painter / London (United Kingdom)
1. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
I want to try and talk about the paintings without explaining them as such. I think I prefer approaching this question by simply describing what I do in quite practical terms. I feel it’s the best way to start.
With painting I like the engagement with the physical object. I think painting is not just putting paint on a canvas with a brush. It’s also making the stretcher, stretching the canvas, choosing the paint. It's all these objects, the decisions, the materials and then and all of the choices that follow.
Before you've even decided to paint an apple you've already made a hundred decisions.
Perhaps even when you buy a ready-made canvas, that in itself is an aesthetic with its almost unconsidered, ready to ‘rock and roll’ quality. I often use pre-dyed or found canvas material, stretching different combinations of these materials, or using them on their own. The texture and colour of the material sets a tone for the painting, almost like a ‘ground’, before any paint has been applied. I tend to then make decisions on what the painting is going to be from there. I often paint from memory or some rudimentary studies or a hastily found picture.
I aim to be an uncertain painter. One that paints semi-incoherent paintings, leaving gaps and hints in the work to be filled, or not. I think paintings are absurd just like anything in the world can be, if you think about it long enough. Ultimately I paint because I love the form of painting, its simplicity, complexity, promises, successes — and especially its failures.
2. Why do you make art? What are your main sources of motivation?
After I finished art school I made a conscious decision to avoid becoming a multi-practice artist. It would have been easy to start something else because sometimes it’s difficult to stick with one thing when it doesn't feel like it’s working. I’m used to that feeling now and I learned to find enjoyment in failures I love artists that are a bit up and down —creating masterpiece after masterpiece seems a bit boring to me.
I am very rarely satisfied with my work and when I am, it's very temporary. I guess that's what makes it interesting to me. I am a big fan of people that manage to stick to one thing and do it well. What I try to do is to go to my studio and do something that is one tenth as good as the stuff I like.
I think the more one stays with something the more it rewards you — but I’ve changed my mind a thousand times on why I want to make paintings. I’m constantly questioning my own beliefs. Probably this time next year I will be contradicting what I am saying right now. Really I don't know why, but when for whatever reason I haven’t painted for a period of time I feel a cavity. I think I would be happier if I were to just say, “I’m done. No more painting or art. I'll just take up fishing instead”; but it could never replace that thing in my life that is painting.
3.What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your early days as an artist?
I was always a middle of the road kind of school kid. But when it came to art I seemed to be good at it. A teacher said to me when I was nine or ten “Oh that’s a nice portrait of Henry VIII” I thought yeah… someone is complimenting me for something I did. That was what made me want to keep on doing it at the time. I realised I enjoyed making and I just fell into it. But beyond that I guess it's always just been the thing that gave me some kind of direction. I never really excelled at anything else. I guess with a different tutor at school, I might have done something else.
4. What was the first opportunity you were offered in the arts? Would you have liked to have had different ones? As time went by, how did opportunities influence your practice?
Definitely getting into art school for the first time. You can always ask for different opportunities but I guess it's not the opportunity that makes someone, it's the person's will and their ability to get what they want from what they are given. I certainly wouldn't change my degree, but I think I was maybe a bit immature when I undertook it. I think I could have benefited from a few years in the real world first, developed some of my own opinions, and would then have probably appreciated it a lot more. My post grad, on the other hand, was really good as I was so keen to focus my time into my practice. The best thing about it though were people I met and the conversations I had there.
You know, it’s weird to think of opportunities as something that exists per se. I would say I'm certainly someone that hasn't done well at generating my own opportunities. There are other people who are very good at that in terms of earning them off their own back. Some people are good at ‘networking’ - which I think has a bad reputation, and perhaps unfairly so. There are those that are very good at talking to other people, and those that are not so confident – like me. I wish I was better. I am not saying it with envy. I just don’t think it's worth trying to be someone I am not, but knowing this I have found a way of connecting with other painters by curating the odd group show here and there. I see these as great opportunities to talk to other artists I like.
5. What are the risks you take as an artist? Do you think the challenges you had to face gradually evolved with your practice?
I think often taking risks is as simple as exhibiting the work. That to me has always felt like an actual risk, in the sense that the work takes on another life. In the privacy of your studio there really is no such thing as ‘risks’, it’s just a painting after all. I used to ask myself what the point of the work was and agonise over whether what I was doing was any good. I didn’t show work for a long time because I was never really content with it.
I don't really see myself as taking risks in any dramatic sense but mainly I just hope to work hard and make work that is interesting. I always want to take ‘risks’ within the work but I don't want to do it for the sake of it. It seems dangerous.
6. What puts you at ease when experimenting with something unfamiliar or trying out a new approach?
I don’t think I can use the word ‘ease’ when I think of my practice. I feel the actual process of making a painting can naturally be quite tough and at times painful. It often feels like a struggle because one is thinking solely of this problem, this painting, this composition, this tone against that tone, what is needed, is it working or not? I guess what is good about this problem is that briefly one can be unconcerned by anything else. Ease in my studio can be found when all other things stay away and I can just concentrate on the familiar problems painting generates. I am often just sitting in my chair for hours just looking at a work in progress, trying to figure out what my next move will be, or trying to figure out if I think what’s happening is any good. I do not think ease is something that is necessarily always desirable.
I normally paint with acrylic, sometimes the cheap stuff, and often on unprimed material/canvas which makes it a rough surface for painting. The paint digs in and drags on the porous canvas surface. This makes it difficult to create smooth strokes. Jack White was famous for playing a guitar called an Airline guitar. He bought it from a thrift store. They weren't popular guitars at the time. They were cheap and made of plastic and were not smooth or particularly comfortable to play. Jack White said he loved them for the fact they were so hard to play, he liked that he “had to fight the guitar” to play them. It’s the idea of creating a problem, searching for tension and resistance in order to get more out of your practice. It can create accidents within your work that can push and surprise you.
7. When overcoming challenges, what is the role of your community of peers and mentors?
I wouldn't say I am involved with a ‘community’ in a sense, as painting is really quite a solitary practice but there are many other artists who I respect and who's work reminds me why I like painting whenever I get down about it.
I have had the odd opportunity to curate a few exhibitions with others and have loved these opportunities to exhibit the works of other painters and get the chance to visit them in their studios and talk to them about painting. A painter’s life often exists within their studio so meeting other painters there is always interesting. I am fortunate to have a few close friends who are painters I can always talk with about painting.
8. If you could go back in time and give yourself a good piece of advice what would it be, and is that the same advice you give yourself today?
To care less about trying to impress people. And to paint smaller.
9. What are you working on at the moment, and is there anything particular that excites you?
Nothing in particular, just hoping to work and make paintings as much as I can. I used to work in a school and was fortunate to work with some great people and one teacher in particular always quoted Chuck Close saying, “Inspiration is just for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work”. It’s a tad prosaic, but I do believe that achievements, poetic or not, can only be gained by putting the hours in. I hope to find more time to do so.