Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
Generally, I try to let whatever wants to come out, come out, and then work backwards from there. Ongoing things that I do, without fully knowing where they might lead, are to make notes, draw, read, collect my thoughts and research, either in a sketchbook or on whatever I have to hand. I try to make sure I bundle these things together and bring them to the studio for when I get stuck or need to refresh my memory on where my thoughts were. Very often I will get some white paper, a pot of black paint, and a brush, and use them to offload my brain of images and ideas: to get everything out and onto paper so that I can look at them, and then maybe make decisions. That’s the base.
At the same time I have larger canvases or pieces of board on hand in the studio that are… around. I say ‘around' because I don’t order painting materials knowing in advance what I’m going to paint on them. Well, sometimes I might kid myself that I do, but when it comes around to it I’ve thought better of it or the idea has run dry.
I think a large proportion of my approach to making relies on reacting and improvising: I have this idea, oh and that piece of board, ooh yes, let’s see what that does. Without it, the work falls flat and lacks tension.
Who are your biggest influences?
Lots of people, and the list gets longer all the time!
Off the top of my head (because if they are there straight away then I think they must be important?): Matisse, Philip Guston, Prunella Clough, Laura Owens, Ellsworth Kelly, Lily Van Der Stokker, Phyllida Barlow, Bruce McLean, Rose Wylie (that biscuit painting!)… I think about Prunella Clough a lot because she was an artist who made her own work and also championed the work of her peers as well. I like how she seemed to conduct herself as a person as much as I like her work.
Ellsworth Kelly was probably the first artist to be on that list: he’s been there the longest. I love that his work embodies the world without depicting it figuratively. I think about that a lot: about how to embody or become something rather than illustrate it, and the shift in thinking, body and approach that needs. Also, space. His work is very much about space and I think about that a lot too.
There’s also a Francis Bacon painting I remember seeing at a big show at TATE many years ago that’s had a lasting effect. I forget the title but I actually think it’s my memory of the work that’s more important than the specifics of the piece itself. There were maybe 4 or 5 paintings by themselves in a room just off to the side of the main show. I remember a shade of lilac and a feeling of instantly knowing that something really bad had happened. Just from a colour, and a glimpse of the works as I walked into the room. Then I read that the works had been made after his partner had committed suicide. I live in awe that a painting can do that.
Can you talk about the role that ‘the everyday’ plays in your practice?
It’s difficult isn’t it, because most artists do work with the everyday but we all do it in different ways; probably because our perception or understanding of our everyday is so specific to ourselves, as well as the things we tend to hone in on as individuals.
The stuff of life, or attempting to navigate the world I am in both globally and locally definitely influence my work. I often think about the various, seemingly mundane environments we might find ourselves in (home, work, the supermarket, getting on the bus) as a sort of set, or backdrop, and the objects around us as our props or crutches. They become the vehicles through which I can attempt to communicate and often I think they can help me to say more about something than if I tried to paint the situation itself. The reality is we are each often the protagonist of our own lives and I guess that I try to open up the things I come across, or think about, or feel as a person, and kind of hold them up to other people, as if to ask “Do you think about this? Do you feel like this too?”
I guess I could choose to paint very glamorous, imaginary things and chase those kind of experiences, but I just find so much more charm to seemingly crap things. I have a bit of a soft spot for anything clumsy, awkward or slightly decrepit: things that are perhaps a permanent yet overlooked feature of our day to day landscape, because I think they have character and are, ultimately, more interesting. They’re also our reality. None of us are perfect. Some of my favourite people, and favourite stories, are those who offer up their baggage to you freely, and don’t hide it, or shy away from it. It’s the same for environments I’m in too. I’d always rather be in the slightly shabby place than the really slick place, as I feel much more comfortable. I’m not interested in mirages or places that, knowingly or not, make me feel bad about myself. I’m not interested in posturing.
How important is material in your work?
I am aware that as a painter, people often think I will have an obsession with the supposed technicality of painting, and I don’t think that I do. Or at least, I am wary of it and the gravitas it seems to be automatically given. I’m also really aware of how limiting that approach can be, particularly to those just starting to make art.
Don’t get me wrong, I have paints that I prefer and methods and things that I’ve learnt and used through trial and error over the years, but I don’t particularly like talking about it: for me it’s the practical element of making the work, not the conversation I want the work to be about. Some people can be dismissive of this and hierarchical about what they class as ‘proper painting’: I have no time for that, I think often that’s just ego talk.
That being said, if having technical knowledge helps you to make the work you want to make then that’s great, go for it. I have no problem with that whatsoever, there is a world of knowledge out there that you can use and that can help you be experimental and move in the direction you’re excited by. It’s the paint members club mentality that I just can’t abide and sadly it’s rife and I’ve butted my head up against it far too many times.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I thought about this question for a long time. There are many things that are useful to me, but I am reluctant to name one, and actually found that anything I named sounded trivial.
I read something about Miro saying that if he had nothing then he’d get a stick and work on the beach. Some people might think that’s pretentious, but I like what it’s getting at. I think the real beauty, and sometimes harsh reality, of being an artist is that you don’t always have the tools or things that you think you might need, and so you have to adapt and find ways around it and in that flexibility and forced improvisation you can go down a path of discovery you’d have never thought about and that could become crucial to your work.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
I read a lot. I knew I wanted to go to art school, but as a trial run for Uni interviews I applied to do English Literature because I really enjoyed it.
There isn’t one book above all books for me, I think it’s the variety that helps me. I read lots of different things, more fiction and non-fiction than art books usually. I think story telling, or hinting at story, is a huge part of my work and often I find that a passage in a book can articulate my thoughts much better than I could ever do in words. I’m always underlining sections in books that resonate or help verbalise a thought for me.
Currently I’m reading ‘No Logo’ by Naomi Klein which is about corporate branding and advertising, and how this influences us and the world at large. It’s a real eye opener. Before that I finished ‘Bee Quest’ by Dave Goulson who is a biologist and bee expert. It talks about bee’s, the environment, farming, insects, his travels and expeditions and also climate change in a really engaging, story telling manner. It’s a good and informative read.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I was talking to another artist about this recently. We were saying how often when you have a show the first thing they ask you is “So what are you doing next?” and you’re like “This! I’m doing this!”. I think that can be difficult sometimes: always feeling that you need things to be lined up or that people only want to work with artists who are already busy. It can stop you from looking and reflecting on where you actually are and what you’ve made right now. It can also make you feel like you’ve failed somehow.
During this past year I realised it was the first time for a while I hadn’t been working towards a show and it was a bit of a moment really to remember that the work isn’t driven by that, it’s driven by itself and the quest to find out more through making. Who knows how we’re all going to navigate things now that we seem to be finding some way out from the pandemic or how the art world and shows will operate. I’m not sure, but the work carries on regardless. It’s been important to remember that.
All images courtesy of the artist and photographer Lucy Ridges.
‘Welcome To The Fog’, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 65 cm, 2020
'Swimming Badges’, acrylic on canvas, 25 x 25 cm, 2020
'The Estate (1)’, acrylic on wood, 23 x 30 cm, 2020
'The Press Conference’, acrylic on canvas, 55 x 45 cm, 2020
"‘What Did You Drop?’/‘Pen Lid’”, acrylic on canvas, 35 x 60 cm, 2020
'Funnel and a Beaker: It’s Called Science’, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 50 cm, 2020