"I’m in the studio almost every day, and usually begin the day with two to three hours of thinking, almost as if I’m finding or retracing my way back into a painting.."
You were recently in a group show called "Part II: The Turning World" Curated by Zavier Ellis at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON. Could you tell us about that show?
The show was a three-person show about contemporary landscape painting and included Barry Thompson, Sam Douglas and myself obviously. Zavier Ellis, the Director of Charlie Smith Gallery, came to my studio a while back, just for a nose I think, and I have a vague idea that, although landscape is just one genre I use, (constitutes about a quarter of what I make), the show may have evolved as a result of a conversation we had about a group of landscapes that I had made or that were on the go, something about a tension between a fiction and a realism dichotomy - finding ‘a realism’ through ‘a fiction’. I think Zavier expanded and layered this idea and curated the whole thing, and presented three painters that occupy three very different and distinct positions with regard to landscape painting, and for me, the show did aim to constitute something of a tension between fiction and realism.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?
I studied at Kingston University in the mid eighties and have been painting since then. I’ve also worked as a curator, mainly for independent project spaces, and I have written about painting. I founded Turps Banana with Marcus Harvey in 2005 (although I left three years ago), and I also founded the painting gallery The Lion and Lamb (which closed three years ago).
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I’m in the studio almost every day, and usually begin the day with two to three hours of thinking, almost as if I’m finding or retracing my way back into a painting or paintings. I usually make a body of work of between twelve to twenty paintings simultaneously. Some paintings might be finished or close to being finished and they will influence or define ideas about other paintings that are in progress, which in turn will suggest new paintings. Some days I’ll paint for seven to eleven hours straight without a break, other days I’ll make drawings or just sit and think for hours – it really depends on the developing consciousness of the work.
My studio is at Standpoint Studios in Hoxton, London and I’ve been there for seventeen years. Standpoint, in my opinion, is quite a unique set-up in the sense that it is well run, everyone just gets on with their work, but there is also a lot of humour and friendship. The top sections of my studio walls are covered with drawings that serve the development of ideas for paintings. I have a ‘main’ wall on which I hang the paintings that ‘I’m painting’ and the rest of the paintings that are on the go are hung on other walls as if they are waiting their turn for attention. The scale of paintings varies from twelve inches to six-foot stretchers - in my opinion scale is dictated by content. There are a lot of books in the studio, some on work surfaces, others on the studio floor along with loads of notebooks, sketchbooks of drawings, more drawings and block prints.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
For me, resonance is really about what contributes to and extends your thinking at a given time, and in that sense, I look at a lot of painting from many different periods. More specifically though, in terms of what or who I constantly go back to and think about I’d have to say medieval illuminated manuscript paintings, the northern and southern renaissance painters (particularly Breugel and Titian), Degas, Monet, early Cubism (particularly Braque), the late Andre Derain paintings and some of Guston’s paintings. I did see a Neo Rauch show a while back which I thought was disappointing, and the recent Paul Nash retrospective, which I thought was one of the best shows I’ve seen for a while. With regards to particular works that resonate with me, I have to single out Hunters in the Snow by Breugel, The Death of Acteon by Titian and The Painter’s Family by Andre Derain.
Where has your work been headed more recently?
I finished a group of fifty-three paintings about eighteen months ago that took me five or six years to complete. Although most of them have been in shows over the years it has been important to me to see the group as an entirety, almost as if that group defines my range and intellectual and emotional structure. My objectification of what that group of paintings is about propelled me into a new group of paintings that feeds off the collapse of a long-term relationship and the death of my dog Milo last year, and they in turn refer, on an abstract level, to thoughts about the content and pictorial significance of Breugel’s Hunters in the Snow.
How do you go about naming your work?
Naming paintings is very important to me. I constantly remind myself of a quote from Shakespeare, “and gives to airy nothingness a local habitation and a name”. Objectification is always in play. All the titles of the paintings that were in The Turning World show refer to what is depicted, to ‘ the language of the painting’ and to words that might be used to describe a painting, such as The Passage, The Edge, The Field or The Hand Glider. The Passage emphasizes the light and space in the picture. The ‘painting’ in The Hand Glider implies ‘a gliding’ across the surface of the painting and the picture plane, almost as if the picture is suspended ‘within the surface’.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Yes, a solo show in October at Emma Hill’s gallery, and The Eagle Gallery in Clerkenwell, London.
All images courtesy of the artist and CHARLIE SMITH LONDON
Interview published 01/06/17