Coco Lom Venus & the Cat interview

THE SOAK UP #11 - Venus & the Cat x Coco Lom

For THE SOAK UP episode 11 from Venus & the Cat we got the chance to interview stunning visual artist Coco Lom. Coco is an artist and designer based in East London; a pattern seeker, colour lover, shadow chaser and stripe enthusiast. You can find find Coco on Instagram here, and on the web here.

VATC: What life experiences have informed your style?
Coco Lom: I’m a pattern-seeker, colour-lover, shadow-chaser and stripe enthusiast. At the age of 10, I discovered I was dyslexic, which I now regard as a blessing. I love it. I’ve always seen the world through the lens of shapes and patterns. When I was a kid, I used to point out all the different stripes and patterns I could see to my mum… and all these years later I’m still searching! When I look at something, I make sense of it by breaking it down and deconstructing it into its smaller parts, and I think I partly owe this to my dyslexia. I notice beauty in really mundane and overlooked spaces. Every day we pass so many amazing shadows and patterns, but forget to appreciate them. The quiet details in our everyday lives often become the starting points and inspiration for my illustrations. I think that if we all put our pattern goggles on, we would discover the most incredible new world.

VATC: I read about you inheriting your nan’s photography book. Is there anyone else in your family who has had an influence on your art?
Coco Lom: Yes, such an amazing book. My grandma Dina was Swiss and had a great love for arts and culture. She’d built a wonderful collection of books over her life and very generously left them to me. That book is a particular favourite. It has pages and pages of black & white photography, with each page dedicated to one particular focus. The book has one page full of streetlamps, another with door numbers, then a page of road markings. I guess it’s a bit like a picture library. I’m lucky to come from a family with a wide interest in the arts – from theatre and pottery, to writing and film (my grandpa was a film actor!). I have fond memories as a kid of going to exhibitions, watching unusual art films and just making things all the time. We had a great ‘crafts corner’ in our kitchen.

Coco Lom Pattern Photography

VATC: Is there anyone you particularly like to make proud with your work?
Coco Lom: I think I make my work because it makes me happy (and hopefully others, too) and I want to change the way people look at the world. I'm hoping to open your eyes to all the patterns, shapes and colours around us and help us celebrate the small details we might not normally notice.

VATC: Have your parents kept any of your school art? And if so, what was it?
Coco Lom: My Mum still has a drawing of a mushroom pinned on the kitchen cupboard. I coloured it with crayons when I was aged five. Bit mad but it makes her happy!

VATC: You’re a multi-disciplinarian artist – do you have a particular medium you prefer to work in?
Coco Lom: My work has always been quite varied as I enjoy researching and creating in different ways. Some days I’ll be out with my camera photographing people, architecture and nature, which often informs my image-making, and other days I’ll be taking on the challenge of creating a paint brush that will paint 8 stripes at once! In between those I’ll be collaging, drawing digitally or scanning at my studio, which is the favourite part of my process. I often make my design work with assistance from my photocopier, dragging shapes and patterns I’ve created across my scanner bed as it moves. I also do this with found objects, text and images and love that I never quite know the exact outcome until it’s finished scanning and is up on my screen.

Coco Lom Newport Primary School

VATC: The scanner creates movement from stillness in your imagery, but it is still a ‘still’ image. Do you consciously think about this interplay between movement and stillness?

Coco Lom: I find it fascinating watching my shapes, which are often quite regular and geometric before scanning, take on a new life, with waves of movement and shifts of energy of their own. I love the interplay between humans and technology. A photocopier is designed and manufactured to make an exact copy of something. I turn this on its head. I’m challenging its original purpose.

VATC: You have described your work as ‘playful’. Is it important not to take artistic discovery too seriously?
Coco Lom: Definitely! It's something I’ve worked on over the years. I used to be fixated on school marks and ticking the boxes on the exam criteria when I was younger. I guess it’s hard not to. Looking back, I think that stopped me from enjoying playing around, embracing mistakes and making new discoveries along the way. I used to be so worried about getting it ‘wrong’ or not making my absolute best piece of artwork and that stopped me from having fun. These thoughts still creep in. I think the process of scanning has helped me to loosen up creatively, work more quickly and embrace trial and error. Once I realised there really is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of making something, I found it liberating.

Coco Lom

VATC: How does imperfection or irregularity in patterns you see affect you or your work? Is this part of the distortion of patterns?

Coco Lom: What a great question! I’m a mega-perfectionist. All the cutlery has to be straight on my kitchen table. However, when I was at University, as part of my dissertation I learnt about the Gestalt Theory. The idea is that elements that are slightly different to others around it will capture and hold the viewer's attention. This is used in advertising a lot. Photographers intentionally create irregularities in patterns to draw attention to a certain point or a product – eg, a sea of plain, matte-white perfume bottles, with just the one glossy, pink Chanel bottle placed amongst them. I find this juxtaposition quite beautiful. When the irregularity is purposeful (rather than a careless misplacement), it’s compelling. When it’s carelessly misplaced, it takes all my willpower not to correct it!

VATC: Your work has a very real op-art effect. Is this something you have considered or practiced?
Coco Lom: As a kid, I was fascinated by optical illusions and had books dedicated to drawings and patterns that tricked your mind. I’ve not thought about those books for a long time, so it's interesting you made that connection!

VATC: You form a lot of patterns and shapes in situ, seeing what comes to you in the moment. In that sense, how easy is it to ‘see’ or prepare in advance for what you’re trying to create? Or do you not try to?
Coco Lom: I’d say it’s a mix of both. I usually have a rough idea in mind about what I want to achieve as I design a lot of my shapes and patterns before I take them to the scanner. They inevitably influence the scanned outcome. However, there are other factors along the way, e.g., the way I move my hand and the speed at which I move it. I like to think of it as choreography, but for my hand rather than my body. Each time I scan, the choreography changes and develops. Sometimes moving carefully towards a particular thing I’m trying to achieve, other times it’s more spontaneous. And quite often, that’s where the magic happens! I’ll scan things once, print them out and scan them a second time. Or make exaggerated whole-body movements to inspire different rhythms into my hands. Sounds mad but it’s great fun and really quite addictive once you get going. And the question is always: ‘Oh, but what will I get next if I just did that!’

Coco Lom basketball
Photo credit: Mark Howe: Insta / Web

VATC: How do you bring your personality out in your work?

Coco Lom: Because my work is full of bold patterns and colours, some people may assume I’m also big, bold and extroverted inside as a person. But I’m actually happiest being quiet in my own space when I’m tucked away in my attic studio in Stoke Newington, listening to music and with a big bag of popcorn.

VATC: You’ve talked about your love of music… have you had any conversations about creating music videos? Or even visuals for live shows?
Coco Lom: I’ve had a passion for light and shadow since a very early age. I once created a 10-metre-long cut-out skyline silhouette made from paper. I lit it up with coloured lighting and created overlapping shadows which I then photographed as a series. I’ve always admired lights, shadows and projections – the way strobes create shapes and patterns in the space above people’s heads at music venues and festivals is a big part of what I love about live events. They’re a massive part of my life and hugely affect my general happiness. The sounds and lights are so all-consuming that you get lost in them. I mentally disconnect from everything else going on in life and focus purely on the music. So, to be able to make something in that space and be part of that is such an amazing feeling. One of my previous commissions involved projecting my patterns for an event at Five Miles club in Seven Sisters in London and I’d love to do something similar again. Creating something in the world of music is at the top of my project list for 2022. I'd imagine collaborating with an animator and bringing my world of patterns into the music. Any animators out there, let’s chat!

VATC: Will we see you work more with moving image?
Coco Lom: Yeah for sure, it’s definitely something I want to explore. I once made a short film about the daily life of a launderette. It was about the character within a 24-hour launderette, and I focused on the patterns and repetitions within this overlooked everyday environment. I made a story around what the washers and driers saw, how they might have felt and what they heard. Who knows what will come next!

Coco Lom Bo0ok Club Mural

VATC: One can experience a real sense of peace or calm in looking through your images. They can be incredibly cathartic. Would you ever look to work with someone to turn this sensory experience in to something tangible, perhaps for mental health sufferers? Rather like Peaceful Patterns extended into a more public form?

Coco Lom: I love this thought. I’m a massive believer that patterns can soothe our minds. There’s something about the regularity and order of things that’s very comforting and calming. One of my favourite books is ‘Things Organised Neatly’ by Austin Radcliffe, which contains pages of objects organised through colour or shape. Yes, I’d love to collaborate on something like that.

VATC: How can you see your work evolving in the future?
Coco Lom: I care about people as much as I do about art. For me, it’s not about the artist in isolation, it’s the impact on the people around you. One of my missions as a designer is to create work that uses patterns and colour to influence people’s emotions, happiness and behaviour – hopefully positively!
So, when I was commissioned recently by Pink Lady Apples to transform a basketball court in London, I hugely enjoyed working with the community and knowing that they would be in better health physically and mentally playing amongst the colours. One of my favourite parts of that court-design project was also designing a basketball. I love the idea that people would be using my art within the sport and within their daily habits, not just admired on a wall or a floor. I hope my work on this might lead to other sporty commissions!

Coco Lom basketball court

Photo credit: Mark Howe: Insta / Web

VATC: What would be your dream collaboration? Personally, I would love to see you working with Georgia Hill or Gary Stranger.

Coco Lom: I love both their work. I’ve got a growing love for typography and letters which they both use so well. I’m dyslexic, so words aren’t my strong point and I often struggle to find the right words and process information. I like the idea of turning something scary (words) into something beautiful, less daunting, by mixing them with patterns and colours, making them feel more approachable and less intimidating. It would be epic to do a collab with another dyslexic maker, something around letters and words that helps young people who are dyslexic, but also educates those who aren’t dyslexic and might not know much about it.

VATC: Describe your mind in one word
Coco Lom: It’s got to be... PATTERNS

VATC: If you had to stop being an artist tomorrow, what would you do next?
Coco Lom: I would get myself a job in a pasta-making factory! I’m obsessed with pasta and would hope to get a lifelong supply of free farfalle. I’m also fascinated by all the different shapes, their patterns and how they’re made. Did you know there are more than 300 shapes of pasta, each with their own unique story and history? Ideally, my day’s work would be a mix of making pasta (there's something quite beautiful about the repetitiveness and meditativeness of using your hands to make the same pasta shape over and over again) and just watching the little shapes dance out of the factory machines. If you haven’t seen pasta-making machines in action, you’ve got to check it out! I spent some time living in New York and the pasta factory ‘Sfoglini’ in Williamsburg has some great behind the scene videos on their Instagram.

Coco Lom

VATC: If you had the world’s attention for 30 seconds, what would you say?

Coco Lom: I would remind the world of a quote by poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I think there’s real power in being kind and showing gratitude, even for the smallest things and in the smallest moment.

VATC: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Coco Lom: Oooh, that's hard! Being dyslexic, I’ve never been a massive reader, but an author I’ve followed for years is Matt Haig. I love the way he views and writes about the world, often in quite a playful way. He has some beautiful words of wisdom, especially around anxiety and mental health which has helped me shape the way I live my life and to stop me over-thinking. One of my favourites is: “Never be cool. Never try to be cool. Never worry about what the cool people think. Head for the warm people. Life is warmth. You’ll be cool when you’re dead.”

Coco Lom basketball

VATC: Who would play you in a movie about your life? And what would it be called?
Coco Lom: I’m a self-confessed stripe-aholic. Anything stripey, I love it. So, I think it would have to be ‘Where’s Wally’ in his red-and-white world. The title would be ‘Stripen Up Your Life’.

VATC: Finally, is there a cause close to your heart you’d like to mention, and/or an exhibition or work you’re involved in Q4 2021 that you’d like to talk about?
Coco Lom: I’m just about to launch a new basketball design! When we’re kids, our world is curated to be full of colour and playfulness, from our classrooms and clothes to our toys and games. But as we get older, sadly we often lose this side to life. Playfulness stimulates creativity, strengthens our heart and calms our head. I can’t wait to get the basketballs out into the hands of people of all ages and abilities and to remind us that colour and playfulness is for everyone. Plus, there’s never been a more important time to move our bodies. Keep an eye on my Instagram @_cocolom_ for more info coming soon!

Don't forget - you can check out Coco Lom's website here

You can also check out Coco's banging Spotify playlist here



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