My parents had me when they were studying Fine Art at school. So, I've grown up with an interest in art, for which I’m very grateful, because it was probably the thing that inspired me to go out and look for other creative people.
I suppose I associate painting most with my art practice from when I was a child, or a teenager. When I went to art school at Goldsmiths to do my BA in 2012, I wasn't really pursuing a painting practice, I was more interested in conveying concepts, whether that be through video or installation-based practice, which was very much the environment at Goldsmiths. There wasn't really a rigorous painting-focused programme. Like my peers I was definitely more influenced by artists working within film, performance and installation at that time. So painting was something that I came to via that conceptual direction.
I was thinking about how to convey certain emotional and philosophical ideas in images, and with low-resolution images or otherwise degraded images. It was around the beginning of lockdown that I started on this body of work, engaging more with tactile responses to things, rather than engaging solely with a political dimension. I basically picked up the airbrush as a tool for reproducing images, but with the view to introducing a degree of degradation or blur to “found” images which were already derived from found images online with low-resolution forms. I was fascinated by and wanted to think more about the ways in which images progressively decay, and become more and more inscrutable. I arrived at painting with this notion of wanting to use it as a tool to engage with that process. Connecting with painting is itself a very poetic practice. It unlocks the emotional content of my work.
I did a couple of paintings while was at Goldsmiths, which I enjoyed. However, the bulk of my practice at that time was video. I was, especially towards the end of my time as a student, studying with Ed Atkins who was my tutor. I felt like video had this power to deliver powerful, affecting experiences. It's very apparent in horror, which is a big influence on me. I was making these short films at that time, and finding ways to screen them and place them into an installation.
I showed a short film as part of my two-person show at Moarain House in London. It was a screening of a small video collage that allowed me to connect to a way of art-making that I'd put down. It felt almost like a sketchbook: image and video files that I store and refer to, and which would then become paintings.
Painting has become my most sustainable form of working. I wake up in the morning, and I'm excited to go to the studio and paint. It's never a chore, it's always very generative – a positive – practice for me. It feels like the right way of working: something that I could do for a long time and want to do a lot of. Now I can’t imagine that painting will ever be something that isn’t central to my work.
I'm very much driven by influences from horror cinema and literature. People such as J. G. Ballard, Cronenberg and the kinds of horror that coexist with (or even produced by) the banal. I'm quite fascinated by the uncanny. When something banal can suddenly make this shift, or mutate into something more susceptible to an entirely altered perception – an unknown territory –where suddenly all of these norms are suspended or even upended…You don’t quite know how or why it happened: you just know that it did. To me, this is what a lot of the best horror does. For people who feel tormented, there is a catharsis located there, in that rift.
I think it makes a lot of sense to work with the dystopian as an artist, it forms a large part of the texture of contemporary culture. I think that, at least in pop culture, there's a fascination with dystopian futures and with this notion that by blowing up the world, you can open things up again, and liberate yourself from the traps of the modern world. For me, I view dystopia as existing in the now and I must imagine a path to some kind of more liberated, not quite utopian but less egregious future. There are far too many versions of dystopia in media that operate as Darwinistic Libertarian fantasy where the strong can dominate the rubble that’s left after the world is destroyed. In short, I think dystopia and darkness are powerful and seductive tools that need to be wielded responsibly lest they become a glorification of what they mean to criticise.
I think there are many metaphysical questions originating within ourselves. And what’s at stake in this notion of being a natural body– an embodied human person– versus a consumer. Being this entity that is interacting with all these forces that we're not even fully aware of most of the time. We encounter all these ruptures that remind us what this world is like..
I think a lot about ownership of exotic pets; nature documentaries, and these weird places where we touch the natural world in a way that's mediated through capital and technology. I have been quite interested in the science fiction novel the Drowned World by J. G. Ballard, which is set in the future where London has been submerged by rising sea levels, and the planet is getting hotter and hotter and returning to a primordial state. And there are giant lizards that rule the streets and that are cooling off at all hours of the day… at the same time, ancient genetic memories are seemingly unlocking in the human protagonist.
Nostalgia is such a massive and important thing to interrogate. We're always being encouraged to go down this memory hole on our Facebook, and my iPhone is constantly asking me to look at photos from five years ago. The notion of a return to some idealised, rose-tinted, hazy past…The poor image then becomes synonymous with the past, and the grainy image is immediately associated with memory. And yet, weirdly, people intentionally create images that have the appearance of being low-resolution. We want to infuse the image with this sense of memory. These degraded images are associated with the past and with memory. So when we create equally degraded images in contemporary art we suddenly evoke this disconnection or glitch in temporality.
At an early age, I got into punk and heavy metal and I think I've always had this connection to forms of art that use nostalgia, but also rage or angst, forms of emotion that can be quite difficult to engage with, but where fundamentally liberation is at the centre of the practice.
I feel very connected to working with an airbrush: it feels very much like an extension of my body. I think maybe with a brush – because you're always returning to the palettes to reload it with paint – you have this stop and start approach to it, but with an airbrush, you can just paint a continuous path without stopping, as long as you still have paint inside the tool. And it feels very automatic. I feel such an affinity with it.
Now we have a greater and greater ability to create incredibly high definition, incredibly slick images, that look increasingly more vivid and technologically impressive. People can create extremely high-definition images on very basic pieces of equipment now, but equally, you have huge corporations deliberately creating very low-fi videos to advertise their products, because people have an emotional connection to the “bad” images. Because they feel real, because people can associate them with something human, unlike the incredibly slick and highly-produced images.
I find that there's something slightly creepy about hyperrealistic painting. It has that uncanny quality, and creates discomfort. I think weirdly, even going back to Gerhard Richter paintings from the 80s, there will always be this incredibly profound, emotional response to an image that’s hazy because it's so evocative, and it captures the imagination. It creates a deep connection to memories of the past, which I think is where people like to go, maybe more than the future.
I guess I’d expect them to go away maybe feeling like a newfound… I hope the viewer might be more questioning of the things they see around them. I’d like my painting to “pierce the veil” somehow…
Otherwise, I would maybe hope that they may be encouraged to think about some of the same things that I think about. What I love about painting is that I think it's rarely a didactic form of art, it’s more persuasive.
I use a paper from a company based in my hometown that have a factory in India that makes paper from all of the offcuts from garment factories and turns them into this really textural paper that is made in big sheets. The primary reason I use it is because it’s a very textured and rough surface to work on. Recently I’ve started working on canvas. Partly because in terms of displaying the work it’s practically more manageable. The paintings on canvas have a smoother and more graphic feel, I think. And on paper, they tend to be rougher and more diffuse, because the paper absorbs the paint and it spreads out more. I'm actually trying to work out a way to incorporate both at the moment. I think they both have a lot of potential. Every material exists as language and I engage with them through a linguistic lens, wanting to break-down and reconstitute the code of an object.
I basically paint with tinted grey. I start with a neutral grey, and then incorporate colour into that. I do that because grey is actually a really foundational colour in digital images. I think a lot about the images I've encountered in the digital space, and the photographs inform my colour choices. Grey is the reality of how we see the world.
On a good day, I'll try and get in reasonably early. My favourite time to come into the studio is when I've done about 10% of the painting already. If I have sketched it out already, it's waiting for me to draw the rest of it. And then I can just go straight into the studio and hit the ground running and spend the whole day on it. I get tunnel vision, so when I'm working on a painting, I get fixated on it and the hours disappear. I’ll then realise I’ve spent 12 hours without really looking away.