Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
I work in film, sound, objects, drawing, text and curatorial projects but common to it all is the desire to reframe existing sources. This is either from an idea that I want to see visualised or from a found source – image, description, object – that I want to shift slightly so it can be perceived in a different way. I try and make everything as directly and simply as possible so there is little need for external explanatory texts to explain what you are looking at. That said there are, hopefully, layers of meaning that can be unpicked in all the work, some of which will require knowledge of the source I draw upon, but I want every piece to be visually engaging and open to be viewed on just what is presented.
The practice is really simple. Most of the time it is one action repeated, over and over which isn’t reliant on skill. My hope is that if you are stood in front of the works you can see how it is made, very clearly.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
My ears are the biggest influence. Music has an effect on me that I don’t understand, it goes in and I respond. Visual forms I unpick and work out, they work on a different level. Visual work has to be either completely alien to my own way of thinking or very rigorous in its making to make an impact.
Idolatry, pilgrimage and memorialisation are words that are often associated with your work, played out in your practice through the production of visually intense and meticulously produced art, hinting at a labour of love, a commitment to the cause, tell us about this?
I can only work one way and that is nearly always laborious and time consuming, nothing ever feels quite right to me any other way. The process dictates the form and I try to do all of the thinking before I start making anything, arbitrary aesthetic decisions are to be avoided at all costs! That said if the work is any good something happens in the making where my control slips and I just follow where the work needs to go. If the things I make are ‘art’, then I think that’s where the ‘art’ might be.
Idolatry and memorialisation is associated most closely with the remade shrine pieces to dead stars I have made; a bench in Seattle close to Kurt Cobain’s home, flagstones overlooking the site of Princess Diana’s car crash; where everyday street furniture have become temporary shrines to a fallen ‘star’. I’ve remade a number of these objects, copying the memorial graffiti and objects left on them. They have to be meticulously made to appear convincing as real objects but this meticulous nature is also evident in everything I make.
How important is the choice of material in relation to realizing the concept of your work?
It’s all about the choices of material as nothing exists in a void without associations and context. For the works that use existing objects; records, posters, magazine, they are chosen for their cultural and economic values – as an example I’m deliberately choosing an artist like Prince over someone like George Benson, nothing to do with personal taste, but one is valued more in our culture at this point and elevated to iconic status. Using these icons, they can be read as symbols of our culture as quasi- religious symbols for our age.
The objects themselves have to be mass produced and consumed cheaply. By using these forms to make marks onto they are transformed and labeled as art in our culture which shifts their value both culturally and economically. This questioning of our level systems is an important part in my approach to making anything.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Can you give us a music recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
The original question was a book recommendation but this was too hard and I kept trying to sound too well read, when I’m certainly not, so I’ve cheated and changed it to music and one piece that I would recommend.
As I mentioned I don’t understand how music works and I don’t want to as it still has the same thrill for me as when I first became aware of it when I was 9 or 10 years old. As I write, and this will change this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, but I would recommend Invocation by Moondog from a compilation of his music The Viking of Sixth Avenue. When I first encountered Louis Thomas Hardin I was taken with the myth, he was a blind American who dressed in a cloak and horned helmet and stood silently on Sixth Avenue in New York City but then I heard the music and the stories and his outsider status became unimportant. Invocation is great soaring ten minute piece that swells with it’s simple, repeated lines of wind instruments. It’s at turns terrifying and joyful. I used it for a dual film piece, Sun and Moon, coupled with Sun Ra’s There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of) playing on two monitors back to back.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
A group show I curated, Cover Versions, will be presented at the Exeter Phoenix in July. Ten artists, including myself, that use an existing source to make work from, taking the idea of the cover version in music but within art. There is an audio work by Buttress O’Kneel which cuts up audiobooks into strange and often hilarious narratives. Film works by People Like Us, Oliver Laric and Everest Pipkin. Paintings by Andrew Tift, David Risley and Steve Keene. Photography by the great Japanese musician and artist Otomo Yoshihide and Anthony Dolphin (my brother, who co-curated this with me) and objects by myself.
Also in July I will present some film works at the Gala Theatre and Gallery in Durham one of which, Gnossiennes, is a collaboration with musician John Snijders in which I have taken Erik Satie’s six piano scores, Gnossienne, and layered them together to form one work.
Image titles and credits
Ra Is Rising, 2008, Record covers, wall drawing
Installation Curves of the Needle, BALTIC 39
Collection Sun Ra LP covers on Saturn Records with wall drawing
161 Feet (Lesser Free Trade Hall, 1976), 2017 Still, one channel, silent, digital film
Bench (Kurt Cobain), 2020, Mixed media, 77 x 213 x 65 cm
Recreation of park bench, Viretta Park, Seattle, USA close to the home of Kurt Cobain
Cover Versions Installation, 2020, Abject Gallery, Sunderland
Door (Joy Division Version), 2012, Wood, paint, ink, graphite, metal, marker pen, tippex, dirt , 90 x 200 x 20 cm Recreation of Joy Division rehearsal space door
Gnossiennes, 2020, Still, two channel digital film with soundtrack Collaboration with John Snijders
Michael Jackson; On The Wall Installation, 2019 EMMA, Helsinki, 25 x Off The Wall, 20 x Thriller – ink on record covers