Liverpool-based artist, illustrator and designer Charlotte Weatherstone was one of five artists commissioned to create works for the recent VENT! Liverpool Air Quality Festival in the city. The festival, which was managed by city centre and waterfront social enterprise Engage CIC, may have come to an end earlier this month but Charlotte’s large-scale wall installation lives on – in more ways than one! Expected to remain on display in the Baltic Triangle for at least a year, the artwork named ‘Iris’ incorporates living materials which will detect air pollution and change over time.
Charlotte talks to Your Move about the making of the piece and the inspiration behind it.
Interview by Natasha Young
You were commissioned to create ‘Iris’ by Engage Liverpool CIC. How did this come about?
I was approached by Matthew Fox, who was the leader at the early stage of the project. He commissioned five artists including myself, Julieanne O’Malley, Pamela Sullivan, Tristan Brady Jacobs and Tomo.
I had already worked with Engage previously so I was delighted when they asked me to be part of this project too.
Where did the inspiration for this project come from and how long did it take to put together?
Iris took about four months to put together, from the first sketch to the final install.
The piece required a lot of research too, because of the complexity of it. Each piece had to be a specific size to fit within the space, it was quite a mathematical process!
The union of nature and art was the inspiration behind Iris. I wanted to create a positive piece that would change with the seasons, whilst delivering simple yet important messages about improving air quality.
Can you tell us a bit about the ‘living’ elements of the installation?
There are a lot of living elements within the piece that will help indicate whether air quality is good or bad.
Iris’s hair and other swirls that flow from her head are covered in mosses. There are also large branches that are covered with tiny lichens, bird boxes that have rooftops planted with wildflowers and also moss.
How do you envisage the artwork changing while it is on display over the coming year?
I hope the living elements will continue to grow and flourish, but I suppose that depends on how they react to the elements and changes to air quality as Iris is situated in an inner city area near a main road.
I hope the copper swirls will change colour, the wildflowers will bloom and birds will nest in the boxes.
You received advice on the artwork’s ‘living’ materials from Frances Stoakley of The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. How did working on the project impact on your own awareness of the environment?
I was very lucky to work with Frances and I was introduced to her at the beginning of the project. She was very supportive and offered crucial advice. I certainly learned a lot too, I can’t walk down a road now without looking out for branches covered in lichens!
Is there a message that you would like people to take from Iris?
The messages flow from Iris’s hair and they include walk, run, cycle, skate, have car free days and plant trees, in an effort to encourage the public to think about how they can make a contribution to lessening the amount of pollutants in the air around us.
The artwork seems to focus on hair, which also appears to be a common theme in your other designs and illustrations. What is it that draws you to hair as an artist?
My drawing style is heavily inspired by nature and Art Nouveau, in particular Alphonse Mucha’s swirly haired female forms. I’ve been inspired by his work since I was a child. I love the fluidity, movement and organic forms.
Your designs, illustrations and artwork have made it onto everything from walls, pianos and shop windows to prints and jewellery. What is your favourite type of project and how does Iris compare to other displays you’ve worked on?
My favourite thing about what I do is that every project is different, and challenging too. I loved the collaborative side of creating Iris, the people I met and the knowledge I acquired.
What are you working on next?
I’m doing a live fashion illustration event at Oasis in Liverpool.
I’ll be working on Luna Shop [an illustration-led stationary and homewares brand], collaborating, developing new ranges and products.
I’d love to work on another living installation too.