Sunday, March 27, 2011


Yitzhak Scam, oil & spray paint on canvas, 2010

      What are you working on in your studio right now?

Right now I'm working on a series of paintings where the only rule of the game is that I don't judge too much and that when the painting's declared finished I leave it alone. I want to release myself to be more experimental and allow unsettling or jarring things to just be. The first of this new approach (it's not really new for me but it's been a while since I've imposed this discipline) is entitled 'Art Antichrist'. I'm already working on the next one - it already has a title, 'Bedeutung Police'. I have two solo shows coming up in Amsterdam and Bern, Switzerland so I'm really going for it right now. I seem to work quite well under pressure - suddenly the distractions vanish, the focus is total, real energy happens...

Can you describe your working routine?

Normally I get up at about 8am and am in my studio by 10.30/11 - that's in London. Here in Italy I walk into my basement with my cup of coffee and get into it at around 8.30/9. I like the early start because you get some great ideas first thing in the morning with your rush of caffeine. I normally just sit on a chair and survey the previous day/night's creation/destruction. As I work with collaged newspaper clipping and other ready sources of printed collage material there are lots of random clipped and torn scraps of images all over my studio floor and bench. I'll often fiddle around with these first, maybe stick a couple on a canvas and see if they do anything. I'll put various works in progress on the wall or easel and see which one calls out to be worked on. Eventually this leads to painting, decisions, colours. Sometimes I put on music sometimes not.

I'm currently not drinking but when I was a drinker (afternoons and evenings only) I would have a beer or wine while I worked. It definitely helped. I'm a believer in the trance-like state for painting although substances aren't absolutely essential for this. Now I'm mostly just a caffeine abuser.

"Sexy disco" in the studio

 Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

My studio in London is quite large, 433 Sq Ft with 12 Ft ceilings and a big skylight so obviously this is conducive for making large-scale works, many of which I have made here. The large space is also very helpful for reducing clutter. What I mean is, I actually love the clutter of a studio with crap strewn across the floor, there's just more room for it in a big studio. My London studio is really my refuge. It's where I go to really be me and just fuck around and be free. I can do nothing there, sit in a chair and flick stuff at the canvas or really get stuck in and sweaty and asphyxiated by fumes (unfortunately the ventilation's not too good in there, something I need to resolve with a large industrial fan). My studio is an accretion of everything I've done in the last few years. The plastic drop cloth that's taped to the walls and floor is heavily encrusted with paint. Every so often I clear up the piles of paper, cutting, rags, bottles, cans and other detritus from my studio floor but mostly it's there to help me and give me clues - a mad quote on a newspaper cutting, a nice colour combination on a bit of rag or paper.

My studio in Italy, where I am now, is also a lovely place with similar accretions of colours, vibes, painting materials etc but it's slightly different in that it's at my mother's house there and I don't have to cycle half way across a city to get there. It generally enables me to make great work but it is a lot smaller and it gets a bit cramped in there sometimes. But it does have some lovely and inspiring accretions and spatterings of colour all over the place and feels like a studio should! One advantage is that I walk out the door and I'm staring at a nearby hilltop town...



Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.?

My finished painting is the summation of an artistic process of creation and destruction. I often start with words, phrases, things I've heard recently that have been rattling round my head in several different languages. I'll spray them onto the canvas, maybe stick a newspaper clipping on, adding to or changing the context. I'm looking for a subject for the painting - what is it about? Gradually or suddenly it starts to emerge. For example, 'AC Not On' is about the lack of air conditioning/ventilation in my studio in LA last summer; 'Yitzhak Scam' (onomatapoeically it sounds like 'It's A Scam') is about getting ripped off by the people who rented me the studio and about being in a desert landscape with rodeos and cowboys (Southern California) which then makes me think of the Old Testament and Isaac or Yitzhak and how he was tricked by Jacob. So a narrative, a subject starts to emerge.

In the end I don't like things to be too clear and obvious - I'm very drawn towards an aesthetics of obscurity. I don't want to spell things out, I want ambiguity. Ambiguity is what I wanted in the painting Sexy Disco - lots of vague circles. Going in circles. If you're going in circles why not make a painting about going in circles? A painting painted in many layers, with layers destroying layers to create a painterly, visual narrative...About - open-endedness, endless return...I am interested in freedom - how I can free myself from everyday, commonsense conceptions. The worst thing in art is for you to allow your everyday or received notions about aesthetics into your work. I don't know what the new looks like - and maybe I won't like the look of it when it happens - this is the challenge of art and of painting. As long as you cling to what you think you know or appreciate, you don't have a chance. The aim is not to make a pretty picture but to make art, I think the two things are often mutually exclusive. To really come across something new (when I say new I mean new for me, first and foremost) you have to abandon your preconceptions, you have to be clear about what you're trying to achieve. If I get to a stage in a painting and say 'oh this looks like a nice de Kooning or Meese or whatever' I know I have to change it or destroy it because it will be false. Sometimes it hurts to let go of something that looks nice but I say again, it's not about looking nice.

I am recording artistic processes of creation and destruction that are steps along the way of a search for my reality not someone else's. The painting is the record of a visual, tactile, emotional journey. It's a record of jettisoning and perhaps some assumption of elements but mostly a jettisoning of elements. Painting is a visual language and new words and phrases can always be invented and old, worn, trite ones be discarded. Perhaps we never arrive but hopefully we're always getting there. But of course you can't just follow a formula in art, there is such a thing as inspiration, in fact you can't do without it. I have to be charged with the excitement of life - of colours and feelings to do a good painting. But also the subject of a work has to inspire me - it can be in a negative way too. For example, I've done several paintings inspired by Hackney Wick where my studio is in London. In truth, sometimes I find London incredibly gloomy and depressing, especially in winter, but at the same time that depression can be turned into exaltation - you can find something unique in the experience of gloom. Our world's all about contrasts. It's experiencing gloom and depression without doing anything about it, creatively or otherwise, that's the problem. I feel sorry for people who only experience but never do. Doing sets you free.

"Art Antichrist" in the studio

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

 I genuinely don't feel like I have any problems resolving anything at the moment. I'm in quite a fruitful period of my painterly life and luck or inspiration or both is helping to resolve most of my painterly dilemmas. But what has happened a lot in the past and will certainly rear up again is the dilemma of how much to work on something - when is it finished? 

Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

I pretty much always work with the same materials - oil, spray paint, collage, permanent marker, oil stick, canvas plus lots of amazing alkyd medium - in the UK 'Alkaflow', in the US 'Galkyd' by Gamblin and in Germany 'Lucas Medium 4'...Stunning stuff, I couldn't work the way I do without alkyd medium. It speeds up the drying of oil paint and makes it more elastic, gives you much greater control. These are more than enough materials to be experimenting with. Collage was a more recent addition. I used to be a bit afraid of it, I found it hard to make it work but now I find it an invaluable way of relaxing my mind and opening up to different narrative possibilities, often with newspaper clippings, random words and images put together to form new context, meaning and subject matter. I'm quite a fan of the way Burroughs worked with cut up words and phrases to form unexpected narratives and I think Brion Gysin did this too, visually, with cut up and rearranged photos and newspaper clippings.

What  does the future hold for this work?

I guess we're speaking of the two paintings I mention in my response to the first question. Hopefully they'll be part of a series of up to 10 works all painted with the need to experiment and let go of preconceptions paramount. The finished works will go in my next two solo shows, at Locuslux Gallery, Amsterdam in May and Galerie Rigassi, Bern, Switzerland in June.

Jean Michel Basquiat, Naples man, 1982

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I'm very much influenced by punk attitudes and aesthetics - I used to live in squats in Amsterdam and London and listen to and play punk rock. Anarchy informs my work. I try to get my message across quickly and with maximum effect. Destruction is a form of creation. Rebellion is there in my work. I'm even rebelling against myself...And one of my favourite paintings ever is 'Man From Naples' by Basquiat. For me it is pure punk energy!

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