"As soon as the doodles/drawings are enlarged I kinda enter another territory of language, that of painting, space, form, depth, illusion..."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?
I’ve always been interested in art, since I was a child. I was interested in illustrators like Chris Foss, Philip Castle, Sorayama & the skateboard graphics of Jim Phillips.
As a child I wanted to become a commercial artist. I wanted to airbrush album covers. As I studied a BTEC at Croydon College (London), it soon began to dawn on me that this industry was dying, changing…That’s when I started to take an interest in the fine arts & then applied for a joint honours degree at Camberwell College (London). I studied fine art & graphic design, the course was a kind of experiment because we were the first year to do this joint degree, because of that, it had an energy, which kinda fed my appetite to pursue making art. After that course I went to New York where I first walked into an installation by Paul McCarthy. I was blown away but I also found it incredibly funny & thought to myself. “Wow, you can get away with that?” That’s when I decided to commit to art. I just thought, what have I just experienced, I don’t get it, but I love it… After that I applied for a part time MA at Goldsmiths where I ended up writing my dissertation on stupidity & zombies…
Also, as very young child I used to draw pictures, so as to escape. We couldn’t afford the cinema back then, & I used to draw the scenes, imagined on A3 pieces of paper about films I never watched, like star wars etc. Drawing really was an exercise back then to escape into another reality & still is now… I got introduced into painting & drawing via my father who wanted to be a painter but never pursued it. Instead he used to get into trouble with the law & spent a lot of my younger years in Wandsworth prison & Wormwood Scrubs. My brother & I used to visit him at both places where my father used to draw to us & illustrate to me on how to draw cartoons. It was a way to fill up moments of time, especially in the visiting rooms, as they were both emotional & boring. Drawing distracted those feelings & became fun; it escaped the ‘real’ drama of the situation..
Your recent work is less figurative and more leaning towards the abstract, but at the same time keeping its playfulness. Could you tell us about this change in direction?
The recent work for me is more of a continuation of previous stuff I’ve done. In fact, I still make the other stuff in another studio. These new paintings come from a long process of taking out one of the elements from the other work & then expanding on it. I expanded a small part, a drawing, & started doodling from it. From there I started to make these doodles on paper. I decided to turn them into paintings, as I liked the energy in them & thought they would be good as large paintings. They also emitted a kind of playfulness, like taking the line for a walk. As soon as the doodles/drawings are enlarged I kinda enter another territory of language, that of painting, space, form, depth, illusion etc.
The new paintings are basically large doodles where I let different qualities of the airbrush & air gun come out. I start playing around with the shapes & spaces & seeing what works best. I use a lot of cut out paper during the process of spraying these works, so I can physically play around with the shapes. I also go back & do stuff on Photoshop but tend not to rely on this, but it can help to get that right mix between the drawing & that which looks like it was made on computer. I liked how the paintings have both these qualities, a digital aspect & also the drawing side of it. In a way I was having fun, doodling, not really thinking about the work but more escaping into some ‘thing’ else.
With these newer works I really enjoy the immediacy from doodling, coming up with something to paint without too much thinking (now I’m a zombie) & the enjoyment of totally encompassing the surface with paint, that is applied differently, than via touching the surface of the canvas with a brush, almost like printing… In a way, it gives the process a kind of freedom. Emancipation from history.
Your solo show at Castor was titled "Do Zombies Dance to Love in C Minor?" Could you tell us the meaning behind the title? Is it a message to the art world?
In a way, there is no meaning behind the title but there is a kind of story…
When I went to see the new space in Deptford (Castor), it reminded me of when I went to Goldsmiths and that essay I wrote on stupidity & zombies… I wanted a stupid title, or something with ‘love’ in it because nobody uses the word love in art anymore. I came across ‘love in C minor’ breezing through the Internet and wrote it down. I was going to keep it at that, but when we started to write the press release I knew I had to bring in ‘zombies’… It also linked that memory of my dissertation…
It’s not really a message & aimed at anyone but a play, on words. I don’t really like that term- ‘art world’. To me it implies distance. I’ve always been interested by art’s own fascination with it’s death i.e. ‘the death of painting’ etc. It’s like how the entertainment uses horror & death, i.e. zombie films, as a way to to escape banality & the everyday. In a way, I feel as though art is like the position of a zombie, neither dead or alive, but attracts a fascination towards itself, because we ‘don’t really understand it, it makes no sense.
It’s why I like the airbrush in relation to painting. It’s neither ‘painting’ (the act of painting itself) or ‘is’ a painting (easily located within paintings history).
Apart from all the above, I just like the idea of a load of zombies dancing to disco.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
At the moment, I have two studios, not because I can afford it but because one of them in South London where I’ve just started to work on community projects is free. I work down there with Progress London, a social enterprise. This has only just started and at the moment we are working on a series of paintings based upon my previous work. The paintings are a collaboration with the local kids & separately, some young offenders.
I spend a few days there and then I spend time making the newer work at a studio in north London. I couldn’t really bring in the kids to work in north London because of post code issues & other artists in the studio in the complex. Studio in south London is also local to my brothers boxing gym, which incidentally does the same stuff with kids through boxing in the local community. This is the area where I grew up, so I know a lot of people in area & charities working down there.
So, my routine is split... I just get to the studio, & I start working, I treat it like a job really, which is the best way for me to make work. I usually start with a small thumbnail sketch, a doodle etc & then I either project it or freehand it straight onto the primed canvas. When I have a basic framework for the airbrushed paintings, I then start to sit around a lot & start staring at the work. Looking to see what works where, I suppose that’s where the ‘painting’ language starts to come in. It’s at that point that I don’t really know what is going to happen & I really start playing around with shapes & sprayed textures etc.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Last summer, I was commissioned to do a large mural in New York and I popped into David Zwirmer gallery, to take a look at the Jordan Wolfson piece, ‘Colored Sculpture’… I was completely blown away, I know it may sound a bit cliché but it really was on another level… Also, I saw one of Sterling Ruby’s airbrushed ‘sunset’ paintings & seeing those in the flesh, the scale and size of them, I thought was quite spectacular, reproduction does no justice to them. I also really liked the James Ensor exhibition at RA last year. It was like coming up for air after being drowned by so much Ab-Ex below.
How do you go about naming your work?
I write things down all the time that catch my eye. I don’t really think about titles until I finish the work & then just play around to see what fits… I have thought about titles too much before & now I treat it more of an instinctual thing, like if something works or not.
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 have something planned for the end of year with some other artists, which is going to be big, but I can’t really say anymore than that. I’m pursuing the community work & see where that will lead the other works I am more known for.
At the moment, I’m just enjoying making these new paintings, I’m introducing more colour but finding it quite a wrestle, they seem to work better with a minimal palette…
I’m also looking into animation and going back to making some more lamps. The animation lets me bring in the cartoons again, in a medium, which suits, and is less brash, believe it or not. In a way, the new paintings have a lot of movement & look as though they are about to animate…
All images courtesy of Castor and Barry Reigate. Photography by thishappened
Published date: 5/4/17