Juxtapose Interview by Eben Benson. Spring Issue. 2019
Full Interview at the bottom of the page
So the first impression I got of your paintings was that they felt immediately violent. However, the intriguing thing was that they aren’t inherently violent, and upon further inspection, they have a softness. What are the most common initial reactions to or words associated with your art?
I think the violence of the paint is just one aspect of how the paint is physically applied. I see the distortion technique as a tool to describe the things that you could never say if was produced in a more representational manner. Oil paint by nature is an incredible versatile thing. You’re essentially using coloured bits of earth from the ground and throwing it at a canvas and hoping to make it more than just an inanimate object. When you use paint in such vast quantities, the paint becomes very physical and malleable. It folds, curls, and moves. It can be sculpted, pushed and pulled, and thrown. It’s no longer used just to depict an image or a representational portrayal. The very nature of the medium is the expression and if used in a successful way can create the work itself. For me it sometimes feels like excavating an aura. A great piece of art makes you feel something. It makes you feel human when you look at it. To have different emotions reverberating from one piece is always a lucky strike as it’s able to communicate on different levels. Like a person in conversation you don’t want your art to give away everything it has to say in one moment. You don’t want your art to be predictable.
Could you describe your personal relationship with politics? Your Trump series comes amidst a pattern of deeply personal and emotional feeling paintings. Do you think your connection to politics and critique comes from a deeply personal reflection on politics and culture?
I’ve always been interested in politics and I’m a news junkie. I think what I find fascinating about our current times is that everything feels like it’s moving so fast and everything is unprecedented. Stories are shocking to us just for a moment and then we just move on to the next story. News is fed to us on an octane level and it feels like nothing sticks anymore. We are immune to nuances and anything that needs our brain to stop and think and make decisions for ourselves. It’s like we have diabetes from all the malicious, processed clickbait diet and we are suffering from malnutrition. We are fed too much through social media and it’s our delivery systems that are causing the symptoms of lack of judgement. Everything is a sound bite or a headline, News can’t be delivered by tweets and our attention span has grown so small that we can’t process the bigger issues anymore. We have the inability to no longer understand the wider picture which now after all these years has fermented this insensibility on both sides. It’s causing even bigger problems with the very people we disagree with and need to talk to the most and is self perpetuating.
What spurned the shift of your work from generally more social critiques to more personal and emotional ruminations?
I think after a while I just wanted to simplify things. My older work dealt with social critiques all the time. I think I just wanted to strip everything right back and block out all the noise. Going back to how I started making art in the beginning made sense at that time in my life. I think I felt liked I just stopped caring. Although you never you really stop caring. I think in order to make work about social commentary as with any work you have to really care about what you are saying and how you make it. I think current politics on both sides of the Atlantic have really engaged people at the moment. It’s motivated people to really want to have their say which I think is positive and at the same time overwhelming. I felt like this with Brexit and Trump. The dangerous thing with whats happening now is that we have got used to the circus and we are so disorientated. Those are the most dangerous times in my opinion as any law can be passed and anything can happen and we don’t notice and too tired to care.
When I look at pictures of your studio it reminds me of a baby rubbing food around their plate. Were you a messy child? Do you like making a bit of a mess? Do you have a cleaning ritual?
I love that analogy. That suggests you’re having fun right? I’m incredibly dyslexic and my ability to organise is a bad as my spelling. My studio always looks a mess to other people but I always know where things roughly are. The nature of how much paint I use doesn’t help the situation. At least a third of what I throw on to the canvas falls off so it wouldn’t make any sense to clean the studio after every painting session as it all takes hours to clean up only to be repeated the next morning. I call it the abattoir… It’s my safe space where I can write on the walls and do all the things in there that your parents would never let you do in your home as a kid. The studio space is such a warm and precious thing to any artist as it’s their world. I’ve always said its like living in your diary or getting a hug from yourself.
Although you said you don’t want the paintings to be viewed as portraits, what draws you towards the traditional portrait format for many of your recent works? Do you want them to be read as human?
I want my paintings to be viewed as beings. I want them to have a presence of something. It’s not essential for them to be human but as I said earlier it’s essential for these piece to have a sense of actuality. I think the power of art is to confront our ideas of what we are and what we understand. I like the idea of the traditional portrait format because it’s familiar with us. The old master background of greys fused with ochers are used as tools throughout history. We are accustomed to it and it was a conventional way of creating an environment. It settles the viewer and makes you feel familiar with it but i want a modern twist of distortion thrown in.
Do you think your work translates more to a feeling of release or a feeling of built-up pressure? Do either of those resonate more with you?
Making these paintings are really unpredictable. I never know if they are going to be successful or turn out how I want them. That feeling of getting them right is the equivalent of throwing a jigsaw puzzle in the air and every piece landing in the exact right spot on the ground. I think when this moment happens It feels like utter joy. I feel a release of tension and I become so excited. It’s quite a difficult sensation to describe because it feels like you have given birth to something that is very still and doesn’t move, but has life. Of course it is just a canvas, but there is something very different about it at that present stage. At this point, every paint mark is working and is functional as if its veins are pumping blood around the body in all the right places at the right time. Of course, because of the very nature of the painting, there is panic and a sense of urgency too as most of the time when these paintings are created, they need to come off the wall and rest on the floor before parts of them fall off to the ground below. That’s why they all have painterly hand marks around the edges, as I quickly try and make room for them on the studio floor to preserve them so they can dry a little to be safe enough to be moved. It really is the best feeling when you capture that moment. It makes painting so worthwhile. It’s also a weird feeling because a lot of the painting is done at such speed and at such an unconscious level that you can’t actually remember how you created it. I think this notion adds to the feeling it’s no longer me but a separate entity that makes the paintings. I’ve always said a painting works and is successful when it “breathes” on it’s own. At that stage it’s independent of me and thats when it no longer is just an object but a piece of art.
Do you currently feel a connection to one time period of visual art more than others? Or is it always a connection to multiple times at once?
I think I’ve always been really lucky that my art has shape shifted and has changed throughout the years. in the beginning when I first started out exhibiting in London back in 2005 i was involved in most of the Santas Ghettos exhibitions. Curated by Banksy other artists involved were Paul insect, Chris Cunningham,, Jamie Hewllet and Stanley Donwood among others. My art back then was as we mentioned earlier were more critiques of social events or could be considered critical pop. I think all the best artists I admire change and morph along the way in their careers. Bands for example like Radio Head twist and change from one album to another and are rarely in the same place artistically to where they started out. I see a transition with my own work on a similar journey. You never intend to go down these avenues as artists but through development, hard work and discovery these paths lead you there. It’s like finding new trails in a familiar forrest that takes you to places you never new existed. It’s one of the real delights of being an artist that surprise you every time.
When making these paintings, do you listen to music or have any consistent presences in the studio?
I love listening to music when I’m working. I love that feeling of being on your own in your own space when working and it’s just you and the piece and you just feel content. Because my work can be so physical there are times you just don’t hear anything at all as you get into your rhythm of painting. You’re literally hitting the canvas as hard as you can trying manoeuvre and play a 3D chess game from 4 different angles hoping to find a body or something that’s recognisable within the heavy mixing oil. That’s generally when you’re fully involved. Music always inspires my tempo so I have to be considered when doing more intricate, slower, delicate work which is needed at times too. I can’t have any Nine Inch Nails playing at that point as it’s the equivalent of the Hulk trying to do a water colour.
What are some of your hobbies outside of painting? With this much more physical style, do you find that you have to be more intentional in self-care?
Because I try and paint every day and painting is so consuming, A lot of the other activities I do are about decompressing from painting its self. The amount of toxins I feel I ingest through the huge quantities of paint I use I really strive to get out if I can after a long session. I love to go running around the parks of London as I find running is a great way to settle my mind and re acclimatise after long sessions. Especially if you’ve hit on something you feel is special the energy you take away with you when you leave the studio can be tangible. You don’t just leave the studio and that energy is gone but you leave feeling elated and generally very excited if something has worked in your favour. It’s very hard to ‘land’ after that and may take a few hours to come down. It’s not always the healthiest thing to carry around with you as you are literally buzzing and it’s very hard to quite your mind. The pub is another good way of getting rid of that energy but generally not the healthiest.
Do you think in your attempts to channel something bigger than yourself, you take on more yourself? Do you have to mentally take steps back from your work to allow yourself to differentiate between what’s you and what’s everyone?
This is something I have found I have learnt with experience…and I’m still learning.
Because painting is so involving mentally and physically its really hard to separate yourself and take step backs. You have to be objective about what you are doing and what you are creating. I still find this hard to do now and I have to remind myself I have to be aware about what I’m trying to achieve at times. I’m not making this work just because it feels good but it has to communicate to an audience using parameters I’ve set for myself. This is not saying I’m trying to please anyone but I do want an emotional transaction between what I’ve made and the viewer. It’s a dialogue between you and the piece. With every mountain or trek you climb you come away with a bit more knowledge of how to deal with the paths and routes you find along the way. Painting is the same.