This week, Catching the Comet's Tail hosts artist Sandra Turnbull. A group show, I Love You Because, featuring 40 artist's interpretations of Elvis, opens next week in London and includes Turnbull's work. Prior to becoming an artist, Sandra co-managed the band Eurythmics and, after many years of nurturing the creativity of others, she has finally come to honour her own talents.
Sandra on creativity...
"My creativity usually resides in my guts but it changes. When I was working on All About Eve, an exhibition about girls who work in the sex industry, it was in my gut and my nether regions! My current body of work, The Buddhas, is in my heart and soul.
I reckon I channel. Thoughts come from... who knows where? The muse visits me in surprising ways; in my sleep it leaves an imprint of an idea to paint. I wake with a vivid colour and often a finished painting just floating behind my eyes. After the idea, I look for a model to make it real. My best friend Jay has a great body and has made many appearances in my work. My mate Jane also crept into several early water paintings. My partner [Robert Goldstein, photographer] has a striking face, perfect to paint. I don't take too much credit for what I do. I put in the experiences, then some divine force charges through me and spews out images - it's a compulsion - I don't have a choice.
'A painting is never finished, it just stops in interesting places,' my Godson Mickey said to me a few years ago and I wrote it on the wall of my studio in black felt tip as an inspiration."
Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early artistic influences?
"I was sent to dancing school most days from 2 years old. My parents didn't know what to do with all my energy and dancing became an obsession. I ran away from home at 16 to join a dance troupe and that became my life. When I gave up professional dancing, I took up painting to fill the creative void. It was at this time that Hyper Kinetics was born and I became one half of the management team for Eurythmics. My dad, Annie Lennox, Joan Rhodes, Picasso, Robert Goldstein, all made me think I could do anything, either by example or by encouragement. So if I had a creative idea, I just went right out and made it happen."
Please describe how you put together the piece for the Elvis exhibition and say a little about solo projects you're currently developing.
"The curator Harry Pye asked me to get involved with the Elvis show in early 2013. I threw myself at it and finished the piece in March. It is almost as I envisaged it. That's how it works for me . I conjure up a colour, get the ground prepared and imagine what the finished painting looks like and go from there. In parallel, I am working on the Buddha series so I could only see Elvis as a Buddha, crossed-legged with the American flag pressing through his face. I loved painting Elvis. It made such a change from the Buddhas.
"I went to China in 2010 and came back needing to paint Buddhas. I was surprised how Buddhism is treated like superstition. Catholicism is the new religion there, crosses have replaced the Buddhas. I have painted 23 or 24 Buddhas for a show next year. I have another idea on the go too; Cut and Paste which involves a central life-size image, surrounded by collage. I am now obsessed with collecting magazines and own 10 pairs of scissors in all sizes... it's my Blue Peter moment."
How do you know when a painting is finished?
"I can kiss the lips of my painting - that's when I know it's finished. Weird I know, but it's a fact. "
Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what is guaranteed to kill it?
"I am inspired by vivid colour, sexy bodies, music, wide open spaces, depression, dreaming, and I'm uninspired by tiredness, idiots and anger."
Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore and what do you do when you feel blocked?
"I have never felt painting is a chore...a challenge yes, often, but that's half the fun.
If I am ever blocked I paint pictures on boxes. My friends save boxes for me; chocolate...shoe...biscuit...soap... any old box, large or small, and I paint naked people on them. That usually gets the juices flowing and opens a few portals."
Is there a collaborative element to your work or do you prefer to create alone?
"I work alone, I'm not keen on input. Robert might make a suggestion for a painting and I kindly suggest he might like to do that himself. I have been know to take the odd title he suggests for a piece of work though."
Please talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create.
"I have my studio at The Chocolate Factory N22 and have been there since 1999. I only paint there and it is my favourite place (see right).
My heavenly studio is set up so I can walk in and not even bother to take my coat off and start painting . I'm usually working on 2 or 3 pieces at the same time so, whichever grabs me first, I start. It's compulsive behaviour. Sometimes I am so into it that I forget to put music on. Other times I walk in, put a track on, start painting and play the same track on repeat all day. Sometimes I cry to the music I am playing and that affects the work. I eat a lot of crisps when I'm working. "
Do you have a daily routine when you are painting and what is it like?
"I'm a daytime creator. I plan my diary so I have carved out times to paint. I switch on during the drive to my studio. My life is like an army manoeuver: I teach pilates full time, I'm a governor at a local special school, I train in marshall arts, yoga and weights, and this is apart from relationships and responsibilities with the home, family and friends. I have to plan or it would all go pear-shaped very quickly."
Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process...
"1. My iphone doc...music is a driving force.
2. The palette of Joan Rhodes. Joan was the first person to encourage me to paint . She just said, 'Do It Sandra, put your work on the wall.'
3. The saying of Tom Waites: 'You must risk something that matters' - how true."
Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master?
"Acting ... I love acting . I did a course through Central St Martins in London and then a performance at The Old Red Lion last year and, by all accounts, I was very good. It was completely exhilarating and I will definitely do it again."
What are you working on next?
"Buddhas - lots of them."
"I Love You Because", a group show featuring 40 artists interpretations of Elvis curated by Harry Pye and Chloe Mortimer opens with a Private View on July 18th 6.30pm - 9pm at the A-Side B-Side Gallery, 5 to 9 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT (The gallery is open Thurs to Sun, 12 till 6pm).