Saturday, 12 December 2009

Laura Oldfield Ford in conversation with Alli Sharma after her talk at Tate Britain, London on 7 December 2009

AS: When talking about your work in relation to John Martin’s ‘judgement pictures’, you touched upon the romanticism that exists within your own work but seemed a little reluctant to go there.

LOF: There’s a lot of political weight brought to bear when talking about historical movements like Romanticism, so in a way I’m trying to avoid taking that on. There’s a difference between the way that I romanticise my subject matter and the romantic idea in art history as contextualised in front of those paintings. Certainly, my work is shot through with some sort of desire or idealised portrayal of aspects of the city, which can be read as problematic. But I like to set that against the bleakness or melancholy aspects of the architecture that I describe.

AS: To me, that is romantic; the way you look at the architecture in it’s decaying state.

LOF: What I find interesting about architecture steeped in that patina of decay is to do with what happens to those spaces when they’ve been subverted? How do they change as people adapt them to their own needs? I’ve always found that interesting about large planned estates, garden cities or post-war new towns. Whether that’s people changing the appearance of their front doors or adding nomadic architecture, caravans and building sites to the edges of those places.

AS: You seem focussed on the architecture of a place and not particularly on the people. You said you were becoming more interested in individual stories.

LOF: It’s definitely there, most obviously in the writing for my zine, Savage Messiah. I try to coax out hidden narratives or stories so you get fragments coming from different characters. They’re loosely based on people I’ve met.

AS: How far does your research take you? I imagine that you take your camera on walks around the city. Do you talk to people too?

LOF: I take thousands of photos so editing takes up a lot of time in the process of making the work. I talk to people on estates where I’ve lived. At the moment, I teach a drawing class with old people in Kilburn and I talk to them about what Kilburn used to be like and listen to their experiences of living in that area and what it was like living in Paddington during the war. These kinds of conversations provide me with background material for the work.

AS: You’re a fan of Ballard; does literature play a part in your working process?

LOF: Ballard has been hugely influential to me. He’s like an installation artist in the way that he can set a scene so that you can really visualise it. I’m often less interested in the characters and plot; I read him more for the visual images that come from his work.

AS: I wanted to ask you about class because it seems strong in your work but I get the impression it's a taboo subject right now and invisible in contemporary art.

LOF: I think you're right in the sense that it has become unfashionable to talk about class. It’s something New Labour have distanced themselves from in their new branding process. We’re supposed to believe that there’s no working class and that we’re all middle class but the actual issues of class war, to me, in my lifetime, have never been more pertinent. The society we’re living in now is so polarised and divided.

AS: It’s not that class divisions have disappeared, but the focus seems to have moved to broader issues of globalisation.

LOF: I think people are prepared to talk about developing countries and the Global South and use terms like that and talk about how everybody in developed countries is in a privileged position. But obviously it’s not that simple. I think there’s a consensus that says it’s vulgar and unpleasant to talk about class; it’s bad form.

AS: You’re passionate about social injustice; how much did growing up in Halifax contribute to your political views?

LOF: I grew up in Yorkshire in the 1970s and 1980s when a particular moment of class conflict was being played out in a very dramatic manner, especially in 1984 when it came to the miners’ strike. It felt like a really important battle and it turned out to be so and that battle was lost. That was a pivotal moment and, in a sense, what I’m doing with the work, the aesthetic of the work and the ideas I’m talking about, is locating myself back in that moment as if to activate a certain current or sense of agency that was felt by many people then and who subsequently feel brow beaten and defeated, having lost it all in the 1990s.

AS: When I see the term YUPPIE in your work, it makes me want to snigger; it seems so dated.

LOF: Yeah, we don’t call them that any more. There are so many different words for them.

AS: So what is a YUPPIE to you?

LOF: Well, it’s the bankers that are getting paid massive bonuses but it’s also these hipsters around the East End. They move into areas, buy up houses, have absolutely no interest in the existing communities and are just interested in making money and exploiting a certain situation. I like the term YUPPIE because it speaks directly about a certain historical moment when there was a much stronger sense of class warfare and class hatred. But you’ve got to remember that there is an element of humour and satire that runs through the work as well. I do want people to find it funny because I get bored with really dry political tracts that are uninspiring and unimaginative.

AS: Most of your work is set in London; have you made work about Halifax?

LOF: Well, the thing is I want to and I have tentatively started to make work about Leeds. I’ve lived in London for 15 years so there are various places where different parts of my life have been played out. When you come to London you can adopt different personas. You can be anybody and you can act up. But when you’re in Yorkshire, when you’re at home, you’re vulnerable. It touches on something of your childhood and your adolescence and sometimes it’s too emotional. But that’s not to say I’m not going to do it.

AS: How do your activities as artist and activist combine or are they separate?

LOF: As an artist, the politics are inextricably tied to the way I engage with the world. And the things I’m interested in are influenced by my socioeconomic position in society. It’s an inescapable thing. It’s just having the desire to express the way that I see things and having the freedom to do that in the work that I make. On a personal level it feels like a really important thing for me to do. My ambition for the work is to be an artist who contributes to some sort of critical milieu - just being present and saying these things.

AS: Presumably, that requires visibility within the art world. Does showing work in galleries clash with your ideas and is that a problem for you?

LOF: For me, there’s not really a conflict. I have got ideas and I want people to see my work. I want to be able to communicate with people. That’s just what I do and this is the critical position I’m taking. Showing work in galleries, particularly Hales Gallery, which I respect, and contributing to events at Tate, I don’t find problematic. A lot of the people that have criticised me for showing work in those sorts of spaces have done so when they have been reviewing my shows in those spaces. The irony is that they didn’t write about me during the 10 years I spent showing work in occupied spaces, underground studios or shows in pubs. That just supports my argument that if I want people to be aware of what I’m doing then I need to show my work in many different spaces.

AS: You’ve been making biro drawings recently, are you doing any painting?

LOF: Actually, I want to start painting again. I’ve really missed it. I’m involved in this project 2013, Drifting Through The Ruins and the ballpoint drawings work well to articulate ideas I have of ephemeral places. Ballpoint pen fades and the stains of acrylic paint gave it a sense of translucence and patina of slight decay. I’m doing a series of new drawings for The Armory in March. They’re related to the psycho-geographic engagement with the city but I’m going to be looking at Paddington and Kilburn. To make them as paintings would carry too much weight. But I actually love painting. Not in the way some people do, like they get obsessed with the physicality of making. I’m not a painterly painter but I enjoy constructing the images and taking time over them and working in that way. I’ve already got plans for a painting show - but I can’t talk about it.

Laura Oldfield Ford is currently exhibiting at:

Britannia: 2013-1981, Art and Design Gallery, Hatfield, 20 Nov 2009 – 30 Jan 2010

The Armory Show 2010, Pier 94, New York City, USA, 4-7 Mar 2010

Savage Messiah zine is available at:

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Jasper Joffe talks to Marianne Morild in his studio on 3 November

I come to Jasper Joffe’s studio armed with a voice recorder that doesn’t work. The following is a reconstructed conversation, which Jasper agreed was ‘a good re-creation of the ideas'.

MM: Your paintings have changed quite a lot over ten years.

JJ: Yes. I’ve tried to make one body of work look the same as another, but somehow I can’t do it. I get bored. I get bored of going to the studio every day, mixing colours, painting pictures. I love painting, I just can’t do the protestant work ethic, although a lot of the artists that I admire work in that way, six hours in the studio every day, like going to the office. The 24 paintings in 24 hours was a way to demonstrate that it’s not the amount of labour that is lavished on a piece of work that determines how good it is. A painting that is done in an hour can be as good as something that has been painstakingly painted over a long period of time.

MM: Your practice includes curating as well as painting. Does that keep the boredom away?

JJ:I think so. It was another way of creating a whole world of art as I see it. I don’t always agree with the way that art is perceived or treated by critics or curators, and I wanted to create a world where the kind of art that I liked was included. Why would I stick to only making paintings when I could make a whole world? It’s just because I’m so full of myself.

MM: Do you think that when your work changes it is because you get bored with doing the same thing over and over?

JJ: I’m quite an argumentative person. If somebody says something, I take the opposite view, just for the sake of a good argument. Maybe it’s the rebel in me, that makes me want to do the opposite of what I’ve done before.

MM: You’re having an argument with yourself?

JJ: It’s like a thesis/anti-thesis, if you will.

MM: So really that amounts to quite a coherent philosophy then, if you decide that your working process is to constantly present yourself with the challenge of doing something different each time. At the same time you are quite hard on the paintings you have done before?

JJ: I’m very ambitious. People say ‘oh you're so down on your work’ but I’m just very ambitious, it’s difficult to be satisfied with what I’ve done. People always say I’m just a painter who makes repulsive paintings; I paint porn, Nazis, swearwords, tattoos and cancer. But really I do it because I think painting makes it beautiful.

MM: I wanted to ask you about your notion of beauty. In the porn paintings the way you paint the women alternates between lovingly applied paint, quite academic, and big furious brushstrokes in the backgrounds and sometimes on the women’s faces.

JJ: I wanted to give the women some humanity, see beyond the image that people masturbate to. And the expressive paintwork – I suppose I wanted to inject some of that energy into the painting, the effort to see them as human beings. But I’m not happy with those paintings. I think they failed. People couldn’t see beyond the sleaziness of it. They just thought I was another misogynist.

MM: The Himmler painting works on a similar level. I’ve seen the original photo, where the look in his eyes is one of vengeance and arrogance. You have painted him in a rather loving kind of way.

JJ: Yes, it’s funny, the Nazi paintings seem to have what the porn paintings didn’t. Maybe it’s easier to see the human in a Nazi; they’re vilified by everybody, nobody’s on their side. And besides, when you paint something, you get certain sympathy for what you’re working on. And you stop seeing it as an image, it becomes abstract, just colour next to another colour, you want to get the highlights right, the relationships between nose and eye etc.

MM: The bodies you painted in the Buck Naked series were very different in style. They have more of a comedy element to them than the porn-paintings, and less focus on emotional expression.

JJ: I painted those bodies from my head; they are the people I see around me. When you think about how you see people, there are always some things that are emphasized and take over. I was just fascinated by the people I see around me here in Dalston, on the bus, what people do to themselves, how they treat themselves, the way black women straighten their hair and so on. I drew them, and filled in with colour – I guess that’s what makes them so cartoony.

MM: There are a lot of orgies going on.

JJ: The orgies are also something that is everywhere. The way people talk, they swear, they talk about sex on the bus, they are rude. All those words that people get so upset about when I put them into the paintings, they’re around us all the time.

MM: They look a bit bored with the orgy, like they don’t really engage with what they are doing.

JJ: There is nothing that is holy anymore that they can really engage with. I suppose I really would like to be religious in a way, although I’m not at all. I like to believe in really big things, like big art or big love. But people don’t treat it that way. Not religion, not sex, nothing. Children perhaps, but I don’t really want to go there in my artwork. I don’t want to touch any of that stuff, children, paedophiles or terrorists. People are angry enough with me as it is.

MM: But I don’t see your work as being linked to fads in politics. There are some things that remain constant throughout.

JJ: Yes, that is true. It's always the same, women, Nazis, sex, death, mess. And beauty.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Paul Housley talks to Alli Sharma in his studio in West Norwood

AS: The objects in your paintings have weight; they look heavy.

PH: I quite like things to have that feeling about them, for lots of reasons, psychologically, physically and something to do with the actual material of the paint. Most of these paintings have got about six paintings underneath. It’s a physical build up of completely different paintings. I find a white, canvas surface quite difficult and I like to have something to work against.

AS: Do you mean the whiteness can be intimidating?

PH: In some ways, especially canvas. It’s such a nice aesthetic thing in itself that you don’t want to mess it up. You have to break the seal as it were so it’s difficult in that sense. I find I have to make a few bad paintings to try and dig out a good one. It doesn’t always work. I’m trying to get to the point now where I make less bad paintings and make better decisions. I’m aiming to become a more minimal painter.

AS: By making fewer marks?

PH: Fewer marks, like the dolls head there, which is basically made of spots. Almost reducing something to a pattern. That’s the direction I’m going in. I want to lose the modelling, but my mind changes all the time and each painting is a bit of a compromise. You start off trying to make a certain type of painting and end up making a different one. I’ve always had a problem with backgrounds. I’m making paintings where I only paint the background and bring out an abstract quality.

AS: Is that a figure/ground problem; not wanting those things to be separate?

PH: The thing is that all of the painting has got to be interesting, not just one particular bit so when you paint an object you tend to concentrate on the object and it becomes the focus. I’m trying to play around with that a little bit so that the background becomes more important and gets diffused and integrated. I taught myself how to draw objects and how to make them believable and how to get depth and weight and I can do those things now so I want to be able to do something else. You’ve got to keep yourself interested.

AS: You use the same objects over and over again, as if you’re striving to get something else out of the same thing.

PH: I don’t think the number of objects is a problem. In a way that’s the challenge of it. An obvious comparison would be Morandi; the idea of having just a few objects and the amount and range that you can get out of those things. I like that challenge, to eek out interesting paintings with limited resources and small objects and so on.

AS: I saw a painting of yours done back in 2004 called ‘Big Daddy’. I think it could be of Cezanne. Your new paintings also reference other painters.

PH: I suppose that was the first one I did as a precursor to these new paintings. It was a one-off but I’ve come full circle. The recent Picasso show was a real influence; the way he was using old masters. I think the main thing for me is to get away from using photographs. That’s one of the reasons I started painting objects. And if I don’t then I’ll reference a painting rather than a photograph.

AS: I suppose a photograph flattens everything immediately so perhaps some of the work is already done for you.

PH: Well it can be seductive. I was using photographs from National Geographic and I was influenced by Luc Tuymans, but it’s limiting. You learn how to paint like Tuymans which is a limited style of painting to start with. So I’ve gone further back. The kind of paintings I’m looking at now are from the 17th Century so, in order to read those paintings, I have to learn a bit about what those painters were doing. You can read paintings on several levels but to actually physically understand how it’s made is one of the more interesting levels if you’re a painter. The kind of stuff that I’m really interested in is indefinable. You can’t say why a particular Rembrandt is such an incredibly powerful piece of work. Even great painters don’t nail it all the time. Every now and then something is imbued with something beyond it’s own physical attributes. I’m in no way talking about anything spiritual. It’s just something else. I mean to some extent it’s an illusion but it’s a very powerful, convincing illusion and maybe that’s enough. Certain paintings just seem more alive than others, like Velasquez or Courbet. They don’t date or age. The paintings that I’m trying to make are my conversational response to those paintings. I want to be part of that conversation.

AS: You’ve literally put those painters into some of your recent paintings.

PH: Some of them are direct but I’ll often give the paintings titles, like I’ll call that cat Velasquez. I’ll always acknowledge what I’m using. It’s always genuine. Doing the Rembrandt thing, that’s an odd one because it’s almost pathetic. It’s not pathetic in the sense that it’s a pathetic judgment on a Rembrandt painting because I love Rembrandt. It’s about an acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of what I was trying to do. Even signing things can be a statement in itself or part of the composition. I put a fake Courbet signature on the Snoopy painting. That’s about as close as I get to conceptual art these days. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t.

AS: You’ve done a few residencies. What was that like?

PH: I did one in Berwick, which was very isolating. I did Newcastle then I ended up doing one in Durham. Fellowships are odd things. I’ve done a few and they all look great on paper but in reality it’s expecting a lot to just drop an artist somewhere and expect them to get on with it. It takes a long time to actually get used to where you’re working so quite often they’re not actually very good for your work. If you make any successful work at all, you’ve done well I think.

'Painters Boot'
'Plastic Face Can't Lie'
'Yellow Dog'
'Self Portrait as Picasso'

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Clem Crosby talks to Alli Sharma in his East London studio - Part 1

AS: I find it difficult to talk about abstract work and I was wondering why I’m a little bit scared of it.

CC: Well that’s interesting because a lot of the marks you make in your paintings are gestural and so they could be seen on their own as individual marks. They just happen to build up and indicate an image. I mean it’s not as though your paintings are realistic. My work is built up through a series of painting gestures and I think there are recognisable things in there. I suppose I see it as less abstract but more non-representational.

AS: I like that, being in-between. I suppose I mean the connection between your work and its historical relationship to Modernism which is something I don't really know much about. So, thinking about how to talk about the paintings, they seem excessive and yet at the same time, controlled.

CC: One of the frustrating things when I look at other painters today is how mean they are. They use paint in a very reprographic way so it looks second hand; it’s very flat. I think their vocabulary is narrow and I’ve worked out what they’re saying in two seconds. On the other hand, we’ve got this tradition in this country of these older generation artists like Frank Auerbach who grew up on Abstract Expressionism and they’re so worthy and hard won. It’s tedious. My starting point has always been the material itself. I think the beauty of paint is that you can really push it and you can use it to excess but you can also get some great subtlety with it. I mean it’s not formless. My work isn’t formless. There is a great deal of control. I think that’s what gives the paintings tension. I’ve gone back to drawing with paint so it’s allowed me a greater freedom. I don’t want to restrict myself to any one element, not the paint, the colour or the drawing but just all three things working together.

AS: Drawing is important in your work, are you talking about mark making, the line?

CC: Yes, essentially I’m thinking about the line, the gesture and also the form. In this painting called Fountain, this yellow form behind looks quite voluminous and shapely, then on top of that I’ve got a line here which is also a gesture so it’s like a tight-rope walk with those three things. In Butterfly, it’s equally a gesture and a line but I don’t want it to be figure and ground so I don’t want it to sit on top. Drawing is where I start, literally by moving the brush around as I would a pencil. I’m really stuck with this new painting. I don’t know what I’m doing. But this is where I get to, an impossible place, and then I just have to let go of all my ideas because they’re useless. And the paint won’t do what I want it to do. But then, at that point, when everything collapses, somehow I make this space where I let the work go and something happens. It’s really difficult to explain because it’s not a zen moment or anything like that. It’s just really tedious getting there.

AS: How do you recognise that something is working?

CC: Things just fall into place, it seems easy. I don’t really know how that happens. I’ve never met an artist who is able to explain that. It’s kind of an intuitive thing and an experience thing. Because I’ve been painting for years, I’ve built up this experience and it kind of just accrues and then eventually you’re able to recognise certain clues.

AS: Is it exciting when that happens? Is that the driving force that keeps you going?

CC: Yeah, it is. It’s almost like a chemical release in the brain. It’s just fantastic. I like to think that’s near the end of the painting and then I’m able to finish and usually I’m unable to stop looking at it, that’s an indication. All of the paintings in my San Francisco show are real ground breakers for me. I just couldn’t stop looking at them. I mean all I really know is that if I persevere then I’ll come up with a good painting. I’m not sure how that happens. I’ve thought about it and I’ve tried to write about it. Really it’s trial and error and looking and thinking.

AS: Tell me about your titles, ‘Garland Broken’ for instance.

CC: ‘Garland’ is a beautiful word. For me, it can mean something celebratory or melancholy as in a funereal sense. And the word ‘Broken’ next to it is quite clumsy. Heidegger said that ‘the world reveals itself when functional assignments fail or are disturbed’. You might be hammering a nail in a wall and maybe the hammer breaks and at that point you really understand the world. So I was thinking about things breaking down and the idea of broken. I was thinking about my work just hanging there. I wrote down everything just hanging, which is imminent, about to happen, coming into presence, forever delayed, the idea that there is that continual delay.

AS: I like that connection with these paintings because it looks as if the paint is going to collapse and fall, that sort of looping, and because it looks so fresh it might just break.

CC: As if gravity itself is going to pull it off. I don’t really know about the subject of my work. I wish I knew more about what the heck it was, apart from all those concerns I’ve been talking about which are very real and valid. What we should do here is have a chat until we’re both really bored and then start to record it, a bit like the painting I’m stuck on, because by repeating something and trying to get the essence of it, it’s submitted into boredom and then it becomes something real and interesting.

AS: Ok, let’s do it and see what comes up – we’ll call it Clem Crosby, Part 2.

Images: 'Butterfly', 2009; 'Fountain', 2009; 'Garland Broken', 2009, 35.5 x 24.4 in, oil on formica on aluminium

Clem Crosby is at George Lawson Gallery, room for painting, 49 Geary 2nd Floor, San Francisco CA94108, USA until 3 October 2009

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Serena Korda talks to Rachel Potts at the Royal College of Art about her recent MA show, Building the Matterhorn

RP: You wouldn’t necessarily think you were a printmaking student.

SK: I didn’t do printmaking before I came here, but I was drawn to the democratic nature of self-publishing. The book really brought the films in the show together, and there’s a lot of my family in it.

RP: It’s about where things come from isn’t it?

SK: Yes, history and autobiography are a big part of the work. The first film I made here was from footage of my father doing handstands in front of another woman; a crazy ‘how to flirt’ film. The up and down motif was there, and I became obsessed with this idea of digging a hole.

RP: Why?

SK: I was referring back to, and almost respectfully parodying, art from the 1970s; ‘men digging holes’, and the history of women digging holes. It was strange; I realised I was digging myself a hole, a self-burial, but at the same time creating a mountain. I also became interested in Speaker’s Corner, seeing people get up onto these crazy platforms and spout rubbish. There’s a conversation in the book between myself and one speaker talking about a David-Ike-reptile idea of survival and morality.

I was obsessing about digging a hole, so I dug one in my cousin’s back garden, and it became quite theatrical and Beckett-like. It had the potential to call people towards it, inverting the idea of being raised up on something; it was just as attention grabbing and absurd as getting up on a ladder.

I was also interested in female explorers of the 19th century, and the piece retells the history of the American mountaineer Annie Smith Peck. Her writing, among other female writing of the time, has a really interesting humility to it; an admittance of failure. She painted a moustache on her balaclava, and in my eyes she’s very feminist. She employed two men to help her climb a mountain in Peru in 1908. One of the men stalled her all the way and ruined any chance of her recording the trip, eventually unchaining himself and going to the summit before her. She admits all this, and although in terms of recording and proof, it was a failure, she obviously did it. That’s that interesting thing about recording, history, and authenticity.

RP: Is the voiceover on the film from her writing?

SK: Yes it’s her account of the climb edited. I also became really interested in the Matterhorn, which Peck had previously climbed. The peak is often the only part that gets completed in representation, and it’s the only goal. The imagery in the film comes from the building of the Disneyland Matterhorn in 1951 and I wanted to repossess that imagery. I like the idea of breaking down illusions and peeling back layers. Mountain climbing is inspired by a desire to conquer nature and replicating this in a theme park is a similar attempt or aspiration, and a ridiculous one too. The hole-digging has a more obvious kind of futility, but they reflect each other.

RP: The film also shows this really nerdy-boy exploit.

SK: Yes, I was very much playing on the amateurism of it, the hobbyist, railway-model-making nerd. It also references Close Encounters of the Third Kind and that obsession of a vision; Richard Dreyfuss repeatedly building a mountain in his room.

RP: The objects, like the cupboard for your earlier Library of Secrets and the TV cabinet in your degree show, are beautiful retro objects.

SK: I design them and make them all with a cabinet-maker, they’re not bought even though they look like it. I want that slippage with the work. It harks back to this idea of objects possessing a history or life, being imbued with time. They’re talismans.

That’s my next project. I went to Paris and discovered this old puppet theatre, preserved in time, which also acted as a metaphor for my desire to communicate through gesture on a very basic level, after doing my Art on the Underground project which was very cerebral. I became obsessed with the idea of seeing backstage and I want to do a series of live events based around puppetry and showing how it works.

RP: The educational side to the video in your MA show was interesting – it was almost like you were playing at being an educator.

SK: I was an arts educator for about 6 years before I did this MA and it’s inherent to me. Knowledge is power and I always want to be learning and then sharing that. But I was definitely playing on that in a funny way.

RP: I suppose the difference between the RCA show and your earlier work was that you weren’t there, the audience couldn’t give anything back.

SK: I sat there quite a lot and observed how people interacted with it. The live event element of my work is really important, but in coming here, I wanted to realise how it could exist on its own beyond that moment, without me being present.

RP: There is a very English humour in your work, do you think this puppet project will have a similar humour?

SK: They’ve definitely got a humorous side to them, but I really want to tap into their horrible, dark strangeness too. Humour is a useful tool for touching on the serious. Digging a hole is quite absurd and weird, as is the religious madness of the speakers in the book. And it is quite a dark place, Speaker’s Corner, although you’re laughing at people, there are racist comments being spouted. There’s something very political about many of the things I do although it’s not overt.

RP: Do you want to give the viewer a pleasurable experience?

SK: Yes, the Art on the Underground crossword project definitely was pure entertainment. But I hope people feel there’s a critical element as well as a playfulness. Aesthetics are important to me, I used 16mm because I wanted the film in my show to look like a children’s TV program. It’s about appropriating something in order to then tell a story, using aesthetics to lull you into a sense of comfort. Someone thought one of my films was from the 1940s. They didn’t realise it was me, which is like the cabinet looking like something I found, like being a time traveller.

RP: How much of that do you think is conscious - the style of your work? You seem to have an interest in style.

SK: It’s quite funny how I do dress, I have the look of a 1940s or 1950s person. It’s not really conscious. I have tried to look more contemporary. I find nostalgia a useful tool. It can be a really dangerous one and there’s always a tussle, but it’s inherent in my work. One criticism that’s been given to me is that I over-design things. Maybe they’ll get a bit messier. But I think there will still be that element of play and pleasure.

RP: And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that?

SK: It’s something I have to negotiate, nostalgia, creating a world, they’re all things I enjoy doing, but maybe I enjoy them too much.

RP: I think that’s interesting, perhaps you should enjoy making things.

SK: I think you should too. I go through fazes of having a really good answer for using nostalgia. One of them is autobiographical. My father is a holocaust survivor, and he’s 83. I’ve grown up with older things around me. That sense of my father’s very important story and passing that on to future generations relates to the educational and the nostalgic in what I’m doing. Reminding people about something they might forget is really pertinent to me.

RP: Are you looking affectionately at old ways of thinking, for example, the idea of mountains being mystical and unknown, something to ‘conquer’?

SK: I am really interested in abandoned histories. My sister’s a scientist and we’ve been having an argument about immortality, trying to cure aging and evolving into a species that wouldn’t need to reproduce. It seems so anti-human, like science-fiction and I think that’s so apocalyptic and frightening and would never happen. But people said that in the past, and it happened, so it’s important to realise how things change at a certain rate, and how we think we’ve got an amazing knowledge of the world, yet we can still be asked questions that challenge our perception of the future.

Serena Korda’s MA show is currently being exhibited as part of Start Point 2009 in the Czech Republic.

The Library of Secrets will be at New Art Gallery, Walsall from 1 October - 29 November 2009.

Serena will be doing a series of events at Museum 52 from 10 September 2009.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Anton Goldenstein talks to AA at Transition Gallery, London E8 on 11 July

AA: You use many different animals in your work. For Heroes from History; The Rabbit Wars you’ve chosen a rabbit, why?

AG: I’ve been playing with rabbits for years. They’re always evil and menacing. I think I must have been inspired by Watership Down. At the time of making The Rabbit Wars I was reading a lot of novels about romance like The Time Travelers Wife and work by Murakami. I was thinking about the great romantic periods in history and that led me to the Trojan War. The Trojan Horse has crept up now and then in my work and the two things combined in a Trojan bunny with this idea of high romance and subterfuge.

AA: There seems to be humour as well as pathos in some of the more heroic representations, a sort of deflation?

AG: It’s not something I try to direct when making the work but afterwards you look at it and it might be a little bit funny or sad. Perhaps there is an inherent pathos in the way we look at things in society. I try to make uplifting artworks once in a while and to reappraise historical events with the idea that we can somehow change by learning from them.

AA: To what extent is your work self-portraiture?

AG: I think all art is self-portraiture. Art is personal experience, so it’s from the artists’ viewpoint. Even when you are looking at something outside yourself you still have to look at it from within the constraints of your own predispositions. All your internal dialogues come out through making, whether you direct it or not. I spend a lot of time reading about anthropology and biology and the human condition.

AA: Were you brought up around animals in South Africa?

AG: Just dogs and cats like everyone else. I’d see a monkey once in a while but that’s because I lived near an animal research lab in Johannesburg. But they dealt in skins where I learned to swim as a child and I would have to pass an array of African animal skins, piled high in rooms, to get to the pool.

AA: Do you find it problematic using animals in art and having an anthropocentric perspective?

AG: I used to make abstract objects, just things stuck together to make poetic forms in space and then I was sent two fox skins in the post and the next thing I know I had a crudely stuffed fox playing golf. That’s where the animals came in and to a large extent the anthropomorphic side did take over. Now I’m trying to pull that back and re-cast animals as animals but within the human environment. Animals are so popular now in art. That’s fine because it’s the zeitgeist and that’s what we are thinking about so it only makes sense that it’s coming to the surface.

AA: So are you interested in the animals as animals or are you using animals to do something else?

AG: It’s more to do with our familiarity with animals. We’re not surprised to see an anteater or an aardvark or anything any more. We have such a post-modern familiarity with things that are actually alien to us living here in England. In a way it’s anti that. The work re-presents animals in order to see them again. There’s something about the banality of it all. Our relationship with nature has become so banal.

AA: I was looking at urban British bats recently; they’re amazing creatures. As humans we have the desire to invent Radar and Sonar but we could never actually experience echolocation the way a bat does.

AG: There’s a compendium of all the writings about our relationships with animals since Plutarch and the Romans up until now called The Animals Reader. It talks about how birds mourn when they lose their partners to what elephants do with their dead. It’s a great book.

AA: Perhaps when we look at animals we’re also working out what it is to be human.

AG: I am very interested in the human as an animal, as a third type of chimpanzee and how we really need to face our animal background. That’s what is responsible for the state of society - our refusal to acknowledge that we are just monkeys. Imagine three monkeys sitting here, drinking tea and talking about art. No offence but that’s what we’ve got going on here.

AA: And you’re back to absurdity, recognising that and allowing it to be a helpful thing.

AG: I think that is quite important.

Anton Goldenstein is a multimedia artist based in Bristol. His work can be seen at:

Bad Animals’, Transition Gallery, London E8 from 18 July – 16 Aug 2009

Preview: Friday 17 July

Monday, 29 June 2009

Charlotte Bracegirdle in her studio in Stoke Newington on 13 June 2009

AA: How did you start looking at prints of paintings and working on them?

CB: I used to search car boot sales for old frames to use with my drawings. Then I started looking at the pictures in the frames and found them quite interesting. Untitled (Falling Doll) was probably the first one where I started playing around and getting more surreal. Gradually I became braver about what I could delete and began altering the image and turning it into something else. They're all untitled. It's difficult to find titles, especially with the famous paintings like the Van Eyck, so I give them simple references.

AA: I like the way you use the word 'delete' to describe what you do. It sounds modern and technical.

CB: 'Paint out' is the term. I like the fact that I am deleting but also leaving something.

AA: And there's a presence created by making this absence. You're creating something by making things disappear.

CB: Yes, I also want to be able to start painting things in more, but I don't feel quite brave enough yet.

AA: Are you intimidated by the paintings you use?

CB: Yes, because whatever I put in has got to work. I don't want to do some Banksy type thing or something that really stands out and is kitsch. I want there to be some awkwardness and naturalness. For instance, I was nervous about using Raphael's The Entombment. The background was hard to paint. In the end I made up a background. I didn't even try to pretend what was there. There was more of me in that painting so I think I can put something back in that's a little bit awkward but it still fits.
AA: The paintings look uncanny and sinister. By looking at them from a certain angle you can see the light reflected on the new paint and the trace of what was there before, making them quite ghostly.

CB: Yes, there is a darkness but they can be quite humorous too. A lot of my work is about disappearance - one minute we are here and the next we are gone and the traces we leave behind. In a sense when you're gone everything else is the same. In the Van Eyck painting everything else in the picture is just as it was except the figures are not there any more. I suppose I have a fascination about what happens when we are gone.

AA: Do you mean just leaving the room, or dead?

CB: Both, for a lot of these painters that was what their work was about. Caravaggio - it's all about death, so it's a more contemporary way of looking at it.

AA: So how much you alter depends on the particular painting. For instance with Untitled (Van Eyck), you've erased quite a lot from the original print. You've taken out the figures and repainted quite a lot of the room.

CB: I chose that painting because of the reflection in the mirror. I wanted to leave something of the figures behind, like evidence. The shoe in Untitled (Swing) is also evidence. In others, it might be more about the shape of drapery and forms, so it's different every time.

AA: You're not looking in car boot sales any more for old paintings; how do you find your prints?

CB: I buy books or postcards. I sometimes get prints from the Royal Academy collection or the Tate, otherwise online. I've just come up with the idea that I want to work on Goya's The Third of May. I want to make three different versions of that painting because there are three different things I want to see and I think it would make an interesting triptyck. It is the first image I've found where I can do a few things to the same image. It isn't just deletion; it's the choice of what you leave in and what you take away.

AA: Is there a particular period you are interested in?

CB: Not really. At the moment it's mostly historical stuff. I have thought about working on more contemporary pieces but that's not there yet.

AA: What is your art history like? Do you know much about the paintings you use?

CB: Only when I decide to work on them. It's a natural passion I have for them. I have a vague idea but I don't know exactly what I'm going to get. It's exciting - deleting and seeing the image change right in front of you. The smaller scale seems to work better. It's a real challenge. With my older paintings I always felt that I was trying to be like the great painters and I couldn't do it. So moving onto prints suits me because I work with what is already a fantastic painting. I've always loved Fragonard's The Swing. It makes me laugh; the cheek of it, and then the beauty of the colours and everything; it's delicious. Perhaps if I knew too much about this period or the artists it might change how I work on them. There's something quite innocent about how I work. I don't ever see myself as being particularly clever in that sense. Some people might feel that they should know everything about the painting, but you know, because I alter it, you can just see it for what it is, or go away and remind yourself of the original image again. That's also part of it. It's all about history. I'm very old fashioned and part of it is taking people back to these paintings and back to when art was 'great'. So reminding people of the past but also bringing it forward again.

Charlotte's work can be seen in This Was Now: The Russell Herron Collection at Sartorial Gallery, 26 Argyle Square, London WC1H 8AP from 8-30 July 2009.

Charlotte also runs the art gallery Madame Lillies, 10 Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 6BD which is available for hire.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Eleanor Moreton talked to Articulated Artists at her East London studio on 21 May

AA: I'm looking at your painting there on the wall; is it Franz Josef?

EM: Yes, he was the last Austro-Hungarian emperor, the last of the ruling Hapsburgs.

AA: You use the Hapsburg hat motif in your work and I was wondering what took you to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

EM: That's not an easy question to answer. We had family interests in Austria when I was a child and my mother was interested in history, but sometimes it's just poetry. I remember crossing Charles V bridge in Prague when it was just opening up and there was this poetry in the name Charles V which I vaguely remembered from my mother talking.

AA: There is a kind of romance about that.

EM: I started exploring Charles V and then the Hapsburgs who followed and then it began consolidating around this particular period of history just prior to the First World War.

AA: You have an interest in fairy tales too, what came first?

EM: Well I think the fairy tales came first although it's always been at a distance. I don't immerse myself in romanticism or fairy tales. I'd feel uncomfortable with that. There's always this distance in the critical position I'm taking. I was initially attracted to the Northern European fairy tale tradition. The Brothers Grimm obviously represent the Germanic Teutonic position and I was interested in the purpose that fairy tales might serve. It's complex but there is something about that era, in the nineteenth century, where there was a renewed interest in fairy stories and a reconstructed nationality. It was manufactured, it wasn't genuine - if that is ever genuine. It was political, it was part of the romantic movement and there is something about Franz Josef which encapsulated that; he was a kind of woodcutter prince.

AA: Manufactured also in the way he looks; his uniform.

EM: Well he used to dress increasingly in folkish costume, what they call a loden jacket.

AA: He reminds me of the von Trapp father from The Sound of Music; and again in your painting Austrian Man.

EM: I painted Austrian Man at the same time. I'm curious about the stories that we construct about ourselves as a group. The creation of this jolly grandfather figure and his beautiful wife, Sissy, who died quite young. It is both patriarchal and matriarchal and quite oppressive for both of those things. It weaves this fiction over an era and a people, a fiction which we often choose to believe because it's easier. Weaving is a good word because it smothers, like cloth - a maternal crafty thing. I'm also interested in the stories the British have constructed about themselves.

AA: Are you thinking about the stories we make about ourselves in a psycho-analytical way?

EM: I would say yes, but in a more generic way. The way in which whole nations or groups can split off the unacceptable bits of themselves. The thing that intrigues me about this jolly gentleman, which you see represented all over Southern Germany and Austria with a feathered hat and a drink in his hand, is that he looks so anodyne, like he wouldn't hurt a fly. So there's the creation of that but there's the other side too. We know that people hurt each other and we know what people are capable of and there is a denial and a discomfort in bringing the two things together. Then there is a moment, like the First World War, when the fiction is blasted out. I'm not saying that modernity and the great war were truer than the fiction; they were just another fiction, but they represent something quite dark. That is what fairy tales do. They allow the bad things to seep into our world. To take that into painting, I think my own painting tries to find a way through quite cosy and comfortable scenes - to find a way to puncture my painting habits. I think that painting is the site of a personal struggle with patriarchy and matriarchy; it's not just in the subject matter.

AA: So when you have, for instance, this smiling image of Queen Elizabeth II, you're trying to get to the power of her in Fancy Queen with Orange Lips.

EM: That image comes from a photograph by Cecil Beaton where she is set up in a sort of Gainsborough way. I've done lots of queen paintings. They are also a site for a similar struggle where I want to break through. I want to make paintings of women where they are actually shouting. The queen paintings are not always queens, they are all sorts of women and making them break through and make some impact is hard; it doesn't go with my character to do that. I have a tendency to want to keep faces out of paintings and I used a modernist device, the mask, to do what masks are for, which is to make an impact, to speak. Perhaps we need a mask in order to speak out.

AA: When you talk about the women shouting, the red and purple that you use in Bet/h I helps. By comparison the stick princes with their funny hats in your paintings look weak.

EM: That is part of it. There is something quite mask-like about those paintings. I was thinking of Bette Davis as Elizabeth I.

AA: There's something about that hairline set right back, like a mask it doesn't look quite attached.

EM: Maybe power is always assumed or mostly assumed, worn rather than something that we naturally feel.

AA: Like the wizard of Oz with this big production then the person behind working the larger thing.

EM: The wizard of Oz is very male - that power. The stick princes are rather ludicrous. Maybe my project about the queens is doomed. Maybe power is always ludicrous. I don't know, there is an ongoing problem with the queens.

AA: What do you mean, problem?

EM: They're not coming easily. I did wonder whether they're too didactic and I suppose the idea behind them was very simple and I wanted them to be quite simple paintings. The woman finds her voice through joining with some kind of masculine element, which might be the mask, I don't know. The masculine element is phallic in a very loose use of the word. The phallic could be a voice, which penetrates through the sound.

AA: Like your painting Vita Sackville West and the cross dressing - an assumption of the masculine being a more powerful voice. What painters do you look at?

EM: I like loads of painters. I just like anything that I think is good painting. Merlin James, Paul Housley, Alex Katz, Armen Eloyan. I've just seen a terrific show by a young artist who won a prize at the John Moores, Grant Foster. I suppose with the interiors the person that is in my mind is Vuillard because I'm trying to get his sense of claustrophobia which is to do with patterns. The patterning is synonymous with the maternal. When I was in the show at East I painted the grandmothers' houses. All the houses were different, suggesting a generic thing which should take it into the realm of ideas and what we fantasise and what we fictionalise and then you start thinking what are the elements of that and why. But I think it was too easy to walk past and not ask questions and just see paintings of pretty houses.

AA: I like the idea of the house being a refuge but also smothering. That somehow the family is a safe thing but it is a place where there is power and different elements played out. The fairy tales and the empire stories have similar characters or structure.

EM: Like they both have princesses.

AA: Yes, or the grandfather figure, these overpowering figures but referring back to this idea of being smothered and too much decoration, too much cloth.

EM: There is this ambivalence all the time because I long for the homely and all those kind of things and at the same time struggle to be free. You see this all the time. My friend just had a baby and you can see the dilemma in the baby. You see it rigid with the desire to move and it can't yet and it's fascinating because it seems that the human being has two conflicting needs. I suppose that is what always has to be going on in my paintings.

AA: Do you work from images?

EM: I do quite a lot although sometimes I work from my head. Mostly I'm thinking about things and then I think I need to find an image like that. Because I enjoy painting I have a fairly loose relationship with images. I take images and adjust them to the point where I've got them where I want them. That works because I make an awful lot of work. Going back to the idea of something erupting and destroying the status quo, for me the image has the same kind of smothering quality. It is very hard for me to work against an image - it's chipping away at it and poking it and I think it is something to do with my own struggle to break away from these authoritarian things.

AA: To make your own thing from it. Do you keep at it until you have something or do you think 'no, that's not it' and start again?

EM: At the moment I'm trying to stick with things and hammer them out. It's always research - how would it be if I did it like this - I never seem to get on a roll.

AA: It sounds like you wouldn't be comfortable if you became too comfortable.

EM: So it leads to a very bumpy ride. Part of me longs to find the way of making paintings and of course there isn't one way. I feel like a swarm of bees in a general movement. I do have a lot on the go at the same time. There's always something I fancy having a go at. I decided that as I was going to be spending a lot of time in the studio it's got to be enjoyable - and it has become more and more pleasurable.

Austrian Man (FJ), 2008, oil on canvas, 45 x 35 cm

Bet/h I, I, 2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 cm

A Room for George Elliott, 2009, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm

Eleanor Moreton's work can be seen at:
Creekside Open 2009 until 24 May.
'Home Truths' at Harewood House until 5 July.
Ceri Hand Gallery in 2010.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Robert Rush in his studio, Guildford, on 29 April 2009 with Articulated Artists

AA: You have some black ink drawings pinned to the wall, is that how you usually start, with the black?

RR: Those drawings are just getting my hand in. To make a body of work I have to paint for a couple of weeks before I get anything I like because you start with preconceptions of what you should paint and what you've painted before and those are always wrong. I paint myself out of that and get to the point where it becomes just like a job. Because I work on so many at a time, and because they're on paper, it doesn't really matter if they don't work out. I want them to have that freshness.

AA: There seems to be an economy in the marks you make. These works on the wall at the moment are quite busy. The finished pieces look emptier, like there's a value in simplicity over complexity.

RR: They start off quite congested. Less is more - I think it's a question of what you can get away with. If you can make something convincing but slight it seems to make it all the more convincing. I mean people like Matisse and Picasso are masters of that. Drawing in ink is fluid - I like the idea that a line can become a shadow and then a form and then a head and then a body. Making lots of work and having lots of other things on the go helps because you don't become too precious about ruining things but there is always an element of trying to take something to the limit of what it might be and with that there is always the risk of pushing things too far.

AA: You talk about sacrificing something in order to achieve a better proposition.

RR: If I'm just starting work, I'm too nervous. I might have, say, 50 paintings on the go at once so I can sacrifice that one or that one, or all of them. Eventually, after a lot of editing, maybe 5% comes out as finished work. I make oil paintings and sculptures too but often what I'll show is a drawing. It's like working in reverse. The sculpture is kind of a drawing for the drawing.

AA: Some of your paintings contain quite recognisable shapes, like say the speech bubbles in the piece you have at Jerwood.

RR: Obtuse speech bubbles that don't have anything in them - in fact they're not even bubbles; they just become blobs or holes. All those formal things about painting: form, colour, structure and composition are the things that make paintings work or not work. Something being an actual physical shape, like a hole, might be a space through into something else and the articulation of that is always interesting. There are various forms and motifs that work better for that and have a shifty quality.

AA: You mean could be one thing or another?

RR: There's nothing definitive about how I want the work to be seen really. I want it to be more mutable than that. Essentially, what I want from the work is for it to be as open as possible and that is why drawing is a key element of the practice as a finished product. Something that has the quality of drawing is so important.

AA: You used to make paintings on wood.

RR: I've been a fan of Abram Games for a while. That period of post-war British artists who were painters, designers, illustrators or worked in craft, like Eric Ravilious,
Keith Vaughan and Graham Sutherland. Abram Games' insignia for the Festival of Britain is something that I love. Those paintings on wood were a homage to that and to the kind of posters of that period, like the British Rail posters - that kind of graphic design.

AA: Do the colours in your paintings relate to that time?

RR: The thing about colour is that it tends to place things in certain periods. It can take you back to a certain time - it holds memory. I don't want to make vintage paintings but that idea of the memory of things past or of former hopes is interesting.

AA: Perhaps because of the colour and ease, they appear to be optimistic paintings.

RR: I don't know, I think that's for someone else to say. Optimism is compelling but there's a flip side. Games' work has great optimism to it but you are talking about things that have passed and so there's also a kind of poignancy to it. I'd like my work to be seen through a prism of now. The paintings that I make are diverse within a set process. I know how I make them but within that I want to be allowed to be surprised so some of them will end up being quite optimistic and some might not. I would hope that they don't all have a similar tone. I like to think that there is something else that we can do with painting. There is somewhere else emotionally where it can go. For me, work has to work on an emotional level. It has to feel like something but I don't set out for it to feel like anything in particular.

AA: It's a discovery on the way.

RR: And then they're done and they are what they are. There's also hysterical optimism - an optimism that clouds something else. If you look at American 1950s design, say pink Cadillacs or curtains with cowboys on them, they're playful and joyful, but at that time in the 50s there was the looming atomic war and this idea of not engaging with something much more frightening. It's seemingly optimistic and happy but it's also a front. Where can crisis lead you - that's interesting - that dynamic of something that on the one hand might seem jolly and upbeat but on the other hand is incredibly sad.
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AA: Or it goes too far and is grotesque.

RR: That idea has been floating around with me for a while, about that point when things just bubble over into being too much. I usually have about three or four things going on together: painting, sculpture, collage and photomontage. I have quite a strong idea of what I want painting to be but I'm not as confident with the other formats - they're experiments. I don't know if they're quite there yet. It's easier to talk about the problems with things and why they don't work than pin down why or what makes them work. They aren't encumbered by the problems that other work might be - they just seem to be of themselves. They just are. Ad Reinhardt talks about his paintings saying they're not this, they're not that, and what they are is simply what they're not. I feel a certain kinship to that way of thinking. I never know what I want to do but I'm sure about what I don't want to do. I think if I knew what I wanted to do I wouldn't want to do it.

AA: Because you would know it already.

RR: Painting doesn't seem to be a very serious thing to do, but on the other hand, it seems to be the most serious thing to do. To make something that has some kind of emotional charge. I mean, a piece of music is essentially abstract but it operates, it has an affect and a sensibility; it feels authentic and can make you feel something. If you can have some sense of what a feeling is like in a painting, that's pretty cool and it makes you feel good when you see it. I wouldn't presume to say that's what my work does but I would say that's what I aim for as an artist and that's what I'd aim for art to do. I'm not interested in didacticism or setting out theoretical ideas. It's much harder to grasp than that. That idea of what it's like to have an idea, or what it feels like to have a feeling - I think those are messy things. Feelings are cumulative of other feelings, of other ideas and beliefs, needs and wants and there is always this pressure of a number of things making-up something which is then attached to another idea somewhere else and in conflict with that. For me, it is a way of working, things being overlapped, latticed, mutable, slippery and elusive but at the same time quite felt and meant and quite deliberate. Things are produced and they have definiteness to them but that is always open to change. There are parts of my practice that feel very definite and parts that don't and there is something quite important in that.

Robert Rush's paintings can be seen at the Jerwood Contemporary Painters 2009 exhibition at Jerwood Space, Union St, London SE1 until 31 May 2009