"on the face are language based thoughts; or scribblings in the same way Cy Twombly might utilise the line as a mode to form a personal language that also acts on a purely aesthetic level."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, where did you study?
For a while in my early life I was only interested in hanging out with mates, drinking, smoking and walking the streets. It was my father that really instilled in me the importance of education, music and art, and looking back I would have been lost without that guidance and experience.
I studied at Middlesex University which was great - we had superb spaces towards the end of the course. I developed a real dialogue with the staff. Jon Thompson, who had been Damien Hirst’s tutor at Goldsmiths, was head of the MA; and Jim Mooney, who was then teaching on the PhD at the Royal College, helped me to develop a meaningful discourse within my practice. I then applied for a residency at the Florence Trust in Islington.
At the Florence Trust I met Paul Bayley, who is still director and had been a young curator at Tate Britain. He’d also done amazing things at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. We became and still are great friends.
From here I applied to the Royal Academy Schools, coincidentally at the same time as my brother Luke, who is also a painter. We became the first two brothers in the history of the RA to attend in the same year.
The schools really helped and supported my development by providing a dialogue with Norman Rosenthal, Brian Griffiths, Richard Kirwan, Eliza Bonham Carter, Vanessa Jackson, and the then keeper Maurice Cockrill. My time at the RA was an amazing, difficult, inspiring and life changing experience. There is no doubt that I would not be where I am today without access to the high level of tuition at the RA and the many possibilities provided by living and studying in London.
From the graduation show I was represented by my gallery CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, and this relationship is highly important to me as an artist. They continue to support and foster my growth, which is important for the evolution of my practice. Upon meeting Zavier Ellis (Director) there was an immediate connection and affinity. We have travelled, exhibited and done amazing things together, such as the recent In Memoriam show for our dear and sadly departed friend Francesca Lowe, which was an amazing success on all levels and an honour to be involved with.
You recently had a two person show at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, with the photographer Derek Ridgers, curated by Faye Dowling. Could you talk about the show and how it came about?
The show was a culmination of a lot of hard work from some very dedicated and supportive people. Artists often think about potential collaborations but more often than not they don’t happen. I’ve known Derek’s work for a long time and the whole thing started when I had a conversation with Zavier about it. I think Derek Ridgers is as important as Larry Clarke. I really immersed myself in Derek’s work before a solo show in New York in 2014, and in the meantime Faye Dowling included me in her publication ‘The Book of Black’. We spoke at length about our influences and the thinking that underpins our creative perspectives, and through these conversations we discovered we have a mutual admiration for Derek’s work. We all started thinking about how we could collaborate, met up and it immediately felt right. Although there are obvious differences in mine and Derek’s lives and backgrounds there are a lot of similarities in our intentions.
Tattoos often appear in your paintings; would you say that they are an integral part of your work?
Yes, for this collection I would, and not just tattoos as such. Some are clearly supposed to represent a tattoo. Other writings on the face are language based thoughts; or scribblings in the same way Cy Twombly might utilise the line as a mode to form a personal language that also acts on a purely aesthetic level. They are texts that allow for something to take place, for the painting and viewer to communicate by using the subtle conventions we know: line, form, composition and colour; as well as more blatant digging, scrawling and marking of graffiti and doodling. These aspects of nonchalant daubing are important to me – they reveal an attitude not just from the characters, but also from within the painting’s actual construction. This is also interlinked with opposing words / sentences, which sets up a distancing between me and the audience. Its open to debate whether I agree with these statements, or whether they are personal to me or the character depicted. I like the ambiguity.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
Sparse and basic, although there is electricity. I am a strong believer in the premise that you can paint anywhere. I often work without any audio distraction. I have to be in the moment of making the work and I do not want to be emotionally driven by music rather than painting.
At the start of a new body of work I try to keep the area quite empty and rarely have other works to distract me. This changes as the paintings start to develop and an internal language takes form. I utilise the internet and / or a model.
I know what I want to achieve and then I start with the mind-set that there is one chance to attain this.
There will be times of struggle, doubt, anxiety, indecision and fear. The line, brushwork and application conveys this. I'm seeking an impossible honesty of some kind, a truth, and a blatant struggle to convey humanness and a presence. Within this period of working this would be akin to pure obsession, an incessant craving that is compulsive, like the anticipation of a drug.
I often work from very early in the morning, then stop and leave to go running or play with my son at around 11am. I will then resume and see how the work develops again. I try to work to some form of completion. I then go back over a period of time to add elements, as thoughts emerge and are explored, and naturally the work starts to take on a life of its own.
How do you go about naming your work?
Titles of work depend on each individual painting. I often seek to title my work in a poetic way. I do not wish to be overtly emotive in titling paintings, rather to capture the resonance and depth of the work in such a way that the audience might recall a memory, a lover, a relationship and their very own humanness. This can be emotive but equally controversial and transgressive.
Often words or language from the actual painting will be used within the title so you have a self-referential component in the work. Titles are very powerful, and they often add to the effect of the work; they continue to resonate over time. From conversations with collectors over the years I am very aware of the profound effect this work can have, and am privileged that I have been given the ability to connect with another human beings through the act of painting.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
The Cézanne show at the National Portrait Gallery is immensely moving. The touch and handling is always serious; I feel something when I look at this work. We start to see how much his influence resonates through the 20th century. The paint is often daubed, unravelling, natural and effortless. The paintings are vital and fluid with a heroic force to them and burning energy that is also timeless. I can see the cannon of art history within the painting and believe they acknowledge this yet still seem utterly contemporary.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
The "Run to Me" exhibition will be going to Frankfurt in April 2018 at Galerie Heike Strelow. The space will change the exhibition again, and new works are coming on very well which is always exciting. This will be linked with art fairs and a museum show at the Russel Coates in Dorset. This exhibition is to recognise 250 years of the Royal Academy. The show will bring together Royal Academicians such as Stanley Spencer, Edwin Landseer and John Millais in conjunction with contemporary artists including me, my brother Luke Jackson and Sophie Michael from Seventeen gallery. The exhibition celebrates the huge role of the RA over the last 250 years and its diversity of ademicians, students and cultural impact.
All images courtesy of the artist and CHARLIE SMITH LONDON
Publish Date: 23/11/17