Abbi Bayliss’s mind has been on the wall of the Exeter Phoenix for longer than she expected, and she’s started to miss it. Her ‘mind’ on this occasion is her first solo show, which was due to end just as the lockdown began.
Emotional and proud
“When it first went up, I was really emotional and proud. Now that I’m far away from it, I want to see it again,” Abbi told ArtsCulture. The exhibition had its premiere in Bristol before the Exeter outing and is part of an exchange between the Exeter Phoenix and Bristol’s Creative Youth Network.
“Every couple of days I would go in to look at it and walk around like I’d never seen it before – I kinda miss it,” said Abbi.
The two experiences of the solo show were quite different. The Bristol exhibition was on Abbi’s home turf in a venue she’s very familiar with.
“In Bristol, I hung everything myself. In Exeter it all got hung up for me and I was like a viewer. It was a really good part of my early career. I don’t think I’ll forget it!” she said.
Abbi had never been to the Exeter Phoenix before, but immediately fell in love with the place, and that transition from being in an environment where she was familiar with the space, to one which was completely new was smooth and rewarding, especially as a solo exhibition.
“I’ve done group shows before – there was one at Spike and one at the Arnolfini – and those are really good, but at the same time you don’t get as personal. With my own show, it was my name on the cover, everything was done by me and all the curation of it all was written by me. At first, I thought that was a bit daunting. But by the end, I felt really proud. I remember thinking, it’s like my mind on a wall, which may seem a bit crazy. It’s so cool to see it out in person and not in my head.”
Women of colour
Abbi’s exhibition is a collection of portraits of her ‘biggest inspirations in all creative fields from poetry, theatre, literature, music and visual arts’, as she told Bristol’s Rifle Magazine. Her show is a series of images of women of colour and includes family and friends as well as those with more international renown.
During lockdown, Abbi experimented with different arts techniques, she’s also a poet, writer, performer and filmmaker.
“At the beginning, I was trying to make as many drawings as I could. Then I went through a patch when I didn’t create anything. After that, I started painting, which isn’t what I’m skilled at but it was really fun. I’ve changed style a lot. It is quite exciting because it’s something new to experiment with” she said.
Communicating through art
But it hasn’t all been lockdown. Black Lives Matter has made a powerful and visible impact in world news, and in Bristol.
“I’ve always been conscious of Black Lives Mattering,” said Abbi. “I’m always thinking about it. I’ve always been part of the cause and wanting change to happen. I was always trying to educate people through art, because I feel that’s the best way I communicate – through art, through writing and poetry or film. The whole movement is getting other people to educate each other through art as well, which I think is really good. It is definitely a good place for me to be at the moment because I’ve been doing that for a while and it encourages me.”
Which brought us onto the role of the artist in society.
“I think their role is just to be as honest as they can with what they’re trying to say. If it’s a facade, people can see through it. Be as honest and as real as you can, because everyone’s different and everyone has a different story.
Empathy and understanding
“My art and style, my story is completely different to the next person. I love going to see art and it’s about educating myself on other people’s views and how they see the world. The more you go and see and understand people through their art the more empathetic you can get. It’s all about communication, seeing other people’s viewpoints and understand them.”
That eagerness to encourage and share art has seen Abbi start her own online publication, Bibi.
“I love writing and I love seeing art and theatre so I thought I’d mesh the two together,” she said. “And I’m a wordy person. I love explaining things through words as well as drawing. It’s also a way for me to document everything I’m seeing and more properly reflect.”
In terms of artist engagement, lockdown has been hard, but Abbi found creative avenues to explore, and written about getting her cultural lockdown fix on Bibi.
“That was me trying to get some information myself!” said Abbi, who found a lot of artist on Instagram as well as seeking out live shows and spoken word performances.
With the lockdown easing, her plans include creating a children’s books series, working with a small number of other artists for a collaborative exhibition and creating a platform for her emerging artists. Then there’s her own exhibition.
“I wasn’t sure to take my exhibition on further,” she said. “I’ll see what other opportunities come.”
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