Damaris Athene has been quite busy after graduating from BA Painting at Camberwell in 2015. Just after graduation she was selected for the Clyde and Co Award and group exhibition and following that she set up the collective exhibition Epidermal Dress, showcasing her work alongside that of three other emerging artists. Then she took a job as a painting assistant for Damien Hirst for a year before moving to Cambridge to build a portfolio for the Royal Academy. Now in Cambridge, Damaris has her first solo show opening this Friday and we caught up with her to talk about it. 

It’s great to talk to you again, please tell us about your latest work?

Thanks, I’m currently working on two series of oil paintings for my upcoming solo show Lovely in Her Bones. The title is taken from Theodore Roethke’s 1954 poem “I knew a Woman”. The black and white series is inspired by radiology scans. The aesthetic pleasure of the paintings conflict with the distressing subject matter. At first glance they look like soft and dreamy abstract images that evoke x-ray scans, but they are in fact images of different types of cancer and other diseases. When you gain that knowledge, the picture can never be looked at in the same way again.

The Trauma series consists of close-up portraits of bruises. Bruises are so beautiful yet they are created through pain and force. I’m fascinated by this dichotomy. They are delicately painted and softly rendered so they appear to look like colourful clouds.

‘I Meet My Shadow in the Deepening Shade II’, work by Damaris Athene for her Lovely in Her Bones solo show

Damaris works across many mediums, exploring the corporeal and abstraction of the human form. She takes inspiration from a wide range of sources such as anatomy, microscopic images, derelict buildings and decaying vegetative matter.

‘Lovely in Her Bones II’, work by Damaris Athene for her Lovely in Her Bones solo show

How was your experience as painting assistant for Damien Hirst?

It was fascinating to see behind the scenes, but the work could be quite monotonous. Working full time with only four weeks holiday a year took a little while to get used to and it was difficult to find time to make my own work. My contract was for a year and when that was up I decided to move to Cambridge so I could build up my portfolio to apply to the Royal Academy and could live in the same place as my boyfriend.

How has studying at Camberwell informed your art practice?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Camberwell and wish I could do it all over again! I am really glad I took the opportunity to go on an Erasmus exchange to Belgium in my second year but at the same time, I think it hindered the development of my practice. I could’ve done with an extra six months to work through things before my degree show!

I also started on BA Photography and then swapped over to BA Painting, which meant I was a bit out of step with everyone else. I explored and developed new techniques, but there was lots more I wanted to do that I didn’t have time to try out. That is always the way though! I want to develop a career as a fine artist and my degree at Camberwell has set me off on that trajectory.

I was shortlisted for the Hans Brinker Painting Prize at the end of 2014 (in my final year). It involved going to stay in the Hans Brinker hostel in Amsterdam with the other shortlisted artists from Camberwell and Wimbledon and putting on an exhibition there. It was great fun! I was also selected for the Clyde and Co Art Award in 2015. The judges went around our degree show and picked out work to display in the Clyde and Co offices in central London. We were paid a fee for the rental of the work for a year and were given mentoring and advice throughout the year. It was a massive confidence boost and the money definitely helped with degree show expenses!

‘Lovely In Her Bones I’, work by Damaris Athene for her Lovely in Her Bones solo show

Do you have an advice to students looking to start at Camberwell?

I would advise new students to make the most out of all the opportunities offered at Camberwell. I worked in the library as well as working as a Student Ambassador and I would thoroughly recommend doing both. It’s a great way to meet people, earn money with flexible hours and build up your CV. There are also lots of extra workshops and lectures, not only at Camberwell but also at the other UAL colleges that I’d recommend going to. Also get involved with a UAL society, whether that be sport or music or something else. It’s a great way to meet people from all across UAL.

Damaris solo exhibition Lovely in Her Bones is on the second and third of June at St Barnabas Press Gallery in Cambridge. The private view is open to the public from 18:00 to 21:00 on Friday second of June.

Related Links:

BA Painting

Damaris Athene