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How skiving school kickstarted artist Hetty Douglas’s career

The Dazed 100 painter on her roots, and making time to be creative

Artist Hetty Douglas has always had a bit of a rebellious streak. As a child, this meant playing truant by feigning illness, but it would seem that her reason for skipping school turned out for the best – her mum was at art school and by faking it, Douglas could tag along. Rounding off our project with MCM, she follows King Owusu, Isabel Alsina-Reynolds and Antonia Marsh as the fourth creative figure who’s pushing boundaries through her work.

Having studied illustration, Douglas switched to painting, and that’s where she’s begun to make her mark. Inspired by the complexities of personal relationships, her work has become recognised as unconstrained, with an intuitive use of colour that she can’t quite explain. For the most part, Douglas works without placing strict meaning on what she does. Driven by a desire to explore intimacy, trust and sexual boundaries, she plays with words and symbols in what she produces. And, by refusing to pigeonhole what she paints, that leaves it to us to make up our own minds.

When did you first decide you wanted to be an artist?

Hetty Douglas: When my mum was studying fine art and I used to always pretend to be sick so she’d have to take me with her to uni – so I was around 10? I felt so happy in that environment, and when I was at secondary school art was really the only class I found enjoyable and I could behave in – because I cared.

Having initially studied illustration, what is it that compelled you to switch to painting?

Hetty Douglas: I’ve always painted – even when I studied illustration. I’m not too sure why I studied illustration – I was young and at the time, I just wanted to get out of Nottingham and going to LCF financially enabled that. I definitely learned what I didn’t and don’t want to do, which is just as important. 

How does living and working in London affect your creativity?

Hetty Douglas: Well I work full time and obviously, there are moments where I just so want to be in my studio painting, so I find it quite hard to balance the two – but if you want to make something work enough, you will. There’s no point in complaining about how tough and expensive London is because I choose to live here and I choose to juggle a million different things at once because I love it.

“Well I work full time and obviously, there are moments where I just so want to be in my studio painting – but if you want to make something work enough, you will” – Hetty Douglas

How do you come up with or decide on the text you use in your paintings, and who are your creative muses?

Hetty Douglas: I don’t really use text anymore, definitely less direct phrases more symbols, numbers and stand-alone words. These all come from so many different things, things I think, say, hear, do – they’re very in the moment. My mum, girlfriend and friends all make me want to be the best I possibly can but I’m not too sure I have any ‘muses’ as such.

People often comment on how you use colour. Are your choices of colour instinctive, or do you like to play with stereotypes associated with certain shades?

Hetty Douglas: My choices of colour change and vary so much – I went through a phase of predominately using pinks and blues, however now, although I still use a lot of blue, my colour palette has changed, I’m not painting on white backgrounds anymore so maybe that has something to do with it I, don’t know. I used to find it interesting that I used a lot of pink because when I was younger I hated the colour pink and the ‘girly’ connotations that came with it. I’ve never understood who decided that was a thing, like girl = pink, boy = blue, so weird.

What do you stand for? What is worth standing out for?

Hetty Douglas: That’s a big question. It’s hard to say what I stand for but I would say that I believe it’s important to stand for what you want and not to shy away from that ever or compromise on what you think is right. If you want to say something, say it. I think as long as we are kind and gentle to others and, more importantly, ourselves then everything is bless.


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