I’ve always wanted to be an artist. It has always been a perfect fit for me. While living in London trying to pursue my art career I found that working to pay the high rents left little time to paint. It was only when I moved back to my hometown of Leigh on Sea (about 30 miles outside of London) that I really had the opportunity to start my career. But throughout my entire life, even when I couldn’t devote myself to painting, I have always considered myself an artist.
2. What genre best describes what you do?
That is a good question. I’ve tried to pin myself down, the closest I’ve come is Neo-Expressionism, or 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. But I don’t feel comfortable saying the work is this or that genre. And ultimately, that’s the job of the art critic - to fit me in!
My work is primarily layers of painting combined with collaged elements. However, I also use the decollage technique - cutting, tearing or sanding away parts of the built up surface image to reveal layers below. I draw from images and text collected in my sketchbooks which through free association create playful abstractions. I am interested in narrative, specifically the ambiguous, subjective ‘hidden’ narrative where the story remains ambiguous and undeclared. The work is multidirectional and open ended. Meaning is inherent but impossible to pin down precisely.
3. How has your artwork evolved since you began?
When I was younger I was predominantly a figurative painter, very traditional in that sense and I still occasionally paint in this way. It’s taken years for me to develop the way I work, and it’s the way I feel most comfortable working. 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.
4. Is there a medium or technique that you have yet to try but would like to?
I’d like to have a go at animating some of my more figurative pieces. It’s something people have suggested to me in the past. The idea is intriguing.
5. What would your ideal solo exhibition be like and where would it be held?
I had work in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2010, and that felt marvellous. In such a prestigious place watching the crowds pass around the work knowing I was in there. So if we’re pushing the boat out, that would be quite a venue. Otherwise I’d like a big space (I’m quite prolific) - maybe a New York style loft. I’ve exhibited in Denmark and I love it there, so perhaps Copenhagen as a city. If there are no time and space limitations, Andy Warhol’s Factory with the Velvet Underground playing and David Bowie and William S. Burroughs as guests.
6. What do you like the most about the art world?
On a personal note, I’m doing what I love and what I always wanted to do. I really enjoy seeing people interact with my work; I enjoy the conversations with them.
7. If you could change anything about the London art scene, what would it be?
Well, it would also be what I would change about London. It’s expensive! To survive just as an artist is a rare privilege, and so to work and then find the time and energy left to paint is extremely hard. Culture is one of the UK’s biggest and best contributions to the world, yet I read that 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.
8. Who or what inspires you to make art?
I look to the work of Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat among others. 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 love 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.
Language inspires me, and I am fascinated by the combination of text and image. By adding text to my work it introduces the notion of a narrative. However, because the text does not describe the image and the image does not illustrate the text, it creates a tension; undefined scenarios and ambiguous ‘hidden’ narratives. Free association like this is addictive for me.
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 and still retain the freedom and spontaneity. 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. It’s a more direct and personal way of working for me, I can be spontaneous and ideas filter through me quicker. I want the audience respond to that.
9. Where did you sell your first painting and how did it feel?
My first sale was to Coventry University where I did my degree in Fine Art. They bought a piece from my degree show for their collection. It felt great. Not a bad way to start.
10. What are your plans for the New Artist Fair in March?
I’ll be showing a collection of my ‘Miniatures’ that previous visitors to the Fair will recognise. These have proved very popular, so hopefully people will either start a collection or add to their existing one. I have had these works on exhibition in the New York Affordable Art Fair (where the entire collection sold out over the weekend), in the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea and I will have them in the Hong Kong event this April too. I enjoy talking to the visitors, making new friends and contacts. Here’s to a successful fair!