"I find the forms allow the image to be concrete but also have an ambiguity."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 2005 to 2011 where I did both a BA and MFA in Painting. I’ve been a practising painter since then really. I’m always hesitant to refer to myself as an artist without also qualifying that I am a painter – ‘art’ seems to happen somewhere else outside of the studio. It was really while at art school in Edinburgh that I decided I wanted to be a painter – painting has this incredibly rich history and tradition and being a part of that was appealing to me. After leaving art school I moved between studios while I tried to find my way in painting. During this time I also co-founded Interview Room 11, an artist-led gallery and project space. I thoroughly enjoyed curating and programming exhibitions but, due to time constraints, my own practice became static as a result. After 2 years with the gallery I moved to London in 2015 to study at the Turps Art School on their studio programme. Being at Turps with other painters who were engaged with their work and who you could speak to about painting was a very formative experience for me. It also afforded me clarity about the sort of paintings I wanted to make and from that I was able to establish and develop a sustainable and meaningful studio practice.
Your work joyfully depicts geometric shapes, could you tell us about these forms and the inspiration behind them?
The geometry is used as a means of making things easier for me when I’m in the studio. The activity of painting can be quite difficult; you have to make countless decisions and micro decisions. The questions of ‘what should I paint?’ and ‘how should I make a painting?’ kept coming back to me over and over again. I knew I didn’t want to paint people or landscapes or interiors – anything that seemed too bound to a narrative. So I had to find a vehicle to keep things as open as possible. Using geometric forms as an initial structure made sense to me. I am interested in how the shapes can be recycled each time I start something new. From quite a narrow starting point I find I have a lot of variety and the paintings can be taken in several directions at once – the forms can be configured and reconfigured into new patterns or assemblages and each time, hopefully, do something different. They take on a new role within the painting. A circle could be the sun, or a wheel, or it could represent completeness or possibly something as abstract as time. I find the forms allow the image to be concrete but also have an ambiguity. They also reference or sample modernism and early abstraction but I am trying to take the work somewhere else. Modernism still seems accessible to me – it is an incredibly rich period of art history to draw upon.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
A few months ago I visited Pallant House Gallery in Chichester as they have a few paintings by Victor Willing in their collection. Willing is one of my favourite painters who I’ve looked at for 10 years and until then I had only ever seen his work in reproductions. I think it’s something to do with their facture and the colours he used – it makes the surfaces of his paintings incredibly active. I saw a Picasso show in Budapest last year that I’m still thinking about. One of the last paintings of the exhibition, Musketeer with Sword, was phenomenal – it held such an intensity and freshness.
Whenever I’m near the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and have a bit of time I go in and look at one or two paintings. St Jerome In His Study by Antonello da Messina is one of my favourites in the collection. It’s quite a small painting but it has so much contained within it that I can keep coming back to it and find something new. I also recently discovered the work of Jurgen Partenheimer at White Cube. His paintings had a lightness and brevity to them that I thought really worked. I also enjoyed Matthew Burrow’s recent show at Vigo and the Lee Lozano exhibition at Hauser & Wirth.
Would you say that there is a language element to them, almost as a collective talking to each other?
They definitely have a connection. I think of it as them containing the same DNA – they have the shared geometry at their core. One of the reasons I work on the same size of canvas is to anchor the notion that they share some common element. They are related but they each have their own identities, their own personalities. It’s important for them to convey difference and for me to not simply repeat myself. I refer to them as belonging to a network or a community. Because I work on so many simultaneously, I find that sub-groups start to form where some images may share an obvious bond while others seem more singular or autonomous. One painting can reveal something about another. But you need to have the community or the collective for that to happen. So, yes I hope they do talk to each other but they are not all saying the same thing – they all have their own thoughts and ideas to express.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I always try to have an organised studio and be quite economic with what’s in there but inevitably stuff starts to accumulate and I get messier. I don’t tend to have much up on the walls other than the paintings I’m working on – so no photographs or research images. Days spent in the studio can vary. I usually only paint when I have a full day ahead of me. If I only have a few hours I’ll either make drawings, or I’ll do a bit of reading or sometimes I just look at the work. Drawing has been fundamental in developing my recent work so I always make time for it. I have several sketchbooks or loose bits of paper where I just play about with different ideas. I’m about to move to a new shared studio in Camberwell. It has a lot of space and good natural light. There aren’t any studio rituals I follow. Lately I’ve been listening to playlists of synth and electro music from the 80s.
How do you go about naming your work?
There are different ways a title can emerge. Sometimes it will be something I’ve overheard or read. Other times it could be a lyric from a song or a line from a film. Or it’s just something that will come to me when I’m looking at the work. I don’t think the title should be used as a means of explanation or as a way of unravelling the painting. A lot of my titles are interchangeable – there are some titles I could use for any painting and it would still work. Nothing is every truly fixed when I’m in the studio painting and the same applies to the painting’s title. If something has a name but I then think of a new, more appropriate one I’ll change it to that. I’m not a fan of titles that are too pompous or are trying to be clever. The name of a painting is a way of hinting to the viewer about my own thinking and it’s also an opportunity to introduce a bit of humour.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I’m currently showing work in a group exhibition called Settling The Ghost in Wisconsin, USA that’s been organised by the online platform YoungSpace. I have a solo exhibition coming up in October at Darbyshire’s which will be the first time I’ve had a one person show in London so that’s both exciting and daunting. I’m also taking part in a show called Tetris Hang later in the year in a new London space and so I’m making work for that at the moment.
All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date 01/08/2017