I am outside the Royal Academy of Art in London watching tourists enter and exit the very popular David Hockney exhibition of portraits and stills which covers his career to date. My people watching is short term as I’m meeting the young artist India Preston, who I’ve not yet met or seen. She and her family are visiting London, taking a few days out from the tranquility and home life of Rock in Cornwall which lies opposite Padstow and edges the River Camel estuary. Besides the Hockney exhibition, India is planning to visit the Royal Academy's summer exhibition which will hopefully offer a source of ideas and motivation, besides the obligatory shopping bags and bustle of Oxford Street.

Some weeks ago I had the pleasure of walking the coastline around Falmouth and St.Ives. It was whilst browsing a local art exhibition in Falmouth that one of the displays, tucked away on a side wall, demanded my particular attention. I viewed, examined, pondered, took a few notes and some truly rubbish photographs before getting into conversation with Tasmin Bough, the Exhibition Coordinator.

She told me: “'Imagine Falmouth' has been our first open submission exhibition at Falmouth Art Gallery. We have been delighted by the response from local artists. Overall we received more than 200 entries from professional and amateur artists. India’s submission was representative of the high quality on show at the exhibition. We had a huge amount of positive feedback, with a number of pieces being bought. It was hard work to organise but due to popular demand and feedback we will aim to set up another show next year.”

The piece in question is perfectly titled, 'Fractured Identity'. It has a young girl in head and shoulders pose with interaction inside, outside and around her head. From semi-bricked walls, to shapes looking like jigsaw pieces, along with a flourish of emerald green as a backdrop, the work poses many questions. The portrait is looking back at the viewer looking in.

On a cool summer's afternoon we finally meet up, grab two chairs and try to secure limited privacy in the Royal Academy's cobbled courtyard.

India Preston is seventeen-years old, studying English, Spanish and a Fine Art A level at Truro School, coupled with an Extended Project Qualification in Fashion Photography.

“'Fractured Identity' is the first piece I’ve ever shown. It was accepted when I put it forward for the Falmouth Art Exhibition, 'Imagine Falmouth',” she explains.

“To be honest, I was surprised to make the final list of sixty as they had over a hundred entries for the under 18’s mixed media competition. So to have won the competition was a real shock, but I’m delighted,” she says, conveying this with a smile.

I begin with trying to unravel some of my many questions the piece poses, starting with “Who is the girl with the 'Fractured Identity'?

“It’s my sister. I set it up with a combination of digital photomontage combined with pen illustration.” India can see my furrowed brow, as I enter the world of photomontage.

“Really it’s just a process of rearranging, overlapping, replacing a set of photographs into a single composite item. The idea is the end result looks seamless,” she explains, as I nod in probably all the wrong places.

“Although I haven’t exhibited before I do have a small portfolio of pieces. They are influenced mostly by fashion and music based on friends and family. I’ve always been interested in art, drawing, designing, even from an early age. So, with my foundation course at school, I work on different projects everyday. Album covers are always interesting. I try and work out if they capture the artist's theme. I’d love to work on an album or CD covers. That would be really cool,” she enthuses.

Whilst she says music doesn’t directly influence her designs at present, it is a constant at home and at school.

“Currently I’d say The 1975 are one of my favourite bands. I was lucky enough to see them in Amsterdam recently. Amy Winehouse is an artist I love listening too. I saw the recent film biography of her life ('Amy') by Asif Kapadia. it is sad and poignant in so many ways. My mum is getting me to listen to the likes of Bjork and Kate Bush, who I really like”

I’m thinking of the pleasures which are ahead as she explores and experiences these two iconic artists. Happy days, I digress...

I take India back to 'Fractured Identity', asking what the piece is portraying. Is it carrying a message?

It’s at this point the teenager years melt away as she offers a clear vision on its structure in a mature confident manner.

“It’s based on many questions. Do our surroundings shape or restrict our identity? Especially living in Cornwall, which can sometimes be a safe and secure environment. The portrait's face is partially masked by images from around the Cornwall and Falmouth area. I’m asking if her surroundings have impacted and shaped her identity? I’m trying to show images coming into her head and outside influences which need to be dealt with every day. The portrait can be seen to both mask the identity and structure to the face. I hope when people see the piece it makes them think and maybe ask some of the questions I’ve tried to explore.”

India provides a simple a narrative to this complex, disturbing and challenging work of art, capturing a scene with so many sociological and psychological questions. I’ve viewed the piece late morning and early evening. About its light, setting, mood, I am not sure but it provokes question at each viewing.

When I learned India was seventeen I was reminded of the wonderful song 'At Seventeen' by Janis Ian. It is a song written with so much passion about the wrongs and unfairness of teenage life. It’s still a wonder how Ian captured those raw emotions at seventeen. Maybe India Preston has created something of a similar ilk, capturing a moment in time way beyond those formative years.

India says she is always open to ideas and influences to develop her own work and ideas.

“I love the work of the African artist Boris Nzebo, whose work I saw in the Saatchi Gallery, along with fashion photographer Rankin, who both offer interesting themes and ideas. Grayson Perry’s work in tapestries and ceramics definitely influenced my decision to experiment these themes as part of my current Foundation Course,”

'Fractured Identity', however, no longer belongs to India. It’s been sold.

“Yes, it is my first exhibition piece and first sale,” she says, her smile once again returning.

“I was told the buyer didn’t want to take it and hide it away in their home. They have agreed to show it at the Espressini Cafe Bar in Falmouth www.espressini.co.uk , which is great news. Obviously I appreciate the buyer and cafe owner working together so it can be viewed by customers. I hope I can get more feedback on the piece through my website.”

Before India rejoins her family to take in the Hockney exhibition I want to know what’s next. Future plans and career aspirations?

“I’m about to start applying to enrol on a foundation course at Falmouth, or possibly Oxford Brookes. This will give me a better idea on the type of Art degree I’d like to study. Fashion Photography has always inspired me. I may do something along these lines over the next couple of years.”

Whilst beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, music and art is emotive in people's likes and dislikes. Not everyone will understand or relate to 'Fractured Identities'. Some of the people who have seen the piece have described it as a changing landscape. I can go with that.

From my perspective it’s a well balanced, evocative, challenging piece of work. Although this is her first work to be shown in public it shows real talent in it’s composition, whilst asking questions of teenagers growing up in rural communities.

As Amy Winehouse once said. “If you don't throw yourself into something, you’ll never know what you could have had”.

From my brief time with India Preston I don’t believe for one moment she will miss the opportunities which undoubtedly lay ahead.


The pictures that accompany this article are 1. Fractured Identity 2. Identity Crisis 3. Gabriel 4. Projection 11.













Related Links:

http://indiapreston01.wixsite.com/mysite


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