Studio Visit With Liffey Speller

Inside the studio of Liffey Speller.

We popped into Liffey's Johannesburg studio to see work in progress and for a quick chat:

Favourite material to work with?

Oil paint is my first love but I really enjoy experimenting with materials; salt, feathers, burnt materials, glitter, enamel…mixing media is always a fun experience so it really depends on the mood I’m in as to whether a piece will become a painting or a mixed media work. So I’d say it would be a tie between the old friend that is oil paint and the unpredictability of mixed media.

detail from 'Little By Little, The Darkness Fades Away''

What themes do you pursue?

My main themes would probably be around the ideas of transience and fragility. I use my art as a way to investigate my own fears, worries and problems. The passage of time, death, and destruction/regeneration are all ideas that pop up throughout my work. I see the art making process as a form of healing so I would say that my work is a balance of both positive and negative forces, light and dark in both subject matter and appearance. Art making for me is a journey, so while not everything I make falls within these parameters generally these are the themes addressed in my works. I can feel my focus slowly changing as I enter a new phase of my life so it’ll be interesting to see where these changes take my art.


How many years as an artist?

I graduated at the end of 2011 so have been working professionally as an artist for nearly 2 and a half years. That being said I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember.


'Perfumes of an Ancient Spring'

Where is your studio?

I’m lucky enough to have been able to convert a room in my parent’s garden into a really beautiful studio. It’s set in amongst lots of trees, has plenty of natural light and has orange bougainvillea running up the walls. Very picturesque and perfect for making art.  My last studio space was in a recently evicted drug-den/brothel so my current studio couldn’t be more different.

detail from 'I Am Not Cruel, Only Truthful'

Art School or self-taught?

Art School, I studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

I like working to music but much prefer ‘talking’ as a background noise. I always have a movie, series or audiobook playing in the background. Audiobooks are probably my favourite as I love reading, this way I get to ‘read’ a book and paint, two of my favourite things in the world, at the same time.

detail from 'I Must Go Down To The Sea Again'

Favourite brush?

I didn’t think I had a favourite but after going through my brushes it turns out I have three of the same so I guess a synthetic fibre size 6 ashrad flat head is the winner! I also love painting with 2 and 3 inch prime art hake brushes for larger scale paintings.


Where can we find you outside of the studio?

There’s nothing I love more than going out for coffee with friends. I’ve also recently taken up yoga which I’m starting to get into and have a bit of a weakness for computer games. Other than that you’ll find me baking or reading. I love baking so give me any excuse to make something I’ll be in the kitchen. I also try to do some voluntary work in my spare time. I’ve actually just come back from India, working with kids in one of the slums at the base of the Himalayas which was an incredibly eye-opening and inspiring trip.

Killing Time

If you couldn't be an artist, what would you do?

While I love being an artist I am actually just about to start my Masters in Art Therapy. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and felt like a natural progression considering how I view my own art making process. I’ll be starting at LaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore in August of this year which is incredibly exciting and should, if everything goes according to plan, become a qualified Art Therapist at the end of 2016. The more I talk about it the more excited I get, being able to use art to help people really is what I want to do so being accepted to the course is a dream come true.

What do you collect?

I have a real obsession with collecting things so have many different collections. Off the top of my head there are feathers, 1c coins, bottles, notebooks, anything to do with poppies, interesting stones, keys that seem to have no matching lock, stamps, spent bullet cases…
I’m a bit of a magpie so I just end up picking up anything discarded that looks appealing. The aim is to use them in artworks one day so that justifies me keeping everything!

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Believe in your ideas, if you have an idea that you feel strongly about don’t let others with louder voices talk you out of being yourself.
I went through a phase where I was doubting everything I made but in the end you have to trust in what you want to do and believe your ideas are good enough. Once I realised that and became less self-conscious about what I was making, in my opinion, my art improved immensely. It’s not a case of ignoring criticism, which is both necessary and helpful, but rather not being talked into making work that means nothing to you or has little of your voice left in it.