Rendered in soft pastels and metallic paints, acrylic ink and marker pen, Romy Cole-Groth’s gestural, expressive abstract paintings are a record of the artist’s research into shape and colour; an instinctive, spontaneous exploration of an innate visual language. Shared primarily through Instagram, her work is immediate and placeless, garnering a strong following online and leading to a collaboration with cult Barcelona fashion brand Paloma Wool, despite the fact that Cole-Groth has only been painting for a few years.
With no formal artistic training, unencumbered by traditional artistic institutions, and disseminated digitally, Cole-Groth demonstrates the potential of new media for artistic exchange, while preserving the integrity and impact of her artwork. Here she speaks to PARCEL about the role of the internet in her work, how she came painting, and her experiences exploring abstraction.
Why did you start painting?
I started making ‘fine art’ in 2014, while I was studying a degree in the fundamentals of design. I chose design because I find visual graphic language fascinating – I wanted to learn about the hierarchy of text, image and size – but it was also a degree where creativity could be respectable and justified. I grew up in a working-class family that valued trusted careers, serving the local community, jobs that weren’t high-brow. It seemed to me that if I were to pursue a career in a creative field it had to have some intellectual aspect to it.
It’s enlightening to me to have that awareness of how your class, ability and race can influence you into different careers in your life, regardless of where your passions and energy would truly come into fruition. I think I resisted, rationalised and justified art making for too long. One day a dam broke inside me and I have been drawing, painting and exhibiting ever since.
“I start with a vague sense of colour, movement and texture. I start by coming to my tools and thinking of texture and colour that will move between each other seamlessly but with some complexity. I come to a blank page with a lot of vivid ideas of where I could go. I try and get into a flow and play around with colours. Play is vital in abstraction – I want my paintings to resemble feeling.”
Have your motivations for making art changed?
If you are consistent with your craft, everyday you’re going to further develop your skill and refine your art. I can’t define exactly how my motivations have shifted but I know that I consider my work very differently than I would have 18 months ago. I have better respect for the tools I use and a greater desire to expand my visual vocabulary. This visual literacy and vocabulary is essential in abstract art – it sits alongside of spirit, intuition and spontaneity. What feels good to paint, looks good also.
What drew you to abstraction?
The first thing that drew me to abstraction were the materials I was using – the soft pastels, oil pastels and markers; the potential of these tools to work together to create dimensionality on canvas and paper in unconventional ways, but that could look modern and refined. I’m influenced by work of Frankenthaler, Kandinsky, Twombly, Miro and Miyoko Ito, but especially Helen Frankenthaler as her colour and sensibility reminded me of things that I had felt before.
What all these artist have in common is their consideration for colour – or at least the impression of colour – and its synchronicity. I think all abstract painters have this tender and intimate relationship to colours. As Hans Hoffman, one of the western world’s most influential teachers in abstract art, remarked, “colour is a plastic means of creating intervals – the colour harmonics produced by special relationships, or tensions”.
“I stop when I feel like theres some clarity in my painting. Finishing a piece is about clarity and intention for me. If I don’t like something I will always put it away and come back to it in a week or so. I keep everything I make. I always want to highlight what I like rather than fixate. I think there’s more opportunity and room for creative expansion and learning from that.”
You have spoken before on Instagram and in interviews about living with Crohn’s disease – how does that come to feature in your work?
I think I’ve spent so many years in and out of hospital that I find vivid imagery and colour incredibly freeing and enlivening. Sometimes I paint for other sick people I have met at hospital and it can make me very emotional – abstract art is so in touch with emotion and feeling it is impossible for those things not to surface while painting.
Your sell your work printed on silk – why silk?
I think painting is moving towards a more immersive experience for curators and audience. Silk makes sense to me – I have always been interested in the process of digitising a painted image, or of using it on a textile or as part of a graphic design work. Silk was the perfect association I wanted for my art. It has a subtle lustre, holds colour impeccably and the tactility of the work has a sensuality that echoes the paint I use.
Follow Cole-Groth on Instagram here.