Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a practicing artist and where did it all begin?
Instead of doing A levels after school, I went and got a job. After a couple of years I realised that the world of admin and office work wasn’t for me so I applied for a foundation course. Once I was on the course I remember a tutor saying to me, “You’re a painter”. It was an important moment for me as it felt like there was more clarity in who I was, what I liked doing and what I could do in the future. I think this was the first time that I realised I could be an artist. Before then, although I loved art and made a lot of stuff, I never really saw it as a career. So I guess it began then.
After the foundation I studied my BA at Coventry University, graduating in 2008 and I completed my Masters at Chelsea College of Arts in 2014. I currently have a studio in London.
Your sculptures/installations have a mixture of sickly candy, body parts and gore. Could you talk about the reasons behind it?
I’m really fascinated by the body and it’s polarities. I think it’s quite peculiar that we have this outer shell, one that we groom and preen to present ourselves to the world. It often looks so managed but on the inside there’s all these guts, blood and gore and yet we don’t really visualise it when looking at other people. So whenever I make work, I try to bare this in mind. I want there to be a play between the external and internal, so even though my work may look like a candy store, on closer inspection there’s also references to the internal body to remind us of the reality of it all.
There is a lot of humor in your work, do you feel like this is a good way to interact with the viewer? An ice breaker?
Yeah, that’s a really nice way of thinking about it.
In everyday life we use humor as a way to connect with people, it helps us to relate to each other, deal with extreme circumstances and importantly for us to imagine events and scenarios. It’s a way of playing things out. I don't want my work to be alienating so the use of humor and references to popular culture will hopefully give the viewer comfortableness or a familiarity that makes them feel as if they can relate to it.
Perhaps this is similar to the way entertainment works. Popular TV series and Films are often within a format that we recognise; soundtracks and images are composed within a structure that is understandable and follows a narrative. This solid format, enables the directors to deal with issues on a deeper level that are perhaps more uncomfortable, horrifying etc. So I guess the idea is to lure people in with the humor, or the soft and playful palettes and then hopefully they will be able to gain something bigger conceptually from the work when they stay with it for a while. When I’m in the studio I know that my work is more interesting when I let go and don’t take it too seriously, playfulness and humor have a big impact on this and I think it’s only natural that it becomes a part of the final work.
Do you feel that your work has an edible, sexual, fetishised dimension to it?
Yes definitely. When I made Diet Coke Break, I was reading a lot about sugar and the affect that it has on the brain. So for example, after we’ve tasted a doughnut chemicals in our brain our released to tell us that all of the fat and sugar felt good, so we know to do it again. The next time we go to the shops and see a doughnut, dopamine is released in our brain, and this is before we’ve even touched, smelled or tasted it. I love the idea that just by looking at something our physiology changes. So I tried to incorporate this within the work, a giant doughnut was born and sculptures and paintings were lavished in icing. Humans are built for pleasure, so I want to make work that explores that.
There are a lot of sexual and fetishised elements to the work. Fashion advertising is something that I reference quite a lot, and in particular I’m interested in this idea of using body parts to sell products.
This could be for example a hand caressing an object, in a way these images that advertisers provide are very clean and show the body in this smoothed out way but it also treads this fine line between horror, fetish and sexualisation. I try to deconstruct this devise that advertisers use and then reuse it within my own work.
My work is a lot about painting, and in ‘Till Death do us Party’ I had a performance piece where two hands came through holes in a wall and played with glitter, whipped cream, paper mache eyeballs and hundreds and thousands. Firstly I wanted to think about the way painters talk about paint and how they fetishise it. It becomes quite sexual, something alluring, luscious and that ultimately turns them on. You can see painters getting a kick out of mixing the paint on the palette, so I was interested in this fundamental connection to the material and how this might link with our sexual desires. The hands coming through the holes may also reference glory holes, but it is softly wrapped in this aesthetic of the sickly sweet. It’s all a bit too pink to be taken seriously.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
I hope that the viewer understands that the work is about the body and painting. I think a lot about the human condition, our psychology and our physical aesthetic and the work always has these themes tied up in it. I hope that even when I’m suggesting body parts in a more abstract sense of textures, the subconscious and sensations people can feel that they are positioned in front of some sort of bodily thing.
In terms of the painting side of my practice, even when I’m making sculptures and videos it always comes from a painters perspective. I began by painting portraits and nudes, so my understanding of the body and making art comes from that knowledge.
I recently read an interview with Paul McCarthy and he said that: "I understood all western art in relationship to mirrors, windows and doors. Painting always had a reference to architecture.” I really relate to that and feel that similarly my work has come out of the canvas, or this framed space into the 3D. But even the 3D relates to the world of painting, so when the work is installed in a space, I’m thinking about the framing of the work within the walls, the ceilings and floors and then in the final stage as it gets photographed. For me it constantly goes back to the pictorial space that I was first connected to in the early days of making paintings.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine?
There is usually a soundtrack of sorts, some days it can be quiet and I may listen to podcasts and documentaries. Other days I’ll blast out lots of tunes and the studio will have a party vibe to it. I usually follow my mood into how I want to do it.
My routine changes constantly though, depending on what job I’ve got at the time, what shows I have or whether other things are happening. I think it’s important that it never feels like I have to go, I don’t want the studio to feel like a job. It’s a time for me to explore and play so I try and maintain that element of not knowing which I think helps in keeping the space a sanctuary.
How do you go about naming your work?
The titles come from all sorts of places; research, lines from films, or daft things myself or friends have said. They usually come out of the blue and I’m not really expecting them and then work is formed around that. With ‘Till Death do us Party’ I was reading a lot about human psychology and the way we socialise, why we dance and gather in large groups. The research then went into the darker side of partying and I was reading much more about the self destructive nature of humans. The titles are important as it gives a sense of the wider meaning of the work but it can also be a bit of a playful joke and puns are used a lot!
What is your process, how do you start a new piece of work?
It’s hard to pin-point it because usually when I’m making work, that gives me ideas for other stuff. I think through making, so it becomes a perpetual cycle of making stuff and then thinking oh I’d like to make that. I guess I’m also constantly stimulating myself from the things I watch, to what I read and this has meant that so far I’ve not had to stop and think what I’m going to make next because it comes from this networked process of research and making.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Eddie Peake’s, Forever Loop, at the Barbican earlier on in the year was a great show. I really loved the repetition of the dancers, the fact that they were totally naked apart from wearing Reebok classics and how uncomfortably close they came to the audience. I didn’t really understand the links between some of the archived video footage and the live performances, but what really worked for me was the synchronicity between the dancers and there mimicry of the dancers within the videos. The use of percussion, thrusting and jarring movements was really amazing. There was a really intense moment where one of the dancers held my gaze for what felt like a really long time, I was equally determined to not look the other way, and it was really captivating. I like the fact that it was about sexuality, desire and the way we use our bodies.
Most recently I’ve been watching videos. It ranges from artist videos such as Rachael Maclean to Beyonce and Nicki Minaj music videos and these are probably the ones I keep going back to at the moment, there’s something in the way they sexualise their own bodies that I’m quite interested in and would like to include that in some new work.
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?
I received a grant last year from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, and I used the funding to make a series of paintings. This was after a period of time of making more abstract, sculptural based work and I wanted to bring ideas of representation back into the work. Now the series is almost finished and I’m planning to show the work at Block 336 Gallery. There will be lots of references to my installations within the paintings, but it’s refreshing to go back to the 2D format with new eyes. There will be lots of limbs, eyeballs, fingers etc to keep the horror vibe going.
I’m also applying for a few things, some residencies and I’d really like to go to America, so we will see what happens!
Publishing date of this interview 24/06/16