‘Mad In England’ is the art brand of Carrie Reichardt. A label strongly tied to Britain’s caste culture, her ‘eccentric’ aristocratic roots can be traced back to ‘The Camel Hair King of America’, entanglements with Russian Tsars, and lost fortunes along the Caspian Sea.
Carrie describes herself as a ‘renegade who is revered in anti-establishment circles… [and] a preoccupation with seditious ceramics places her within an artistic tradition extending back to William Morris.’
She gained a First Class degree in Fine Art at Leeds University and has had a career spanning many media, including film, performance and sculpture. But is perhaps best known as a ceramicist and mosaicist, working on large scale public murals. She creates anarchic artworks where vintage floral, kitsch, royal and religious crockery are given new twists and turns. They are modified in a ‘radical re-use of traditional things’ and often adorned with skulls, poignant slogans and political slurs.
Carrie practices the use of craft as protest, and her skills have been put to good use as a vehicle for her own political activism, most notably her campaigning for prisoners on Death Row and her involvement with the fight to gain justice for the Angola Three. In 2013 she was awarded the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, enabling her to work with local communities in Chile and Mexico.
Carrie Reichardt has also been an outspoken advocate on the use of art as therapy, and after a mental health crisis in 1995, making art became an important way for her to deal with her emotions. It is therefore fitting that her house and studio in Chiswick are notoriously named The Treatment Rooms.
The Treatment Rooms is a collective based in West London, unofficially centred around Carrie’s home. A number of artists have come and gone as part of the collective over the years, but it is currently populated mostly by Carrie, ATM, Karen Francesca, Sian Wonnish Smith and AKA LadyMuck.
As a campaigning artist, Carrie draws attention to the justice system. Her work on Death Row highlights those who have been locked-up in dubious circumstances, and without real access to decent legal counsel. Luis Ramirez was the first death row prisoner that Carrie got to know, and after becoming friends, he somehow managed to post his prisoner ID card to her. Since his execution in 2005, it has been contained in resin as a long-standing tribute to his life story.
It is this small yet significant ID card on the back wall that served as the focal starting point for the Mosaic House, before its controlled chaos expanded to adorn the rest of the space. It now features some of the world’s best mosaic artists and was made possible by many people, over many years, with each section telling a tale. The house is a public art-work so visitors are free to visit its exterior and take pictures, bearing in mind that it is still a home, and not a museum.
You might also come across two entirely mosaiced vehicles parked outside. Both created as separate art projects in their own right. The Tiki Love Truck – bright orange and originally exhibited at the V&A as part of their disobedient objects exhibition in 2014, commemorates John Joe ‘Ash’ Amador, who was sentenced to death in Texas.
“The making of the Treatment Rooms and my involvement in the anti Death Row movement have come together. My correspondence with Luis was my introduction to the horrors of the American criminal justice system. Most people have no idea how awful Death Row really is. They don’t realise how arbitrary so called ‘justice’ actually is. Luis once told me that “capital punishment means, those with no capital get punished.” I see the death penalty in America as a continued form of lynching, now they just kill the poor along with the blacks… I dedicated the back of my house to injustice by referencing my pen pals in prison: political prisoners including the Angola Three and Black Panther Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, who is represented by a flying eyeball.”
The Angola Three were named after the prison in Louisiana where they were held. They were Black Panthers in the sixties. Although they were later freed, they had been held for over 40 years. Many of those years were in solitary confinement. Victims of miscarriages of justice, the three are also immortalised on the back of the house – their portraits displayed over the top left bedroom window.
The three are also referenced in an old piece of work on the garage doors from street artist Stik. One of the three, Herman Wallace, died only two days after being released. The others, Albert Woodfox and Robert King, are still alive, and they visited the house for the first time last year. A further tribute to Herman Wallace can be seen on the front of the building.
Around the outside of the house there are lots of flying eyeballs, something Carrie has become quite well known for. They are a nod to what Carrie describes as low brow 50’s American art, a play on the all-seeing eye flying around surveying everything. In addition to the one containing Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore’s portrait, there are many others. Some were sent by different mosaic artists following an appeal that Carrie made when she decided to have an epic final push to complete the front of the house in 2017.
The availability of world renowned Chilean artist Isidora Paz Lopez was the main catalyst for this final push. It was following her offer to come and do something on the building that Carrie put out the call for other artists to join in. Isidora’s contribution was a spectacular giant scarab beetle surrounding the middle window on the first floor. The scarab represents re-birth and re-generation and is about starting afresh. There’s also a little quote from her at the bottom which says ‘Think Pussytive’.
On the front of the house above a Kon Tiki Totem pole, is an upside down all-seeing eye which is probably more familiar as the image on the back of the American one dollar bill. Reversing this particular image, given that it also has connections to Masonry, is about giving the power back to the people. There’s also a one-eyed Mickey Mouse above the doorway.
Carrie’s other motivations are a reaction from her experiences with censorship, and demands for adherence to guidelines. In this sense, her personal property served as a blank canvas with which to truly express herself. She has long-standing interests in Visionary and Outsider Art, and was inspired by the book Fantasy Worlds by Deidi Von Schaewer, which features the works of artists who have transformed their homes to fulfil their fantastic visions of life.
She claims that Outsider Artists have no choice but to be artists, being driven so strongly by their imaginations; and finds it “ridiculous how people seem more interested in what the Saatchi Gallery thinks an artwork to be worth, than in what the piece actually means.”
In spite of her roots, she is actually quite against the commoditisation of art in this way, and believes that the most important thing is for it to be accessible, and to be seen. While many of her pieces feature religious motifs, she also admits that, unlike many of the artists she admires, there was no ‘great calling from god’ for her. And although she has a formal training and a background in fine art, she would still like The Treatment Rooms to be seen in the same category of work as informal Outsider Art.
Graffiti is another source of inspiration for Carrie. Like Outsider Art, street art reclaims space from the continual bombardment of advertising. The aspects she aims to emulate in some of her works are the bright, eye-catching colours, demanding slogans and non-commercial interests.
“Ironically, I think that if I had painted the same images onto my house rather than applying mosaic tiles, they would have been vandalised years ago. People realise that making mosaics is a labour intensive process. People that have seen the house from a distance, or who have only seen photos of it, have told me that they didn’t realise the work was entirely made up of tiles. Whether or not people like the subject matter, they give me credit for putting a lot of work into it, allowing me to get away with a lot more than if I had simply painted or pasted up my art.”
In fact, the local council has previously painted Carrie’s garage black without her permission, to remove stencils that she and her partner themselves had put there. This was one of the motivations for the mural homage to graffiti ‘wild-style’ lettering. A ceramic graffiti that can no longer be concealed by authorities.
Some of her favourite resources include the Wooster Collective: a website dedicated to showcasing and celebrating ephemeral art placed on streets in cities around the world, Juxtapoz: a monthly low-brow art and culture magazine, and Raw Vision: a quarterly magazine featuring Outsider Art, Art Brut, and Contemporary Folk Art.
On either side of the front of the house are two Cheshire Cats from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, created by Tamara Froud, a mosaic artist from Catford. It was initially meant to balance out an earlier cat (‘hat cat’) hidden on the right hand side of the house, completed by Carrie some years before. An invisible counterpart, just as the one in Wonderland.
On the back of the house is a mosaic recreation of the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai. Except in this version the wave is swallowing London. Surrounded by the Gherkin, St Pauls Cathedral and Canary Wharf, it represents Carrie’s climate paranoia, and the fear that one day her house will be underwater due to rising sea levels.
Hidden away on the bottom right hand corner are three doll heads beside a plaque saying ‘Turner Prize Reject’ – a common visual gag in a lot of Carrie’s work. She explains that she was going to change it to ‘Too Old for the Turner Prize’, but “then they went and got rid of the age limit.”
In prime position at the front of the house are two mandrakes. In myth, the mandrake is a plant which is supposed to look like a person, and as in Harry Potter, it emits a lethal scream when pulled out of the ground. Carrie’s versions are of course, a little more cheeky. Featuring a male and female mandrake, the female is standing demurely whilst the male plays with himself behind a plant.
Also on the front of the building is a plaque from Hex Ceramic, commemorating SSOSVA – otherwise known as the Secret Society Of Super Villain Artists; A collective who essentially support each other, support charity events and try to create a network of like-minded artists, so that they can be stronger as an independent art community.
According to Carrie, some people initially objected to the Mosaic House project and even set up a petition. But things eventually blew over, and of all the comments she receives about the Treatment Rooms, only two or three have ever communicated strong criticism.
It helps that the market price of the street seems to have been unaffected, and she tries to be inclusive in building a community spirit. A few times a year, she has an unveiling of a new piece for the walls, in which she invites friends, family and neighbours over to eat, drink and celebrate. In the future, she plans to open up a gallery nearby. She plans for it to be called ‘The Black Sheep Gallery’, and to feature political and outsider artworks.
“Art is a powerful way to open up dialogues on difficult, painful conversations. When you’re collecting signatures for political campaigns, you just collect them from people who already think the way you do. But art engages people in a whole different way. It challenges perspectives to reveal our common humanity, and in doing so, it unites people.”