In her own words, it was “completely ridiculous” that once upon a time, Anthea Hamilton was on a billboard in Paris. “What was I doing on there?” she continues wondering, clearly amused. “Like I get it when, like, Naomi [Campbell]’s on there. But when Anthea, also from Streatham, is on there, it doesn’t make any sense,” she says, shaking her head smiling.
The image plastered on the Paris billboard (and London bus stop and New York street) is of the British artist in Loewe’s 2021 campaign relaunching the Amazona bag. In nothing but a belted scarlet puffer coat, she side-eyes an avocado green Amazona 19 purse, which dangles from a spray-painted acrylic leg of her own creation. “I showed my mom. She just laughed, like, ‘What are you doing, you silly girl,’” Anthea recounts. “You know, I wanted to be an accountant, that’s what I was aiming for. And suddenly I’m doing something else.”
The Anthea in the campaign is not unlike the Anthea who dials into our call. For one, she’s still wearing Loewe, only this time, a tri-color yellow, green, and burgundy wool sweater. On the wall behind her are multiple drawing and painting exercises. “My partner, who’s an artist as well, and my daughter, they’re doing portraits of one another,” she explains.
The act of creation clearly runs in the family. For the Royal College of Art alumna, her works have held space in some of the world’s most renowned institutions, such as the Tate Britain, kaufmann repetto, and the 58th Venice Biennale. In 2016, she was one of four artists shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize, for her work “Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce).”
According to Anthea, her body of surreal installations, assemblages, sculptures, and performances is “a bit like a self-portrait but in a very abstract way.” For instance, her series of wavy boot sculptures are all a size 39, modeled from her own leg. Simultaneously, her often site-specific works are distillations of pop culture, fashion, cinema, architecture, art, and design. “I am interested in everyday things because we all know what they are,” she told Tate Kids in a previous interview on her immersive installation titled “The Squash.”
After having her daughter in 2015, Anthea came across a 15-minute catwalk show that lasted just as long as the small pockets of free time she had as a new mother. “It was like an exhibition,” she describes the fashion show, fascinated at its capacity to encapsulate concepts, ideas, and materials, in a way that responds to the current moment or forecasts the next one.
Propelled by a prior interest in apparel, theater costume, and fashion and performance history, the artist began watching shows both old and new. She cites Raf Simons’ Dior, early Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, and Moschino (“They’re just kind of this collision of ideas, like super messy and really fun”) as some of her viewings at the time.
All these are part of what draws her to Jonathan Anderson, a nearly decade-long friend and collaborator. Anthea and the Loewe and JW Anderson creative director met in 2015 at the Hepworth Wakefield gallery, where they were curating separate shows: Disobedient Bodies for Anderson, and a reimagining of Kettle’s Yard for Hamilton. “Even though the shows were kind of about quite different things, there were a lot of crossovers,” Anthea says. Jonathan invited her to show a piece of hers at one of his JW Anderson shows, and she, in turn, asked for Loewe’s support in creating giant pumpkins for her Mash Up exhibition; these pumpkins later figured in Loewe’s fall 2022 runway show, and after, in the David Sims-lensed campaign.
Most recently, JW Anderson unveiled a special edition pigeon clutch designed by Anthea, on which she graffitied “Hamilton Tartan.” The limited 20-piece collaboration was crafted to celebrate Jonathan’s art exhibition On Foot, which was held in partnership with the Offer Waterman Gallery.
For Anthea, she and Jonathan are the tortoise and the hare, and she thrives on that opposition. “[With] Jonathan, we know how fast his mind works. Head of two brands, 12 collections a year, multiple projects. I think I’m the opposite. It takes me like six months to decide how big to draw a square, because I’m just agonizing over every cultural and social historical ramification of a decision.”
Ties that bind
Taking time applies to Anthea’s personal life too, especially when it comes to navigating her identity. Though born and raised in South London, Anthea is of Filipino and Jamaican descent. It’s a part of her life that she wasn’t always forward about professionally, not wanting her or her art to be “pigeonholed” by labels. (As of writing, none of her artist biographies or published interviews mention her being mixed race.) She contends with the dissonance of being brought up by a Filipino mom yet not having that facet of her identity be visible through her skin tone and hair texture, among other things. “Maybe there wasn’t space for me to feel like I could make sense of it before,” she ponders.
Offline, Anthea has always been proud of her heritage. She often easily recognizes a Filipino in a crowd and might even approach them. At last year’s Geneva University of Art and Design graduate show, she shared the panel with AZ Factory’s Norman Rene De Vera. “And Norman really was holding court, you know, they’re [a] very outgoing figure,” she recalls. “So I was just watching and I was like, ‘I think this person is Filipino.’ And then I went and asked him.”
She hasn’t been to the Philippines yet, but is intent on staying for at least a couple of months once she does. “Of course you could go for two weeks. But I feel like it deserves more than that.” Her schedule has yet to permit long-term travel plans, so she forges connections in other ways, like nominating the late Carlos Villa for a solo booth at the Frieze London 2023 art fair.
When she came face-to-face with one of Villa’s large paintings, she swelled with reverence. “They were so vivid. And then you went into it,” she expounds. “There was actually so much information in there, like faces, bodies, chicken barns; all these active dialogues that the works are there to do if you just sit with it for just a moment longer. And it suddenly comes into being.”
Her response to Villa’s work as a beholder mirrors the kind of response she hopes to elicit from her own audiences. Her work tends to evoke wonder, shock, and humor, and sometimes it’s unintentional. Beyond that initial reaction, what the artist aims for is to speak directly to an individual, to engage a single person in conversation over and over again.
“I’m not didactic in my practice,” Anthea says reflexively, chin resting on her palm. “I think I’m someone who really believes in generosity. And in a way, what could be more generous than just giving people an opportunity to think for themselves in communion with you?”
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