Profile by Lucinda MacPherson
Carrie Reichardt’s mosaic covered home of art and craftivism stands loud and proud in an otherwise quiet and unassuming suburban street on the fringes of Bedford Park. A visual provocation of colour, wit and subversive slogans resides in Fairlawn Grove making this unremarkable street extraordinary, its incongruity giving Carrie’s political messages more clout.
A London cab outside the house raises awareness of Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore who was held in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola for nearly thirty years. “When I was a student my art was very personal about being female. Then I got involved with other activism, and campaigned to release political prisoners. Now I have come full circle and just done a project about witchcraft and suffragettes in Aberdeen. There is not much work that celebrates women in public art. Now my public art is about everybody’s history but my personal art is about mine.”
“I’m an artist your rules don’t apply”
Carrie has done a lot of community work, like the South Acton Tree of Life, which involved digging out stories and making them permanently visible in what she calls “a ceramic tapestry” interweaving the lives of the people of South Acton.Her home has been an ambitious and personal work in progress for many years and she explains why there’s a sign on it for The Treatment Room,“ My art is a form of therapy. The sign is from a disused mental hospital in Hackney where I was filming, so I put it on my studio door”.
“I have a first class degree in sculpture and had done stained glass but only started mosaic when I had my first baby and felt confined to the house. I was very attracted to craftwork. It’s very meditative, you get lost in the repetitive process which was good for someone like me as I have a frantic mind. It was very soothing and I became kind of addicted to it. Also, people appreciate the work that goes into a craft like mosaic and are more open to what I want to express.”
Carrie has lived in the house on and off since her teens when it belonged to her father who rented it out as bedsits. The interior retains signs of its multi-occupancy heritage with small metal numbers on the doors and a convoluted system of pipes winding into the rooms from the days when they each had a gas stove and sink. Some friends lent Carrie scaffolding so she and her partner, a graphic designer, could decorate the outside, and enjoy the freedom to express their own ideas.
“Then I split with my partner and my mother died and I struggled trying to cope as a single parent. I suffered with mental health problems. I’d always got stressed, but this was clinical depression. The house felt like an impossible task, so the scaffolding stayed up for four years.”“I must have been the neighbour from hell. In fact, one guy over the road said “I’ll pay you just to finish that house and get the scaffolding down.””
The Big Push
But in 2017 Carrie’s fortunes changed when her friend Isidora Paz Lopez, a renowned South American mosaic artist, offered to come for a week to help. This attracted 30 more artists to take part in what Carrie calls The Big Push.“It was amazing! Isidora worked around the window creating a scarab beetle to represent rebirth and Tamara from Catford did the Cheshire Cat and Karen, my oldest friend did the columns. I’ve got at least 30 flying eyeballs representing a subconscious collective, all seeing all, around watching us.”
“It was the best experience ever because my friends came along and did the catering, and some came to look after the kids, so there was this wonderful energy with all the people, mostly women, helping us finish.”“You forget what it’s like if you live with scaffolding, I hadn’t had light coming in through the front for four years. It was a gorgeous sunny day, when it came down. It was magical, a new beginning.”
At time of writing Carrie is currently juggling multiple projects including a large public artwork in Finsbury, a book and two exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery this summer. Inside the house is littered with vignettes of anarchic customised ceramics, fetish objects, dolls’ faces, ceramic aerosol cans, embroidery, transformer robots, skulls, kitsch and piles of innocent looking tiles and vintage tea cups just waiting to be subverted into one of Carrie’s irreverent creations.
“I like playing around with old china, its got so many connotations. I reinvent and refire it. I love icons that are deeply symbolic such as skulls and babies’ heads. There is something a bit creepy about them. I am a classic hoarder so have collected thousands of these old porcelain dolls. I like the idea of loads of little ladies making these, a whole cottage industry using their little moulds and made them into dolls. I’m hoping to cut them in half and make the mosaics a lot more three dimensional.”
When I visited Carrie, she opened some post to do with a sequel to a book she is co-curating with her partner and local Chiswick artist Bob Osborne, featuring defaced banknotes. In the late 18th century it was a capital offence, punishable by death, to forge or alter a banknote and it is still a criminal offence. Artists are sending her doctored banknotes from all over the world, although they don’t always make it through Customs, “One guy’s notes got stopped from coming here from Brazil.”“ They are an act of subversion”.