finally got to university it was a chance for me to explore and learn what it was that actually made human beings tick! I was hooked!

I began studying body language and facial expressions before quickly moving on to body decoration, scarring and tattoos, particularly within African culture.

My final body of work looked at how we could take the organ of the skin, remove it and change it’s shape to make other forms. This culminated in a 4 metre high, acrylic, diamond/amorphous shaped form. Suspended from the ceiling of the university using springs, metal cable and piano hinges, the whole sculpture unfolded and created various shapes from the movements of the viewer as they approached the sculpture. 

Teresa Wells, Happy Anniversary | Image Courtesy Artist
Teresa Wells, Happy Anniversary (Extract) | Image Courtesy Artist

To what extent do you aim to create ambiguous and disconcerting scenes that raise questions about the scenario and relationship presented?

There are many layers here. 

Firstly, communication is made up from 93% of body language and facial expression, but to get the full message we need to convey messages with the written and spoken element of communication. As there is no written element or spoken word within these pieces there will be an element of ambiguity.

Secondly, I keep the titles deliberately vague, as I would like the audience to figure out their own interpretation, creating intrigue!

Thirdly, the pieces are mainly presented as theatrical sets or film stills, a scenario is designed which entices the viewer to raise questions and write their own ending whether that be positive or negative. Every viewer has their own set of experiences, initiating a unique and personal dialogue between the spectator and the piece.

Finally, I consciously employ an absence of facial expression and body language to generate feelings of isolation and reflection. The use of irony in some works (‘Happy Anniversary’, ‘Just Another Level’) reflects personal experience and current inspiration. It is employed with an element of morality to produce pathos. I kind of throw it all back as a statement and response to direct observation .

Teresa Wells, Just Another Level | Image Courtesy Artist

Have you got any future projects / plans lined up?

I am currently working on two new pieces. A small reflective piece exploring personal relationship, developmental growth, and use of future technology. In contrast, I am also working on a very large piece 180cm x 180cm x 80 cm high consisting of four figures and 10 other components in a theatrical setting. It is influenced by observing and listening to stories regarding the impact of technology on empathy.

Furthermore I will be showing several pieces in a huge sculpture show at Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire, from July to September 2016.

– Harry Dougall

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