Justine Frischmann: waking up from Elastica to art in America

Her band were one of the leading lights of Britpop but when it all fell apart Frischmann regrouped in a quieter corner of the US and is now a visual artist

Jarvis Cocker has got his radio prove, Damon Albarn has his Chinese operas and Liam Gallagher has his garment label, but Justine Frischmann has maintained a low public profile until now. On a Thursday afternoon in New York art week, the former frontwoman of Elastica, an integral part of the Britpop pop boom of the mid-9 0s and arguably its coolest band, is hanging out in a booth at the Volta art fair, surrounded by greyish abstract paintings. On closer inspection theyre blown-up, blurred photographs that indicate the light playing on some mirrors; over the top are smudged white brush strokes. This is the Lambent series, Frischmanns latest collecting of paintings, which shes selling at the fair. Tell-tale red dots on the catalogue has demonstrated that she has already sold three and the fair hasnt even officially opened yet.

Does she have collectors? I do! says Frischmann in her excellently languid English drawl, unchanged from 11 years living in America. And some of them dont even know I was in Elastica. I did a short film for Volta and the guy opened by saying: I have to let you know, Im a real fan. I believed, Oh, he entails Elastica, and it turned out he was talking about the paints. Its great.

So for the benefit of those like him, a quick recap. Frischmann examined architecture at UCL in London, where in 1991 she formed Suede with her then boyfriend Brett Anderson. Leaving him for Blurs frontman Damon Albarn( triggering the rivalry which would kick off Britpop ), by the end of the following year shed formed her own band, Elastica. Released in 1995, Elasticas self-titled debut albumwas suave and insouciant art pop, which debuted at No 1 in the UK charts. Smart and charismatic, plus three-quarters female, Elastica had everything going for them. However they threw it away in the traditional rocknroll fashion, acquiring debilitating drug habits that led to them taking over five years to follow up their debut with second album The Menace, which tanked.

Justine Frischmanns Lambent 75. Photograph: George Lawson Gallery

Frischmann wasnt altogether finished with music she co-wrote her friend MIAs single 2003 single Galang but in 2005 she moved to Boulder, Colorado, to examine paint at Naropa University. Ive always been a fan of the State, she says. We did a lot of touring here and I loved the land, I have a kind of pagan part of me. She chuckles. Being on the bus early morning, travelling across America and seeing this incredible ancient scenery was genuinely inspiring. I grew up in the city: I know London has its parks but “youve never” get away from the voice of the traffic.

Naropa is a Buddhist school where, Frischmann says, the students are taught how to get ego out of the process and to be more connected with a relaxed presence and more in alignment with source energy. I know that sounds various kinds of hippyish. She isnt a Buddhist, however. Its too much of a cliche really, I couldnt do it, she says knowingly. But I like a lot of the practices and I would definitely describe myself as somebody whos interested in having a spiritual track. Its an important part of my life.

Some of her paintings, she says, including the Lambent series are inspired by these impressions: Trying to turn to the sunlight and attain meaning out of our lives. Seeming for religion, when theres so much doubt. She says they also explore the faith it takes to put your work out for public intake the first place. I like to show the process so all the mistakes and self-doubt and moments of uncertainty, I leave in the paints you can see all the areas where Ive built marks and then scrubbed them out and tried something again.

Elastica, Frischmann second right: androgynous glamour. Photograph: Glen Miles/ Redferns

Frischmann says that she always wanted to be a painter growing up, but her mothers persuaded her to survey architecture since they are didnt believe she could make a living as an artist.( Her parent Wilemarrived in the UK aged 15 as a refugee and Holocaust survivor and became a leading structural technologist, responsible for the design of London landmarks such as Centre Point and the former Nat West tower .)

Being in a band, Frischmann says, meant that the creativity “re coming out” sideways. In many routes hers is not a surprising career trajectory( surely not compared with her former bandmate Donna Matthews , now a missionary working with the homeless ). Elastica always had a sharp aesthetic and an angular, androgynous glamour which came from Frischmann, and which she still possesses today. One of the things I loved in the band was the visual stuff it was as fun as making the music.

Since 2008 Frischmann has lived with her husband, a scientist, in the quiet and unbelievably beautiful mounds of North Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been painting for about 10 years, though it was only in 2013 that she started exhibiting her work. She spends her days working in her studio, walking in the redwood forests and protecting her four cat from coyotes. The scenery suffuses her paints. You can have this beautiful sunny day and as the fogll roll in everything goes from black and white into this luminous colouring. Ive been looking at it for years and it just recently started indicating up in my work.

Damon Albarn and Frischmann: the Posh and Becks of Britpop. Photo: Jeremy Sutton Hibbert/ Rex Features

Its all a far cry from the days when Frischmann and Albarn were, much to their discouragement, the Posh and Becks of Britpop, constantly in the tabloids as well as the music press. At this point when I look at the videos of my performances I feel that its another person, says Frischmann. Both Pulp and Blur have reformed and toured, but while Elastica have had plenty of offers, Frischmann has no desire to revisit the past besides re-releasing the first Elastica album on vinyl, which the band( who shes still in touch with) are doing next year. She hasnt insured Albarn for years but is still friends with Anderson, who visits her when hes in the field. She still sings, but merely in the shower or, she laughs, to her cats.

I dont genuinely have any desire to make music, to be honest, she says. With painting, I genuinely feel Ive observed my medium. Also I guess Im a socially anxious person. I kind of deal with it but actually Im really happy on my own. When Im in the studio and things are unfolding and arousing I have that feeling that Im exactly where Im meant to be. I dont suppose I ever genuinely had that with music, it always felt like a rollercoaster ride and there was going to be a horrible smash-up.

Which, as has been well documented, there was. Yet Frischmann has enough view to look back fondly on the good times. I got to go all over the world and have a real snapshot of countries around the world in 95, 96, and I got to meet a lot of my heroes. One of the most valuable lessons was to realize that success isnt inevitably enriching or invigorating. We live in a culture where theres so much emphasis on celebrity and we all grow up feeling like being famous must be really great.

Which, she concludes, it wasnt at the least compared to their own lives now. I genuinely want my paints to be seen in beautiful spaces with good illuminate, and for people to have a chance to see them, but I really appreciate my life now and having a lot more privacy, more anonymity. It was a really great lesson to have had young in life because its helped me to have better priorities in terms of how I structure things and what I want. Its fun to be able to start again and only reinvent.

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