Interview: ArtworldNow meets artist Josie Spencer

by Martin Macdonald
New York-born London-based artist Josie Spencer studied sculpture at the Accademia della Sculptura, Florence and Sarah Lawrence College, New York. Before becoming a student at the New York Studio School for Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, she studied anatomy and drawing at the Art Students League. Josie later became a Board Member and Vice-Chair of The New York Studio School. She has exhibited extensively in both New York and London. Her exhibition 'Murmuration' is held at the The Playground Theatre in West London from 3 - 19 May 2018.

Josie Spencer, Burnt Angel, 2014

What’s your background and what led you to become an artist?
I have sculpted all my life, having picked up clay as a child instead of the paint brush. There are artists and writers in both sides of my family so it seemed a natural thing to do.

Tell me about the title of your current exhibition at The Playground Theatre. Why Murmuration?
I have used the title Murmuration for my show because its zoological definition seems apt for our times, each creature out for themselves in the face of danger or an emergency. I am using it as a metaphor for our times.

Your installation of suspended life-size bronzes in which some appear to be falling whilst others are flying or simply floating seems to speak of a doomed societyHow does the installation comment on current socio-political, economic and/or religious issues?
This is not about a doomed society, but rather a moment in time when we need to recognise the fragility of democratic society, and not take it for granted, nor allow our governments and politicians to become pawns of larger economic forces to the detriment of the majority of the population and the benefit of the very few. How shocking it is that we live in a land of ever growing food banks, the greatest ever recorded wealth, the heightened danger of atomic war and climate destruction.

What inspires your work?
The strength and resilience of the human spirit that can recreate its world as a better place is a necessary inspiration. I am also motivated by the sense of the danger of history repeating itself. 

How has your practice developed over time?
In the past I have worked completely abstractly using metal welding to construct my sculptures. I decided that I would go back to using the human figure as a more moving subject for its beauty and its immediate importance to us.

Is there a material or technique you are most comfortable working with?
My preferred material to work in is clay, to be cast or fired.

Who are your favourite artists?
For very different reasons I especially admire Donatello, Giacometti, Arp, Christo, Banksy and George Segal.

What are you working on next?
I have various ideas for my next pieces, but my experience is that things change and evolve in unexpected directions after a show. I recognise where I am going after I see what I have done.

Installation view, Murmuration exhibition, The Playground Theatre, London