Martha Freud

‘I do not have ducks or a row, I have squirrels and they are at a rave.’  With her latest work, Martha Freud sums up the mood of the nation in a pre-Christmas week that has tested us all. This is just one example of the artist’s witty catchphrases that brings sharp humour and wisdom to porcelain kitchenware, swear boxes, candles and light installations. We were enthralled by her beautiful exhibition – now at the Nonemore Gallery – and met up with Martha to find out a little bit more about the ideas behind the show.

A Little Bird - An Insider's Guide to London

What’s the idea behind your new show, Mixed Messages?

The exhibition title, Mixed Messages, sums up this new body of work that has been inspired by our paradoxical world. It is an exploration of the ways in which we talk both to ourselves and to one another in amongst a world of confusing and conflicting cultural messaging.

How does it feel to have an exhibition in this current time? 
The pieces that I create are made to be experienced in real life – to be touched, smelled, to be viewed in a sequence, to have light bouncing off them or within them. People have become so used to living life through a screen after the last couple of years, and many pieces of my work cannot be represented on a phone, so I am thrilled to have had this opportunity to show at Nonemore Gallery and connect to people through the art in the spirit it was intended. 
How long have you been working on the new pieces? Do they communicate with one another?
I made the first versions of some of these pieces well over ten years ago, but it has taken the last decade for me to refine and bring together the concepts and techniques. Many of the works can stand alone as one piece, but when they come together they become part of something else – like spider silk.
A Little Bird - An Insider's Guide to London
How did lockdown impact your practice?
With two young children to home school, my studio time was very precious and an opportunity for me to process all the changes that were happening in the world around me. It was during these windows of opportunity that I really developed the “tableware” pieces – creating these symbols of domesticity and marking on them the mantras and messages of the moment.

We love your light boxes. Could you explain a bit about the idea behind them? 

My Mixed Messages boxes are large installation pieces made up of a sculptural wooden grid of pigeonholes. Within each pigeonhole sits a unique porcelain pot, the surface of which is punctured with tiny holes that spell out a seemingly random word. When the electricity is turned on, certain pots light up illuminating different word sequences, spelling out a message, a quote, a mantra, a lyric or a musing. Each individual word tells a story greater than itself when connected to its fellow words via light. I normally work with a grid of 96 cups which can tell between 50 and 80 short stories. Each box I make is thematically unique. I have 5 in my exhibition: one examines the juxtaposition between light and darkness, one explores food and appetite, one is an homage to the music of The Beatles, one is entitled “Mixed Messages” and explores the broader themes of the exhibition, and one tells the time, intercut with time related thoughts, reminders and phrases. 

In the past I have made “Mixed Tapes” that incorporate lyrics of my clients’ favourite songs. I also have a large Mixed Messages box in the Dorset Square hotel, which was the original site of Lords Cricket Ground. Naturally, that one is cricket themed!

How did you go about creating the scents for your new candles? 

Working with light is something that I’ve done often over the course of my career whether it be electrical or candlelight. Developing bespoke fragrances has felt like a very natural evolution of this practice as it has allowed me to introduce the sensory dimension of smell into the experience of my pieces. I have worked with experts in their field to create 4 signature fragrances inspired by the notion of the Hearth – (the title of the first scent), and derivative of that: Heart, Earth and Art. To me, the hearth represents a place to come together around the fire, to sing songs and tell tales in the comfort of warmth and light. This collection is about love, connection and the creativity of storytelling.

A Little Bird - An Insider's Guide to London

Where do you get your ideas?

I get my ideas from the world around me. Sometimes I will see something and the idea will present itself fully formed, other times I can connect on some level but the idea will come together later, as and when more information and inspiration becomes available to me. When I am in nature, I’m so in awe of its intelligence and that informs my work in one way. Whereas when I’m in conversation with the manmade world, this has a different influence on my creative practice altogether.

A Little Bird - An Insider's Guide to London

What’s been your personal motto this year?

“The door is open, it is up to me to walk through it” is something that I have been constantly reminding myself of this year, when it has sometimes felt as though the metaphysical door is locked. After this extraordinary time of lockdown and restrictions I find it can be very easy to be consumed by fear and become almost agoraphobic, emotionally if not physically. These words remind me that change is possible, but that I have to take action.

What inspires you?

Laughter, love, connection, conversation, stories, sadness – life inspires me!

What’s your favourite painting/gallery/art space in London?

I find London to be a living, breathing art space – there is so much inspiration everywhere from the clothes people wear, the graffiti on the streets (living in East London this is particularly so) and the beautiful, curated spaces within which we can come together and have collective experiences. What interests me is not just the art but how people interact with it. Sir John Soane’s museum is a particular favourite though, an extraordinary and intriguing blurring of the lines between a home and a museum.

Which accounts do you like to follow on Instagram?

I follow quite a range! Despite not having a dog I am very into the work of @hollyfrean and @sallymuir at the moment. And I like to see things that make me laugh, such as the meme “stories” of @zephyrwildman and the comics of @newyorkermag. And @dollyparton because I just adore her.

Where will you be spending Christmas?

I will be spending Christmas with my family (my partner and two kids), my parents, a couple of my brothers and my grandmother in London. Being able to experience Christmas through the eyes and excitement of the children is really fun.

What’s on your wish list?

My dream gift would be a Loquet London pendant necklace with each of the charms inside chosen for me by my family and friends.  I love the idea of taking this precious reminder of my loved ones with me wherever I go, symbolically having them all in the same place while we go on our own adventures. 

Have you been naughty or nice this year?

Even though naughty is one of my favourite words, I have done my best to be nice this year!

A Little Bird - An Insider's Guide to London
Mixed Messages by Martha Freud
Nonemore Gallery, 10A Rathbone Place, W1T 1HP
Tuesday - Saturday, 11am - 5pm
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