Originally published on White Noise

July 2018

Following her artistic dreams had always felt like an admission of defeat to Emma Davis: a pursuit less legitimate, less intellectual – less feminist even – than, say, the sciences. The Willesden-based creative told Arnelle Paterson about an epiphany that changed everything.

A petite woman with thick, layered hair greets me at the door of the art studio space. Her eyes light up as she offers me tea and coffee. It’s early – too early – but coffee’s never really been my thing, so I politely decline. Like its occupant, the space inside is serene, breezy and inviting.

This woman is Emma Davis, a writer and visual artist based at ArtWest who uses oils, watercolour, etchings and pencil to explore the effect and meaning of line, pictographic languages, calligraphy, and colour. Drawing serves as the canvas for all of her work, and she’s greatly influenced by abstract painter Howard Hodgkin.

Davis is just one of many creators from ArtWest, a collective of printmakers, painters, sculptors, ceramicists, and much more, who are based in a collection of buildings dotted around the NW10 postcode just north of White City. Every year, they swing open the doors and invite the public into their creative spaces to learn, commission, buy or simply have an inquisitive wander around.

The art bug bit Davis at an early age; she was “always drawing as a child.” She explains: “I was good at English and I was good at art so for a while, there was a bit of conflict between the two.” The bias of her school didn’t help matters, they were “very negative about anything that wasn’t scientific.” Davis says, “It was as though you were letting down the female sex if you were artistic. It was as though you were being a bit lazy and unimaginative, and that what you really should do was aim to be a lawyer or a doctor.”

This belief niggled away at her artistic dreams. “It meant that I thought that to go to art school was a sort of admission of being thick.” She believes that this issue is still on-going amongst the younger generation: “You have to make a choice at something like, 12? If you have any family pressure, you probably will say no to art and music.”

After studying English literature at the University of York, she found herself wanting to return to her artistic roots. But the school stigma continued to follow her, and Davis struggled throughout her twenties with the question of legitimacy. She says, “I was living with people who were going into PR and Advertising, and I didn’t particularly want to do that, but I hankered after a more standardised, legitimate life, where people go, ‘That’s brilliant! Oh, you’re a lawyer? Oh, you’re a doctor?’ Those kind of established existences that make you look like you belong to a certain world, you have achieved a certain amount. If you are to say that you’re an artist, that’s a peculiar things to say sometimes. People will either think, ‘Who do you think you are?’ or they’ll say, ‘Do you sell?’ Basically, are you legitimised by the world? I thought it’d be nice to have a more standard life, but it never really worked.”

One day, Davis had an epiphany. “Somebody said to me, ‘I guess it depends what you want to do every day.’ And you go: ‘God, it’s as simple as that. What do you want to do every day? What do you want to keep in your life, and what do you want to get rid of?”

Yet returning to creative practice wasn’t an easy process. “I had got out of the way of drawing, and I got really anxious about starting to draw. It made me feel depressed; it didn’t look right.” State of mind is very important when it comes to creating art, she explains. “You drift out of the usual world into an alpha pattern. Your brain switches.” Alpha brain wave patterns are present when your brain is in an idle state, such as daydreaming or meditating. Davis references Drawing on the Right Side of the Brainby Betty Edwards. “She said that when you draw, you need to turn the verbal side of your mind off. If you try and talk while you draw, it disrupts. I think you can flip between them, but you can’t write a novel while you’re trying to draw someone’s portrait.”

The workings of the mind are a running motif within Davis’ work. Her paintings explore the response that colours can provoke, but it’s a lot more than that. “I often thought that those works would be quite good in therapeutic settings because colour just resonates like music… I like abstract qualities because they give you breathing room to weave your way in and out if people can bother to give it time, or maybe no time.”

Despite this, Davis feels that there isn’t a rigid science to appreciating art. “Visual’s weird. You don’t have to stand in front of something for an hour to know whether you like it or not, do you? I think a lot of people don’t quite know how to look at stuff, so they get anxious. They quite like it to be a tree, because then they go, ‘Does it look like a tree? Am I happy with this tree?’”

When it comes to the question of the Emma Davis art legacy, it’s still in the works. “I read that Jasper Johns, once he discovered the way that he liked working, destroyed everything else,” she reveals. “And I thought ‘That is a really good idea!’ There’s a load of stuff I wouldn’t want to be my legacy, so I might have a go through, might have a big clear out.”

But how does the artist herself want to be remembered? Cocking her head to one side, she ponders. “Well I don’t think I’ll be an icon, but it’d be nice to be. If you can live a life with some sort of integrity, and some sort of authenticity and you follow your own path, I think that’s enough, isn’t it? Especially as a woman, you’re brave if you do that.”

Originally published on White Noise

May 2018

To round off our Growth theme, we decided to focus on that one thing that we all have in common.

It’s never just hair. It can signal how your day is going, the weather, your heritage and even your personality.

With 40,000 hairdressing, barbering and beauty businesses in the UK , it’s a pretty big deal. So we headed out to White City Place to find out what coiffed your cheveux.

“I don’t know who I’d be without this kind of hair actually.”
“I’ve started to recede a little bit now, I feel like I’m losing a little bit of me.”
“I feel like it’s important to have some kind of cultural symbolism especially as I work in a very white area.”

White City is a melting pot of diversity, so I expected nothing less than hair being seen as an emblem of identity celebration. What struck me about the comments was the strong sense of pride that people felt towards their barnet.

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Originally published on White Noise

May 2018

Pick-and-mix spirituality is on the rise. So for our Growth theme, White Noise’s eternally inquisitive content editor, Arnelle Paterson, took a trip to the Goddess Space in Maida Vale in search of her feminine powers.

Alternative spirituality intrigues me. Perhaps it’s my insatiable curiosity of anything considered ‘other’. Or was it inevitable because of my mixed ethnicity, and its interfaith by-product: a blend of Christianity, Islam and traditional West African religion? Maybe it’s the free-spirited child in me, the idea that I don’t have to conform to a set of specific religious rules, skating between Christian, Islamic and even Buddhist beliefs that emphasise the importance of gratitude, faith, prayer, self-awareness and karma, whilst honouring the monotheism of Abrahamic religions.

Today, I’m meeting a woman with the kind of brows that you could only hope that Anastasia Beverly Hills brow products might bless you with. She goes by the name of Anoushka Florence, and I’m visiting the Goddess Space, a sacred space she opened three years ago “to support women in connecting back to their truth.”

I’m surprised by the simplicity of the room. There’s no incense burning, no tarot cards sprawled across the perfectly-lit floor, not a hint of mysticism in sight. But what exactly is it? Florence explains: “The Goddess Space is a sacred space for women to gather together and to really connect back to themselves through ceremonies, through gathering, through one-to-one sessions, through many different avenues that will lead you back to yourself.”

Perhaps it’s this idea of connecting back to something that is the catalyst behind the recent rise in alternative religion and spirituality. Over half of Brits who consulted a psychic reported that they felt the experience was truthfuland, Wicca, which has over 53,000 followers, is thought to be the fastest growing religion in the UK.

The Goddess Space – while not affiliated with the Wiccan movement – keys into the same rebellion against mainstream religion. And Florence believes that technology has a part to play: “I think people are seeking connection, and we’ve been sold this false advertisement that social media and technology are these gateways to instant connection. But more than ever, everyone feels so disconnected.” She goes on: “Spirituality is a reminder that above all the technology… feeling another human, seeing another human, and hearing another human is actually all we need to feel whole.”

Having grown up in a deeply religious Jewish family, Florence turned away from organised religion when she was just 13. “The Goddess wasn’t mentioned in Judaism; it was ‘he’, it was the ‘man’, it was God. I was like: I just don’t feel this anymore. So I broke away and I went numb to spirituality and to everything, had crazy teenage years and early twenties and then I hit a brick wall and spirituality came back into my life.”

I was interested to know how Florence perceives the Goddess. She explains: “It is the divine aspect and spark that lives within each woman, that is channelled through us. We are embodying that Goddess energy on this planet… That soul, that intuition, that emotion, the healing powers, all these different beautiful aspects that make up a divine woman have come from the source of it all. She’s Mother Earth.” She’s not only one drawn to the femininity of the Goddess. The revival of Spiritualism among women echoes the contemporary Women’s Spirituality Movement, born in the 1970s, that confronts the assumption that God is male.

Florence expands: “Most religions have left out the Goddess. If you’re connecting to the energies and you don’t have a female archetype to connect to, it’s difficult. Judaism, Christianity, Islam – although it’s spoken about, it’s not as revered as the tribal communities where nature is religion. And recognising that we are nature, a woman’s cycle is the same as the moon cycle.”

But she draws the line at describing the Goddess Space as a feminist group. “I believe that men and women are different. We’re equal, but different… We need different rights to a man, but in an equal space.” She asserts, “So, I would never call myself a feminist, but I’m totally girl power all the way.” The Maida Vale-based practitioner even works her business around her menstrual cycle. “I’ve got to honour myself, I’ve got to honour my body, my wellness so that I can actually express it in the way that it needs to be expressed.” So working when your womb feels like it’s being raked with a pitchfork by the Devil himself? It’s a no-no.

Florence’s eventual return to spiritual practice had a poignant foundation. She was “going through a bit of depression”, decided she wanted to be an actress, quit her job and began attending an acting school. She recalls her first day at drama school. “My teacher looked at me, he goes: ‘Before you can pick up a script, before you can take on any other character’s role, you need to know exactly you are,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know who I am!’” At the beginning of every class, she and her classmates would meditate for 45 minutes, and through this she found spirituality.

These days, she uses different healing practices from oracle cards, meditation and sound healing, to bath rituals, flame watching and grounding (putting your feet in the soil). The use of magick is a practice that Florence feels can help with self-development. Magick – no typo, the added ‘k’ differentiates it from rabbit-pulling-from-a-hat entertainment – is defined as“techniques for harnessing internal and external energies that will help us change ourselves and our environment.” But the magick aficionado believes it’s a little deeper than that. “Magick is a conversation with the universe, that the universe is having with you through experience and through things. Coincidences, synchronicities in life, they’re the universe sending you signs and messages.” You don’t have to be Sabrina the Teenage Witch to add a little magick into your life either: “You could be cooking dinner and sealing intentions into your cooking. It’s intention.”

Spiritual growth is not as easy as positive affirmations, chanting and pretty candles. “It’s funny because, the further down you go in your path, the harder it gets really, because you’re getting to the real core, the beginning. As you get to the wound, you realise that it’s a lot deeper than just your boyfriend’s pissed you off. The core wound is way more painful than that.” The self-awareness that comes with spiritual growth can help in the expansion of other key areas in your life too. “It’s about you first and then you trickle. If you’re trying to fix your relationship but you’re not whole, then it’s impossible. Same with your work. Everything manifests from you being full.”

Florence’s practice certainly resonates, but it’s left me wondering where my place is on the spirituality spectrum. As I leave Maida Vale, I remind myself that I can be both religious and spiritual. My spiritual relationship is personal, between God and I – and no one else. Maybe that’s what a spiritual space is really about, creating a mental state of awareness that everything starts within yourself. On that note, I’m off for some me time.

The grass is growing, ice creams are obligatory and our theme for May is Growth.

Want to start your spiritual journey with a tribe of sisters? You can sign up to Anoushka Florence’s three-month programme here.

Originally published on White Noise

May 2018

WEST LONDONERS? WE’RE A FASHIONABLE LOT. FROM THE CARNIVAL QUEENS AND IT GIRLS TO THE FLAPPERS AND PUNKS, WRITER JOHN-MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN WILL BE DELVING INTO W11’S FASHION HISTORY THIS THURSDAY AT SECOND HOME IN HOLLAND PARK. PLUS, THERE’S A SERIES OF PHOTOGRAPHS TO BRING IT ALL TO LIFE.

 We caught up with O’Sullivan to talk about all things stand-out, Vogue and of course, West London.

What have been the most stand-out moments in West London’s fashion history, and why?

There have been so many! But I do think that the story of how the Teddy Girls emerged. These young, working-class women rebelling against the prim-and-proper Fifties aesthetic, and inventing a style of their own, is fascinating. Likewise in the Sixties, when a generation of young artists and designers like David Hockney, Ossie Clark, Sandra Rhodes and Biba’s Barbara Hulanicki moved into the area, and formed this extraordinary bohemian hub. And for entirely different reasons, I’ll always have a soft spot for W11’s most famous (fictional) fashion residents, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone!

What were the key components behind W11 being the centre for such a rich fashion history?

I think it’s the district’s incredible diversity. Within this single postcode, there have been so many influxes of cultures and subcultures over the decades, from flappers to Teddy Girls to punks. And then, the fact that it’s been home to one of the most famous second-hand markets in the world for decades has meant that W11’s history is constantly being rediscovered and reinvented — that’s something you can see everywhere from Ray Petri’s styling for The Face in the Eighties, right the way through to Molly Goddard’s spectacular vintage-inspired dresses (which just won her top prize at this year’s BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund).

What current trends in W11 can be traced back?

I think, rather than a specific trend, it’s that eclectic, anarchic spirit — that blending of all the eras and aesthetics that have shaped the district’s culture over the past century.

This talk is part of a crowdfunding campaign to help publish the story of top 1950’s fashion model Barbara Mullen, find out more here.

Wanna book your tickets or find out more? Click here. 

May 2018

Old met new when the White City House opened on 23rdApril on old BBC turf. With two floors of club space, a rooftop pool, numerous bars, a cinema officially opening in July, screening room, gym, as well as 45 bedrooms, its no wonder that it took five years to complete.

White City House invited us for a tour and we jumped at the chance. With an 8th, 9th and 10th floor, we were in for a mini workout. The 8th floor is exclusively for members who need an event space (you can even slide the doors to manipulate the size of the room).

If you’re into pool, or just want a quiet sit down and a tipple, the main members area on the 9th floor is the place to be. Tibor, who also designed for the BBC way back when, are the  behind the floor’s rich furniture and textured fabrics. We dare you not to cop a feel.

That isn’t the only example of vintage aesthetic either. The panelling in the lifts will excite Dr Who fans, and the fluted-oak wall panels near the kitchen will take you back in time to the BBC’s old reception.

The décor stays true to the BBC’s 50’s and ‘60s heritage, with sun loungers and parasols on the rooftop pool. It evokes Old Hollywood vibes; we could almost picture Marilyn Monroe poised on one of the lounger with a martini in hand and The Rat Pack swooning in the background. Bea Reeve-Tucker, the Communications Assistant explains the flower design on the loungers “Our graphic designer Daisy drew the flowers by hand, so it’s a completely original design.”

No matter what floor you’re on, you’re treated to a breath-taking view of White City that can be enjoyed all year round. “We’re planning to have the balcony area heated during the winter season,” she beams.

We had a peek into of the open kitchen, which features a range of tantalising East Asian and Western dishes. Our curiosity was warranted too. Reeve-Tucker reveals, “The kitchen is supposed to remind you of your kitchen at home, the way you can just pop your head in and see what’s going on!”

White City House’s House Gym is almost too pretty to imagine working up a sweat in. There’s equipment and studio spaces for all of your fitness needs, whether it’s high intensity interval training, or cardio and weightlifting. Plus, you can cool off in in the pool, or opt for the steam room, sauna or relax with hammam session instead. Finish off with a bite at the juice bar, but not before some celeb treatment in the makeup area of the ladies changing rooms.

On our way out, one particular framed piece catches our attention. Richard Bacon was infamously dismissed from Blue Peter for cocaine use, and he gave the phone number of the dealer (where he used to purchase the substances) to contemporary artist Ben Kustow. An inspired Kustow created an image of a rolled up piece of paper with the phone number on it.

Interested? A monthly membership will set you back £108.33. And they say you can’t put a price on happiness.

Photos by the Soho House Group.