When plate painting became popular amongst women in the late 19th century, one art critic said that the "decorative mania" had caused "the loveliest and purest maidens in the land to smell of turpentine."

Now, London artist Eliza Hopewell is once again challenging what it means to be a 'lovely maiden'. Her colourful and subversive decorative plates are miles away from pretty pastoral plates of yore, instead depicting women naked, hairy and riotously enjoying themselves. We spoke to Eliza about feminism, her craft and what it's like to be an artist in a city like London.

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How did you start painting plates?

It was during a time when I was really broke. My boyfriend's birthday was coming up, and someone told me that if you draw on porcelain with a permanent marker then baked it in the oven that it would stick. I had about £6, so I bought a sharpie and took a plate out of my mum's kitchen cupboard and drew on it for my boyfriend. He loved it, so I carried on doing it for my friends and family. At the time I was unemployed so I had loads of spare time and was just doing it for fun, but then people started asking to buy them.

Eliza Hopewell

Image courtesy of Eliza Hopewell©

What do you know about the history of plate painting before you started?

I didn't think about it before I started but I've since learnt a lot about how decorative plates are historically a feminine past time, I like the idea that it has always been seen as women's work. I also think that decorative plates are strangely classless - the Queen probably has them, but then again so does your nan!

Eliza Hopewell

Image courtesy of Eliza Hopewell©

What do you mean when you say they are 'unapologetic'?

I actively try and paint women - women with body hair, women masturbating, or on their period. I suppose that's what I mean by unapologetic - not apologising for being hairy, or having periods, or being yourself. I think the plates have a lot to do with identity, and being unapologetic means not apologising for being exactly who you are.

Eliza Hopewell

Image courtesy of Eliza Hopewell©

Have you always been interested in depicting bodies in this way?

When I moved home I was looking through my old GCSE artwork and found a screen printed sofa cover which I had made and put on an inflatable sofa for a school project. From a distance, it looks like flowers, but up close it's actually dicks and vaginas and dildos - which is crazy because I was 15 and my grandparents came to see it! I guess it's similar to the plates in that way.

Eliza Hopewell

Image courtesy of Eliza Hopewell©

Also, it's things that you find in your house - a plate, a sofa.

Yeah I don't actually advise people to eat off my plates but I really like the connection that they have with food, the idea of family, home, togetherness. Plates are nice objects to symbolise that, to me, it brings to mind conversation, happiness.

You have a few plates with men on too.

Yeah, I really like bodies in general - how they look, how they move. I find it easier to draw cis-female bodies because I have one, but I also like the idea of a female-identifying woman painting men. Some of my favourite people to paint have been gay men. I go back and forth between how I feel about drawing mostly women. When I paint women I am saying 'these bodies are beautiful' and eroticising them a bit myself, but also doing it because I have one too and it's empowering. It's great to be a female artist looking at female bodies when there's historically so much art like that by men.

Eliza Hopewell

Image courtesy of Eliza Hopewell©

What inspires you?

Normal, ordinary people. I love how interesting and complex everyone is, yet everyone I paint is all the same size on a 10-inch diameter plate - it's a nice metaphor for the world, everyone is fundamentally the same but at the same time, they're all unique. Also, Harry Potter. I literally listen to audiobooks of Harry Potter all day every day, it is so British and so comforting. That must go into the plates somehow!

Eliza Hopewell

Image courtesy of Eliza Hopewell©

What's it like being an artist in London?

Really, really good but intense. I went to University in Glasgow, Scotland which is a much cheaper and more chilled out city - you can have a studio and make rent by working in a bar. I missed that when I came to London but this city has also given me so many opportunities. The flip side is that there are neverending deadlines, everyone expects you to be working all the time. There are a lot of opportunities, but it can turn you into a bit of a workaholic.

Eliza Hopewell

Image courtesy of Eliza Hopewell©

Any advice for other artists?

Go with what you are naturally passionate about. Be friends with other artists, do projects with people. Of course, everyone says this but the reality is it's not that easy when you have no money or a job, you're just like please fuck off!

Eliza Hopewell will be exhibiting at AWOMANfest at DIY space for London, Peckham from 23rd-25th of March.