You mention both your parents were creative and that your dad was an illustrator. What type of work did he do? Is there anything stylistically you have taken from him?
My Dad created a character and strip cartoon called Ogri that’s featured in motorbike magazines Bike and BSH. He also illustrates the Tom Sharp novels. I’m incredibly proud of my dad and his work; he’s always working hard, which has been a great inspiration. There isn’t a direct influence from his work but some very subtle links. We have a similar scene of humor, slightly macabre and pessimistic.
What did your Mum do in the creative fields?
My mum was a dress designer but is now into doing up properties. She is very hands on and incredibly practical. From an early age I was shown how to make my own clothes and always found myself being roped into knocking up plaster, knocking down and re building walls and decorating rooms.
If it’s not too personal, can you tell me what happened in St Petersburg (See Retrospective) which had such a strong impact on your work? Was it a specific even or the experiences of the whole trip?
Well, St Petersburg is amazing, but I don’t think I will go to Russia again after my last trip there. It was a trip organised by my college to visit The Hermitage and other sights about the city. I think the first miss judgment I made was buying arctic clothing from an army surplus store. Whilst everyone else on the trip was mugged in some way my mate Kenton and I considered ourselves more street wise, leaving all valuables including passports in a safe at the hotel and only taking out the money needed for the day shoved down our socks. We were more daring too, venturing out in the evening looking for the back street clubs. On the last night whilst everyone else was safely back at the hotel we went looking for one of the best clubs in town. We met up with a Russian soap star who took us as one of his guests to a nightclub housed in a disused nuclear bunker in the center of a park, (I have to say it was one of the most amazing clubs I have ever been to). After drinking a lot of vodka we said our goodbyes and left the club. I knew it was a long walk back to the hotel so I went for pee behind a tree in the park. Suddenly I was dragged by two heavy handed policemen to a waiting police car, leaving Kenton running down the street after us, they drove me to a police station where I was interrogated in Russian, searched, striped and beaten, climaxing with cigarettes being extinguished on my face. It was only when there was a change in shift that I was able to escape.
I’m still not sure if it was the having a piss in a park or the ex army clothing and the lack of identification that warranted my treatment and 7 hour incarceration, either way it had a lasting affect on the way I portray the world. I feel we are all the victims of some sort or another, consciously or unconsciously affected by a disaster and tragedy that mark us in a way. The people and situations I portray are possibly exaggerations, but are an attempt to show elements of human emotion and experience that is quite common. None of us are strangers to loneliness, rejection, fear, sadness and loss.
Most of your work seems to have a story behind it. Where do you get your inspiration/ideas from?
Most of my work is drawn up from observation from people in my hometown combined with personal thoughts and experiences, with elements of renascence imagery and doodles based around an object.
Your actual painting process sounds quite physically intense. Do you work on one piece at a time and put your energies into that from start to finish or are you buzzing from one piece to another?
I generally work on a few pieces at the same time and get them out of the studio as quickly as I can. I find it difficult not to fiddle with paintings if there isn’t a dead line. I have been known to paint over paintings completely that have been in my studio for a while. It’s only when I look at pictures of the work before I started fiddling that I see I should have bloody left it as it was. I have a commission that’s been running for over a year now because I keep changing it. It was great when I first finished it, then I started making small changes, over worked it and re painted the whole thing. I’ve done that about 6 times with this painting, it’s great now, so I have hidden it away in another room till it’s collected.
As you say in the retrospective, the backgrounds of your work have become much more abstracted since the federal bikes commission and before they were quite dark and stark. Either way they’ve been very much a backdrop to the main character(s) and don’t really give any clues as to what the story is. To me it forces the viewer to focus entirely on the emotion of the characters. Is that the intention?
You’re right, the abstract background does put focus on the characters, I feel it’s irrelevant to show where they are, but what’s going on. Its unintentional, what I mean is rather than trying to control every element of the painting I try to be spontaneous in making decisions letting paint just be paint. Of course this is a lot more difficult than is sounds and I find it just as rewarding as painting the figurative elements in and amongst it.
You’re work has the characters stripped back to their base emotions. Recently this has been extended further with having the characters topless or seemingly naked – They have nowhere and nothing to hide. Was that a deliberate decision?
Yes, if you have someone’s top off and it creates some vulnerability, also it can show a confidence and even ego.
It’s interesting that you only seem to paint men. Why is that? Is it that you can’t project the dark emotions you deal with onto women?
I have painted a couple of women and since then I have a few more women asking to be painted. I find painting women confuses elements of sexuality and beauty with the subject. I feel if you were to imagine a woman in the place of one of the men in my paintings it would have a completely different effect on you. The women I have painted have been painted with their bra and pants on as to be in between clothed and unclothed, trying to avoid anything that could be seen as sexual. Not sure if it’s successful or not.
“The most hideous form of so called art I’ve ever seen. I though the person responsible must be mentally ill. I find it offensive and sad that anyone thinks that is art”
I saw the above quote by someone on your Facebook page. While it’s an incredibly small minded and unsophisticated view, it’s a genuine view nonetheless. Have you come across that sort of reaction to your work before? Do you laugh it off and ignore it as the views of someone with no emotional or artistic intelligence or do you actually take anything positive from it?
Another great quote on your Facebook page was that the “discomfort of being human is so brilliantly portrayed”. I suppose if you accept that second quote then you can understand the first reaction somewhat.
To the first statement, I am absolutely flattered that someone would purposely find my facebook page to write a comment like that. It had me in stiches for a while. My mate and fellow artist ‘Bael’ saw it and made some comments, I hoped she would keep up the conversation but went silent after that.
I think it’s great that people feel strongly about Art. I think art should cause a reaction whether it’s positive or negative, a reaction that brings out emotions, is a good thing. I think that’s when Art is doing its job.
I had a painting stolen from a show once; the person took it off the wall, sneaking out with it at the private view. That’s the only time where I haven’t known immediately how to react. I was both flattered and pissed off at the same time. The mad thing is that the painting was returned anonymously to the gallery the next week carefully warped in bubble wrap. What kind of statement is that?
What next for you? Since you had a creative epiphany in St Petersburg, have you taken any other journeys looking for further inspiration? Do you have any more planned?
In fact, I’m off to India for four months just for that exact reason. It has such extremes, contrasts and contradictions, as you probably know India has the one of the fastest growing economies but still has some of the greatest poverty. It’s also one of the oldest civilizations and is fantastically cultural and religiously diverse. My paintings are about humanity and I think India has a great cross section of that. I feel I will learn a lot from being there and will I’m sure have some experiences that will inform my work and leave a lasting impression on it.