Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
Who or what are your biggest influences?
This is a tough one, the work of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi is incredible in its quietness, stillness, and balance, and I see his reductive, geometric compositions as proto-abstractions - the intersection of abstraction and representation is very important in my own work. Similarly Richard Diebenkorn and Eberhard Havekost’s paintings are often on my mind.
History, TV, film, comedy, music are all influential in various ways, from evoking moods, to providing starting points for work. I’m never far from the comedy of Galton & Simpson in the studio (Tony Hancock’s The Rebel remains the best film ever made about art), nor from the sparse sounds of Red House Painters, Brian Eno and Dakota Suite, and the evocative narratives of Craig Finn and Lloyd Cole.
Revisiting places that have witnessed events, be that of historical significance or personal importance plays is central to your work, can you tell us more about this and why you are drawn to these sites and the narratives they hold?
I think it’s a very human thing to do, to visit the sites of events, from acts of pilgrimage, or memorial, to tourism. I’ve always been fascinated by that, and the idea that layers of history are everywhere, unavoidable and dense.
Bringing this interest into my paintings started as a way to problematise my process, to take my own personal visual tastes away from the forefront, to diversify what I might consider as source material for a painting.
It was also a way to challenge myself, most often I have little or no idea of what I will find when I get to the site I’m visiting, but I have to make a painting of whatever is there. This forces me to think about my approach to the whole making of the piece, it progresses my technique and keeps things fresh.
How important is the choice of material in relation to realizing the concept of your work?
When I won the Contemporary British Painting Prize in 2017, the judges described me as a ‘painter’s painter’, which I found very flattering. (An artist friend later suggested that to be a collector’s painter might be better but that’s a different story…).
It’s true that I’m always thinking in terms of painting, from the earliest stages of planning a work – how will this composition work; at what scale; how will that colour be mixed; what gesture will describe that; and so on.
Since midway through my PhD, I’ve been working on plywood panels, initially in response to the work of The Ashington Group. This has had a direct effect on my painting, there’s very frequently the visible texture of the wood left exposed in the finished works, emphasising the fact that whilst the painting is representing a actual site, a genuine reality, it is itself a construct and a fiction.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I use a lot of indirect painting techniques in my work, whereby very thin, liquid veils of paint are applied and allowed to run off the panel. I use a £1 Wilko plant spray bottle to wet the support with water first, and this is an absolutely essential bit of kit. The work would look very different without this very ordinary tool.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
The writings (and TV shows) of Jonathan Meades and Ian Nairn were formative in my interest in the built environment, Meades’ understated erudite humour and Nairn’s passion made me aware of a different way of looking.
I very often go back to Mythologies by Roland Barthes, along with Camera Lucida, it’s a bit of an art school staple and it’s so evocative of certain moods, themes and subjects. I suppose it's semiotics or post-structuralism but it draws you in with its seemingly unrelated musings on wrestling, steak and chips and travel. And you find yourself thinking about it years down the line. Similarly with In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, I’ve probably bought that book about 15 times because I keep lending to people…
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I’m part of Vitalistic Fantasies at ELYSIUM, Swansea, a group show of Contemporary British Painting members’ work. Open June 4th – July 14th
I’ve got a piece in the ArtistSupportPledge show A Generous Space 2 at the New Art Gallery Walsall. The second physical exhibition of works available at £200 from the incredible ArtistSupportPledge project, runs until September 25th .
I’ll have a selection of new and older works at the brilliant new gallery in Scarborough - The Old Parcel Office Artspace, as part of Surroundings, and alongside some excellent artists including Gordon Dalton and Debbie Loane. Theshow opens on July 2nd .
Where We Live has just finished its run at The Millennium Gallery, Sheffield and travels onto The Yare Gallery Great Yarmouth, my work hangs with paintings by Trevor Burgess, Jonathan Hooper, Mandy Payne, and Judith Tucker. Presenting five locations across England, the works interrogate the social landscape of England at a time of profound political and social change, opening on October 14th .
Image 1: Portrait by Christopher Owens