How did you get started doing what you do?
During my time at the RA schools I met a visiting lecturer who asked me to assist him on an architectural project and I ended up working with him for three years. He acted as a mentor throughout that time and became a sounding block for my developing concepts. During that time I read and wrote about my ideas and when the project finished I made my first body of work.
What’s your inspiration?
Literature has always been my influence and I have followed a path of reading that moves in and out of fiction, history and analysis. Having an inner dialogue with a breath of authors and subjects throws up questions that I seek to answer and conversations with my peers either flame or dowse what I feel passionate about. The base of all my work is a fascination with man’s inhumanity and a desire to make work that is profoundly personal whilst appearing as indirect as possible.
What does your typical day look like?
I have a son at school so it now looks a lot like everyone else. My schedule has been turned upside down and whilst my time can be limited the routine makes me a lot more efficient. If the weather is dry I will go for a swim on the beach, all year round; it isn’t brave as you just get used to the cold, it isn’t dangerous as there aren’t crazy riptides and I always swim with others. I work from home and I prefer to work on the computer (spare room) during the morning and be in the studio (dining room) in the afternoon when I am warmed up. I normally stop when my son returns and get back into the studio after he is asleep. A few times a month I sit on a train to meet contacts in London and always manage to do it on a day I wish I was in the sea.
How do you keep motivated?
I have been diagnosed with clinical depression for the last 18 years and my motivation is simple and effective, without thinking, making or researching I rapidly descend emotionally. I don’t take anything for it, just maintain a healthy life, however, creatively I always have something on the go, however small. Over the last few years I have made sure this is something large and my current project will keep me busy for a few years at least. I also feel incredibly privileged in this day and age to be waking everyday to a job I love and am determined to never waste or squander that opportunity. I think one of the reasons I work with intense processes is the meditative effect and the headspace that clears my mind, in the same way swimming does.
How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
I never thought they had any effect on me or my work beyond the obvious emotional responses to environment, landscape, weather, etc. However, when I first moved down to the sea a few years ago I became obsessed by the space and skies on the coast and south downs. At first I thought little of it other than a calmness it brought, however, only in retrospect have I realised that the last body of drawings (a tree is best measured…) must have come from spending a lot of time appreciating my surroundings and desiring to capture it. It is the first time in a long time I have been really happy with a series in its entirety and it came totally out of the blue rather than being a small shift from previous work.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
My only ambition is to create a wider dialogue with the subjects that have been coming out of the research over the last few years and ultimately engage with them on a bigger platform through museums, lectures, talks, etc.
How have others reacted to your work?
Amazingly the only vocal and negative response was to my very first show when a female visitor was appalled and I thought I was trying to deceive the public into looking at pornography. The work was on a stand at Zoo Art Fair in 2004 and she kept coming back, looking at the work and then expressing her disgust, but coming back to it three or four times. Another collector told me in no uncertain terms that if I kept on looking at pornography I would become affected by it, so eventually I switched to examining the transatlantic slave trade and the Jewish Holocaust instead and have never felt lower. It might be time to switch back to cutting up HustlerXXX.
What do you want others to take away from your work?
An understanding of the interconnectivity of everything and a profound awareness of their place in the universe. Ideally I want them to take the work, or at least feel disheartened enough that they don’t copy it.
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
I would definitely tell him to not spend so freely as things will get tougher later. I would also plead with him to focus on making work that makes him happy and make it for himself, not imaginary collectors.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Build rituals into your life rather than routines. Art related advice that has always stuck with me is to never let anything out of the studio that hasn’t got quality, a story and where all of the elements are interconnected on at least a couple of levels of metaphor; through presentation, technique, scale, etc.
Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Find and work on a skill that is in high demand and then work for artists that you admire. You get a paid mentorship and introductions to great contacts without having to show a morsel until you are good and ready. More importantly never make anything because you think it might sell, make what you want to make because it challenges you and if it sells it is a win-win, if it doesn’t you have still won.
What’s your dream project?
Right now my dream is to work on a series of graphic novels. My secret dream is to build my own Gothic/Bauhaus inspired log-cabin in a forest by a lake and hoard tinned food whilst baking sourdough bread.
What’s your process like?
I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the computer preparing work, ideas and series. I always think of a body of work and interrelated pieces and prefer to work in series. When I am in the process of making work I will mock up the images to the level of framed work on walls, using Photoshop and 3D programs to see how the scale works. For my pencil drawings I spent a couple of months developing the way I was going to realise the ‘collage’ of landscape and portraits and when I made the first drawing I then went back to the computer to finish the whole series. I need to work on a couple at a time and always leave something to do for the morning and this has always been the case, it means that I can get straight into the studio to work rather than procrastinate until later that day, or the next.
How could the art industry become better in your opinion?
I think that the funding needs to be much greater from public and private sources to support participation from a broader cross-section of society. These needs to happen across the arts and across the ages. Museums across the spectrum need to be more daring and engage with a range of artists not just those they think will fill up the shop and cafe. Auction houses and the bigger commercial galleries also need to be more involved in supporting young artists from difficult backgrounds as well as through state schools.