A lot of your work uses beings that are not entirely of this world, why start there?
I’m not convinced that they’re not of this world, I would say instead that these creatures are generally things that point to a bit of the world that we have probably lost touch with. They operate within the world like analogy or metaphor for something that maybe has been lost, by myself and other people too. They speak about things like not being able to look at the stars because of night pollution, or losing touch with the natural world in general.
I actually think the place to start is with mark making and the surface of the painting, it starts for me, with materials. Before I was doing paintings of these monsters, my practice was really quite abstract, it was about making marks in a free and unconscious way and imagery wasn't really a concern. When I felt I had some ability to do this I started feeling that I needed some imagery for telling stories and guiding a narrative within it. It seemed to suit more that these protagonists were creatures rather than human.
So you wanted more of a narrative to your abstraction and you bought in these monsters to guide it?
Yes, but the abstraction and the monsters seem linked and developed alongside each-other. When I was a kid my dad would place me on a piece of paper, bigger than myself and give me drawing implements. I would be drawing on a thing I am sitting on and we would draw monsters or board games, we would make up a scene on the surface which I would be occupying. I always kept an interest in art and did all the things like still lifes, copied things in front of me, self portraits, all figurative and illustrative stuff. That lasted all through my BA. It was only in the couple of years before my Masters that everything started to become more abstract, which challenged my own ideas about what the pictorial plane could be of, or what its limits were. I started messing around with working on unstretched canvas, getting frustrated with where the end of the canvas was, It always felt like a limitation. I would reach the edge of the canvas and it would never feel like real life. In the natural world there was no rigid edge, so the pictorial plane wasn't reflecting my experience painting en plein air. So there started to be this material abstraction as well, feeling limited by both the canvas space and with what the marks themselves could do. My practice started to become very much about the limits of painting, particularly mark making, which I really focused on freeing up during my MA at City and Guilds. I was painting on both sides of the canvas, they weren't necessarily on the wall, using a broom or paint straight from tubes, household objects got included etc.
It totally makes sense, your work is very encompassing, like it's swallowing everything, it feels very literal.
Yeah, it is very literal. It's literally trying to be more like the way a river makes a mark on the landscape than a brush on a canvas. Though doing this within the confines of relatively normal painting mediums, not dismissing pigments and brushes completely, because there's something so accessible about them. Developing that mark making freedom though was important. I was always trying to capture the feeling of being in nature. I started painting pictures I had taken of compost, I became interested in translating decay and how much the materials I was actually using would decay just the same. So I am still using canvases from 2015 in art installations I'm doing now and they are genuinely deteriorating. They have years worth of paint, dust and detritus and if hung, they would operate as a painting or an artefact or maybe a being. Sort of in a Heideggerian way these things have a ‘becomingness’ about them. This is how the monsters happen. I felt I had developed a freedom with mark making that I was satisfied with and I liked what that gave me as a ‘look’. It felt like the ‘look’ needed something to literally embody it though, so I started making actual armatures, making them free-standing, almost like jig-saw puzzle creatures. For me that creature was the embodiment of me working in the studio, so if all the paint and bits of crap in the studio stood up and had agency, this was it. Then suddenly, figurativeness was back in the practice. From then on it was sort of like ‘right, things can have arms, legs, faces, I can do monsters’. That led me right back to the sort of bodies I am interested in anyway, aliens, sasquatches, dinosaurs, all the stuff you loved as a kid because they fill in the gaps of your understanding. Growing up you try and rationalise these things, as if they suddenly need to be able to make sense. I guess I am interested in them because quite similarly, art is not evidence required, so they operate in a similar way. Both these things can operate in an ambiguous way and not need answers. It's not a scientific endeavour so the thing can have as many tentacles as it likes, it's fine.
So that's why these things feel so comfortable with each other, you take the same approach to abstract mark making as you do monsters?
Yeah. I think for most artists there must be a desire to have some kind of internal logic at work within the practice, for me the monsters make a sort of sense as protagonists, or agents of the chaos. From there you can introduce controlled structures like narrative, or organising the images in a certain way. Take the one in Electrowerkz which is broadly like a comic book cover, there is a format there, a name, the logo, cover image and maybe a bit of text at the bottom. So in this case the comic book is the format and then I have what I want to experiment with, the fact that I am going to apply a lot of paint to this surface. With that painting it was always my intention to use paint straight from the tube, include glitter, sequins, basically its an experiment with materials and the format is pre-decided. I have notebooks with what all the next monsters are going to be with varying levels of abstraction. In this one its this jellyfish, the text is half legible half not, I am not really interested in the work being overly clear. The piece is a mix for me, I am trying to deal with some material experimentation and also playing around with working within a layout.
I love the idea of monsters as protagonists of the abstraction. Do the individual monsters affect the work specifically?
I'm not sure how much I have thought about that, I think it does have a big effect though. When I am doing paintings of the sasquatches and stuff I am sure there is a connection for me to the outdoors and I am very much in that headspace. Maybe it's different fascitis of my own character. Something thats a jellyfish with tentacles, maybe thats well suited to a piece that is quite experimental, I don't know why a particular creature comes out. The series I am working on right now might be the most humanoid creature I have introduced into a narrative and it does feel quite risky because it's quite obviously a person. The more alien the creature the more abstract the style or idea can be. I think now I think about it it makes a lot of sense because the one I am working on at the moment is not really abstract at all, it's quite illustrative and it's the most humanoid, so maybe there is something to do with clarity of message or clarity of purpose within the painting.
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