"I’m interested in creating different points of view within the worlds that I construct"
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I was born in Mexico, my mother is Mexican and my father is British and was a geologist who worked overseas surveying and mapping developing countries. I was very lucky to have spent my early years in Bolivia and Ecuador, a time that has had a profound impact on my personality and my artistic practice. I moved back to England to attend secondary school and graduated from Falmouth College of Arts in 2002 with a first class honours degree in Fine Art Painting, in 2012 I completed an MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University of London. I do still feel very proud of my mixed heritage and the different perspectives that it has given me in life.
I’d say I’ve been a serious practicing artist for about 8 years since 2008, when I got my act together and was selected for the John Moores painting prize. I’ve had studios all over the place since I graduated from my BA, St Ives, Cornwall, Barcelona, Nottingham, London and now in Wirksworth, Derbyshire a funky arty town on the edge of the Peak District that’s full of inspiring and talented people. I was involved in curating the main exhibition for this years Wirksworth Festival, titled Nature: Here and Now it included work by Marielle Neudecker, Wolfgang Buttress and Peter Mathews, it was a great experience which I’m sure will feed back into my own practice in the future. I’m also currently a part time Lecturer in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University, so I do keep myself busy but have a good balance between lecturing and my own practice, I’m very happy with where I am right now and have exciting art projects coming up.
The Octagon shape often appears in your paintings, acting like a portal to another world, could you tell us about this and what draws you to the subject of Science Fiction?
I’m interested in creating different points of view within the worlds that I construct. An octagon is an interesting shape, it symbolizes both the infinite and unity and my extensive (google) research also revealed to me that the window in the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars was octagonal. This initially lead me to attempt to create paintings that depicted a view from an alien spaceship looking back down at our landscape. Maybe these aliens’ perception of time was different to ours and they could see the landscape in its historical entirety and thus in a state of flux rather than our fixed temporal view. There is also a nod in the titles of these paintings to Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth a seminal essay on sustainability from the late sixties that is still very relevant today.
I’ve always been drawn to Science Fiction but over the last few years have found a way of it being one of the underlying contexts of my work. I suppose it relates to the idea of comprehending our present situation and position. It is easier to look back with hindsight, or to look back from an imagined distant future. Fredrich Jameson in Archaeologies of the Future explains this predicament.
Proust was only the most monumental “high” literary expression of this discovery: that the present – in this society, and in the physical and psychic dissociation of the human subjects who inhabit it – is numb, habituated, and empty of affect.
He goes onto to develop the function and role science fiction has in addressing this: stating that it does not in any way try to envisage an actual future, instead its numerous simulated potential realities seek to change our present into the undefined history of an era still to come. Science fiction facilitates a distinctive mechanism for capturing the Now, as past; this function is paramount to any utopian or dystopian vision of the future that maybe conveyed.
Could you tell us about your new series of works called: Soul Chart?
They are woodcut prints that were challenging in many ways but I’m very pleased with them. They were made partly as a request from a gallery to make some limited edition printed works, and partly as a way to make some of the connections that my paintings are attempting to make in a more direct, immediate and simple way. These connections involve my relationship to my immediate landscape, the material properties of the medium in question and our perception and understanding of space and scale. In the case of the woodcuts it is very much about our understanding time, the rings and age of the tree in relationship to the stars and how long it takes for them to perceptually reach us. There is also quite a bit of William Blake's Auguries of Innocence “To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour”. There’s also the materiality of both the tree and the print itself and the idea or reality that everything on earth is made from stardust.
I'm not a printer and have no printing facilities so I used the very simple and traditional method of Japanese woodblock printing, the wood was taken from a tree that I chopped down behind my house, the star maps were based on ones of the northern hemisphere and I cut them using really simple tools and drills for the stars. I printed them by applying the ink onto the block placing the paper on top and rubbing / burnishing the back of the paper to get the print. Although I’ve been looking at galaxies and nebulae for a while the prints are very much inspired by the Stardisc which is a large scale map of the stars carved onto slabs of black granite, it’s a great meeting point for my local community and is just behind my house.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
I hope the work works on different levels, that’s always been my intention. I want the work to be accessible to a wider audience so skill, technique and tradition are an important part of my work, although I do play around with these elements quite a bit.
Whenever I present work, be it in a solo show or group exhibition, I want there to be a careful consideration and relationship between the works that are shown. I work in series’ and there are different types of on going series’; Space Ship Earth series (the octagonal paintings) Adjacent paintings that feature portals within a landscape or space, the floating landscapes in space, like in the film Silent Running, there are portraits of explorers, maps and so on, all of which can be shown in different combinations. In essence I want to present the possibility of a narrative, much like the setup of a film, for some reason Indiana Jones comes to mind. But this narrative is nonlinear, doesn’t really make sense and actually asks more questions than anything else, I want the audience to feel like they’ve stepped into a fully realised parallel world.
The writer and critic Richard Davey has written some very nice things about my work so here it is, I think this ties in well with the question.
“Geoff Diego Litherland draws us into a future of both hope and anxiety. Weaving together disparate cultural references into portraits, maps and landscapes, he creates an overarching narrative, an invitation to journey into the unknown as explorers of what might be. In these works of fluid beauty and technical bravado Litherland constructs the future from the past, fiction from fact. He sends us out into the stars as settlers of new worlds, where in the face of impending environmental disaster we can start again.
These paintings are not only held together by their underlying narrative of future hope, they are also united through Litherland's exuberant delight in the possibilities of paint. Like the worlds he portrays that are pregnant with possibility, these paintings reveal paint as a vibrant medium, full of dynamic potential. As abstract marks coalesce into figurative forms before falling away again into luscious layers glinting with light, Litherland gives the viewer an invitation. Come and follow - the future awaits. Dr Richard Davey”
I do love it when an audience member gets really close to the surface and starts to imagine the journey or process of how the layers have been applied and the intentionality of the marks. It’s something that I admire very much in the work of Peter Doig, Nigel Cooke and Daniel Richter and if I feel that I’ve done something similar then I’d be very happy.
How do you go about naming your work?
The names of the paintings are completely non-ironic and very heartfelt and most often than not relate to the painting in a fairly literal way. I want them to be poetic and evocative, so I keep a little notebook of lyrics or song titles of the music I listen to in the studio, mostly ambient, electronica, post-rock and alt-rock type stuff, all pretty chilled to keep me in the zone. I have lists of these phrases and when a painting is finished I choose one that feels right. It’s a fun process and a nice way to complete the work.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?
I work two days a week as a Lecturer on the Fine Art Course at Nottingham Trent University. So I have around three days a week to focus on my practice. Like I’ve said I live in Derbyshire, there’s some amazing countryside near me so I’ve been enjoying going out mountain biking before I get to the studio. It really sets me up to be focused and ready for the work ahead. I love being in the studio painting, it’s one, if not the most favourite thing that I do, I think only other painters understand about the obsession, it actually isn’t normal or entirely sane. But I do feel privileged that I have an output to try and make sense of the world around me. I usually spend eight hours a day in the studio have plenty of coffee breaks, listen to minimal music and l always work on at least three paintings at a time, I have been known to work on 12 when deadlines get tight. Studios are so important and on a subconscious level are very influential on what I do, the processes that I explore and even the themes within the work.
I’m currently artist in residence with Full Grown http://fullgrown.co.uk/ they are a company who grow furniture, they are amazing and I’ve been doing some illustration and visualisation work with them and it’s nice to hang out with such an inspiring team.
I’ll soon be moving to Haarlem Artspace http://www.haarlemartspace.co.uk/ a new studio group that I’m setting up in a Grade II* ex Arkwright Mill in Wirksworth. It’s supposedly the first ever coal powered textile mill and the space is going to be stunning and very apt in relation to the theme’s running through my work. We hope to move in early 2017.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I love to see an artist completely fixated with a process that becomes a lifetime’s research and investigative practice, especially if it’s one that doesn’t feel fixated or constrained by taste, fashion or art world whims. So seeing Channa Horwitz’s work at the beautiful yet reserved Raven Row Gallery earlier this year was quite mind blowing. The work felt timeless, she kept returning to the same media and similar parameters, and although I’ve seen comparable work in the past her iterations didn’t feel overly arduous or laborious, the work instead presented the viewer the simple pleasure of the artists’ own experience of the unveiling of new patterns, colours and layers that unravelled through her process. It was really inspiring.
I also love the cinema and cerebral Sci-Fi, the other day I saw Dennis Villeneuve’s new film Arrival, it was a stunning and restrained piece with great acting, epic themes but at the heart a very personal story of emotions, memory and our perception of time and what how we deal with that. It had overtones of Groundhog Day and not dissimilar to some of the strange time experiments that Kurt Vonnegut’s best work does. I could have walked straight back into the cinema and watched it again; ultimately it had a very hopeful message for the future of mankind, which I really need right now!
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?
My work so far has felt that it’s about my lack of connection to my natural surroundings and environment. I don’t really feel that anymore since moving to where I live now, I feel very grounded and I want to do something that not only represents this shift in relationship but also deepens this sense of connection. Staying with a sci-fi theme I thought about what would happen if there were some cataclysmic event and I survive, society returns back to a tribal hunter-gatherer type existence with very little technology and no access to art materials or any other commodities. I would want to seek to carry on the lineage of western painting, something that I deeply believe and treasure, so I’d have to skill up and learn to make my own linen canvas, linseed oil, primers, paints etc. This means I would have to start by growing a field of flax, and from that, harvest the linseeds to make oil, the flax to make linen thread which I would then learn to weave into linen and prime using rabbit skin glue and locally sourced chalks and pigments. These surfaces and processes would then inform and inspire the paintings that would in turn be made with pigments that I would find in my locality. The paintings would be a record of this process and reflect a deep connection and understanding to my surroundings as well as echoing my feelings and ideas about my relationship to painting’s history and possible future. This is going to be a long project, but I’m looking to get support from the University I work with as well as hopefully other funding sources. It would not be a solitary endeavour and I’ll need to draw from lots of people’s skills and expertise's, I would seek to document the whole project and undertaking. I now need to get on it!
Publish date: 25/11/16
All images courtesy of the artist
Banner image: Infinite Summer, (solo exhibition) Lacey Contemporary, London