An artist is what I always wanted to be from since I can remember. It has always been a perfect fit for me. When I graduated from university with a degree in Fine Art, I moved to London to pursue my art career but found that working to pay the high rents left little time to paint. It was only when I returned to my hometown of Leigh that I really had the opportunity to start my career. Leigh on Sea is a coastal town about 30 miles outside of London on the mouth of the river Thames. Here I was able to start creating a body of work and building my reputation. I’m very lucky in that sense. For me it’s a solitary pursuit but it’s great to live in a place with so many like-minded people. It offers opportunities for critical engagement and collaborative shows but also a sense of community even though we’re all off working in our individual studios.
How would you describe your current artworks?
A marriage of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art - a synergy of poetry, drawing and painting, which marries text and image, abstraction and figuration in a rough, emotional way using vivid colours.
What direction do you hope your art develops in the future?
I’m very happy with the work I’m creating now. It’s taken me years to develop the way I work, and it’s the way I feel most comfortable working. When I was younger I was predominantly a figurative painter, very traditional in that sense and I still occasionally paint in this way. It was really when I went to art college and then onto university that my style began to evolve. I immediately felt limited by just using paint. My first real development came through sculpture. I’d sculpt a body or a hand and then focus on one part of the piece and make abstract drawings and paintings from it. I discovered the work of William Burroughs and began introducing text into my work, which then evolved into incorporating elements of collage. I experimented with screen printing, which I found effective but unsatisfying. For a while colour disappeared entirely from my work, which is hard to believe now. I was working purely in monochrome. One of my tutors would always say that the worst thing that can happen is to reach a creative peak at university, and that rang true. It was a wrestling match for 3 years. I had all the elements of my work in place, the things that would inspire me going forward, but I couldn’t find a way to communicate them. I graduated in 1999, and I’d say I was still developing my style up until about 3 or 4 years ago, when it all clicked into place perfectly. I compare it to learning an instrument in so far as you can’t express the music in your head if you don’t learn the mechanics first.
What ambitions do you have as an artist?
My goal is to continue to be able to have the freedom to create. It would be disingenuous to say I don’t hope for monetary reward - I need to pay bills the same as anybody else. But it doesn’t drive me. I don’t try to second guess what will sell, I do my own work and follow my own ideas. And ultimately, I’d like to see that work recognised.
Who inspires you most?
If I had to pick one, it would have to be Picasso. It’s possibly a boring answer but he produced so much work across so many different styles and mediums; he’s almost taken for granted. My favourite quote from him: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." I love the work of William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski - both have a very dry dark humour to them that appeals to me. Films inspire me - I’m drawn to films that don’t have a linear plot, like David Lynch films for example. You recognise all the scenarios, you can understand the language and you almost know what’s going on, but not quite. It’s open to interpretation.
What are your artistic influences?
I always look to the work Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Paul Klee and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
If you could own any work of art by any living artist, which would it be and why?
Good question. I think it would be ’The Three Dancers’(1925) by Picasso. It was a deeply personal painting for him, inspired by a love triangle involving two of his closest friends, one of whom committed suicide. "Love, sex and death are linked in an ecstatic dance" says the caption at the Tate, who own the painting: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-the-three-dancers-t00729
When I first saw it at the gallery in my early teens I was captivated by the sensation of movement and the layers of imagery that appeared through close inspection. But it was also the fact that it was inspired by this tragic and complex trinity of human relationships that fascinated me. It was the beginning of my understanding and appreciation of Modern Art.
If you could have created any artwork by any artist, which would it be and why?
Good question, and a tough one. I’ll say the ’Vitruvian Man’ by Leonardo da Vinci. Here’s a piece from his notebooks that may have started out as just a way for him to improve the quality of his paintings, which has transcended that to become a cultural icon.
Is there anything that frustrates you during your creative process of an artwork?
Not being able to find a piece of collage! You could say I go into a kind of ’trance’ when I’m working - in my mind I’m planning what I will do with the piece in front of me several ’moves’ ahead based on what juxtapositions of text and collage I can see in the boxes all around. It can be a memory game; this piece of collage would be perfect for this piece, now where did I see it! The size of the work is something I have wrestled with for years. I’ve always worked in sketchbooks a lot, and one of my artistic concerns has always been how to translate what it is in a sketchbook onto a wall. The relationship between a viewer and an image in a sketchbook is entirely different to the relationship between viewer and image on a wall. With a sketchbook, they can be tactile; they hold the book in their hands. There is a notion of intimacy, in contrast to the image on the wall which has become ’a piece of art’ even though it may be essentially the same image. Over the years I have solved this by working on my pictures as I would a sketchbook. I build up layers of paint and collage, paint areas out and rip bits off. It echoes the editing process that would take place in a sketchbook. Ideas develop and decisions about composition all take place of the piece itself. I work across multiple pieces at a time, as I would if I were turning a page.
What is your advice to someone who is apprehensive at buying an original artwork?
I saw an episode of ’Artland USA’ in which the presenters interviewed a couple whose house was filled with incredibly valuable pieces by some of the most famous names in Contemporary Art. Their collection started when as a wedding present to themselves they agreed to buy each other a piece of art for not more than $95. I’ve been looking for the episode on the internet to get more information, suffice to say one of the artworks was a very early career Rauschenberg print. Through astute purchases over the years they built up their collection. But aside for the potential for investment growth, I think a room with original art on the walls is far more interesting than one with commercial prints. Original art stimulates conversation. It allows people to share thoughts, feelings and ideas that they might not ordinarily share. Children love and are fascinated by art - original works have an energy to them that they respond to. Remember a painting is unique – you are the owner of a piece of work which is the only one of its kind. Essentially though, my advice would be to buy a piece of work you truly love. You have to live with it and painting you love can be treasured by you and your family for generations to come, regardless of monetary value.
If there were one improvement in the art world, what would you like it to be?
I’d like to see the UK implement a structure like the one in Denmark. There, the Danish Ministry of Culture provides grants for creative artists and manages international cultural exchange activities. The Government is pro-active in promoting artistic development in Denmark and Danish art abroad to promote Denmark as a cultural nation. Here in the UK, to survive just as an artist is a rare privilege. Culture is one of the UK’s biggest and best contributions to the world, yet the Arts Council’s budget has been cut by an estimated £100million. To add to this many of arts internships advertised on The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills website are unpaid, meaning a lot of talented people are unable to get the experience and therefore make the contacts necessary to help them become successful. The Arts Council has attempted to subsidise them but with a reduced budget it remains to be seen what happens. Employers advertise unpaid internships because they know that they can get away with it - the art scene is incredibly competitive and people are frantically trying to get experience and contacts wherever they can.