“I believe that my sense of curiosity and mystery derives from many layers of influence not least the landscape and energies of my homeland.”
Interview by: Brooke Hailey Hoffert
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I was born on the Lleyn Peninsula in the farthest reaches of North West Wales. It is an ancient land of granite hills, salt marsh and boundless seas. My dad Robin Bagilhole was a London based artist who passed away in 2001 when I was six. The desire to follow in his footsteps is an ever present driving force that connects me with his memory and with my own creativity. Growing up I’ve always had a fascination with creating whether it be through music or art, it feels like a necessity rather than a choice. I felt at times quite alien being the son of an artist amongst friends whose fathers were farmers, builders, tradesmen, men with serious jobs whilst my dad’s energies were directed at creating paintings of tribesmen, vicars and bullfighters.
As I grew older I felt a strong pull towards music and considered taking a music production course after my A-levels. At the last minute I followed an impulse that would change the course of my artistic career. Having managed just a ‘C’ in my Art A levels I had little confidence and with some uncertainty I applied for the art foundation course at Coleg Menai in Bangor. It was known as a prestigious course and hard to get into, to my great surprise I was given an unconditional offer and I haven’t looked back since. I finished the foundation year winning the Peter Prendergast drawing prize and was listed in the top 10 students throughout the WJEC foundation courses across the UK. Then came the offer of a place at the Chelsea College of Arts where I graduated in 2017 in Fine art with a first class honours.
What can we expect from your upcoming exhibition “Father and son: Robin and Billy Bagilhole?”
This exhibition is extremely special to me not least because as it takes place in one of Wales’ most respected galleries, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in Machynlleth. Not only that but it will be the first time ever for my work and my father’s work to be exhibited alongside each other. The show is being curated by Culture Colony founder and CEO Pete Telfer who I met when he interviewed me at my home studio as part of last years National Eisteddfod Awards. The MOMA exhibition seeks to reflect aspects of the artists studios and bring them into the gallery space, offering a unique and interpersonal glimpse of the essence and life of the artist. This is especially close to my heart because my home studio was first created by my father and is also used by my sister, it provides a space that holds our family stories and artistic energies together. The display will be a part of a group exhibition with great names in the Welsh art scene such as; Jennifer Taylor, Annie Suganami and Robert Davies.
It will be a proud moment for me when for the first time I’ll be showing my work alongside my father’s, it is a huge milestone, if not the most important yet as it signifies that I’ve reached a time in my life where my aims are possible. Looking at my father’s paintings whilst I was growing up felt like the equivalent of seeing a very tall man as a 6 year old and thinking how the hell can I grow to be that tall? bringing with it, a huge sense of bewilderment and inspiration. I imagined exhibiting like he did in galleries in the “big city of London” it felt almost unattainable and impossible. Moving from the anchor of my homeland to pursue a career in the arts felt almost slightly mad, as if I was going to try and make a living out of selling floppy hammers or inflatable flammable oven gloves, it just wasn’t seen as an actual way to make a living, to reach the point where this is now starting to become a reality is brilliant and doing so whilst exhibiting next to my father couldn’t be anymore exciting!
You stated that the images in your paintings “ constitute an expression of loss but also an expression of curiosity and mystery.” Where does that self- analysis derive from?
From the age of six I had an unusually close relationship with death, a year before my father died, my grandfather had died and the year after my grandmother died. By the time I was sixteen I had also lost four dogs and various family pets. As grim as it may sound it brought with it an understanding of what it means to experience and accept loss as part of life. Over the past few years I am noticing that the unbidden themes and emotions enlivened by my experiences find expression in my paintings. This comes in many forms ; sometimes even through depictions of sad looking fish or cockerels. I believe that my sense of curiosity and mystery derives from many layers of influence not least the landscape and energies of my homeland. Living in a house at the top of a hill you see vastness of sky, mountains and sea all around, the nearest neighbour is a few miles, you are at once isolated and connected. Feet rooted on the earth staring out at the fog shrouded fields you get an inescapable sense of curiosity for the the ephemeral quality of existence. In tandem I always had a curiosity for supernatural, mystic or odd stories. I always had a fascination with ghosts and the concept and phenomenon surrounding ghosts, how they can allegedly randomly appear, trapped energy in a moment in time or death, the possibility of this manifestation bewilders me. The first book I ever read was called “The Holy Ghostbuster” an autobiography of a local minister in North Wales and his accounts of working alongside mediums to free trapped spirits in places like the flat above the chippy in Blaenau Ffestiniog. These stories have embedded their way into my imagination and artistic vocabulary. These odd commodities have always fascinated me and North Wales is filled with them, they always seem to come back into the painting as reflections of mystery or loss.
Many of your paintings have a similar colour palate. Is there any specific reason for those colour choices?
There are times when I make more conscious decisions to decide on a colour palette and I believe these come when things are feeling more chaotic, when the works start to distance from each other the colour palette often to me can work like a rope to keep everything in order. When I reflect I see that there are periods where I predominantly paint in one colour, like between October and December I predominantly only used blue, it was almost a subconscious decision, it was more of what I was feeling at the time.
Its almost an oddity to think about as throughout my education in primary and in secondary school I was taught to paint like artists such as Kyffin Williams, imitating the colours of the Welsh landscape in an accurate fashion. Whilst in contrast at home hung the paintings made by my father which were colour bound and chaotic. I believe I’ve inherited my father’s high saturated palette and have harnessed it as my own, often covering a canvas in a bold colour and having one small figure appear somewhere, giving that same feel of insignificance you feel whilst standing and looking out at the Welsh landscape.To me it feels like a necessary action to put on a display of colours whilst making a painting, almost like a firework display, I want it to pop out and be striking and at the same time I want it to hold its own merit with some form of narrative.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I’m currently set up in a studio in Vauxhall, London. I’m running a brewery at the same time as being an artist and they’ve kindly let me use their new storage space as a studio space. Its set up in a stone's throw away from the Thames and the Newport street gallery in an old office building underneath three abandoned railway arches so I feel as I’m right in the crux of London. I’m often hearing loud body trembling rumbles whilst I paint from the trains above, it makes you feel as if your painting in an underground bunker hidden away like a hob goblin. Just last week I found a pair of shoes and a can of scrumpy jacks on the floor, dog paw marks on one of the canvases so it looks like I may have some company some time soon. It causes for great suspense whilst painting!
As for a routine I often will arrive the studio and take about 50 minutes to just sit and look at a canvas or a work in progress and try and build up some kind of energy or action to take to the canvas. I often think of it as some kind of leap of faith when I first dive into a painting, like its all or nothing, like a daredevil who’s just about to perform the craziest stunt, except the adrenaline rush is more fart-like than death defying in comparison. When I then eventually start painting hours can pass without realisation. I tend to let the my subconscious lead whilst I paint, figures, shapes and colours can appear from nowhere. I gain most understanding about myself and my work from analysis post painting!
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
There’s been a surge of upcoming and established artists that I’ve seen recently that have really resonated with me! Cannon Dill, Ceri Ann Jones, Minyoung Choi, Brad Teodoruk, Ben Tedmunds and Cybi Williams to name a few. In the past week I’ve really appreciated looking at Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Tansey and Jean Baptiste’s works. Jean Baptiste’s paintings seem to have a huge sense of solemness that surrounds them. I get the same feeling whilst looking at them that I had whilst I travelled Iceland last year, like the world that surrounds you is engulfing and powerful. Often I look at his works as if their stills of the deep sea, they look like otherworldly oceans. Then on the other hand you have Francisco Rodriguez who to me has the same sense of solemness but in a different light, with hints of mystery and rebelliousness. Something I’ve always loved when looking at the narrative within a painting. The painting titled “autumn” of a lonely looking cowboy depicts my thoughts entirely.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I’ve got a few thing’s planned for the new year, I’m currently working on a new series of paintings to put towards a solo show in October in Plas Glyn y Weddw gallery, North Wales whilst trying to work on making my first solo show happen in London. I’ve also started to consider creating my own gallery concentrating on contemporary painting with names like the people I mentioned in the previous question. However this is still in the very early stages of planning!
I’m also simultaneously working on a lot of film whilst painting, I have a few films in the works for 2019/2020. I going to be making one on North wales folk stories and local myths, the life of a paranormal skeptic and lastly pagan rituals around Europe.
All images are courtesy of the artist
Date of publication: 21/01/19