Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a practicing artist and where did it all begin?
I’ve always known I was an artist so beginnings are difficult to identify, but I have a vivid early memory of sunlight falling through net curtains on a dusty, abstract album cover. That definitely has something to do with the quality of light in my work. I felt my voice could be best expressed through art since an early age, and have made work all my life.
My professional career took off in 2003 whilst I was part of Jackson Webb, a collaboration with artist Charlotte Webb. We did a collaborative MA at Chelsea College of Art and worked together for seven years. After a great run working as a ‘third mind’, we decided to work independently and I’ve been concentrating on painting since 2010.
Your mysterious figures have an autonomous feel about them, could you talk about these figures/characters that you have created, how were they born?
It’s interesting that you distinguish ‘figures’ and ‘characters’. I definitely see them as figures rather than characters or portraits, as they don’t represent any particular individuals. They are born out of my imagination, emerging in a tangle of ideas, processes and material transformations. This creates their ‘autonomous’ feel, allowing them to remain mysteriously mute and totemic.
The world of images is so congested that to have a voice you need a degree of autonomy, but this is complicated. Autonomy and the art object was a heavily contested subject during Modernism, a period when the possibility of art’s autonomy was taken more seriously than it is today. I side with Adorno, who says there is a political dimension to autonomy – what might at first look like indifference to the world transforms into total engagement. I want my figures to inhabit this tense space between indifference and engagement.
What is your process, how do you start a new piece of work, you say you use digital tools like Photoshop?
Although the finished paintings are end points in my process, it’s hard to determine their exact beginnings. I continuously work on images in charcoal, oil pastel, paint, and digital files, which form the under-layers for new pieces. Sometimes, multiple works share the same original image, which means that you see a repetition of forms and ideas across the body of works.
Photoshop digitally conditions many of the works, introducing qualities such as screen luminescence, though not all of them are developed in a digital environment. Image processing is just one of many approaches that integrates with drawing, collage and painting. Particularly fascinating for me is that digitally, I’m dealing with the light-emitting screen, but in paint it’s the other way round, the light source being external. So sometimes I’m trying to paint with light, like Monet did so well.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
I hope my paintings create encounters that unfold slowly over time. In making them I’m constantly playing with my own visual perception, using colours that confuse how edges register, making paint appear as if it has light shining through it, combining careful renderings of gestural marks with their original incarnations, and all sorts of other experiments. So I hope that the viewer too is engaged in this game of unfolding the image through their perception.
I revel in the openness of how the work gets interpreted. One reading of my work that struck me recently was that its strength lies in the combination of ‘digitality’ with its specific form of address - the face. Another studio visitor spoke about my constant recycling of fragmented content over time, and how these recurrences relate to the idea of the ‘after-image’ in perception after exposure to a strong light source.
Your work has an on going battle between abstract and figurative painting, could you talk about the reasons for this and what attracts you to working this way?
I love this type of painting. In my work it’s more a deliberate hovering than a battle between abstraction and figuration. I like the way abstraction takes the figure apart; the way a painting can contain distinctive signifying elements, such as clearly defined eyes or lips, as well as sections that defy our perceptual capacity to rationalise what we’re seeing into a tangible form. It’s at the outer limits where things are breaking down, or in the process of formation, that there is so much possibility for new forms and ideas to arise. Ultimately this way of working liberates the viewer by not over-determining meaning. It also lets the image be something indescribable by any other means.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine?
I’ve never started and finished a work in one sitting. My process is quite fragmented, and I work on individual images in short bursts. I find it’s easy to overwork things, so I often force myself to leave an image just as it gets interesting to get some distance and encounter it afresh a few times before resolving it. Typically in a day I’ll do an oil painting on paper, work on a separate digital file, and maybe prepare some panels, which are time-consuming as they are gessoed to a very smooth surface. I’m lucky to have a studio in the building where I live so I’m in there as much as possible, for long stretches, but also in short sessions, between the day-to-day goings on of life.
How do you go about naming your work?
I don’t’ ‘think’ in titles but I do enjoy them and am not an ‘Untitled’ person. I see them as opportunities to twist the work - obfuscate, highlight, play with or divert meaning.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Cecily Brown at Thomas Dane is fantastic. I love the way she plays with how we perceive images and how we make sense of the visible world. She really puts you on the spot, asking how much of what you’re seeing is in your imagination and how much of it she is knowingly in control of and delivering to you with intent. It’s expertly done and brilliantly confrontational. Barry Schwabsky’s curated show Tightrope Walk at White Cube was excellent too. I’ve also been looking at the seminar and catalogue for Painting 2.0, which is interesting in terms of expression. It presents a challenge to the notion that expanded practices of painting are just performing critiques of expressionist modes and that they don’t ‘express’ in themselves. In the end they do. You really just can’t suppress it.
What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Since curating Everything Wants To Run, a large-scale group exhibition at Block 336 Gallery in London, I’ve been completely focused on studio work.
I’m building up this current series of figures and I see them as a long-term project, working in the lineage of non-narrative figurative painting and the space between abstraction and figuration. The field is exciting and open and I hope to contribute to the debate and the production of new work in this respect.
There are a couple of group projects I’m working on – it’s a little bit too early on to describe them here, but I’m also excited about working with curators and galleries towards a solo exhibition of this new work.
Publishing date of this interview 24/06/16