Dear Future Artist London,
Thank you for this conversation. It is a pleasure to be introduced into the art scene in London through this dialogue with you, and the opportunity to explore your artistic work and the pluralistic reality of Contemporary Art in this unique environment through your voice.
a. It is a long-time that you have been dedicated to Painting. How did you approach this medium and how do you envision its specific qualities in the future?
I first became interested in art, and painting especially, whilst at school – I remember vividly the day I realised I would be an artist – in the spring of 1984. I was alone in the art department and reading through a book of Max Ernst’s works. There was one painting in particular that stopped me dead in my tracks – ‘The Robing of the Bride’, which I was fortunate to see hanging in Venice many years later. Why it had such an impact I still cannot explain, but a directionally critical moment in my life for certain.
And so I left grammar school at sixteen to study Art and Design at the local technical college, and after two very useful years I was accepted into Chelsea School of Art. I left very soon after however, but for many years I continued to experience art in galleries, or as architecture, poetry, theatre and films.
Maybe ten years ago, as I had developed my political outlook on life, I was looking at whether it might be possible to re invent Socialist Realism in painting (despite the experience of the Soviet Union), and so I produced a raft of work that referenced British working class and socialist history. Nothing on the scale of Pellizza’s ‘Il Quarto Stato’ of course, but in similar territory nonetheless.
Which led me into how Realism functions in Painting and Literature, and Lukacs was a big influence at the time. It became apparent to me that whilst you can quite easily say yes to something, to an ideology or to ideas from history, it was perhaps a larger step to say no to something else – exploitation, war, abuse etc. But political paintings (like pop songs) are not an easy thing to do successfully. The ability, range, and skill of the painter must match the ambitions of the subject, otherwise it falls. One should always avoid poorly executed work – especially about someone else’s struggle!
But here we come back to what makes for interesting themes. In my experience political artists can expect resistance, especially in the art world currently, as to what they might be allowed to do.
b. Can you talk about one single figure that mostly represent you as an artist? How do you consider this in your vision? We can mention a long history of artistic and literal alter-egos.
Painters, who are true artists, are in fact philosophers and poets. As Voronsky wrote “To the question ‘What is art..?’, the answer is ‘it is the cognition of life’. Art is not the expression of merely the subjective sensations and experiences of the poet: art is not assigned the goal of primarily awakening in the audience ‘good feelings’.
Poetry is truth in the form of contemplation: its creations are realised ideas, visual, contemplated ideas. Consequently, poetry is the same as philosophy, the same as thinking, because it has the same content. The poet thinks in images; he does not prove the truth, but shows it… The genuine poet, the genuine artist, is one who sees ideas.”
In my own work there is always the attempt to distil a generalised experience, and then communicate the essence of that emotional contact back to the viewer. I was fortunate in that initially drawing, especially life drawing, was a required aspect of studying art. Sadly that is not the case any longer, hence the various superficial fashions of much contemporary art practise. If artists are not taught how to look properly they can’t really function visually in order to think through and explore an idea.
This doesn’t mean of course that every picture is equal. Anyone can, with practise, make a reasonable facsimile of something else. But the difference between that and making art is rooted in the significance of context, and the depth and breadth of vision of the artist. A dull painting is always a dull painting! An artist, in order to make profound work, also needs to be open to the greatest ideas about life and science and philosophy!
Whilst at the Royal College of Art, I produced a body of paintings that explored themes around the physical and psychological conditions of warfare and terror, inspired by a range of imagery from the two World Wars to the present conflicts still ongoing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Art should be visually interesting first of all – paintings should arrest one’s attention and then be able to sustain that moment.
Of course, art, music, and literature are human activities very distinct from an everyday political action, but at their most profound serve to illuminate the spirit of the culture. Essentially I maintain a painting practise grounded in the moral and the social, searching for the space where some ‘truth’ about lived experience resides. The paintings emerge from within a left wing and humanist perspective and if they are successful make the necessary connections to our actual living existence.
c. Your pattern seems to reflect classified genres such as Nature/Landscape and more recently Subjects – characters and figures, according to the stylistic attitude of English Novels. Can you describe better this quality?
I try to take inspiration from where ever I can find it. I spend time looking for images, trying to find the ones which might live on as paintings, and fortunately images now seem to find me. And then I live with that found image, trawled from the media, or books, or the internet, possibly for years, as I discover in the image what it is that is most important – what the information could allow me to say. And in that revisiting the image is considered, maybe rotated or cropped, or emptied out (there is no magic formula!) and if finally painted, then deliberately with controlled pace and the studied slowness of concentrated attention and focussed energy - in the end I am making a painting – not remaking the photograph, and so the physical and emotional operation of the medium must win out.
And when the work finally hangs on the wall, it is finished if I can forget that I painted it, and can simply receive it in a similar fashion – in slow time, and in the process experience that special psychic state of joy, and satisfaction, and sympathy for the author. The point of art should be to communicate something, and not just some very abstract idea that only a handful of initiates in ‘artspeak’ can understand. Art should be for the people!
I’ve always been interested in the possibilities for dramatic categories in Painting. Tragic themes have cropped up a number of times particularly with respect to the war paintings, and I think that a similar sentiment was echoed in a series of works, laments I suppose, that explored a kind of urban romanticism in the landscape – depopulated and real spaces that I knew well, that have since been erased.
d. Which are your next artistic projects? We are curious about these.
More recently I have been exploring pictorial themes that defy easy categorisation, playing with the range of emotional and cultural possibility that different imagery allows for, as well as the ambiguity inherent in both the image and the frame which a title provides. I tend now to work on a series of very different works at the same time. For instance, I’m currently working on a painting that might define the ‘21st Century Nude’, and another on ‘The age of innocence’.
e. It seems that London perfectly matches your artistic work: can you talk about this relationship with this vibrant scenario?
The London art scene will survive this, because London is the art centre of the world! I can say that with certainty as I was born here, grew up here, and take inspiration from all it has to offer, even if she sometimes gives me a difficult time!
Essentially Paintings need time. Time to create, time to absorb, and time to think about. Critical reflection inevitably takes time. Art shouldn’t be rushed – if it is, it only lasts a few minutes, and then it’s gone. But I make art for all the people not yet currently alive – which is the privilege of the artist – to be able to speak to the future!
Thanks for your time.
Future London Artist
for all the images – courtesy of the artist; Photography by Paul Tucker