Art & Design blog
Michael, you explore far-away worlds in much of your artwork. Is this primarily fantasy or is there a more scientific interest in the extra-terrestrial?
It’s science fiction, certainly, but not sci-fi. Depicting a foreign environment allows more freedom to play with the image outside conventional notions of landscape. The fact that many of them could appear to be earthly environments is testament to the variety of our earth… or perhaps it’s rather the sign of an earth-bound imagination.
Your most distinctive work mixes soft media such as charcoal and graphite with structure in the form of graphs, technical annotation, architectural studies and cartography… what has influenced this combination?
In an artwork I try to express the totality of my interest in a certain place, which begins with a powerful aesthetic feeling, but may include conceptual information displayable only in graphical form or text. I try to never use graphs or data purely for effect, they are always rooted in real figures or have particular fixed meanings within my own narrative. I want everything to be readable at close range, whilst resolving to a more simple tonal impression from a distance.
I studied Peter Greenaway’s films at university and love how his use of layered image, geometry and text allows for an expansion in the possibilities of cinematic representation. The arrangement of and interplay between each element is deeply thoughtful yet also absurd, self-parodying.
Whilst you studied at The Prince’s Drawing School, London, and much of your work is rooted in its disciplines, you also have a more romantic streak, producing Turner-esque landscapes in oil. How do you relate to both?
The Drawing School is often misconceived as a reactionary return to old-fashioned academic values. In fact my experience on The Drawing Year opened me up to draw with much more freedom and really made me question all my assumptions about what constituted good drawing. After the course I felt able to meaningfully connect and combine my printmaking, drawing and painting practices in a fluid continuum.
Turner is a huge influence. He was a maverick, talented and sensitive as he was head-strong, he had the perfect balance between schooling and rebellion. He shows landscape as if witnessing a series of phase transitions; liquid, gas, earth and plasma intermixing, each struggling free from its conventional confines, interchangeable, unified in chaotic change.
Your new gallery, opening in Hoxton on 24th October 2014, will function as an open studio allowing members of the public to watch the artistic process in action. How do you think this will affect the work that you produce?
Well, thankfully I can close the curtain so I don’t have to be peered at all the time, especially when I’m doing unintentionally ‘arty’ chin-scratching poses! But it does mean that people will be able to come into our studio on certain days and see a variety of work, finished and in progress, and see it in the context of its making, which can be much more interesting that an impersonal blank gallery wall.
We both paint and draw outdoors a lot too, so we’re not going to be stuck in a fishbowl. I don’t think that being visible will affect my work in style or approach, I think I have some fairly unshakeable interests and principles to work by at the moment.
As well as yourself and co-founder Rachel Mercer using the space as a studio, you intend to exhibit the work of others. How will your exhibitions compare to what’s on offer elsewhere in London?
We want to exhibit work that is built upon a foundation of observation, contemplation and practised use of the artist’s medium, without imposing any restraints for the sake of commercial appeal.
I suppose I see a widening gulf between two extremes: private commercial ‘artefact’ or ‘investment’ art, and publicly-funded ‘experience’ or ‘engagement’ art. Both exist in an institutional context and are subject to certain restrictions and pressures, both are essentially outward looking and driven by novelty. Representational art is criticised as ‘not enough’, ‘boring’, ‘conservative’; whilst conceptual art is equally bad-mouthed as ‘charlatanism’, ‘pretentious’, ‘inaccessible’.
This situation is ill-fitting for the artist who looks inward, making art not for the market, but to satisfy her interests, sensitively filtering her experiences and observations, searching for meaning that is deeply personal, yet universally resonant. I would describe this as a poetic approach.
Many blockbuster installation pieces make much of their anti-capitalist credentials by claiming that they are transitory; information, not product. However, they are consumed without much true contemplation; they are middle-class cosmopolitan fun fairs which do not last long in the memory, beyond the Monday morning cultural brag session. Further, they are often materially expensive and ecologically wasteful.
I used to feel completely anti-product, anti-selling-work, but I’ve come to realise that if you create something unique, soulful, made from humble materials, that will outlast you many times over and continue to provide pleasure and provoke thought throughout its lifetime at an un-inflated price – that is a true gift.
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XETH Creative Arts is a voluntary arts group, and is not registered charity.
All featured work is copyright of respective artists.