While their new exhibition is called Recollect, Lisa Travers and Kelly Washbourne’s upcoming show at The Vaults could easily have been entitled Reconnect.
It was six years ago when the two artists first exhibited together – a programme of events across various venues in Moseley.
Since then the 31-year-olds – who first met in 2002 when working as assistants at Number Nine The Gallery in Brindleyplace – have headed off in very different directions, both artistically and geographically – Amsterdam, New York, Cyprus and London just some of their stopping off points.
They’re now reunited and back in Birmingham for a one-night exhibition at The Vaults Restaurant & Bar in the Jewellery Quarter.
“Kelly really encouraged me to exhibit when we were at Number Nine,” says Lisa. “She’d had a few shows and we just knew it would work together.”
“We shouldn’t have left it so long,” says Kelly, who now lives in Bedfordshire and works from a converted outhouse at the cottage she rents.
Leaving to live in London with her boyfriend, the last six years have seen Kelly painting at home in Hackney while working at art fairs across the world, from New York to Brussels and Amsterdam (and Singapore in two months’ time), selling both her own abstract pieces and other artists’.
Meanwhile, Lisa, daughter of UB40 saxophonist Brian Travers, spent time working at The Custard Factory, studied for her MA in art history at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design as well as spending time at a college of art in Cyprus – a four week studio programme followed by an invitation to return for a two-month residency earlier this year.
“Looking back at what we did before, you just kind of go for things – everything I’ve gone on to do was boosted by those first shows,” says Lisa.
“You take your past successes and keep building on them.”
While Kelly’s work is a collection of abstract ‘landscapes’ of layered oil on canvas, Lisa’s art focuses on graffiti and calligraphy, often painted or transferred onto pieces of reclaimed wood. Her university thesis was entitled ‘Writing without meaning: investigating illegible handwriting as an artistic device’. Like her lyricist dad, she obviously has an interest in words, albeit painted, not sung.
While very different, somehow the two artists’ works sit comfortably together and complement each other – a good job, since they will be hanging side by side in The Vaults’ row of cosy brick-lined booths on September 28:
“Our pieces do work really well together,” says Kelly. “Working at art fairs and trying to hang 12 different artists’ work in a four-metre booth, it’s just insane. Our work sits nicely together.”
Lisa nods: “It’s rare to find that and it’s hard to put a group show together; maybe it’s because both of our ideas do relate back to landscapes.”
Kelly says: “Someone mentioned The Vaults and straight away it was the ideal place; they do art shows here so they’re really welcoming and used to it. I think if you go into someone’s bar and say ‘we need to take all this down’ they can go into a bit of a flat spin, but I think [Vaults owner] Julian’s an art lover – you can tell, he’s got the Reuben Colleys and straight away he was really open to it and said ‘go for it girls’ and was happy for us to take the place over.”
It’s clear that not only do the two get on as friends, there’s an obvious mutual admiration for each other’s work. At times it borders on an artistic love-in as they giggle in between adding more epithets of praise for their friend’s art.
“We do love each other’s works – which is really handy!” laughs Kelly. “We’re a good team!”
“The basis of both our works has stayed the same but grown in quality, scope; the way Kelly handles colour now and the scale,” says Lisa.
“The early stuff was just a precursor to what she does now.”
“We’re going to have a range of sizes,” she adds. “Smaller pieces in the booths – less is more – and hopefully everything will shine against the brickwork.”
Recollect is not just a chance for the girls to show how far they’ve come in the last six years but, as the name suggests, look back at how they started:
“Even though we stayed in touch over the years, if we’re going to have a show together there’s no getting away from thinking about what we did in the past,” says Lisa.
Let’s just hope they don’t leave it another six years.
Recollect is at The Vaults, Newhall Place, Newhall Hill, Birmingham from 6pm-9pm on September 28. Entry is free.