Eliza Hopewell says her art "is not for the faint of heart”. Formally trained as a painter and printmaker, the London-based artist has found her niche in creating hand-painted plates featuring nude, curvaceous women. And although she never had any concrete plans to paint plates, the unconventional medium has blossomed into a career for the 23 year old artist.
It all began, she says, last Christmas when she was broke and decided to make decorative plates as gifts for friends and family. The thought struck her, to make a piece of art but to put it on something useful. Hopewell was attracted to ceramic plates as a material because of their unassuming nature and obvious domesticity, which helped alleviate the pressure she felt to create a piece of "serious" artwork.
But the impulse was greater than just a desire to save money over the holidays. Hopewell liked having a reason to draw & paint that didn't feel pressured and continues to find empowerment in connecting to the history of plate painting as an art form. She revels in taking something historically considered to be a decorative hobby, something used to keep women occupied while their husbands were at work, and trade it in for a career.
Her joy in reclaiming such a history is obvious in her work, a unique brand of artistic feminism which is sardonic and whimsical and showcases women in a manner of "unflattering poses", such as shaving their legs, masturbating or menstruating. But there are other themes at play, too, Hopewell says. She has always considered food as an interest in her art and is keeping with that tradition, having chosen to work primarily with ceramic plates. "There's some vague point I'm making about women being consumed like food," she says. "The fact that women are seen by society and the media as objects to be consumed is a really bad thing. Putting them on a plate, where food would usually be, would perhaps encourage people to think about the way we are taught to consume women as disposable objects. Putting naked women on plates could be a strong metaphor for the way women are treated in society, as consumer goods."
For something that, on its face, could be considered a novelty, Hopewell uses her work to express her displeasure for the social politics of the art world. Long seen as the playground of the rich and privileged, museums and expensive galleries around the world have served as gatekeepers for those who should be able to purchase and even appreciate art. Hopewell’s plates, a relatively low-cost material, are her response to the more traditional "high art forms” seen in galleries with extortionate entrance fees owned by perpetually white, rich male artists who fail to embrace those who fall outside of those categories. Hopewell loves the accessibility and universality of her medium, which has a long history in England, she points out.
"Seeing a decorative plate hanging on your nan's wall is actually quite classless in Britain. A lot of people in the 1950s would have a Queen's Golden Jubilee plate up in their kitchen. And even if people don't hang their plates up, there can't be many plateless homes in the world," she muses. "So hopefully nobody feels excluded from my plates, by price or politics."
But despite her disdain for the close-mindedness of the traditional art world, Hopewell is well versed in its history and has closely studied the work of some of the world's most renowned artists. She says her biggest artistic influence is French modernist painter Henri Matisse, whom she admires for his joy, ease and general niceness. Matisse, whose own prolific body of work often features nude females in domestic settings, is ever-present in Hopewell's studio, where she has several of his prints hung up, as well as a three-volume collection of his work. The similarities of subject, style and bold color are all present in Hopewell's work, making it that much more difficult to dismiss her plates as something trendy or even kitsch.
Other influences include illustrators and painters such as Leah Goren, Joey Yu, Angela Mckay, the infamous Laura Callaghan, as well as Hannah Hill. "A friend recently drew my attention to the 1933 piece 'The Famous Ladies Dinner Service' by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, which celebrates 50 famous women from The Queen of Sheba to Pocahontus which is totally amazing. Obviously there's also 'The Dinner Party' by Judy Chicago."
The artist is also inspired by “the crazily deep imagination of J.K. Rowling, as well as a bunch of female musicians like the Slits, Lizzy Mercier, Descloux, ESG and PJ Harvey who just give me energy and remind me to be badass, angry and proud.”
Eliza's plates have become enormously popular through her Instagram page and she recently landed a mention in the November issue of British Vogue. Orders, including personal commissions, are available through her website.