In the studio with Liberty Antonia Sadler

By Maggie Kuzan / 12th December 2018

Photo: Maggie Kuzan

On a wet December afternoon I scurried on the Northern line to Elephant Studios to pay a visit to Liberty Antonia Sadler’s workspace. Behind a modest wooden door and white walls typical of contemporary design spaces lurks an opulent cave swelling with florid paintings, Dolly Mixture-encrusted objets d’art, bizarre paraphernalia moulded in gummy silicone, erotic prints in lashes of black strikes and a waterfall of crimson, vermillion, fuchsia and canary yellow, bleeding in vertical succession on an expansive wall.

Since showcasing her short animation Nibbles: Sexy Snacks, Yo-Yo & Size-0 Hero (2018) and performing ArtDomme (2018), a live ‘performative painting’ at Gut Feelings in July, Liberty has seized the latter half of the year with a flood of projects. Her short films have received internationally recognition, screened in cities such as Berlin and Toronto, and the artist is nearing the production of a new short film expected early next year.

Photo: Maggie Kuzan

Turning the pages of generously beefed out volumes of sketchbooks, which threaten to collapse from the substantial weight of sensually tactile textures such as plaster, silicone and latex anchored to them, Liberty takes me on a journey of this project to date. Just as in her 2016 poem performance film I Feel Femme, the artist has assumed a number of characters for her latest cinematic offering; larger-than-life figures cherry picked from mass culture, folk art and contemporary cultural references. Liberty plumps every detail in her sketchbook with a back story, giving context to newspaper and magazine clippings, printed selfies and film stills, from Fellini’s 8 ½ to Kenneth Williams’ knees-up filthy romps. It is clear that film has had a crucial influence on her art practice, as she recalls having a burning desire to act from a young age and pursuing drama at school. The turning point came when Liberty realised she wanted to perform material that was her own and not the work of somebody else.

But the artist has never veered too far away from drama; in fact, her practice owes a great deal to the camp and theatrics of Vaudeville, cabaret and the music halls. These traditions are echoed in the oddities and quirks of her idiosyncratic characters, such as the blundering, scarlet-faced middle-class man complete with a Brylcreem comb over and displaying a defensive aloofness in Baby Pink Bad Boy Blues, an extract from I Feel Femme. Props play a key role in Liberty’s films; they are artistic devices saturated with encrypted clues and messages. A silk cloak riddled in magic symbols, a candy-encrusted bra; Liberty lathers every item with meaning, presenting a semiotics of art. Take for instance the handmade penis-camera cast in silicone, which the artist allows me the pleasure of handling. I am struck by its substantial weight and its deliciously haptic properties. At once a phallic abhorrence and an object of curiosity, this grotesque monster belongs to a certain sleazy fashion photographer character, part of a breed of shady ‘creatives’ recently exposed in society for their acts of sexual assault. It is through humour and language that Liberty addresses uncomfortable and pertinent subjects such as sexual politics, identity and body dysmorphia.

Photo: Maggie Kuzan

Aside from plying the genres of short film and moving image, the artist produces juicy, cartoonish illustrations of femme bodies arching, bending and floating from extreme angles, the foreshortening of their limbs emphasising the drama and electricity in the compositions. Food and sex are frequent bedfellows in Liberty’s mixed-media works, as she explores the psychological whirlpool in their relation to bodies. This complex relationship can be seen in the expressions on her characters’ faces – some writhe in ecstasy whilst others howl in torment.

I gaze on the time in the top right hand corner of Liberty’s laptop screen. Almost 6pm. We have been speaking for the last four hours straight, sharing and delighting in each other’s stories of art school experiences, relationships and artworks we have recently seen. I am thrilled to have shared and contributed to the creative energy in the room, and feel a new lease of motivation pump through my body. It is Liberty’s unapologetic celebration of female sexuality in particular, which has connected with me. Giving visibility to bodies that are not represented in the mainstream, as well as allowing them to take pleasure in themselves echoes the ethos of Thinking Flesh.

As I leave, Liberty hands me a postcard with one of her poems printed on it – a meditation on bodily boundaries, trauma, and healing wounds. I read the final lines in my head over and over again… You are welcome as my guest, But you will never be my conqueror.

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