Artist Anthea Hamilton: ‘Camp architecture really hits all my buttons’
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
My personal style signifier is my silhouette. I always have this bun. It crept in about 15 years ago, because I had no time to think of another way to manage the top of my head. And then there’s my big orange scarf from Loewe that I cannot live without. I wear it from the first leaf falling in September until May, and then it goes on holiday in the freezer, before coming out again as soon as possible. I’m a very from-the-neck-up kind of person, clearly. The rest, whatever.
The last thing I bought and loved was a book, Intercultural Architecture: the Philosophy of Symbiosis, by Kisho Kurokawa. It has a really complicated title, but it’s just about how camp architecture can be, which really hits all my buttons.
The place that means a lot to me is Paris. I’ve lived there on and off for small pockets of time. You feel like you can walk it in a day. And you can find these very particular stores: you go to the store that sells, say, sticks, and it will have 10 million sticks, or you go to the shop selling cooking utensils and it will have all of those. All the stuff that makes up the city is there for you, embedded into it.
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is a John Travolta postcard book from New York. It was when I was 19 or so on a school trip, and we were meant to go to the Guggenheim – but I ditched that and went with a friend into the city. I bought this in a thrift store. I kept it for about 10 years, and it ended up going into a piece of work. It’s called the Travolta Leg Chair.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Arrangements in Blue by my friend Amy Key. It’s about the idea of being single, and how so much of society is geared towards romantic love, and what happens if you haven’t found that person. It takes the framework from Joni Mitchell’s album Blue and it’s beautifully written. What’s really amazing is that I’ve shared so many memories with her over the years, and some are in the book, and they’re exactly how I remembered them. She’s the one who formed that language for me.
I always feel like everyone is having more fun than me listening to podcasts. I think it’s because of how I work, because I can’t listen to sound at the same time. Actually, I listen to lots of time-management audiobooks. I haven’t got the time for podcasts because I’m listening to those… They all say, “Just do it!” And I go: “Yeah! Let me write that down…”
My style icon is one of my mum’s colleagues. His name is John Cave, and he was one of the first male nurses to graduate in the UK. He would always turn up quite dramatically, with loads of stories, and always immaculately dressed. The shoes would be military-polished. Always a hard crease in the trousers, the shirt pressed to perfection, a cashmere scarf or leather gloves. A hat if needed. He really dazzled us at a funeral once. It was somebody else’s, obviously.
The best gift I’ve given recently is taking my partner to see Kendrick Lamar at the O2. Kendrick is one of the few people I can listen to while working. It was really fun. I thought I knew all the words, because I listen to him on loop all the time, but I stood up and I couldn’t say a thing. He’s really fast!
And the best gift I’ve received is possibly also the funniest, and the most romantic. There was this stationery shop in Elephant and Castle, and it had these very nice pink A4 binders. I remember saying, “Oh! They’re nice,” and my partner went and bought them all and filled the room with them – about 40 binders. I thought it was so beautiful that I couldn’t put anything in them. I still have them. It was quite nice, his understanding that I wanted to be organised in my life, that I was particular. It was a big gesture.
I have a collection of bricks. Any bricks! I love bricks. I love to go to design fairs and see all the different samples. I say: ‘Please can you send me some?’ I have about 60 now. You can’t do anything with them. I just look at them in the studio. I’ve got pictures of them on my phone, and people will send me pics too, if they see a good brick wallpaper or pattern. Who needs wine, eh?
In my fridge you’ll always find lots of fresh vegetables – we always eat fresh. Probably half a celeriac, because I never know what to do with it. Halloumi for my kid – she eats it all the time. Nail polish – Rouge Noir by Chanel. And a bottle of hot sauce which has stayed, because we thought we could handle it, but it’s so hot no one could ever get through it. I think it’ll just be in every fridge I have for the rest of my life.
I’ve recently rediscovered all these old National Geographics, which I found when my parents were clearing out their house in Jamaica. It’s really strange to look at them, because they were already old when they came to me when I was a kid. They’re incredible to look at, but feel so distant from where we are now. I can see how they made me always want to look at images – at how cultures are framed.
The thing I couldn’t do without is travelling. I just have to travel – I don’t care where it is, it could be north London. But I need to go away at least once every couple of months, else I start climbing the walls. I mostly go to cities. I’m about to go to New York, and I love how intense it is: the noise on the streets, everyone shouting. People curse there so incredibly. Whereas whenever I’ve gone to the countryside, I’ve gone into a slight faint. I need my bricks!
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is actually a rediscovery: an old trucker’s gilet that I bought in a flea market in Berlin in 2007, and then left neglected in my cupboard for years. Now I wear it with everything. It’s probably something I wouldn’t buy now – these days I buy sportswear. It was a last moment of getting something more structured – of having an ambition for the look I would have when I was older.
The last music I streamed was by Tyler, the Creator. I like his voice – it’s so deep and gravelly. It’s a little bit emotional but it’s also very tongue-in-cheek. I’ve also been listening to old R&B and some obscure 1970s rock music – I like people going off on a huge riff for 10 minutes with a triangle, then coming back. It’s an odyssey.
An object I would never part with is a pair of earrings my mum gave me when I was six. They’re a couple of lions and, to me, they’re like talismans. If I need to take care of myself I wear them pointing in, or if I want to keep people out I wear them pointing out. Not that anyone can see – they’re very small. I think they’re from H Samuel. I thought I lost one once, and I was devastated. Sometimes I wake up and just check they’re still there.
The artist whose work I would collect if I could is Matisse – especially his portraits and cut-outs. It all seems to be very free – but the precision with which that freedom occurs is always... I can never quite believe it.
The beauty staple I’m never without is a new perfume, Deya, by a young scent designer called Ezra Lloyd Jackson. His perfumes are formulated for black skin. It was amazing to wear it when I was in Jamaica recently, because in the heat, everything rose up in a different way. It’s nice, sweet with spices. Otherwise, I have Bobbi Brown moisturiser, and if I want a statement lip, my current one is a purple one by Mac. £94 for 50ml EDP, wearedeya.com
The work of art that changed everything for me is Ken Russell’s film The Devils. My God! It changed my life. All the use of tiles in my work is inspired by the convent where Vanessa Redgrave is the nun. It’s so key, deep down.
The best bit of advice I ever received was really simple. If you’re ever a bit confused – and I often am – have a drink of water. You’re probably just dehydrated.
My favourite apps are NTS Radio and Vogue Runway – all the things that keep me away from Instagram, which I’m on all the time anyway. It’s terrible. The algorithms have changed, and they keep showing me stuff for middle-aged women. Stuff about my hip flexors, or bunion ballerina pumps… I don’t know why. That’s the worst one – I don’t even have a bunion! If I did, I would accept it.
In another life, I would have been a film director, or working in advertising, which I thought I might do at school – I liked the idea of problem-solving in a creative way. Or an interior designer or decorator. I used to go to flea markets with my dad, and that stayed with me. I’d always pick up stuff that would end up folded into the work. I remember once seeing a green folding ladder, and it was very heavy, but needing to have it. You couldn’t even use it, but it was beautiful. I used to do things like that all the time: always dragging things across the city…
My wellbeing guru is Laurence Sessou. She used to do massages, but it’s so much more than that – it’s also sound therapy, aromatherapy… Whenever I go to see her, I always feel like my body is made of moss by the time I leave. A friend recommended her to me, and she said that if she were in a position like Beyoncé’s, she would take her everywhere.
An indulgence I would never forgo is seafood. I love oysters: I’ve had loads of bad experiences with them, but I keep coming back. I think I nearly died once, but it made me stronger. And if I’m passing through Chinatown, I always need to get a red bean sesame ball.
My favourite room in my flat is probably the corner that gets a particular patch of sun, which I love. But I mean, my flat is very small – me, my partner and my child are all in a live/work unit. I have another studio elsewhere which is “my” room. When I need to get away, I go there. It has a sofa, and a yoga mat, and some plants and some water and books. It’s very sacred, and not many people are allowed in.
My favourite location is a walk across the Thames, the five-minute drama of going from one side to the other. I really like the new buildings – or rather, the ones I’m older than. There are loads of good ones by the Vauxhall Bridge Road. Battersea Power Station used to be my be-all and end-all, I was obsessed, but now it’s been turned into something else I’m not so sure. And I also love Bonnington Square, which has a small garden, a café, Italo, and a co-op community. The planting is really wild. It sums up a lot of the different phases of London.