'Traces Of Us'

A Solo Exhibition by Toni Cogdell
August 19, 2021
Toni Cogdell figurative abstract painting of girl

Interview with Toni on her upcoming solo exhibition, 'Traces Of Us':


What is the story/theme/inspiration/idea behind your work/collection?

Through my paintings I explore human emotion, sense and memory; facets of our inner world piecing together to make us who we are. Humans built from the inside out. I've always been pulled toward making art that expresses some of the intangible, mysterious currents of our minds and inner lives. I am on a pursuit to make contemporary portraits that dig beneath the skin to swim in our consciousness, to reveal our stories and the marks we make on ours and others' lifelines, the traces of ourselves we give, revisit, and leave behind.


How we live on the inside and how this connects to our outer lives.


What influences your work? E.g. Artists/Movements/certain works/historic time

Nature influences my work more than anything else. The power and movement of nature is my fulcrum; I return to it, lean into it, to remind myself what's important, who we are when stripped of the chaos of society. It's the gravity in my paintings, allowing me to pour in content and emotion without it resulting in noise and contradiction - elements of nature ground and balance the forms in my paintings.


I also love cinema (and great quality TV series) and am constantly inspired by certain frames and use of light and composition to tell the story. I have lots of photos on my phone from my paused TV screen where a moment of film has leapt out, like a perfect and complete moment of being! Endlessly inspirational, not in any literal way but it all goes into the mixing pot!


Writing, poetry and music also have a huge influence on my work. I suppose it's all about perfect moments of expression, and when you read or hear that it booms straight into the heart. You feel it.


What is your favourite type/genre of art and why?

I love all figurative work of course, but I am drawn to any painterly and expressive artwork, from abstract expressionism to street art, and moving image, dance, music - anything that can encapsulate the hugeness of us.


What does art mean to you and did it influence you to make art a professional vocation?

Art is my whole world, as David Bowie said of music, it's "the house that I live in". I make art to connect with life, it's my filter on my lens into the world, or perhaps more accurately it is the process which refocuses and renews my filter as well as a bridge between my inner and outer world. I hope the resulting paintings can provide the same for people looking at them.


I have always needed to live creatively, even when working other jobs I would be longing to be in the studio, making, so it was very much a need over a choice to follow art professionally. It's not an easy path forging a career as an artist, and I continually doubt I have the gumption for it, but making art needs to be central in my life, that switch won't turn off.


How has your work grown since you started out as an artist?

I hope I have found more freedom in my work since I started out; more confidence to use the media I want to use with the content I 'feel' is right to include within a piece. My working process is intuitive and I think I have developed a greater trust in my intuition and allow myself to take more risks.


What do you feel makes your style of work unique?

I feel the combination of media I use within my work alongside the coupling of forms and words makes my style unique. In a way it's utter chaos, literally everything but the kitchen sink going onto a canvas, but working layer after layer, paint marks, washes, collage, spray paint, forms, words, pushing forwards and receding back, the constant push and pull of light, colour, form and text, a dialogue forms and a kind of balancing point is met. This is what I'm looking for in my work - a breath, a suspended moment floating between the layers of our lives, a transitory understanding. While abstract-figurative work isn't rare, the 100% freehand drawn and painted figures in my work alongside the long and layered process, combining media and pushing work into failure to reach something unknown on the other side feels a little more unique. The emotional fabric of my work isn't for everyone, but the journey is true and mine, and I hope will speak to other people's journeys too.


What type of art do you dislike and why?

I dislike any art void of emotion and spirit, anything that is clearly made formulaically to suit a niche and bank balance, rather than following an artist's exploration and voice (and for that to organically find its audience). The fake stuff. We all know what that is!


Has anyone famous ever bought your work?

I am blessed to have had Goldie connect with my work and to be championing it, buying it for his gallery collection at Aurum Gallery in Thailand, and gifting me with guidance and encouragement. He sees exactly what I'm trying to do in my work and what I'm about and his wisdom has had a big impact on the evolution of my art.


What can we expect to see in the future?

I'm working on an ongoing series of large pieces, the result of the last couple of years really honing my technique. I also want to deliberately focus on series of works backed up by pieces of my writing, and have a few series running alongside each other, to really push and focus the things that are starting to happen in the work. It feels like I'm only just beginning, so much to do, I guess every artist feels like that!


What quote/word sums up your art work?

"Wearing my inside out".


(I wrote that quite a few years ago and it's sort of become a self imposed tagline! It originates from the poem 45 Mercy Street by Anne Sexton and the song Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel written in response to the poem. Anne's husband wipes off his eyes " in order not to see my inside out" Gabriel replies by telling Anne to "wear your inside out" -  power of that never fails to resonate with me. Human emotion can be ugly, but it is also beautiful, and true, and we need to be seen.)


Tell us about your creative process; how do your works come into creation? Where do you begin?  Do you envisage the final outcome from the start or is the process more of a journey?

My process is very much a journey, one that is intuitive and unknown to me. I don't have any idea of the final outcome before I begin, I just start simply with a figure or a face, loosely sketched freehand onto the canvas. I have an ever expanding collection of reference photographs taken of people I know that I use as a loose reference point; at the beginning of a painting I will have a blank canvas and suddenly one of these images will speak to me and I really feel it needs to be painted! Once that figure is on the canvas all chaos breaks loose. Often the figure won't survive and will be painted over with another one, or several! Washes of acrylic paint and spray paint go on, then collage, then back to washes, then drawing, then spray and oil paint and rinse repeat until it feels as if there is a real architecture for feeling there. I find it tricky to know when a painting is finished, I wonder if it never really is, it can be a multitude of versions to the one you call finished. But once it feels as if all the traffic is coming at me from the painting rather than needing my input on its road then I can call it complete!



To view Toni's works that will be featured in the solo show, visit our website's exhibition page to browse all of her new and striking, original figurative paintings. For any questions or enquiries about the exhibition, works or artist, please do email us or fill out an enquiry form on the 'contact' page.

About the author

Mia Hedges

Add a comment