"I’m interested in the grandiose delusions of characters, and the domestication and control of humans over animals."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I quite liked art from a young age. I liked colouring in. I knew I was good at drawing owls and kingfishers as when it rained and we had to stay inside during play time I would sit at the table holding court with a stack of paper surrounded by a small huddle of other children. As they requested, I would either do them an owl or make paper aeroplanes - something else I have always been good at. In fact, I’m interested in throwing things and projectiles in general. When I was in secondary school, art was the most attentive I was towards any subject. I had some very good art teachers. I got into clay and eventually into paints when I was 16. The first painting I produced on canvas was of some men in a row boat. An attempt at futurism, the oars were depicted in a fragmented way to indicate the violence of being thrashed through the water. Painted in cadmium orange and vermillion hue, it has overly thick black outlines around the figures.
I had probably just seen Duchamp or Balla in a book and thought yeah I’m into that. By the time I was 18 I knew I wanted to step into painting. I took art foundation at Reading College, an entertaining year for trying all manner things - dark rooms, printing presses, having a bash at fashion, life drawing. From there I moved to London. I was interested in my mother’s roots being imbedded in the East End and all the jobs her family previously had – tea packers, market porters and the like around Spitalfields, Whitechapel and Shadwell. Naively perhaps, I choose London Metropolitan solely on its East End location. I worked on painting and later print making. I felt disillusioned at school and would often sulk in class and paint at home. In my painting ‘lessons’ I couldn’t understand why we were not taught anything of process and technique, which is why I eventually switched to printmaking. In the printing rooms we had equipment to use and techniques to be shown and mastered, and that got me going back into university again. I understand now that this is just the unfortunate way UK art education has gravitated - the teaching of technique is passé, but when I was 19 I didn’t get that and I felt affronted by it.
Your work has a lot of humour in it, with strange characters and narratives. Could you tell us about these paintings and the inspiration behind them?
You may have one story. I’ve been making portraits of Otto van Bismarck. A while back a friend of mine moved house. A welcoming dinner was arranged and I was duly invited. When I arrived at the house, in the kitchen I saw this wonderful painting. Hung before me was a portly old fellow in lush military garbs. Prussian blue. I want to know who it is of – 'Bismarck,' I am told. I want to know who painted it – ‘Ivan,’ I am told, ‘he lives here and he will be coming back late tonight – you can meet him...’
All through dinner I build this image of Ivan up in my head. He is witty and charming but wonderfully modest about his painting. We will become best friends. We will move to Margate together and share a studio and paint portraits of each other happily ever after. I am Van Gogh feathering the Yellow House for him, he is Gauguin and I am waiting for him to arrive. But like Gauguin - he is late.
Ivan eventually arrives. He is an arrogant and aloof. The dream is broken. We don’t get on. I end up falling over whilst dancing and crash into his dinner table, breaking it. Pleased with myself I laugh on the floor hoping he is in the room watching. As a way of forced apology, the next day I tell my friend to say that I’m sorry. As a throw away remark I add that I am inspired by his Bismarck to have ago Myself, without any real intent to. However, this was provocation and Ivan’s reaction was to take the painting down and re work it. Suddenly I feel powerful. What else can I make him do? I discover he only paints Bismarck and Garibaldi. As a riposte, I decide to start making a series of these figures. I enjoyed the idea of playing sociopath, the idea of toying with macho posturing and the history of frivolous artistic rivalries - Modigliani sneering at Picasso’s dress sense. The initial farcical circumstance as to why I began painting Bismarck has lost relevance now. The series has evolved into something else. Ideas can morph and shift into different realms freely if you allow them, even by your own absence of mind.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I tend to live where I work. These are normally haphazard and temporary spaces. I used to squat buildings but I’m out of that scene now. Almost everything I own I deem useful for making work. Having my possessions separated between living and working distresses me. When I have had to take on a separate studio from where I live I find it less productive. There is something glorious about waking up and having everything before you. I had a big enough space over in Hackney that recently dissolved. I came home one day and was greeted by a locksmith who was changing my locks after some grunts had bumped the door open. I was served my notice. Some unscrupulous individual whose job had been to pass on our money to the landlord had done a runner with the last 3 months rent. As I have a show on the horizon I had a desperate search to find something urgently.
Currently I find myself subletting in Cable Street Studios, Limehouse from a girl who has run off to Spain to have an affair. Sounds like a bad novel. I am making work for a solo show in a space that is too small so I use the bath as a table to paint on. Cable Street is hilarious. Imagine a malfunctioning sleep over centre full of lank hair, harem trousers and broken bike parts set inside a Victorian coastal fortress. Last time I lived here there was an excellent transvestite club called ‘Stunners,’ but that has sadly closed. As for routines – I don’t have one. Life is not like that. If I have a show coming up I will be reclusive and get on with it. If I’ve not got anything pending, essentially I’ll flirt with different day jobs so I’ll paint in the evening or if I can afford to then I like to travel. I like to walk around new places and point at things.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I was skulking around the back of the Royal Academy recently and I found Mamma Anderson at Stephen Friedman gallery. Anderson’s got two shows on at both the spaces on New Burlington Street. One of the galleries displays all these beautiful woodblock prints. I was like yes I want to go and make woodblocks. They are really beautiful. Some are of a woman working in a field a bit like the Van Gogh peasant worker studies, and there are other prints of gloves with tassels on, like cowboy style rodeo gloves. I had never heard of Mamma Anderson before.
Lately I also viewed Rodney Graham at The Baltic in Gateshead. He has produced very simplistic film sequences on loop that played in the space on some beautiful old cinematic projectors. I’m a big fan of repetition. Graham had some large scale, very deliberately staged photographs of himself playing different characters. He has displayed them on light boxes which I don’t think were at all necessary - should have stuck to matte mate.
I was in New York recently and gladly saw Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque) at The Met. Predominately Georges Seurat and Daumier works, the exhibition shows many studies documenting the people who stood outside the circus and gave away little teasers to the audience, enticing them to part with their money and enter the tents. There was a real sense of poignancy in the works as these social outcasts were not the main event, in fact very often the poorest and most down trodden of all the performers.
The New Museum is my favourite place to go so every time I am in New York I visit. I feel the New Museum is to New York what the Barbican Centre is to London in some ways. This time around it had an amazing video by A.K Burns alongside an installation of a sparkling blue neon underneath the skeleton of a sofa that I kept wanting to touch.
Where has your work been headed more recently?
Denmark. I’ve got a solo show coming up in June at Vesterbro Showroom in Copenhagen. It is called ‘Sausage Pile Up.’ The exhibition is based upon the idea of hierarchies, pomp and circumstance. I’m interested in the grandiose delusions of characters, and the domestication and control of humans over animals. These characters feature alongside semi anecdotal images of recent occurrences. I have been making paintings on aluminium and playing with thin layers of pigment in turpentine. There is quite a lot of colour in this show, Cadmium Yellow, Royal Blue, Chromium Green, Pinks and Peaches. As I had to make a significant volume of works in a short space of time I have had to change stylistically for practical reasons. The new works are looser, more gestural and expressive. Simply put – quicker. I have found aluminium perfect for sliding around coloured fluids as its smooth surface lends itself well to this process of paint application.
How do you go about naming your work?
I mainly get my ideas whilst I’m out. Snatches of conversations at parties or outside pubs. It can be phrase I’ve read or someone telling me a story whilst sat on a kitchen floor. If I can bring those things home with me and I still think it’s good the next day with a different head on it will make the list. I have an ever-changing list of titles, generally 20 to 30 unused at any one time. As I work through the list, old titles are crossed out and new ones are added. Some have been on the list for a long time, waiting for me. Some I may never use as words lose relevance. I’ve kept this list for years; it has moved around with me. One day I’ll run out of room or I’ll lose it but no matter I’ll start a new one. Sometimes I wait for a work to fit a title, and other times I think yes that’s such a good title for a painting so I move with impetus and immediately try to work out what the painting could be. Other times it can be less fuss – I’ll start a painting and the title will materialise off-list. Conversely sometimes my titles can be mundane and self-explanatory – a painting of Japanese Noh masks is titled ‘Noh Masks.’ I’m not into these long titles, and I don’t like it when people just number their works – like they are making batches. Baking paintings.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
The pipeline is full of sausage. For my forth coming exhibition ‘Sausage Pile Up,’ I am working on a preformative piece. I got really excited finding out that a head chef wears the tallest hat in the kitchen. I love that the height signifies their dominance, an over the top beacon of their status. I am making a chef’s hat that is too tall – so as to show off. I have acquired a sausage stuffing machine that will be producing reams of sausages, multi coloured - I am hoping for pastel shades. I want hundreds of them dolloped on top of an off cut of cream Wilton wool carpet.
Part of the exhibition is a collaboration with the band Blue House. The band have been writing lyrics and music based upon imagery and the narratives in my painting. Blue House are going to be playing sets throughout the run of the exhibition. I have not been part of a collaboration like this before and I am excited to hear what they come up with. I am not entirely privy to what has been written, but I do know A capella singing will feature at some point.
All images courtesy of the artist
Interview published 01/06/17