Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
My practice is centred around painting but has up to five distinct branches to it at any one time. I tend to be working on several sets of ideas and outcomes, I decided early on in my career that I didn’t want to be one of those artists that finds a stylistic brand and then repeats that formula ad- nauseum, that has always seemed like creative death to me. The downside of my approach is that it can seem a little confusing to the casual observer and frightening to potential Gallerists, the business of Art prefers predictability and easily recognisable styles.
Currently my practice encompasses highly realised paintings of abstract sculptures, re-gendered paintings of Edwardian men, anthropomorphic portraits of figures made from plasticine and studio detritus, drawings of obscene and gang hand-gestures and finally updated, quite gestural paintings of renaissance works that have been heavily altered following the experience of psychedelics/DMT.
My work generally starts from an idea and it's developed through a process of play. Once I've settled on something that interests me, I begin to think mostly in visual terms and the use of paint rather than in a conceptual way. Painting is a huge sense of joy for me, even though it usually involves a great deal of struggle.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
Like most artists my interests are extensive, I tend to think of my influences as an enormous melting pot of approaches and ideas that are constantly shifting. As a painter one of the things I'm looking for is what I call ‘an economy of complexity’, which to me is a way of making marks that convey more visual information than the sum of their parts. Rembrandt, Chardin, Velazquez and Sargent all had this ability to suggest the essence of say... a hand, in six perfectly applied brush strokes.
Artists like Richter and Richard Prince set a precedence for my practice in that they are each able to occupy a diverse range of approaches to their work.
The focus on Gender politics and portraiture is central to your work, can you talk further about this?
My interest in gender politics has been something that has only really cropped up in one body of work, which is the Edwardian portraits I've been making for the last year or so. My initial approach was one of mischief but that evolved into something more weighty and profound as I went on I think. Edwardian men in dresses seems like quite an obvious jokey thing to paint at first but as with all things, the crucial element comes through the process of painting and the manner in which the subjects are treated. I found that the toughest thing about making these paintings was giving the subject some dignity, fragility and humanity. After painting the first few I no longer wanted them to look ridiculous or funny, it became important to me that they were relatable, that the viewer could empathise with them and most importantly that they looked fabulous while cross- dressed.
Obviously, the basic concept of that particular group of paintings is very loaded and absolutely at the very edge of our current cultural preoccupations, while at the same time being something that raises a number of historical questions.
How important is the choice of material in relation to realizing the concept of your work?
I consider myself a painter first and artist second. My ideas are nearly always pushing hard towards the question of ‘how can this be painted?’. The process often involves sculpture, photography, digital manipulation and a great deal of reading but it always ends up with painting. I've often wished I could be one of those artists who can just sit down in front of a blank canvas with no ideas or references, and just paint, but that’s really not something that will ever suit my temperament. I’m restless intellectually and I have an annoying need to go through a struggle before a painting can satisfy me. Each artwork needs to earn its stripes for some reason, the only way it can win my affections is by putting up a bit of a scrap.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
My camera followed closely by photoshop. These two things speed up the process of decision-making enormously.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
‘The Brutality of Fact’ Which is a document of conversations about painting between David Sylvester and Francis Bacon. It's brilliantly clear and easy to follow. I read this at a student and one of the things about it that has stuck with me since, is the way Bacon describes the difference between a painting and a photograph. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the way great paintings work.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
In the last few months, I have had 2 solo shows (one with New Art Projects in London and another that closes this week with Platform A Gallery in my hometown of Middlesbrough). I am currently working on a series of geometric abstract paintings which I’m hoping to show in 2023. I have a two-person show of my re-gendered paintings in New York this September with New Art Projects. Outside of that I'm building myself a purpose-built studio in a derelict church up here in Newcastle. I will have enough space eventually that I will be able to offer residencies, classes and hold exhibitions. I'm trying very hard to not allow this to keep me away from my easel too much.