1. What is Art?
Art for me is a way of communicating ideas to an audience. It’s about being able to communicate thoughts, feelings, emotions, images from your mind, or just sharing something beautiful. To quote someone more intelligent than me “ Art is culturally significant, skillfully encoded in a sensuous and affecting medium”. I really like this definition and it is one that is driving my thought process at the moment.
2. Has contemporary art lost its way?
I don’t think you can lose your way if you don’t know where you are going. Contemporary art is growing in so many different directions at once that it takes many years to actually distinguish what worked and what didn’t. Just because something is in fashion at the time doesn’t necessarily mean it will define an art movement when re-discovered. We just happen to live in a time when what can be presented as art is unbelievably varied and hard to pin down. The art world promotes what it believes to be art, when really half the time I think they don’t actually know what they’re looking at.
Contemporary art will always aim, or should always aim, to progress, to become more successful at affecting and communicating to us in different and more direct ways. It should aim to be more successful in its effect, hopefully leaving subjectivity out of the equation.
3. Who is pioneering in art at present?
Pioneering art at present again becomes subjective, if by pioneering you mean challenging then I would have to talk about Marina Abramovic a performing artist who I believe is really challenging what it is to be an artist. She is not afraid to put herself into her art, with a lot of personal emotions and feelings being present. One of her strongest pieces for me was Rhythm 0 , 1974. Where she placed 72 objects on a table and let the audience do what ever they wanted to her using the objects. Among them were a rose, a feather, honey, a whip, scissors, a scalpel, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions. At first people put on lipstick or cut her hair but it rapidly progressed to an audience member placing a bullet in the gun that was provided and putting it to her head….it was at this time that the experiment or performance ended. I think this was an extremely brave piece exploring the human condition and our propensity for violence.
4. Is painting a dying art form?
No, painting will never die as it is one of the most instinctive and primeval ways for us to communicate. There is nothing more direct than brain to hand, whether there is a paintbrush or pencil in there you are immediately expressing what is in your mind. The other act about painting that I love is that once complete, the work is captured or fossilised for the life of the painting, it doesn’t change with time, the message stays the same; each one a document or time capsule for what was present at the moment of execution.
5. What is painting’s toughest challenge?
I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with a new or fresh idea in painting, as pretty much everything has been done before. What is difficult as a painter is that you have at least a few thousand years of painting that has come before you, which can be quite disabling for any painter. Most painters I know have to paint, they enjoy the whole creative process and it is as much about the act as what is actually produced at the end. Painting will continue to develop but perhaps the message or idea is what needs to change rather than the application or technique, which has always driven it in the past.
6. How significant is the John Moores Painting Prize?
If you’re a progressive painter and live in the UK, I don’t think there is a more prestigious prize to be involved in. If your work is in the John Moores it is saying something new in painting or at least asking the right questions. For me personally the prize is significant as it validates the last 12 years that I have dedicated to painting. To be accepted and to have a painting on the walls of a national gallery is a great honour, especially to be in the same company as other artists that I greatly admire like David Hockney and Euan Uglow.
7. What does it mean to be an artist?
To be an artist is to communicate honestly and intuitively ideas that the every day person might have but without the means to express. I believe that everybody has the artist in them but if it is not nurtured or allowed to blossom then that seed of imagination and expression is killed. To be an artist, I also believe you have to understand the human condition and experience as much of life as possible, this is your work, your manna and your inspiration. You have to eat richly at the table and then learn to express this so others may learn, or experience life more vigorously or violently than before. Francis Bacon used violence in his paintings to attack the viewer’s sensibility, to awaken in them what might have been lost, almost to press the reset button and when they finish viewing the piece they see life differently or life will never be quite the same again.
8. What is ‘The Killing Jar’?
The Killing Jar is a project that started in June 2010. Its aim was simple, to document the fatalities of the current Afghan war in a more direct way than the current media. By this I mean that it felt like we weren’t at war, each death was given a brief few seconds on the news. I wanted to visualise the numbers involved and try and show that this small snippet of information we were given in fact affected thousands of people both directly and indirectly.
Inspiration hit in the form of using a butterfly to represent each life lost. Like a butterfly the service men go under a transformation when they join the armed forces and enter the theatre of war; a period of chrysalis. The first piece presented 5 small tortoiseshell butterflies in an entomology case. The butterflies represented 5 British service men that had been killed by a rogue Afghan policeman. The small tortoiseshell butterflies are also under threat from a parasitic fly that lays its eggs in the larvae of the butterflies, thus killing them from within.
‘The Killing Jar’ project developed into lots of smaller projects and ways for me to express my feelings about the war, British politics and the way that the media feeds us information.
This led to the Collateral Damage piece that I entered into the John Moores painting prize, 2012. The piece was instigated when I saw the ‘Wiki Leaks’ footage that showed an American Gunship shoot 15 Iraqi people; 2 of which were children. The footage disturbed me so much that I had to paint about it. I felt like I had witnessed a murder, I felt guilt by association. This was an illegal war not sanctioned by the UN.
9. Where do you see your work going next?
I am still very much interested in the politics of war and the media portrayal of such events. I would like to work with the ImperialWarMuseum on a series of memorial pieces, and I would also like to develop this project to take into account the Afghan fatalities, which at present is an unofficial 12,000-14,000.
10. Are you happy to share your story?
I studied an Art Foundation course at ManchesterMetropolitanUniversity, which led to an unsuccessful degree course that I left in the second year. I loved the foundation course, being able to experiment with lots of different techniques and practices. The degree course however was badly run and organised and I felt like the degree wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. I was also in a band at the time that I believed would be a huge success.
Inevitably, after a couple of years, the band folded and became the best unknown band in Manchester. I still had the ambition and passion for music and enrolled on a sound recording course in Manchester. I loved the whole process of recording music and became involved in the exploding dance music scene and eventually recorded and pressed a 12” vinyl EP that I am still very proud of. The recording was a collaboration with a friend and the group name was Superbasic; I think it’s available on iTunes!
Any way the second release never happened and I was working in a dead-end warehouse job in Swinton. My uncle, who was opening a restaurant, asked me to paint some art deco reproductions for the walls. He knew that I could draw and paint and so I started the paintings in the kitchen at home. The artist was called Tamara de Lempicka and she was an art deco painter. I finished the 4 paintings he had asked me to copy and delivered them to the restaurant.
Unfortunately, his business partner had already commissioned another more established artist and only one of my paintings was used. I did however get a job at the restaurant as a waiter and my reputation as a painter began to grow. A seed had been sowed and I was on a different path from music.
Suddenly I was commissioned to paint 5 similar reproductions for another bar in Leeds called ‘Babylon’. I had 5 weeks to paint 5 large figurative canvases again and these were completed in my mum’s kitchen. I fell in love with painting and decided I now knew what I wanted to be.
The next 5 years saw me joining a cooperative led artist studio in Salford, copying masters such as Caravaggio and Vermeer. I also attended life-drawing classes and learnt to draw the human figure. This I did for seven years straight until I felt confident in my abilities. I read and devoured every bit of information that I could find on painting, I was well and truly hooked.
I left the Studio in Salford for a larger space above a gallery in Manchester called Grove Galleries. Here I learnt to restore paintings and spent the next five years as a painting conservator; learning about the commercial art markets and the NorthernSchool of painters like Lowry, Rutherford and Delaney. All the while I was exhibiting across Manchester and Salford and selling paintings. I entered lots of competitions and really pushed myself as an artist.
Being an artist is not the easiest of professions, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and there have been many times when I wished I had chosen something else as a career path. As a painter I felt alienated from the contemporary art world and it was only recently that I began to study it and learn to understand that there is good contemporary art and bad; like most things. My work began to develop and I started to learn about a different school of artists; Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Beuys and more contemporary artists like Steve McQueen and Jeff Koons. The art landscape changes rapidly and I realised that I had to change with it. There wasn’t a place for the type of artist that I thought I was, especially if I wanted an audience.
The last few years have seen my practice grow. I have been involved with lots of different art projects across Manchester, I am studio manager and mentor for Pool Arts (a charity that helps artists who suffer from mental ill health). I am also Artist in Residence for LIME arts, an organization that commissions artworks for hospitals across the country. I still run my own restoration business Bloomfieldart and continue to develop my own practice.
The most important thing I have learnt is to persevere, to keep creating and to keep pushing for what you believe in, have an open mind, create with vigor and passion and not for a market but for yourself.