“Places like Frieze, it’s like an acid trip: the plastic surgery, the gross clothes, the money. I’m not making a judgement, I’m just saying “bloody hell can we all see this!”
Interview by: Natalia Gonzalez Martin
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I’m from North Wales. I studied at Central St Martins in the mid to late 90s and then did a post-graduate at Ateliers Arnhem in the Netherlands.
Have you always worked and studied in North Wales?
Yeah, I did a family tree and I guess we [the Williams] have been here since the year dot. I wanted to leave North Wales when I was 18, and was like a little Amish boy when I arrived in London.
Your practice also involves performance, in your upcoming exhibition at Saatchi Gallery 'Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire' visitors will be asked to perform for your piece 'Walk a Mile in My Shoes', do you set any expectations or predictions on how visitors will react to this?
I made it back in 2006. I guess the work came about because I’ve got size 13 feet which is just one size outside the normal range. I can never buy shoes on the high street. I guess I made the work because I was just angry about how, you know, there’s always talk about how there’s not much choice of clothes for overweight people but when you have larger than size 12 feet you literally can’t buy them on the high street. It’s not even a matter of a lack of choice.
If you go into JD Sports or somewhere like that and you ask them [for a pair of size 13 shoes] and they look at me like I’ve just asked for a vibrator. I’m just trying to get shoes that fit.
What I wanted was to highlight this problem but also to literally put people in my shoes. The shoes have little tags in them that you can read that give a little history about each shoe, and it says something about my predicament.
What I want is for people to think about it not like some serious campaign, I just want to rub people with average size shoes’ noses in it – in a humorous way.
I think some small people have a fetish for having their photograph taken of them in big shoes. I think they see themselves as cute, they see themselves as a child or something. It’s like people who mooch around the house in big sweaters, or like they drink their cocoa out of a huge mug with two hands so they look little.
Your practice is extremely self-referential, from your own position to the whole art world in general, what is the intention when you bring controversial and extremely critical pieces of art to a big established institution?
To be honest, because most of the things that I poke fun at are powerful individuals on the whole, and being an artist is a privilege, so I think if I make fun of artists I’m also making fun of myself as well. A lot of these drawings on the Instagram account, all of them start off with my eyes, I might give them a more feminine chin or do their hair differently, but a lot of these people I’m lampooning have me in them somewhere. My ego, my vanity – I dress like a twit sometimes. It’s almost like when I go down to London I put daft clothes on just to look like some bloody lay harlequin or something.
I’m complicit, I’m not saying I’m some tryth teller character that’s just telling it like it is. I’m part of the problem as well. When I say things about big institutions I am provoking them, but I’m doing it with me on board. I don’t think anything I make work about is particularly offensive in that way. It’s the banality of being an artist. Because nobody talks about curator’s bad breath and dandruff, but all of those people have it. They’re human aren’t they? It just seems like such a rarefied world. I just like pointing out the non-glamourous stuff.
Political art has become a very powerful tool to make people aware, however, the meaning can become distorted in the delivery of it, and even more so if it involves the public participation, what is the main aspect of your art regarding the socio-political factor that you wish to make sure comes across?
To be honest I don’t really make work with a political agenda. I’m not sure if that’s really my job as an artist. It’s more that I reflect what I see. There’s so many people with different problems, and I’m in a privileged situation, and so who am I to say “listen to me about this”. I do rant, but I hope not in a preachy way, it’s just like a noisy, slightly caustic mirror that I hold up to things. I don’t think it’s my place, and as you’ve said in the question, if people misunderstand you then it’s a bad scene. It’s more like my take on the world around me and the world we live in.
I struggle with artists that do that in a way, because being an artist is quite a privilege so I’m happy to say what I think, but it’s never as a prescriptive thing.
Social media has become another medium for artists, could you tell us a bit more about the exclusive cartoon approach you have adopted for yours?
The thing that’s funny is that I teach students, and you teach these young people to be aware of their surroundings and to react to things and so on, but then you become an artist and you start going to art fairs and openings with posh people, and then you start seeing these people that are dressed in bonkers clothes, like ridiculous lemon yellow shoes and silly-billy spectacles and we are supposed to ignore it.
For me, I can’t not reflect what I see. There’s an especially weird thing, that curators wear fancy glasses, almost as if they’re celebrating their eyes because their eyes are their business. In the same way a star footballer wears golden football boots, curators wear turbo glasses, almost as if they want to underline or highlight that you know, “it’s my eyes that makes my money” or something.
Places like Frieze, it’s like an acid trip: the plastic surgery, the gross clothes, the money. I’m not making a judgement, I’m just saying “bloody hell can we all see this!” Artists can be making and presenting work about all manner of serious things and they reflect on conflict and unfairness, meanwhile it’s all taking with everybody in fancy dress! Maybe I’m childish and I’m sure more high-minded artists think I’m a buffoon for doing it but this is my way of working.
I find Instagram is a good platform for it [the drawings], it’s like telling or showing someone something in the pub, just show them something and put a little caption underneath it. By making simple, ink drawings and putting them up, it’s a good way for me as someone who lives in the middle of nowhere to show my work and speak to people in a simple way.
I enjoy it.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I saw a documentary recently about Mr Rogers. It wasn’t like I was completely wowed by this guy but he was remarkable, I didn’t realise he’d made statements about 9/11 and the Challenger disaster. It was quite weird to see this film that discussed the phenomenon that spanned a huge chunk of the modern era and my life. Even though I never saw that show, [the documentary] just completely stayed in my head for days afterwards. I just thought how weird it was to have this man who didn’t like kids to have too many bangs or loud nosies on TV shows. I just thought it was so funny and out of step with how things are now this use of silence and slow pace.
I go to see exhibitions as well but It’s usually documentaries of book that resonate with me. Other artists are a pain in the arse all clever and aloof.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I don’t have a studio any more. I sit in an armchair at my dad’s house, with my phone on one arm of the chair and then I draw on these French square sketch pads, and I just sit there drinking tea doing that. It’s quite a modest working situation compared to works I’ve made in the past. It’s my “austerity studio”.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Not soon, but I’m trying to make a book of these drawings that are on Instagram. People keep asking “what if these were a book” and I’d quite like it be a book. Not an art book I hate them!
'Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire' at The Saatchi Gallery is on till 13th Jan 2019
Publish date: 17/10/2018
All images courtesy of the artist and Saatchi Gallery