Florence Sweeney

Florence Sweeney

Spanning sculpture, textiles and latex installations, Florence Sweeney’s multidisciplinary practice explores the intersection of personal histories with broader social issues, delving into themes of memory, loss, and the search for meaning in a complex and often chaotic world.

The roots of her current practice can be traced back to her childhood experiences, the death of her mother and her subsequent diagnosis of C-PTSD. Her work is predicated on a therapeutic method: it is an attempt to unpack personal trauma, understand her past and form a connection with her late artist mother. Sweeney’s sculptures, which appear like lacquered crumpled sheets of paper, may have a shiny surface but there is an unsettling darkness that lurks beneath. 

Sweeney has been gaining significant recognition of late, earlier in 2023 she undertook artist Oli Epp’s ‘Plop Residency’, and has exhibited with numerous galleries in London, including D Contemporary, Guts Gallery, and at Sotheby’s, alongside presenting significant exhibitions in Europe. 

In what ways does your practice look to the future? 

On a personal level, I make sense of the future by taking a lens to the past. I regard my studio as a place to be introspective and playful, whilst also taking time to reflect on my experiences. My textile tapestries, featuring hand-stitched newspaper articles, require a slow, personal process akin to taking a journey through the stories that have shaped my life and archiving vivid memories before they are forgotten. 

I am always looking for new methods or technologies to develop my process – I’ve recently been using car body paint and baking my sculptures in lacquer. A lot of contemporary artists are developing an impressively high quality of fabrication in their work; when I see a piece and I cannot figure out how it was made, I’m in awe. 

How might your work be considered a reflection of our times? 

The various facets of my work are tools to contextualise the different aspects of my life. The abstract paintings are meditations on the present moment, with an emphasis on materiality, colour theory and an element of trompe l’oeil. 

The abstract sculptures give me freedom to roam in ambiguity, a realm where words are not needed. They offer a respite from the emotionally penetrating aspects of other pieces, while still being brooding, sensual and playful. Like Rothko’s works, they are representative of my mental health and the states I flow through. 

My textiles and works on paper lean further towards autobiographical narratives. This is where I try to dissect the trauma I experienced as a child, where I try to understand my origin as an orphan. These works are difficult and take time, and I’m conscious of giving them the space they need to unfold. 

How does your practice speak to the past? 

I would say that my mother is my main influence as an artist. I have no memory of her, but what remains are her sketchbooks, a few handmade quilts and photographs of her sculptures. Through process and medium, I am trying to find a connection with her. I am told that we are cut from the same cloth, a notion that feeds into my use of textiles. 

My textiles and works on paper reflect on my childhood and are attempts to make sense of my C-PTSD. Justice wasn’t met for my mother, and in my own way I’m trying to give her the voice that was taken away. The only stories I have of my mother are in newspaper articles filled with sensationalist language, alongside court cases and statements. In some ways, I am attempting to write a new narrative. 

There have been times when I’ve been scared to make work that focuses on the perpetrator in my life, as they are still walking free, yet I continue nonetheless. I want to reclaim my past, in order to define my future and be sure of who I am as a person and as an artist. You could describe my work as a psychological enquiry, like that of Louise Bourgeois, and I expect it is one that will last a lifetime.