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Alexandria Coe

"We were born naked, it just takes a while to socially undress all the shame around it".

Based between London and Athens, artist and illustrator Alexandria Coe has become known for simplified drawings which often depict the female form and particularly the female nude.

Expressing both vulnerability and strength in equal measure, her work explores issues of gender and relationships to the body.

Photography NICOLETTA ZARIFI  Interview HOUSE OF SHILA

HOS: You recently stayed at Mona as part of our artist residency program. What was the experience like?

AC: It’s an amazing chance to retreat from the world. A good hotel is like living in a small, romantic fantasy – the perfect place to get lost in your head and create.

HOS: What was your first memory of when you decided to become an artist?

AC: My parents met at art school, so we always had tools and paints around the house which I could use. So from a young age, I was drawing and painting and continued throughout my childhood. I think people always just expected me to do something within art – it was like there was no other option. I am sure they would have been quite disappointed if I had become an accountant.

HOS: At work you often sit across people who are nude, which requires establishing connection and trust. Can you tell us about your creative process?

AC: There is a brief moment of awkwardness from both parties. It’s the undressing bit, which I suppose often has a suggestive association; though once you’re nude I think it goes away. It’s much more raw and human. I mostly ask someone to just sit how they would at home to relax them. We talk and the conversation jumps everywhere – mostly quite banal topics that normalise the whole experience. We were born naked, it just takes a while to socially undress all the shame around it.

“Failing in love offers us so much opportunity to learn about ourselves, albeit the hard way”.

HOS: Your drawings depict the naked body with a quiet simplicity. How do you approach the flesh and its stereotyping symbolisms?

AC: It’s hard as you cannot avoid drawing a body without making something either very pretty or ugly. This is why I often ask people to sit either very naturally, so there is no acting in terms of the role. It’s hard when someone asks for a portrait, however, as most people – as we all do – want to look their best, often in the stereotypical sense of beauty. But I just try to draw what I really see. I think in a moment of concentration you must draw what is there, not what you think is there.

HOS: What is your relationship with your own body?

AC: Mixed, and challenging at times, and other times very at peace. I think it’s important to recognise how the physical and emotional body are interrelated. Our feelings affect our thoughts on ourselves and therefore our body. Feeling good about one or the other is often an internal conversation. This helps nourish them equally and with kindness. But also at times separate them.

HOS: Is nudity a truly vulnerable state and what sort of wisdom might you gather from your sitters?

For sure, but there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable is there? We have kind of been taught that. So much of our ideas of ourselves are tangled up in how we think we are perceived. Within nakedness that disguise is lost which makes us feel even more vulnerable. But it’s in these moments what we get to know ourselves.

HOS: Your last monogram LOVERS is dedicated to relationships, and more specifically to those that end. You mentioned that the book asks the age-old question: “is it better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?” What is your take on this?

AC: Failing in love offers us so much opportunity to learn about ourselves, albeit the hard way. You learn so much from a relationship- often like a mirror to your soul.

HOS: How do you perceive modern love?

AC: Complicated. I think it’s hard as we are at a point of trying to understand our positions in relationships which maybe no longer have traditional roles. How does this affect what a relationship looks like? I think it’s about finding someone who sees you as an equal – there is something very modern about that.

“Feminism should be a conversation where quiet voices are made louder, and everyone can be heard”.

HOS: What do the words ‘womanhood’ and ‘feminism’ mean to you?

AC: Womanhood is that feeling of collective consciousness within being a ‘woman’ – lifting those up around you. Feminism should be the same. There is a lot of competition within female culture, this breeds this idea that there is only enough space for a certain type of woman. Feminism should be a conversation where quiet voices are made louder, and everyone can be heard.

HOS: You live between London and Athens. What kinds of inspiration do you derive from each city?

AC: Both are chaotic, but very different paces. One is business-driven and one is pleasure-driven. For some reason it’s easy jumping in between the two as it makes you appreciate both ways of life.

HOS: Tell us a secret.

AC: Then it wouldn’t be a secret…

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