What was your first memorable experience of the Arts? Interview with Tendencias del Mercado del Arte.
What was your first memorable experience of the Arts?
For some reason I had an idea about modern art from a very young age. Perhaps I noticed pictures my parents had around the house, mostly 1930's and 40's English art. I remember feeling that making art like this was an enviable and inevitable goal. I was given a soldering iron and immediately set about making an abstract free standing sculpture.at perhaps the age of eleven. Since then I have been making one work after another, each one in response to the last, trying to improve on what I did and extend on what I had discovered. It's a process without any obvious end and is completely enthralling.
What initially drew you to art and how did you begin your career as an artist?
My uncle was obliquely involved in the English Saint Ives school of art and this rubbed off on my Mother and thus on me. Drawing always made sense to me, a way of responding to things in the world, recording and engaging. Numbers and words were other people's tools but drawing was natural to me and I drew every day as a matter of habit and need. My friends said I should go to art school which I assumed was for loosers but once there I was supremely happy being allowed to do what I loved all day every day. No-one at art school in the seventies thought of it as a career. We were only vaguely aware that there were galleries and practicing artists making a living.
Who has been your greatest influence?
Other artists. At the moment I spend most of my time looking at art from the ancient world, Roman, Greek, Egyptian but this has changed over the years depending on what I am dealing with in my own work. I had some great teachers at art college but I have never felt particularly influenced, rather I borrow from all over the place.
Your characters usually are schematic. Somehow they seem idealised, perfect...are they always based on real people? And are you always aware of specific origins for your own images? What is your ideal of beauty?
That is a lot of questions in one and I'm not sure I agree with the premise. I always draw from the real world, I don't know how to make things up, only how to draw what I see and play around with what already exists. I don't like to use images that are already processed, other people's photographs. I needed a high quality film of a galloping horse for one of the sculptures in my upcoming show at the Lisson gallery in London in July and I have visited stables five times this year trying to capture the movement precisely. Nothing is as surprising and exciting as the real world. I have been photographing passers by on the streets around my studio in order to make a series of paintings of walking figures. The people drink coffee, talk on phones, carry all sorts of bags and i-pods. It would be impossible to invent any of this.
What is important to you when making a portrait? (eg. The medium it will be executed in, choice of subject, connection to subject)
When I started making portraits I had the idea I should and could draw every face. I remember sitting on the London tube and imagining drawing every person on the train. Each face was fantastic, universal and individual, surprising and particular but could be described with a range of standard elements. I drew around two hundred people at this point but now I undertake portraits with specific projects in mind. Recently I have been making three dimensional laser scanned portraits that are then painted. In order to make these I need models with a clear bone structure and relatively simple hair.
Has your way of drawing changed in any way? And how have your interests evolved over the years?
My way of drawing changes with each drawing. Each drawing is a challenge and a new direction. Each drawing looks like it's going to fail at a certain point and requires a rewriting of the rules to save it.
Your work generates very different opinions, some critics say that it is hard, cold, that it offers a 'sharpened glance on humanity'. On the contrary, others say that it is light, funny and very pop. Which opinion do you relate to the most?
I don't allow my employees to pass comments on the works we are trying to make and I seldom read what is written. Anyway no-one seems to write about art anymore they just ask for interviews.
Is there a central theme to your practice - does it have to do with the act of looking, of observing the world we live in...?
The central theme would I suppose be me. I see making art as an essential part of living and relating to the world. I don't know what else to do with the world, with my sense of excitement about the world but to draw it.
How did the idea of the walking figures come to you?
In the mid 1990's I was consciously looking for a way to draw people in order to add to my vocabulary of objects. i needed a language that was universal and obvious and adaptable and began to use public signage such as that which is found on male and female lavatories, blending these with photographs of people I knew. These people were very static and posed and stood face on. Meanwhile I came across a lot of small animated LED figures in the far east at a time when LED's were not being used much in the West. They had a quality of being both still and animated, scrolling arrows on escalators, galloping horses on taxi meters. Since art school I have always seen movement as another possibility in drawing an essential part of reality. Humans are usually in a state of movement especially when in public. It was an obvious step to take a model down to the local gym and film them on a walking machine, make 30-40 drawing and loop them into a continuos moving statue of a walking person.
Are the processes involved in and the mediums used to make work as important to you as the subject?
Yes - like the words to a song.
Could you tell us a bit about some of the key public art projects you have worked on so far?
All my projects are documented on my website. I recently finished a 5 meter LED tower in Calgary Canada. Six people are animated to walk endlessly around the tower creating a permanent crowd, a kind of human lighthouse. I have made a number of LED public works. It's hard to know how to make a functioning public art work. Cities are so full of imagery and information and people don't particularly want to see an art work stuck in front of them. By borrowing the standard languages of the city and simply bending them to my purpose I feel I am not imposing my voice but rather orchestrating natural sounds that already exist.
Do you collect? What is your most treasured possession?
I realised some years ago that it was actually possible to buy some great art works. I started buying multiples of contemporary artists and Japanese wood block prints from the 18th and 19th century. Since then it has become a very central and engaging activity to search out and buy works that are essential to me in some way. I gaze at these works daily and refer to them as I make my own work. They inform what I am doing and what I am making helps me understand works that were made by others. There is an intoxicating sense of excitement in collecting art works that I try to suppress. It's always the latest thing that is the most essential. The last thing I bought was a 1st Century Roman period Egyptian painted mask.
Which object or artwork do you wish you had made?
I would not want or presume to make anybody else's art work - there would be no satisfaction in that and little use as what would you make next ?
Are you familiar with Spanish art & artists? Do you have any special memory linked with Spain?
I own a lovely Spanish 17th Century painted head of a saint that has helped me understand how to paint a sculpted portrait. I was a big El Greco fan when i was studying art and I often exhibited with Juan Munoz in the 90's . I have been exhibiting in Spain since the late 80's always with great pleasure and have had more museum shows in Spain than any other country. I am grateful for the support and exposure.