035. Lisa Denyer

Lisa Denyer, Untitled, 2013. Mixed media; 38 x 15 x 7 cm. 

Part-way through her residency at Federation House in Manchester, artist Lisa Denyer takes a break to talk to Traction


Your earlier paintings exhibit an interest in geometric forms, but more recently your mark-making seems to have become much looser and more expressive. How has your visual language developed over the last few years?

I tend to think of the natural manifesting as freer, spontaneous brushwork, and the man-made being represented by hard-edged, more formal structures. My background is in landscape painting, but when I moved to Manchester I was very influenced by the architectural elements of the city. I was also thinking a lot about microscopic crystalline formations, and that was when I began my geometric work. At the time I was interested in quite a formulaic way of working, and I would always pre-plan the grid structures in my paintings.

I tend to think of the natural manifesting as freer, spontaneous brushwork, and the man-made being represented by hard-edged, more formal structures.

Thinking about structures in this way led me to want to play around with ideas of form, and as I experimented my paintings became much freer and more spontaneous. The idea of closely exploring form through a complete stripping down to elemental components feeds into concepts of microcosm and macrocosm, which I often think about when I’m painting.

In my current work, I’m looking at rough, simple shapes contrasted with very textured, layered surfaces. The excavation and subsequent covering of color is important. I’m interested in entropy and materiality, so details such as broken bricks or peeling paint on buildings really appeal to me. These incidental details are so profound because they represent a certain transience, which I find very compelling. 

Lisa Denyer, Moon, 2014. Acrylic and emulsion on found plywood; 29 x 30 cm. 

You paint on found plywood. What is it about this material that fascinates you?

I stopped working on canvas at the beginning of last year after experimentation with found boards and wood. It’s the variation in surface texture and the way paint responds to the grain of the plywood that makes it really satisfying to paint on.

The found plywood has its own history, and each panel has a direct relationship to the building/place where I found it.

I like that there are often indentations in the plywood, nails, and cracks, which become part of the composition. The found plywood has its own history, and each panel has a direct relationship to the building/place where I found it. I use household paints as well as acrylic, and they really sink in and infuse into the surface. The panels can also be cut up and reconfigured which gives a lot more freedom to experiment. 

I am particularly intrigued by your Stones, which take your distinct aesthetic into the realm of the sculptural. How did those works come about?

I’ve been influenced in my practice by mineral formations and geodes for some time, so I decided to try working directly on to stone. I wanted to see how the paint would be affected by a stone surface.

The stones I chose to work on were found in areas all over the North West. I liked them as objects - the ones I selected had interesting shapes brought about by weathering. I was interested in the idea of these quarried stones that had been used for building, gradually returning to nature. I chose to emphasize this transition by using techniques I had been developing in my 2D work. I altered the surface of the stones while trying to be sensitive to the intricate patterns and details that had occurred naturally.

Lisa Denyer, Installation shot taken at Geode, solo exhibition at South Square Gallery 2014. 

I’ve recently been reading ‘Heaven and Hell’, and in it, Aldous Huxley comments on the fact that the heavenly realms of most religions are described as being filled with precious stones and gems. I find this association with other worlds and utopias very interesting, and it definitely ties in with themes of escapism in my work.

You have recently started a six-month residency at Federation House in Manchester. How is this informing your practice?

Working at Federation House has had a massive impact on my practice. It feels like there is a lot of history in the building, and traces of some of the things that have happened there are still visible. The building functioned as an office block until recently and was built in the early twentieth century. Visually, it informs my work in terms of colors, shapes, and textures that I can see from my workspace. 

I am working with another artist Holly Rowan Hesson on a project we are developing at Federation House during the residency. We are looking at abstraction, materiality, and curated spaces outside of ‘white cube’ environments. We have been making new work in response to the space and to each other’s practices. Holly works primarily through photography, projection, and installation, so it’s been interesting to see how we influence each other - there is actually a lot of crossover.

We have a large space at Federation House, which has proved vital for testing new ideas, and as a setting for important conversations and realizations about both of our practices. Federation House is part of Castlefield Gallery’s New Art Spaces*. 

Lisa Denyer, Temple, 2014. Acrylic and emulsion on found wood; 31 x 19 cm. 

Are there new projects on the horizon for you?

I’m currently working towards a group show entitled About Painting which I’ll be curating at Castlefield Gallery as part of their Launch Pad exhibition programme. The exhibition will look at various approaches to contemporary abstract painting and will feature the work of eight artists. The preview will take place on 19th June, and the exhibition runs until 29th June 2014.

I’ve also organized a group exhibition which will happen at Piccadilly Place in Manchester in July 2014, called Society of Island Universes which will look at abstraction in more general terms (including photographic elements, projection, and installation as well as painting), responding to site and materiality. 


*Castlefield Gallery’s New Art Spaces is an initiative to create dynamic project spaces for artists, artist collectives, and artists development agencies. Making use of temporary vacant retail, office and light industrial units, NAS provides opportunities for emerging creatives to incubate their practices, produce work and showcase new art to local communities. Currently, Castlefield Gallery runs New Art Spaces in Leigh, Widnes, and city center Manchester.

For more Lisa Denyer’s practice and upcoming projects, visit http://www.lisa-denyer.com.