Josephine King The ArtLyst Interview

Thomas Keane speaks to Josephine King about her second exhibition at Riflemaker, this time exploring the plight of women in the 21st Century

An ex-model for Paula Rego, Josephine King burst onto the contemporary art scene in 2010 with her first exhibition of self-portraits. Shockingly dark, these highly confessional works sprung from the artist’s battle with Bipolar Disorder, depicting colourful, harlequinesque figures bordered by stark texts – ‘This Illness Was My Destiny’, ‘Manic-Depression Made Me Childless’, ‘Hospitals And Clinics Are Known To Me’.

Two years later and King presents her second exhibition, but this time has spread the net beyond her internal state to address more generally the experiences of women in the 21st Century – a time when men are ‘still sceptical’ of women’s abilities, and women ‘still invisible’.

Speaking to ArtLyst, King further elucidates her personal story, articulates her artistic processes, and lastly explains the transition from self-portraiture to neo-feminism:


“My work is based on personal experience. In the first show, ‘Life So Far’ (Riflemaker 2010), the subject matter was about having Bipolar Disorder.

My work has progressed massively in the last six years since I recovered from being severely ill and suicidal during a breakdown caused by my Bipolar illness. Since that experience my painting began to reach new depths that it never had before. I was newly compelled to express my darkest feelings and my work started to avalanche. Even if I had wanted to, I would not have been able to stop it’s flow.

When I am painting I reach a state of mind where I’m in another world, a world of unknown territory. I am not conscious of where I am. I paint through pure feelings. Hours go by, and when I awaken I hardly know where I’ve been. But then I see the painting in front of me.

I use text in my paintings because I love to write as well as paint. I can express myself in both creative forms at the same time. They belong together, enhancing my story.

After my first show, the Bipolar returned with a vengeance but it couldn’t stop my work. In my second show, ‘I Told Him I Was An Artist. He Said “Can You Cook?”’ (Riflemaker 2012), I am concentrating on women’s issues and particularly what it can feel like to be a female artist in the 21st Century. The title was taken from personal experience. I think it sums up a lot of attitudes towards women in general.

Women are still invisible in the 21st Century. [And] I’ve got nothing to lose because attitudes towards women artists are still sceptical. [As an artist,] I am going against the grain of society, rejecting the expectations that are made on so many women.

My voice is just one amongst millions but if there are people who identify with my work and are moved by it, then I feel I have succeeded. I tell a personal story, yet if I depict pain or suffering it is universal. I paint from the heart and with honesty.

I sacrifice a lot in order to paint and I follow my heart.”


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