My work deals with queerness, as lived experience, as curiosity, as language and behaviour and how to formally relax into and experiment around issues of self and the slipperiness of things.
I combine found materials, most recently paint specifications and the rule of nine inches within the way my sculptural and installation works are positioned or built within a given or used space. It is a means for me to amalgamate everyday encounters, with a formal and minimal interest in aesthetics alongside my coastal culture, living in Blackpool.
I like stripes, triangles, iconographic anchors attached to a queer coastal existence. I like non-linear (and irony given the stripe) but I grew up with Alanis Morissette soooo deal with it; don't you think?
My art for me presents a point of reflection and consideration. A movement or placement of another aspect of my personality or relatability to the world around me. We, as queer people are often concerned around our performance or expected to overthink our atitudes and behaviours on arrival into a space. My art is about being invited to take up space and then make decisions on how loud, quiet, hard, soft, poetic or political I choose to be in that space through support and invitation to experiment.
Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
I tend to loiter with ideas for some time, I see spaces and imagine how my work might intervene or alter something or someone. I think about my own lived experience and how readymade objects and those made by hand collaborate to tell a reality that is in parts staged, performed, but truthful.
As time unfolds, surrounded by things in progress, it's often a blink of an eye where I then see how they come together. If I haven't got a space offered through a commission or invitation as yet, then I source a space myself to test out the idea IRL. I do a lot of moving, repositioning, tweaking before fixing an often unfixed installation of materials.
I enjoy working with materials or objects that are often used in passive ways. Much like the issues surrounding queer bodies and 'we' might attract flippant reaction or be pacified as weak or inferior. I’ve become a bit fixated on the names given to paints in DIY stores, they're playfully camp yet sinister slurs within heteronormative décor decision. How a family might have a wall painted in Fairy Festival, but perhaps not educate their children around diversity or same sex love and pride. I have started to appropriate these colours as titles within my exhibitions as part of exploring my own visual language and relationships to the clandestine ways in which queer people have to live and think. I like the reveal and conceal nature of art; its formal decisions, its experimentation to look anew. Taking existing language and material and just working with it differently feels a suitable societal mirror or angle to approach my work and go about 'worlding differently'- a term coined by David Getsy and Willima J Simmons, when talking about Queer formalism.
I consider how the LGBTQIA+ person is inevitably a queerly made object, made up of systems that other, anxiety and stress, closeted opinion or unapologetic bitch in the way they are perceived; particularly in coastally camp arenas such as Blackpool wherby place and personna often are expected to act as a cultural jester.
Within the process of making work, for me, it's a space to make alternative decisions in a way that they can be held, considered and shared safely and on my own terms as much as possible. Its choices around how I react or relate to the things around me and how that is about being on par or equal to the visitor as opposed to its performer.
Work also evolves through seeking collaborations and periods of residency and testing. Throughout 2020 into 2021 I will have undergone a series of 8 collaborations in total with other artists in the UK. This enables me to breathe or look anew at times practice perhaps feels stuck or too close to being a signature/fixed aesthetic. My concerns as an artist are balanced between self development, mutual benefit and systems of support through running a studio provision.
Classified as a 'geriatric millennial' (I know...i'm officially a daddy that looks like a twinky otter). I grew up during section 28. My ideas, creative curiosities around queerness were closeted and illegal right from the age of 4-17. So same sex love is still charged with nervousness, uncertainty, as apposed to absolute clarity or priviledge to flirt with ideas in a didactic and public space. So I see a lot of my work over the past decade as ongoing flirtation and cruising. Not every queer artwork has to be overtly sexual or homoerotic Tom of Finland, the world and experiences are nuanced and theres more flavours than neopolitan (more stripey goodness). Disclaimer, I'm not saying TOF is bland neapolitan, I've discovered if you mix all three stripes it’s extremely lickable.
Who are your biggest influences?
Felix Gonzales-Torres for me was one of the first 'queer' artists I engaged with and it came with such personal boldness imbued within such poetic and soft encounters in the way his works occupied spaces and invitated congregation as much as potential risk of conflict when bringing the queer body and stigmas of deviant and disease to the forefront.
Erwin Wurm taps into humour and sculptural performativity for me with their one minute sculpture series and how body and material can be temporal, durational and archival.
Marcel Duschamp for his audacity in 1916 to place a bottle rack in an art gallery. I like his comment on seeking to destroy the artist as hero and that from now on the artist could be seen as someone who simply chooses a thing and places it in the world. This balance or quest for ordinary or a new everyday. Also the idea he presented of taste being the enemy of A.R.T.
It reminds me about the way in which I use colour...I remove my aesthetic desire in favour of how the titles open up discourse beyond what we might expect to see or feel through theory.
Aesthetically I’m titillated by artists like Robert Morris and Elsworth Kelly and more recently Lyndsey Mendick and find inspirations by other collaborators such as Wood & Harrison, Elmgreen & Dragset, and Fishli & Weiss.
But I also take great comfort and inspiration from queer artists now in the UK, where there is far less archival and academic writing about queer contemporary practice compared to America.
Shout out's to artist I’m working with now including Will Hughes, James William Murray, Chester Tenneson, Harry Clayton-Wright. Other artists like Connor Shields, Liam Fallon, Rosanne Robertson, all make stunning yet vastly different works from their own LGBTQIA+ lived experiences.
Can you talk about the ‘nine-inch’ rule in your practice?
I’d lie and say I only discovered Grindr since lockdown, but alas it forms part of gay culture nowadays compared to the personal and at times dangerous nature of cruising or meeting in public. This digital safety net or interference in same sex relationships interests me. However back in 2016, I was pursued heavily with questions around my manhood. “Have you got a nine incher?” “if not I'm not interested”. I was fascinated with how specific someone's interests were, before name, age, profession, world views, GSOH....
Since then it stook, alongside gaining some funded exhibitions where organisations demand you provide a plan for engaging people in person and digitally. So I began using this digital enquiry as a physical measurement impacting on my work and how things are placed apart, together or away from each other with set proximity and repetition. I like the nonsensical humour in taking this question and working with it in a physical form or scenario. Anatomically nine inches might be seen as ideal or of pornographic fantasy, whereas, you can't access a nine inch doorway, home, toilet without some discomfort or it affecting how to navigate your surroundings awkwardly.
It has manifested so far more in a stripe motif and layered onto standardised measurements that exist, for example a beach towel or an existing wall. An almost intervention of a commonly understood abstract image and scale. You have the likes of Daniel Buren and his architectural precision. Then here I come with my nine inch stripes that dont quite fit centred in a given space and show a margin of error or a queering of mathematics of aesthetic expectations.
How important is material in your work?
Theres an arena where materials play out for me and its one built of homosexuality and class. Materials can just sit as is, evolve, alter, amalgamate in different ways, but it's about exploring notions of class, identity and a personal lived experience- which isn't always formally sensical in the relationships that can be put together in a space.
I do explore the language attached to the material I'm using. The colour specifications and a new system of codification, a 'bronze' powder coated steel bar for a beach towel to rest on, as it makes me think of tanning and anatomy embedded within otherwise domestic, inanimate objects.
I like to play with moments where materials either support or refuse one another in their relationships. There’s a subtlety and tension that is always fun to consider in an installation context.
I retain an awareness in my decision making about the balance between high and low culture material and sometimes that reality of showing your most authentic work can also then be seen as your 'cheapest' or unsellable given its refusal to perform beyond raw, unframed and unclean. I won’t likely be making a marble statue, unless made of marbles bought off the pier.
I love to cruise surfaces, whether pristine, textured or marked by bodily traces. I think that part of the excitement when looking at other people's work as well. To be invited to navigate, roam, wander in and around the materials and meanings on offer.
Inevitably, even conceptual thinking and frameworks require material or matter at some foundational or final stage of presentation, so materials are what?...fundamental.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Time to get into the studio, time to sit with a book, time to test and re-test.
Time to discard and remake.
A chair for me to constantly fidget in like I'm re-enacting Bruno Munaris 'Looking for comfort in an uncomfortable chair'.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
I was speaking with the prominent writer and curator David Getsy the other day, who frames queer formalism and abstraction and notions of queering minimalim so beautifully. His academic papers are great such as ‘Appearing Differently’. That was in conversation with William J Simmons who recently published Queer Formalism: The Return, which is another good read.
Getsy told me about a book called ‘The Devil's Cloth- A History of the Stripe’ which has been lovely to read and relax into cultural appropriation and historical shifts and changes. Things appear and disappear, like waves or the tide. We hone in on so many things with such ferocity at times, we forget that they most likely existed before us and had other meaning, so etymology and ownership is highlighted in books such as this.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I have a few exhibitions underway and coming up as part of a seires of collaborations with other queer artists in the UK that I got Arts Council funding for.
Abingdon Studios, Blackpool
17 May – 07 June
29 May – 28 June
08 June – 29 June
I have two other shows coming before July as well. A group show commissioned by Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster Arts, and a collaboration with Chester Tenneson at CBS Gallery, Liverpool.
I run Abingdon Studios in Blackpool with exhibitions coming soon by Gustavo Ferro (Blackpool/Brazil) & Sam Meredith (London), and Short Supply (Manchester)
I am a selected artist as part of the PIVOT programme supported by Castlefield Gallery (Manchester) and The Bluecoat (Liverpool).
I am collaborating with performance artist Harry Clayton-Wright with featured work to go out in their fourth issue of You Otter Know, a porno inspired artist zine, where I will be showing a series of images documenting the beachtowel in cruising sites and we are also working on a queer oral histories archive supported by Heritage Lottery Funding between July-Nov 21.
Later in the year I am commissioned to guest-curate the second UK Young Artist of the Year Award in partnership with Robert Walters Group, UK New Artists and Saatchi Gallery, London. Offering an open call submission process for emerging artists across the UK with a £10,000 first prize and £5,000 runner up prize.
You can follow my instagram for more updates and announcements for open calls soon. @garth.gratrix
Image credit to the artist
Garth Gratrix, Shy Girl, Flamboyant Flamingo, Crown of Feather 2021. beachtowel on bronze powder coated steel. installed 9 inches of straight
Garth Gratrix, Man walks into a barre Twinkle Twinkle Ooh La La, Queer Contemporaries, Short Supply, AIR Gallery 2020.
ShyGirl, Garth Gratrix, Grundy 2020
Garth Gratrix, in Pursuit of Happiness, triangle studies, part of Detached exhibition in collaboration with Tina Dempsey, AIR Gallery. Image by Matt Wilkinson 2019.
ShyGirl, Garth Gratrix, Grundy Rotunda 2020
Garth Gratrix, Cheeky Felicia 2019