“People have always interested me, their backgrounds, their places of origin, and with people there are their stories, and stories are the stitching of our human fabric, and the STORYTELLER patches us all together.”
Interview by: Natalia Gonzalez Martin
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I was born in London in 1981 and grew up in Cricklewood. I lived with my parents until I was 17. My Dad was a musician, the soundtrack to my childhood was 2Tone, Reggae and Jazz. Music had a great influence on me and at 14 I taught myself to play guitar, later it carved my career path for when I left sixth form college in 2001. I was part of a Hip Hop group for 15 or more years, we went to school together and formed our group before we left. We released a few mixtapes (when mixtapes were actually on cassette tape), 3 albums, and I released a solo project in between in 2009.
I taught myself how to use Logic (a music production software) and also started to produce different genres of music. I remixed a few tracks for different artists and worked on some soundtrack work. By 30-ish I found myself at a crossroads and at 33 I decided to enrol onto a course at Uni. In 2014 I started a BA in Fine Art at the University of East London, there I was able to expand my practise beyond a pen and a pad and the occasional spray can, and there I discovered the opportunities of working in different materials that were available in the sculpture workshop. In 2017 I graduated with a First class with Honours.
Your work is highly influenced by rituals, those have accompanied humans since the beginning, what is your approach to this atemporal subject?
Yes, human behaviour and history is seeped in ritual, since the dawn of time. My circle of friends have been the same for more than 20 years now, our friendship was founded on rituals, from the places we met, the things we did, the way we connected with the world and each other. We practise, not all but a few, of these same elements to this day. My paintings and the objects I make document these rituals without signifying a specific point in history, but rather merging symbols and imagery so that they could be taking place at any one point in time, they are inclusive which invite the viewer to take part in, or reminisce over. The body of work that I created for my solo show ‘A Place That Reeked of Deja Vu’ had a heavy influence on my experiences growing up in London in the ‘90’s, and youth culture as a whole, so the rituals documented in these works were probably more outlandish or high octane, I often referred to them as flashbacks from hallucinations, whereas the works I am making now may not be filled with those same rituals, they are still influenced by human nature and our sensitivities, and within that subject we find a wealth of ceremonies and ritualistic behaviour.
Your practice confronts viewers with unexpected scenarios, often clashing with the gallery atmosphere, what is the desired outcome of mixing the two territories?
Before I started my BA, I felt threatened by galleries, I had always had the opinion that they were not meant for people like me, I was not of that class. I saw galleries as stuffy white male institutions that looked down their noses at ‘normal’ people. I’d never spent time in galleries before starting a BA, I was massively ignorant of the art world. Although it still very much is a mainly white, middle class environment, I’ve learnt to find my place in them, and although from the outside looking in they can seem quite exclusive, I think galleries, especially museums now strive to be inclusive. A lot of the works at my solo show this year depicted scenes of rowdy, social rituals, in places like pubs, clubs or at football matches, it wasn’t my intention to purposely create the contrast between the two territories as I don’t create the works with that in mind, but once they were put into that environment there was an interesting conversation being had. A lot of these scenarios are based on experiences that me and my friends have shared throughout the years, so to my friends they were not unexpected at all, and in fact changed the stereotype of the gallery atmosphere that they had, which we had all shared at one point.
Your practice is filled with narrative, what are the main forces that influence your work?
Social observation has always driven and inspired my work. I grew up in a very culturally rich environment, primary and secondary school were a melting pot of different people from different backgrounds, experiencing how my friends families functioned, the various religious or cultural rituals that some families would centre their homes and life around has always fascinated me. Being a musician, my father always had some very colourful, eccentric characters coming by our flat and my earliest memories are those in Island Records studios with him and some larger than life Rastas. People have always interested me, their backgrounds, their places of origin, and with people there are their stories, and stories are the stitching of our human fabric, and the storyteller patches us all together. I try to take the role of the story teller. Throughout my time as an MC - these days I consider myself more of a poet - my verses would largely be socially or politically driven, if I wasn’t telling a story about my own experiences, I was making a statement about the society we live in. I suppose the artwork is an extension of the poetry I write, and was writing in my younger years.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I don’t have much of a set routine. I try to get to the studio before 11 if I can (depending on the night I’ve had before) and I try to leave no later than 7pm. I’ve found that in the past I’ve spent way too much time on social media in the day so now I’m trying to ban that until the evening - it’s an unhealthy addiction. I paint or make things for as much of the day as I can. I read a bit on my lunch break. I listen to music constantly. My studio’s quite a weird shape, it’s called the Dogs Leg for that reason, but I’ve got a very high ceiling with natural light, it suffers the seasons, I’m stripped to my boxer shorts in the summer and dressed for the arctic circle in the winter. My studio is located in The Bomb Factory Art Foundation in Archway, it’s quite a buzzing little hive and shared by some other interesting artists. We have monthly open crits, open studio events and exhibitions throughout the year - we have a massive gallery space. Being a North London resident, it’s the perfect spot for me.
How do you go about naming your work?
To me, the title of a piece of artwork is so important. I don’t do “Untitled”. A title can totally change the perception of a piece, and I like that. I like long titles usually, nothing beats a well constructed sentence. Titles will come after the piece is completed or sometimes, but not often, halfway through making. I tend to reference poems, sometimes my own, sometimes those of others, I can quote song lyrics, track titles or band names, I will include names of places of significance and I usually try to include some humour in them. I like to use text in my pieces (most of the time written backwards) but the words on the piece will never be included in, or be the title of that piece.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I was in Paris last month, as I often am (my partner is French and she is also an artist) and saw Laure Prouvost’s “Ring, Sing and Drink for Trespassing” at the Palais de Tokyo. Laure is a master of story telling, her sense of humour and exploration of materials and different media really makes me excited. In contrast to that I’ve been to see Picasso’s “1932” 4 times at the Tate now, it doesn’t get boring and still evokes emotion every time I see it.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I have a show coming up with friend and fellow artist Motunrayo Akinola before the end of the year, and there’s a few more bits that I’m working on in the background, but this is the first year that I’ve been out of Uni and in the words of the great Jimothy Lacoste “Life is getting quite exciting”.
Publish date: 02/10/2018
All Images are courtesy of the artist