In Conversation: Fiona Stirling / Elizabeth Challinor

Fiona Stirling is an artist and mother. Since beginning her PhD, she has been researching the impact of time and space on the paintings of contemporary mid-life women artists. She investigates this theme by making paintings and exploring the work of other female artists. This project focuses on significant aspects of Fiona Stirling’s painting process including painting ad hoc and in-betweener painting in relation to other women painters. Later in the programme, Independents Biennial will be sharing a public symposium, which she has curated.

You can check out her ongoing IB21 work here –

Contact details:

@fiona_stirling_ (Instagram), 

When did you first start your project? How did you get involved with IB21?

 The project started when I began my PhD in 2020. I was lucky enough to receive a commission from Cultural Hubs St Helens Libraries to support my research, and this commission was partnered with the Independents Biennial; this is how I became involved with IB21.

What are you working towards during the biennial/what are you looking to achieve with your experience here? 

 I am working towards creating a collection of paintings that explore how time and space impacts upon my practice. I’m also organising a symposium that explores this theme; I’ve invited three other artists to talk about their work and to consider how time and space manifests itself in their paintings. This will be an online event and will take place on Friday 4th June at 1:30pm. It’ll be hosted by St Helens Libraries, and free tickets for it will be available on Eventbrite.

What is your practise about generally & what processes/methods do you typically use? How has your work that you’re doing for the biennial evolved from this? Is there a big difference between this specific body of work & the work that you usually do? 

 My practice explores the implications of time and space on the paintings of mid-life women painters. In terms of processes and methods, I tend to use whatever is around, sometimes I mix paint with other media, create work from my notes, job lists, left-over work from my teaching sessions or make paintings from work that has come from time spent with my children. I’ve come up with two terms to explain my methodology, painting ad-hoc and in-betweener painting. Painting ad hoc describes the unplanned, impromptu, makeshift method that I use. I fit my painting around my teaching and caring responsibilities or incorporate it into these activities. Inbetweener painting further explains my methodology as it gives more information about the space and time when my practical research occurs, that being, in-between other commitments.

 Ad-hoc also means ‘as necessary or needed’, this added extra meaning to the term and to my work. This suggests that my practice is an essential task, an act of maintenance which connects to Mierle Laderman Ukeles ideas about maintenance art. I make as necessary, when I have time, whilst doing other things, in an ad-lib kind of way. The work has a rawness, it’s about the material, about being and doing. Ukeles, like Joseph Beuys believes in the transformative nature of art and that’s something I’m thinking about at the minute.

 Embracing ‘chance’ and following Dada methods of ‘appropriation’ I repaint over discarded canvases and use materials that present themselves to me whilst at work or at home. I leave work on display in the spaces that I occupy so that I can consider and respond either practically or intellectually when the time presents itself. Using the paintings as teaching examples in my studio sessions connections are made between the art works in terms of the colour palette, imagery, scale, shape or mark making allowing time for reflection and reflexivity which is key to the development of the work.

 The materials I use extend beyond the traditional use of oil, acrylic and canvas, using pens, biros, rags, cardboard, elastic bands etc. In utilising such ‘throwaway’ material I connect with the methods of the ‘Arte Povera’ artists particularly with the practice of Marisa Merz and her work ‘Untitled (Living Sculpture)’, 1966. This sculpture was originally made in her home and traced her movements around the kitchen. Merz like Ukeles saw no division between life and work and the exploration of the domestic through her sculpture is evident in her choice materials.

 There’s no difference in Biennial work and the work I usually do, it’s just evolved even more as I have been able to talk to other IB artists, organisers and hosts about my work which has made me feel really supported and given me the confidence to develop my research even further.

Did you have plans for your work (& to present it physically) before the festival was moved online? Did this change in platform affect you (& your work) much, or has it always been suited to being available digitally?

Yes, I was going to exhibit a collection of paintings in St Helens library. The platform change didn’t affect my work though as I was using Instagram as a gallery platform and posting work there anyway; I’m quite happy doing that.

Have you been working as part of your residency prior to the launch, or have you only just started your working? 

I was working on it prior to the launch as I’m studying too so it’s all sort of come together with that really.

What’s it like (or been like so far) working with the Independents Biennial? Do you get much support from the organisation?

 I really enjoy being part of a group like this; I find the support and the dialogue really helpful. We all thrive on encouragement, being listened to and being made visible and I think being an Independents Biennial artist provides that secure foundation, recognition and confidence for me to push my ideas forward. It’s like being in a virtual studio with lots of interesting chat, work and discussion going on around me which is fab.