"I see paint as both a means of encryption and description: camouflaging the identities of the subjects in my work, allowing them to hide in plain sight"
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I was born and raised in the heart of rural Gloucestershire, which is a lovely place to grow up, plenty of space and beautiful countryside to explore. When I left school at 18 I decided to study an Art Foundation year at the local university in Cheltenham, as much as anything to give myself time and space to explore making work. At the end of the year I had to make a choice between going to study a degree in Geology (hence the title of the upcoming show) and Painting. I went for an interview for the Painting course down in Brighton, was accepted and never looked back.
I suppose that was when I started to consider myself an artist; though I’ve been drawing and painting since I could hold a pencil, that moment felt like a switch had been turned on and making work had new significance and importance.
After graduating I moved up to east London to study for a year at The Royal Drawing School and never left. I graduated from the Painting MA at The Royal College of Art in the summer, which was a great experience although I certainly feel happy to be out of education and making work in my own studio where nothing is seen unless I feel happy to show it or talk about it.
You have a show coming up titled: Geologies, curated by Kristian Day, could you tell us about the show?
Kris and myself have been in conversation for a while about putting something on together. The show brings together some small paintings that I’ve recently been working on, some of which are completely new and feel it, others I’ve worked into that have been in my studio for years in various states of development. So there’s a really interesting relationship between works that have gestated and weathered together.
As the title, Geologies, suggests, it’s about a physical layering of surfaces, inviting the viewer to explore beneath the top soil, to uncover buried histories within the paint, histories that are at once of the earth and human; histories referencing art historical narratives of style and genre. Even the subterranean space in which the work will be shown asks you to physically move beneath the ground to see it.
I see paint as both a means of encryption and description: camouflaging the identities of the subjects in my work, allowing them to hide in plain sight. Surface is where I start. Before playing with either composition or figuration I need to be excited by the surface I am working on. Façades become worn, imbued with a tangible history, a patina or geological layering of paint.
When starting to play with figuration on a canvas, images become reduced and distilled, developing a wrought existentiality somewhere between the visual and the imagined. Through the process of painting, centralised forms become increasingly obscured and removed, before being allowed to re-enter as a schema of the original archetype.
The show will be at Tripp Gallery, 59 Amwell Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 1UR. The private view is May 18th and runs until Saturday 27th May.
Some of your work is collage in appearance, a picture within a picture, almost like a painting hung on someone’s bedroom wall. Could you tell us a bit about this and your process?
Many of my recent paintings have employed the use of both internal and external framing devices. When a painting develops on a stretcher its dimensions or scale can feel wrong, its proportions unsuitable for the size of image or even marks on the surface in relation to the shape of the support. I often ‘crop’ areas down if the image requires intimacy or re-stretch the canvas onto a larger support if it needs to expand outwards. Scale and size are of course different things in paintings, but that’s another conversation.
My paintings, especially on a small scale, are very physical and built up over months and years of moving around my studio, a romantic notion that creates a perceived honesty or earnest quality about them. The frames are a method of undermining this, creating objectivity and demanding that all marks are viewed at once as decoration, abstraction and description. It creates a sort of tension between painting languages, highlighting the decisions and modes of depiction ingrained within the paint. The exterior ‘wallpaper’ allows a visual pause or rest, requiring a different level of enquiry and investigation.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I like to get in to the studio early. I make a huge cup of coffee, turn the radio on and pace around looking at my work from different angles, examining them each in turn to see if they have altered or resolved themselves during the night. After an hour or two I will finally mix a colour on my pallet in reaction to something that needs changing in a painting, pick up a muddy brush I was using the previous day and make a tentative mark, and so it starts. It’s a game of mixing tones and finding the correct brush and then the right action to create the right mark to both sit within the patina and pattern of the existing surface whilst moving the painting forward along a new path. I move in waves of frantic activity, painting on everything I can find, followed by hours of waiting and thinking about the next move. I will probably have a break in the middle of the day, have a walk or get some air in order to come back with fresh eyes. I then generally work quite late into the evening. I like the sensation of working at night; it feels solitary, silent, and important.
My studio is quite long and thin with a really high ceiling, a slightly strange shape. At any one time I will have 3 or 4 large works on the go and 30 or more smaller works. I don’t really put time constraints on the paintings - like I said before some take years to reach resolution. The space is always a real mess; I need to see every possibility available to me in order to make a decision. The studio has big windows looking out on to a courtyard which means it only has sun in the morning and gradually gets darker and darker throughout the day until in the evening you can barely see the tones you’re painting with. I quite like this, though. I’m sure it affects the pallet of the works I produce. I start the day using bright colour and it slowly gets more and more grey and muddy throughout the day.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Vanessa Bell at Dulwich Picture Gallery really blew me away. Seeing the works en masse and getting an idea of their variation and versatility; the sketches for textiles are just stunning. Definitely worth a trip down. The permanent collection is worth a visit on its own, with a Rubens oil sketch that looks like it was produced yesterday.
I also recently checked out the Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate. I was always unsure of the sincerity and motives behind the work, but having seen the show I was proven completely wrong. The work is so much more subtle and poetic than I had expected. Leaving the show I felt like my eyes had been opened; I was looking at the world with a new scrutiny. There is such sensitivity in his photos.
Michael Andrews I think has been a fairly under-appreciated artist, left in the shadows of those huge artists making work at the same time. So it’s great to see Gagosian dedicating a show to his work. I’m not in to all of it; the Ayres Rock series don’t do much for me for example. At his best though the works are strange and beautifully subtle.
John Latham at The Serpentine is a beautifully paced show; the way he effortlessly moved between mediums with a lightness of touch was revelatory and inspiring. Everything has such sensitivity. The show has a really slow, meditative feel to it; it’s a great one to spend time with and let infect your state of mind.
How do you go about naming your work?
I always find titling problematic. Having read a few of your previous interviews, this seems to be an issue that many artists share. I guess if you could say it you wouldn’t make work about it. However, I do think it’s important to open the work up for a viewer, leaving clues and sinews that can be traced into the painting. I’m certainly not one for ‘Untitled 1-5’.
I’m often fairly straight with my titles; it’s about opening up avenues for a viewer, not closing them down. If a painting feels overly ambiguous and fluffy, I will attempt to ground it with a solid title. If it’s quite easy to read then I will offer something more playful and ambiguous. It’s never my main concern though, always feeling slightly subsidiary, though necessary nonetheless.
Apart from the show with Kristian Day, Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
There are a few things I'm currently negotiating, one of which is the opportunity to show work internationally. I am very interested to see how my work travels and is perceived by audiences without the accepted ‘British’ reference points to contextualise the work against.
One project I’m excited about is a show in the summer at the Burren Art College Gallery in Ireland. This will be a collaboration between painters Alex Gibbs, Woody Mellor and myself, in which we will play with ideas of romanticism, sincerity and a sort of genre exploitation in painting. Its an amazing gallery space in the middle of nowhere, a really idyllic spot, so is a perfect metaphor for the concept of the show.
All images courtesy of the artist
Pulished date: 5/4/17