Ask the Artist: Anna Lomax
Photographs by Benjamin McMahon
On a rather grey London day, we popped by Anna Lomax’s studio in Stokey for a healthy jolt of colour and fun. Intrigued by textures and materials, the set designer and creative director scours junk shops and bargain basements with a magpie sensibility, obsessively collecting the old, the new, and the everyday to turn into striking visual oddities. This is where it all comes together, from retail spaces and runway sets to experiential events and motion graphics projects, for clients as diverse as Hermes, Nike, Kenzo and Google. By placing unlikely objects in unexpected environments, Anna serves up work that never fails to surprise and delight. Bright, bold and brilliantly bonkers, as is the maker herself.
How did you get into set design?
When I was at uni in Brighton studying Illustration, we went on a class trip to New York. One of the designers we visited was Andrea Purcigliotti, who introduced us to her mentor, a set designer called Ron Norsworthy who’d worked with Hype Williams. Hearing their paths made something click in my head. I’d been making films involving lots of costumes and oversized props and had never really worked out how it could go anywhere. That studio visit allowed me to see a place for what I was doing. I went back to New York that summer to work with Andrea on a reality TV show in the Bronx. That was over 10 years ago.
Where might we have seen your work?
I’ve worked with many fashion brands (Hermes, Miu Miu, Selfridges, Nike) and tech brands (Google, WeTransfer, Squarespace). I try to mix it up between still-life and motion, large site-specific installations or windows, and a lot of self-directed projects. I get excitement out of new challenges, scales, and materials.
Tell us about your creative process. How do you approach a brief?
The projects I work on are quite open, brief-wise, so I get to have lots of creative freedom. I have a backlog of ideas or materials I’d like to incorporate and use this to develop sketches and mood boards to share with the client. Once the designs have been agreed, I move into production where I work with fabricators to create whatever we are building.
What are your favourite objects and materials to work with?
I’m a materials freak! I love working with new things and get really obsessed. Part of it is working with people who work in that material day after day; the masters of their craft. I love handing something over and not always being 100% sure of where the process will take it – it’s always a happy surprise. I’ve gone through phases with neon, flocking, terrazzo, powder coating, carpet, concrete. Right now, I’m into high-gloss lacquer, anodized metal, large-scale ads and the structures they sit on, and motion graphics – from basic pound-shop LED signage right up to hyper-real renders.
What do you do if you feel stuck in a rut?
I go and hang out with my Mum in Deptford and go to the market. I love the thrill of not knowing what we will find. Failing that, I go to the studio and start making something. Even if it’s awful, there is usually something in it that can spark a new idea.
Who inspires you currently as a set designer?
Oh, so many great set designers out there! David White, Es Devlin, Bonsoir Paris, plus those doing amazing build-outs like Hotel Creative and Emil Dervish. Also, NY design studio Jumbo, who I got to work with on a project for Squarespace.
Where is your studio – and why did you choose this neighbourhood?
My studio is on the Stoke Newington–Stamford Hill border. I’ve leased the unit for 8 years and share it with other artists and designers Hattie Newman, Sarah Parker and Annie Collinge. They are the best for bouncing ideas off and we have a street party once a year.
If there was a fire, what are the first things you’d grab and why?
My dog, Beans. She’s an 11-year-old Staffie and the most cuddly, lovely dog. Then I don’t know about grab, as it’s really heavy, but my Ettore Sottsass Casablanca sideboard. For the first 3 months of owning it, I couldn’t look at it without feeling shy. I still can’t believe I own it.
What are you working on at the moment?
Around the usual commercial work, I’m working on some personal projects involving inflatables and wobbly things and I have a couple of film/animation projects that I’m desperate to get off the ground.
“I love handing something over and not always being 100% sure of where the process will take it – it’s always a happy surprise.“
How do you find splitting your time between two cities – London and New York?
I love both places. London will always be home, but New York is sooo great in the summer. I love the outdoor parties and wish we were allowed to do more of that in London.
What do you love and hate about the art world?
I love private views, but hate hangovers. I love the hustle, but hate it when it goes quiet and you feel like you are never going to work again. I love the opportunity to make your own path, but hate it when I get so busy I forget to take any time off to enjoy things.
If you were an artwork, what would you be?
Jeremy Deller’s bouncy castle Stonehenge Sacrilege or Carsten Höller’s Test Site slides.
Which book / film / album changed the way you think?
My friend Jon who runs Sports Banger gave me Beg, Steal and Borrow by Robert Store. It’s about copyright law in the creative industry – sounds super boring, but it’s really relevant to both our practices. Also, Folk Archive by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane. I read this at the end of my degree and it opened my eyes to the things I’d grown up around and taken for granted. It’s a brilliant insight into British culture – from the nail shops on Old Kent Road to scarecrow festivals in the Lake District.
What sound/s do you like to work to?
I’m a big dancehall and soca fan so if I’m on my own, that’s what’s pumping out of the studio. If not that, then it’s usually Rinse FM.
What would be your dream project?
Something that involves animation combined with a site-specific installation or windows. Last summer, I worked on a large installation in Hong Kong and made motion graphics to promote it. I like pushing a brief and putting in that little bit extra to see if the client will be up for the journey.
What does your best day in London look like?
Deptford Market or Princess May in Dalston car-boot sale rummage in the morning. Eating tacos and drinking tequila with friends. And then a party my friend runs every few months in Tottenham – Sports Banger Mega Rave. Always free and always wild.
London’s best-kept secret?
A very good mate of mine has a special key that gets you onto virtually any rooftop in London. He’s a location scout these days and if we’re lucky, we get to go see something new or newly abandoned, have a beer and a chat. He is probably London’s best-kept secret.
If you had to do something else, what would it be?
I would own a junk shop where nothing would be for sale.
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