‘Back to Basics’ – Coral Garvey interview by Charlie Spot

‘Back to Basics’ – Coral Garvey interview by Charlie Spot

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Coral is an American-Korean multidisciplinary artist. She created sci-fi fantastical photography in widely renowned editorials and after a five year project finalised her dystopian-tech-noir fine art collection “The Invisible Rules”. Three of these pieces were on show at the Subtitle Labs launch.  Charlie Spot, our resident artist interviewer sat down with Coral Garvey to discuss her latest project and what inspired her to create it.

On a typically grey Sunday in Dalston I walk over to a sleepy, yet cosy street corner coffee shop to meet with Coral Garvey.

As she comes into the café the parallels of her energy and the weather make you forget where you are. Her bright pink hair and Nike Uptempo’s bring a different energy to the room.  The first thing you feel when you are with Coral is that you are with someone fun, who is genuine and intently curious about everything.

After a quick photoshoot and a coffee we delve what inspires her and how she created her latest series.

You have just finished your first solo show on Oxford St, what was it like?

Incredible, it took me five years to create and finish. I started it in Berlin 4-5 years ago without intending to show it to anyone. I showed it to some people in London, who saw it and loved it, which inspired me to finish the collection.

How did they inspire you?

I got great reactions from people coming over. That is how I met my art manager, he supported me and the concept, the craft. It just shows important it is for someone to believe in you and it can really change your life. It sounds corny but he put a genuine spark in me and that inspired me to continue.

Finding someone who inspires you, motivates you to be different. For someone who does not have that person how would you find that person or how would you give that confidence to yourself?

Keep believing in yourself, a lot of people give you negative reactions because of XYZ. However it is not always about you, but about themselves.

In my life and career people have said negative things, and it can destroy your creative soul, as we are all sensitive, but you have to push through that. Surround yourself with good people, keep working, just keep working.

Coral Garvey

The body of work you just made “The Invisible Rules”, what is the idea behind it, what are you trying to show?

In Berlin I was feeling these social pressures, invisible pressures, they were not tangible, but you feel them every day. Pressures about your career, family, social media pressures, what you should do, and it sort of culminated into the first painting, called Stranger In A Strange Land.

As a Korean American growing up in western culture, I felt a little bit outside, but also a little inside. I studied psychology in college, nature vs nature, and I just wanted to push it out into a visual landscape. Back then the world felt very tumultuous, hence the landscape, the sci fi – tech noir narrative. There is hope in the paintings too, it is not all bad.

Are the paintings of you?

Yes they are, they are versions of myself, I am very into symbology, taro, mythology, iconography and religion. All of these narratives are all wrapped up in the work

You have a distinct style as an artist and a particular shoe that is heavily represented in your paintings, what is the reason for the incorporation of the shoe and the reason behind it’s appearance in the works?

In my career I have done a lot of creative direction for street wear brands. This brought on the idea of conceptual thinking and what it takes to make a strong campaign.

Through working with these clients you can see the impact that you have throughout the world and particularly young people and what can inspire them. This is especially the case with Nike, like man you want those Nikes, its hype, cultural relevancy, you are part of a community, that’s the meaning behind the Uptempos. I also wear them all the time, so it’s a symbol of me, its cultural relevance and a hype machine, that you constantly feel you have to be a part of, so it is good thing and a bad thing. These tie into the narrative of The Invisible Rules.

You spent a long time making these, over the course of 5 years. I imagine that you did the majority of the work over the last five years?

Definitely. Lockdown was terrible and great, it gave me space to plan out these narratives. After meeting certain people and having them discuss what they thought and what they experienced when looking at my work, it really clicked.  I didn’t sketch, write them out or plan these, it sort of fell into place as I went along, the first collection, definitely took a long time figure out, not only visually and representing what I was going through but technicality wise, just getting back into painting. Now I know where I am going to go with it, I think it just takes time,

Which direction do you think you’ll go into?

I know the story line and style will not be wildly different, but definitely bigger and better.

For other artists, who have ideas like you have and want to push themselves, making a great body of work and multiple pieces – but have creative blocks and procrastinate – what advice would you give to people going through that? How do you get over that to make the work?

A white canvas is a nightmare sometimes…

I guess it is difficult with social media to compare yourself to what other people are doing and feel stressed out about it. I would say take time out from it and connect with yourself again, go back to the basics, what you like, what you are interested in, are you interested in sci fi, fantasy, gnomes? Whatever, whatever you are inherently into and passionate about, go back to that, and that will help you navigate where you want to go and where your voice wants to be.

Subtitle Labs Launch....

If you are in the art world, reading this, and you want to connect with other artists what is the best way of going about it? Even from a friendship perspective?

I was horrifically shy back in the day, it took me a long time to get out of that, you think people are scary or thinks something about you, in the end everyone thinks that! Why not start the conversation and break the ice?

I guess when I meet people, I go up to them and see what their vibe is, not to try to get anything out of them, I just see if we have anything in common. In 5-7 times out of ten we do and sometimes it’s not going to happen and that’s fine too. So I think, just go out and put yourself out there. Even though it is really scary, you never know who you are going to meet, how you can help someone or how they can help you, or make something together. 

Is failure important?

All these famous people tell you about failure and how important it is, but it is true. You have to fail, you have to experiment, it is just another step to get you where you need to be going. And you need to learn from that. What is failure, is it external or internal? Again it is how you perceive it, into your next level, piece or project, it is just a learning experience.


Coral is the kind of person you could talk to for hours whilst discussing 100 different subjects, the pace and excitement she has for everything and anything is infectious.

Her external view of the world is one of appreciating creativity and people with genuine kindness – her internal thoughts however are slightly hidden, and through The Invisible Rules we catch a deeper glimpse of Coral, her inner thoughts, views on the world and her own vulnerability.

Over the course of the next year Coral will be showcasing her new collection. All of us at Subtitle Labs cannot wait to see where it takes her.

Charlie Spot – March 2022

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