I worked in fashion for twenty years so it’s hard to come up with a simple answer. It feels like another life, and at the same time it’s the life that led me here.
When I started painting it felt like a totally different practice, but I find a lot of similarities now. You might not have to think about a customer, but everything must have a reason to exist, otherwise why make it?
Anything can be art, but fashion is more interesting when it isn’t, when something is inexplicably ‘now.’ Painting, for me, is more interesting when it triggers emotions that feel ancient and universal.
The big difference is that when I’m painting a canvas is that I find it disastrous to think of the market, or an audience, or anyone else’s opinion.
About five or six years ago. I was 37 when I painted on canvas for the first time.
I was still working full time at that point. I was depressed and anxious, disappointed. I realised that the life I wanted had little to do with status and salary and influence. It was a shock when I realised that in painting, I had everything I was losing in design - freedom, expression, risk. I saw myself on the canvas. Then it became urgent to change my life.
I reckon with that every single day, I’m not kidding, and any painter who doesn’t needs to go to the Prado. In everyday life, I’m a polite and respectful middle-class man, so to be a painter still seems outrageous. The thrill of painting is in throwing all of that out of the window and seeing a part of yourself that you thought was too deep to resurface. In that way, it’s a bid for freedom.
There’s a quote from Guston where he describes the process of painting as removing everyone that is standing behind you from the room, one by one, until there’s only you. And if it’s really going well, you’re not even there yourself.
I can remember making a self-portrait in front of the mirror in my parents’ bedroom when I was young, and I still feel like I’m doing that in an oblique way. In terms of art, I remember a poster my parents had, from Tivoli gardens, a carousel horse over a moonlit sky. And a mirror in our bathroom that had an Aubrey Beardsley-style woman drawn at the edge. Later it was the YBAs and then I discovered Braque’s late works at the Royal Academy and was shocked at the discovery that a painting could open up a whole world as you looked at it.
I draw constantly, but almost never plan a painting. It’s more about building up motifs, gestures, faces and figures etc. When I get to the canvas I improvise and use the drawings for reference. I paint very quickly; I usually work on one at a time, but I might put it away and go back to it once or twice. I listen to music constantly. It’s to stop thinking. The goal is to be in a trance. I might listen to the same song on repeat for four hours.
I’ve often found masculinity oppressive, and painting is a way of dealing with that. For me, these figures stand at the crossroads between identification, fear, desire, and empathy. I think in painting them I am trying to paint myself within that system of power, and to find peace with the idea that I am not comfortable there, usually by imagining that I am subverting it.
Thank you. It certainly feels important to me not to be timid in describing a figure. I want them to be expressive, sexualized, to be ‘too much’. Sometimes I can go too far into kitsch. It’s about finding the line between expression and caricature. If there is a subversion to them, it’s probably because masculinity is supposed to be elementary, natural, so the male figure isn’t supposed to be too expressive or artificial.
I love to use materials that are either discarded or seen as childish or kitsch. A bit of an old box or the cover of a sketchbook; neither is precious but there is something touching in rescuing them from the bin. The coffee grounds were more because I wanted some texture and it was midnight so I couldn’t get any plaster or mortar, both materials I’ve used a lot. I think it’s the influence of arte povera. Or Louise Bourgeois using her old nighties. Putting your life into the structure of the object. Using glitter and lipstick is a similar impulse, to use what is looked down upon in fine art, to transgress. And, of course, there is a queer function to that – using decorative materials that are associated with the performance of femininity.
Definitely. From early on I was interested in each one being more than an image, otherwise why not make a photograph or a digital illustration? Each painting is definitely an object in its own right, which is why they are often very messy and over-worked. I love to scratch the paint into the canvas, I think it’s also a leftover from my days working with fabric. I love fabric. But I’ll also paint over a previous work instead of re-stretching and starting from scratch. It excites me to know there are layers of paint underneath, ghost images that sometimes are vaguely visible at the end. To build the texture up, sand it down, cover it in plaster, this gives me great pleasure.
Chaim Soutine, Vincent van Gogh, Alice Neel, Francis Bacon, Alex Katz, Diego Velazquez, René Gruau, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Titian, Irving Penn, Philip Guston, Nan Goldin, Bill Traylor, Henri Matisse, Emile Bernard, Alexey Brodovitch, Hiroshi Sugito... every one of these (and many more) shook me up at some point.
I can’t ever compare myself to him, but I’d go for Velazquez, because I love him, and I feel like he wouldn’t mind that much.
A group show at Derouillon in January, a duo show in April at Kapp Kapp in New York, a solo in May at Various Small Fires in Los Angeles, and a book of my work, published by Derouillon, hopefully coming out in the spring.
It’s the feeling of seeing, in the physical world, a part of myself that I didn’t quite understand before. That’s why every painting must be improvised. There must be the chance of discovery, and the risk of being exposed. Everything is a self-portrait.