Interview: Rachael House on new exhibition Fats Femmes Bisexuals
Tell us about your exhibition at Parlour Gallery, Fats Femmes Bisexuals. What should we expect and how did it come about?
I was invited to make an exhibition at Parlour Gallery, and I’ve been working towards it throughout this year. It’s a very supportive and encouraging place to exhibit in, and to take risks, I’m really enjoying it. Parlour Gallery is part of Triangle Deptford, a new grassroots LGBTQIA+ cultural centre.
A visitor said Fats Femmes Bisexuals was ‘joyously radical’, and I’m pretty pleased with that! It’s in an intimate space, I have painted patterns on some of the walls, and put ceramic plaques up, as well as genderqueer deity sculptures to watch over us, guarding us from gender conformity and those who would do us harm. One of the plaques says ‘You Are Safe Here’, and I hope this exhibition gives a respite from a world that is increasingly hostile to so many queer people.
It’s on until 8th October, open Thursday Friday and Saturday, so come and visit if you can.
Your work features lots of pithy phrases. What drives the messages in your artworks?
The words on the ceramic tiled plaques have a variety of origins. From queer history to music hall songs, books and activists. For a while I’ve been making work that’s protective, inspired by bellarmine jugs, which were often used as witches bottles for apotropaic magic. This next step is less about keeping harm away, and more about actively welcoming people who are wanted and necessary in our lives. Some of the texts used were once slurs, but I’ve turned that intention around. When Boris Johnson referred to gay men as ‘tank topped bum boys’ we know he did not mean it kindly. In my version, ‘Welcome tank topped bum boys’, I am not only summoning these people into my world, but affirming their obvious fabulousness and worth.
Who or what inspires you to make art?
Oh so much! Seeing exhibitions is important, but it can also be a phrase, a song, materials… I love medieval slipware, and I often draw inspiration from Thomas Toft plates. You can see some in the V&A. I have some Toft inspired tattoos that make me very happy.
I know Instagram is a mixed blessing (especially their censorship of queer art), but it’s really inspiring to see so much art from around the world, including folk art.
What advice would you give to a queer artist just starting out?
Go for it. Go out, see art, make art. Go to small artist run galleries as well as/instead of the blockbuster shows. If you can’t make art every day then try and think about it…
I am older and do not have the same pressures as so many young people these days. I don’t want to be patronising. But I suppose I’d still say make art for yourself, the work you are compelled to make, and don’t worry about what will be popular or sell. The integrity of the work is important.
What are your favourite London haunts? (to eat, to see art, to relax)
I don’t go out as much as I used too. Not got back into it as much as before pandemic. I’m quite old as well. I’m looking forward to going to the daytime Duckie, so far I’m been invigilating ‘Fats Femmes Bisexuals’ when it’s been on.
Brunch at Oru in East Dulwich is a treat, especially their masala baked beans. Anywhere with a good cardamom bun is good too. I really miss First Out in central London… if only the Feminist Library had a cafe, that would be perfect. I do like an occasional Ganapati takeaway, picked up on my way home from The Kiln Rooms after a day making ceramics. The sit down restaurant is even better.
I’ve seen excellent shows recently at Peer, Beaconsfield Gallery in conjunction with The Feminist Library and Space Station Sixty-Five (full disclosure, I’m a director of SS65, currently on sabbatical). Barbican and Hayward Gallery too. Oh, and The Parlour Gallery of course! They have such exciting plans for future exhibitions. I can’t wait!