Q1. The Piece that you're showing with us for the AOH is exceptionally impactful, almost oppressive in its intensity. Do you think that is mostly due to the subject matter, or do you think your choice of scale and use of inversion is what creates this effect?
It think it is a combination of many factors: The building has a sharp brutalist architectural style to start with, plus of course what the building represents and finally the inversion in terms of aesthetic, which to me helps to create a sense of abstraction and reminds me an old film negative in terms of photography and its history.
Q2. The choice of this building is certainly provocative not only because of what it represents, but also because of the connotations around photographing a supposedly secret building. What was your motivation for this piece?
That is a very good question: this building is in fact not allowed to be photographed (something I didn’t exactly knew at the time - I was in fact stoped by two police officers who parked their car next to my tripod as asked me to stop immediately and what I was doing - which got me shaking for a while. The story from the beginning is: The Sunday Times magazine approached me to photograph the building for them, it was to be published as a DPS (double page spread), they said they needed to illustrate a story they were working on and they wanted a menacing sort of style to work with the text. I did some research online first and suggested using the negative (reversed) style. The art director loved the idea and asked me to photograph the building in a portrait format as well for a possible front cover. So when the police stoped me, at least I had those emails to show them - which in the end got me out of trouble. However, they said: You have to stop and leave the area immediately. Luckily at that point I had captured all the images I needed. The Sunday Times magazine ran the story a month later and did use my work in the from cover and the DPS.
Q3. Did you in particular think about the alteration of the power dynamic between you and the building? Due to the fact that normally this building has the privilege of photographing the public while avoiding the same level of scrutiny, something that you have interrupted.
To be honest I didn’t think about that at the time but it is a very good point. I started photographing the building from a distance. Initially across the river (which created the pice you have here in your gallery), then I kept coming closer, crossing the bridge and photographing more until I was in front of it for the final front cover image - that is when the police stopped me, and I remember now that one of the officers told me I was being observed all the way, from the very beginning of the shoot across the river from people inside the building. So you are right… the image does represent some sort of alteration of power.
Q4. You make use of inverting images frequently in
your work. What is the thought process behind this?
I started researching and using inversion in my work in 2012
for my Within Series project - those are large scale cityscapes
constructed from hundreds of photographic details and
exhibited in their actual size: normally over 2 meters wide.
The initial idea of the inversion was to create a sort of
conceptual urban black out. The Within Series is a project
about childhood memories - the images revisit a time when I
spend many hours a day drawing imaginary cities viewed
from above - this was a time when I lived in Porto Alegre,
South Brazil, and a period where black outs were not at all
unusual there. Then, I realised that the inversion worked in
so many other levels in those artworks, reducing all the
distractions of the sky, I mean things like: clouds and airplanes
were suddenly minimised and the attention of the viewer was
purely guided into the architecture and the city. I liked that a
lot and it seemed to work well in that project, as those pieces
have so much information and detail in the buildings, they
need an area of calm, of nothing. So after some initial test, I
was happily please with the results, with the dark sky areas
allowing a breathing space to the viewer (in my views).
Q5. Lastly this piece is printed on aluminium, can you tell us why you have used this particular technique? And is it specific to your photographs of buildings and cityscapes?
The MI6 building is printed on Chromogenic paper and mounted onto aluminium. I often do that to keep the artwork super flat and sleek inside the frame. But I use aluminium in different ways to display artworks. For example some of my large scale cityscapes from the Within Series are printed directly onto aluminium panels by using archival UV inks and some of my moonlight artworks from the Impossible Utopia project are printed onto alluvium using a dye transfer sublimation process. I guess each project requires it own finishing depending on many factors.
Q1. What was the motivation behind this particular series of portraits?
I had been asked to paint a live streamed portrait of Cornelia Parker for the Tate Instagram page, and in preparing for this event, I decided to paint a series of artists. The event was to celebrate International Women's Day, so I chose female artists with good faces ! I did a livestream with Marina, and a time lapse with Tracy, and posted them on instagram in the build up. It felt great to be spotlighting the profile of female artists and adding quotes and images to my posts so that people could find out a bit more about them.
Q2. I understand that you recently painted Cornelia Parker for Tate in honour of international women's day. Can I ask how you were selected?
I had been taking part in most weeks’ episodes of ‘Portrait Artist of the Week’ on Sky Arts Facebook during lockdown. This was a 4 hour programme echoing their ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’ show, where a celebrity sat at home whilst an artist painted them and chatted and everyone at home painted along! It was a great lockdown activity and people posted their efforts onto instagram. One week I painted a quick picture of Nicola Coughlan (Bridgerton, Derry Girls) and posted it- she liked it and reposted it to her million+ followers! The Tate digital team saw it then checked out my instagram feed and saw the series of portraits I had been doing of my female friends as we walked and talked in deepest lockdown. They thought it was a good fit and were very brave to take a chance on me as a total unknown quantity! But when the Tate ask you to do something....you say yes! So I prepared by trying to do a portrait in about 2 hours.... whilst talking.... Then there were technical run throughs, lights and microphones, and a fair bit of panicking as I prepared! Luckily it went pretty smoothly, 45k watched live and 120k+ since. I managed to keep talking and complete the picture somehow....
Q3. The piece that we have of Cornelia Parker is the second portrait that you've done of her. We also have with us for the AOH, two portraits of Louise Bourgeois. I'm wondering, is there anything that draws you to completing multiple studies of a specific subject and what effect does doing more than one portrait of the same person have on your outcomes?
The better you know a face, the more you can get involved in the painting I feel. Commissioned portraits where you have never met someone in the photograph are really difficult. But celebrities are known to you and so its easier to feel if their likeness is ‘right’. Everytime you paint someone there is more ability to be experimental and daring with things to try. So for instance the big greenish Louise painting was first, then in the second small lilac one, I tried to use a different palette than I had ever used before, with pastels and purples, and felt more confident because I knew her face better.
Q4. These pieces are more, almost geometric in their construction, less blended maybe... They look almost as if they could have been executed with a palette knife. Was there a reason for this choice of style?
There is no choice of style, the paint just goes on like that. Perhaps I don't know how to blend?! Teaching painting can be quite tricky, it just comes out like that....but saying that I do like to see the painty-ness of paint, and like some thick and textured areas to enjoy the physicality of paint itself.
Q5. Lastly the scale of these pieces varies slightly, but generally is smaller and tighter cropped than work you've shown with us before. I feel it makes the portraits more intimate and while avoiding too much intensity. Could you tell us if that was the intention and if not, what affect your choices in regard to these aspects, was supposed to elicit in the viewer?
The small, square heads are all forward facing with clear eyes. This creates connection and hopefully some reaction. I enjoy painting faces very much and treat myself with these crops to avoid too much body or background! The format is quite confrontational and direct, and I hope to provoke feeling through this.
Chris Shaw Hughes
Q1. Your work is often focused on themes many would consider as quite “dark”. What draws you to these concepts?
A: It's actually quite complicated. I say that the theme of my main body of work is usually 'sites of trauma'. This includes the bombed cities as the most obvious depictions of places where bad things have happened. This includes natural disasters and murders but also less obvious things such as a drawing of the Burj Tower in Dubai which I drew after reading about the abusive use of migrant labour to build this monster as a symbol of their wealth and power - almost like a modern day pyramid. Other sites include a diamond mine in Siberia which refers to the environmental trauma caused by man's desperate search for wealth. The forest pictures are a nod towards the trauma the environment is suffering and the demise of ancient forests both here and abroad. I have also made a series of works where the institution of marriage is the site of trauma, using old photographs aligned with statistics to highlight the massive problem of domestic abuse as well as the historic socialisation of young women into believing that marriage is their only choice in life which limits their aspirations and ambitions.
So, a 'site of trauma' does not have to be a place. I base most of my work around photographs (photography) because there is another site of trauma hidden within the work - that of Art itself. Much has been theorised and written about the death of art, or more specifically painting, and how art had to change in order to survive once photography had been invented and took over the role of recording history and portraiture. I like ti think about it in this way: Once upon a time (before photography)people knew what art was and
what it was for; mainly painting and sculpture to glorify gods, kings and the
super rich. After photography, art became very confusing. It could be anything,
including a urinal or an action or a movement. You didn't even need to be able
to paint or draw or carve to be an artist. You could go for a walk, paint like a
child, carve very simple shapes. 'Skill' became redundant (or rather craft skills
became redundant, almost despised). The reason I use photography is to try
and reverse the respective positions of power. I draw (trace) in a way that
makepeople think that it is either a photograph or a print from a photograph,
or just a bloody incredibly skillful drawing. However, it is lie. By using carbon
paper to make these drawings, anyone could make them. They become
contemporary by refusing the skills needed to make them. When my work was
in The New Contemporaries show in 2010/11 the said that the rendering of the
drawing undermined itself. In other words it gave itself away because it was
too good to have been done freehand. The images of war and destruction
draw people in to look closely, but it is what they see then that is probably the
most important site of trauma.
Q2. Specifically, we’ll be showing two drawings that depict bombed cities and I’m wondering if there is an overt “message”? and if there is, what is it that you're conveying?
A: Despite what I have said in answering question 1 there is an overt message in the images of bombed cities. The series, which is now about 30 pictures, began with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers on 9/11. I drew this a few years later when the Guardian published an aerial photograph of the start of the rebuilding of the site. In the aftermath of this terrible event the American press started using the phrase 'Ground Zero' as a name for the space where the fallen buildings had once been. It became a title for the event itself. This title they re-appropriated from themselves as it was originally what they called the point of the explosion from a nuclear bomb which was at a point above the ground where the bomb was detonated. the first time it was used (apart from the development testing programme) was at Hiroshima.
It felt, to me like the american were aligning the two events as comparable tragedies. Almost 3000 people dies on 9/11 in the attacks, an estimated 60-70,000 people died at Hiroshima. These did not seem comparable to me except in one way. War had changed with the invention of the aeroplane. Battles which used to be fought out by two, normally highly trained armies were now very rare. Wars, it seems were now fought against the civilian populations, so I set about making drawing of as many towns and cities which showed the same thing: the bombing of a civilian population. This obviously took me to WW2 where the example of the German aerial attacks during the Spanish Civil War was adopted by all sides. I have tried to draw as many as I could find and this has now raced forward to the middle east and what seems like a conveyor belt of examples of the same thing, the civilian is now the target of choice despite the military's denial of this and their insistance that they target only military positions. The phrase 'collateral damage' is proof of this. I am not saying it is the Germans, or the Allies or terrorists or anyone else... it is everyone.
The other question I get asked is why do I draw (copy) photographs of terrible events. I believe that we have become hardened, almost blase about seeing news photographs or film. I think that people tend to give more time to a drawing or artwork than to a photograph. Maybe that's because the drawing shows the amount of time spent creating it and the viewer gives it more time because of that. The photograph says of itself 'an instant'. The drawing is more durational and maybe deserves more time.
Q3. Your images to me have a prevailing sense of quiet to them, I imagine that I'm taking a lot of that from the subject matter. However, I also think that the execution being so delicate adds to this notion. Is this deliberate? If so do you change the concentration of darkness depending on your subject matter, such as in your current news pieces which seem to have a higher contrast and therefore a more chaotic and active nature?
A: Originally the lack of people in the pictures was because I always remained precisely faithful to the original photographs. Because most of those photos were taken in the aftermath of massive bombing the empty streets seem entirely natural. Also, because most of those photos have been taken from recon aeroplanes there is more distance (physically as well as psychologically because the pilot/photographer is just doing a job - recording the damage done by the bombing). More people have entered the pictures from the middle east because it feels as if the photographer of the images is closer, and has a different agenda to the WW2 pilot. It is more political, the photos are taken to alert the world to the plight of the civilian population.
I agree with you about the quietness. They are quiet images, and the durational aspect of how they are made is also very important. I try to respect the original photograph. Some people thing that working from photographs is a kind of cheating but I feel that the time I spend drawing them earns me a kind of right to appropriate them in order to re-present them. I wish I could take my own photographs but most of the images are historic so impossible for me to have taken and getting into war zones is one of the hardest things possible. I have made enquiries about being a war artist but also that is not an easy route. The forest drawings are my own photographs and I am happy with the process of turning my photographic images into drawings. However, I don't think of them as truer or more valid that those of the bombed cities which I have found through a long process of research and hours of looking.
And yes, I do vary the concentration of darkness, but not necessarily led by the subject matter. I try to get as close to the photograph. In some ways I'm not drawing the image but the photograph, or rather the laser print of the photograph. I have refined the technique over the past 10 years or so and like to think that the drawings are more accurate now. Not in what they show, or the line but in the depth. The hardest parts of any of my drawings are what look like the simplest areas. However, the plainer and flatter an area is the harder it is to render properly. Flat light greys are the hardest and large areas of very dark grey or black. The areas that look most complicated are in fact the easiest to produce - detail is my friend. In some of my earlier drawings I might have used cross hatching for larger areas of flatness, but now I try to re-create the flatness, or the darkness as true to the photograph as possible. The little drawings of portraits I have made for the news project are simpler and quicker to make, more like sketches so there are less levels of greyness which gives the effect of more contrast.
Q4. My last question is in regard to your use of series, it's something that seems omnipresent in your work. Do you think it makes your message stronger (as far as communicating your point) or is it your own fascination, that means you so often work on multiple examples of a concept? Also how do you think that affects curation? A particularly pertinent question for us as we chose to use 2 pieces from separate series.
A: I like to make a series of works. Maybe it's to create a kind of narrative, or maybe there's something about the repetition of images that fits with the repetitive nature of the actual drawing process. I think the brain likes to see things more than once, mine certainly does. It does affect curation and obviously hinders the act of selling work. If I have a series of 12 pictures and someone wants to buy one that leaves the series unfinished. In the past I have sold some of the bombed cities pictures and because they are important for the narrative the series feels incomplete and I have re-drawn those particular images. I have re-drawn London, Berlin, Nagasaki, Cologne and Tokyo using the same source image. I've drawn Hamburg three times from different source images because the first two sold. I've also done the same for a couple of the middle east drawings. I don't think it matters that you have chosen from two different series because all of the drawings are connected but one day it would be great to see all the city drawings together in a show.
Q1. Can you tell me your motivation in making the piece you’ll be showing with us?
A. As part of my graduate show, this work has poignance for it is a result of a breadth of experimentation both through physical techniques and the concept.
Materiality is an ongoing interest and this is demonstrated through my playful collaging of methodologies such as the heavily impasto, sculptural surface which is made up of latex and air-drying clay to achieve an effect that looks so 80s.
I wanted to create a range of paint modalities and so I fused the latter technique with spray paint, airbrush and even industrial fence paint.
This ultimately was an exploration of art historical codes. But I suppose, I’d use the gay pornography as a sort of anchor for a socio-political message about queer identity or it was to exploit bad taste.
In this way, I achieved what I set out to do as I was motivated by humour, the duplicity of queer culture, ie. camp and the investigation into various semiotics.
Q2. The abstraction of the figures in this piece are really compelling, can you tell me about why you did that?
A. The figurative abstraction had a few reasons behind it. As part of an exploration into the performative camp style, I was responding to digital media as a popular apparatus for self-mediation, where by identities, meanings and information is warped or can glitch, travelling as data, as a body of pixels. Through over-distorting these stock pornographic images on photoshop with basic tools, it should connote a comedic interpretation of cyber-space and post-internet art as a canon. Yet, there are relevant tones to this form of abstraction such as internet censorship where especially prevalent for artists on Instagram, a platform that has recently and drastically changed how we digest art. It also relates back to the glitch in communication, an untruth in meaning or the fake news frenzy.
Q3. Your piece will be the largest we’ll be showing upon opening, what was the purpose of the scale you chose?
A. I have always enjoyed painting larger scale. The process is a lot more physical and I suppose I have a romantic affection towards the American ideology, the action painters, who were just getting by, but made these incredible and dramatic works.
Throughout my practice, I always try to generate the effect that theatre or cinema has.
I get a lot of ideas from watching cult or art house films, some of my favourite directors are John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky or Derek Jarman. They’re great resources for painters but I love all sorts of film, including contemporary. Drag as well, the performance, the under-belly and fabulation of it. Rave culture, living in Leipzig in East Germany definitely influenced the language I paint in, I imagine my paintings have a lot of response to techno music.
When I paint, I think of how I can translate these elements of performance and to move away from the art object into an experience, and the best place to start is scale. However, I do appreciate the joy of smaller scale paintings, especially during lockdown!
Q4. Your work is quite socially engaged, do you consider it educational as you’re drawing people’s attention to issues they may otherwise be unaware of?
A. I think the choice to depict the figures in the way I did, can be seen as a celebratory expression. A lot of the reading I was doing, from artists and writers living in the 20th Century, it resonates how heteronormative power structures had marginalised and criminalised the gay community. As an effect, the gay underground flourished. A process of embracing the criminal and deviant archetypes as a result of persecution. Poet’s like Gene Jenet who appeared in the groundbreaking film, Un Chant D’amour in 1950, who wrote as a gay prisoner and created homoerotic fantasies. Genet would subvert the male gaze, making himself a sexual spectacle to be looked at, along with a chemistry with his onscreen lover, that embodied gay behaviours like cruising. I’ve learnt that queer identity is a process of re-ownership, of contradictions in meaning, there’s a play in binaries and semantic forms of objects and subjects, good and evil, masculine and feminine, that appear throughout queer culture, but these duplicities provide the necessary intersections for queer social mobility.
I’ve learnt that queer history is a very rich and complex lesson and my work has a lot of response to this. It’s partly autobiographical, partly contextual and more importantly, it re-examines this canon in the time we live in. It’s both an expression of gratitude for the progress made socially and a license to mis-behave.
Q1. What attracts you to the images that you select?
A. I guess a lot of what I choose makes the cut because it's got something dynamic about it. The best collages are composed of lots of noisy imagery in my opinion so I look for bright colours, textures and unusual shapes. Once you start combining a bunch of striking shapes they interact with each other in unpredictable ways which is where the fun happens.
Q2. Do you have an image in your head when you start? If not when does it become clear?
A. I have tried to create collages with an idea in mind and it never works out. I just let the materials guide my designs. I often choose one image I find inspiring and add to it and in that way it grows by itself but I think that having a picture in your head and trying to create it from collage materials leads to madness.
Q3. Is there a message or theme within your work?
A. I don't know if there's a message really but I do want (to steal from Marie Kondo) to spark joy with my images. It sounds superficial but I like pictures that make me smile, that have depth and vibrancy, imagery with layers and subtly that keeps you seeing something new each time you look, works with movement. This is more important to me than to have a message per say and so it's what I try to create with my own work.
Q4. Why collage?
A. I love collage because it's all about transformation. You can take an image from one context, put it in another and you've made something brand new which could never have happened in any other way. You can clash colours, textures and themes all in a big riot of imagery and somehow it works. It's such a playful medium because there are no rules, you don't know what you will create when you start and you can allow yourself to be led by the process to somewhere new each time.
Q1. What’s the theme behind the work you’re exhibiting with us?
A. The works in the show are a continuation of some older projects I was working on investigating ideas about boundaries, and their expansion from the body into architectural, physical space. I’m also interested in ephemerality and different ways of capturing these fleeting, transitory movements and forms through manipulating materials, which is why I continue to use knitted textiles and plaster in these sculptures.
Q2. Can you talk me through your process when you’re making your art?
A. It’s very process led, and is a lot about letting the materials guide me in how the final object will look. I use gravity to make the final forms of the paster sculptures, as I leave them hanging from hooks and bars to dry, and I think that not having a completely solid plan in place when making artwork is very important!
Q3. What artworks, films or books have you been inspired by recently?
A. I’ve been reading an anthology of Japanese short stories with an introduction by Haruki Murakami, as well as his novel The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. The paired back way he writes and the novel’s intimate focus on our relationships with other people and the walls we put up that sometimes never break down have been really inspiring recently. I also recently bought an anthology of English folklore tales and have been listening to a podcast called Myths and Legends which have also been really inspiring!
Q4. You’re working in studio you won a place at yes? Can you tell me a little about that?
A. It was a prize I applied for just before our degree show opened, and is a prize from both Camberwell College of Arts and Vanguard Court Studios. I won the studio rent-free for a year, with access to the workshops at my old university, and will have an exhibition in November to showcase the work I’ve been making! It’s been a really amazing opportunity, and has been so vital for helping me continue to make work after graduating. Without this I wouldn’t have been able to afford a studio straight after completing my studies and wouldn’t have been able to take on some of the projects I have over the year