Pop stars and reinvention go hand in hand; it's part of the job description. Justine Frischmann, however, took it as a chance to leave behind the fame she found as the frontwoman of Elastica for an anonymous life in America. After the band called it quits in the early 2000s—and her love for music slowly faded—Frischmann has reconnected to the passion that comes first to her: painting.
When did your love for art start? Was it always a lifetime passion or was it a more recent discovery post Elastica?
I've always loved to draw and paint. As a kid, I was drawing all the time. I was interested in going to art school when I finished high school, but my parents convinced me to do something that was more practical, so I studied architecture. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't go to art school at 18 years old. I'm glad to have returned to visual art with a bit more life experience and confidence.
So, did you manage to keep up your creativity during the insanity of being in a successful band?
I didn't keep up a formal drawing or painting practise while I was in Elastica. Music completely took over, although we were always hands on with the production of photos, artwork, and videos, particularly in the first couple of years. As the band got bigger, there was less time to focus on that, and I did miss it.
I feel your painting gives an air of casualness, but also has some architectural structure. I know you studied architecture at university; do you think that plays a role?
Yes, I'm interested in finding a relaxed quality in the work. I have been studying with Nina Wise who is a performer and Dharma teacher, and she talks a lot about finding a way to follow creative energy and spontaneity while staying relaxed. I have been studying with her in a different context, but I feel like that has been an important lesson in my painting.
The geometrical forms help to create structure and are a way of organising the more expressive marks so that there is a balance. I feel like I'm very evenly left- and right-brained; I am naturally quite mathematical and analytical, but I also need the work to be visceral and expressive.
You were known as a writer of modern pop, and your paintings now definitely fits into the pop-modernist aesthetic. Is this something you that you are naturally attracted to?
I think my paintings refer to modernism with a capital "M." I'm very interested in the era of early modernism. I think there was an optimism in the new simplicity of design and painting at that time. There was also a regard for spirituality and spiritual issues with people like Itten at the Bauhaus and artists like Malevich and Mondrian.
My work does refer to that era, but the geometric shapes in my paintings tend to be porous rather than solid because I don't think solidity defines our view of the world any more.
I think the "pop" side of my work comes from the colour palette. Again, I'm drawn to colours that are visceral, that demand attention. I love the way flourescents seem to light up. Having said that, my latest work is black on black, and it is less brash, less pop, more doubtful and fragile somehow.
What is your artistic process like?
The thing that really gets me going is seeing other people's work that I think is great. That's what really gets me into the studio. I see work that I connect with, and it's like something goes off in my brain. I want to contribute to the conversation.
And I think music was the same. It was my passion for the music I loved that made me want to do it.
Do you create alone?
It is easier, just logistically. And I enjoy the solitude and being able to follow my own instincts without having to negotiate. But I do enjoy supporting other people in their work wherever I can. And there's something fantastic about seeing the spark in others, especially when it meshes with your own. I've been lucky enough to experience that a few times, and it's a sublime feeling.
You've had one solo art show to date; how was that?
I wasn't that nervous—actually, I was excited. I don't have another solo show lined up, but I have work in group shows regularly.
This is in contrast with the great amount of shows you've played with Elastica. Looking back, was there any negative reactions to you, for instance, being a woman in music or having the creative vision you've mentioned earlier?
I've honestly never felt like it was a disadvantage to be a woman. I think good pop is one of the highest art forms, and I was surrounded by peers who seemed to think the same thing.
How did the associated fame feel? I can imagine it being surreal.
Yes, it was surreal for a while. I'm glad to be anonymous again.
I have read somewhere that you felt your career in music was transient, and you knew it would be over after a certain point. Do you still write music? And do you have the same ideology with this period of endeavour?
I never really felt like music was a long-term thing. It just didn't feel sustainable. And, weirdly, I suppose, I don't miss it.
I've always been primarily a visual person, and it infiltrates my life in every way. I can't imagine that I could ever lose interest in that. The more I learn about making art, the more interesting it gets. It also feels like a kind of a refuge in a way that music didn't quite for me.
So, you would never return to music or bring Elastica together again?
Hmmm can't really imagine any kind of reforming happening.
Okay, so as you've undoubtedly inspired people in some way, where do you find your inspiration? And has it changed over time?
The music I loved growing up still sounds good to me... I still have a lot of the same songs on my iPod. But I suppose I'm more aware of visual artists than musicians these days. Some of my favourites are Wendy White, Sarah Cain, Isa Genzken.
What are you looking forward to?
My husband and I are buying a little cabin by the ocean out in the wilds of west Marin [San Francisco], which we are going to renovate, and I'm really excited about that.
Oh, you live in California now?
Yes, I'm really happy here; I think the Bay Area's incredible. I love the land here and the nature. I don't think I would ever choose to live in London again.
And if I come by your place today, would I be able to find your first single and your first painting? Do you still have them?
Yes, I've got our first single somewhere, but I'm not sure what would even count as the first painting