Why did you become an artist?
In retrospect, I think I was trying to lock disparate and contradictory thoughts together both within myself and outside. There is no other way to understand the world. Science, rationality, meaning versus intense and cutting personal experience. Where else could you smash them together, literature maybe?
Are there any current or dead artists that you still take inspiration from?
I used to like all the artists out there, but I can’t unwind my biting cynicism to an art-market that chews people up. I am not an an artist, I just make stuff. The ‘artists’ I am most drawn to died 33,000 years ago. I’m really drawn to archaeology and natural history. Leave me alone for a month in chauvet cave with an oily stick and I’d be happy just looking at the cave paintings. I like making my own paint, I’ve clawed my own red ochre out of quarries in the forest of dean, you have a different relationship to your work when you do this – as if nothing had changed in 70,000 years – ban the paint tube!
Tell us something about you as a person that is separate from the artist, or are the two totally integrated?
I’ve developed a pathological interest in geology and paleontology. It’s obsessive. I collect bones and minerals – I see them as a kind of organic aesthetics, beauty devoid of art-speak.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an artist? What does being an artist mean to you?
Sometimes I shock myself with the work I make, I’m like a scurrying rodent before this huge painting being directed by something beyond my own will.
Do you have unfulfilled personal or artistic ambitions?
I would love to find a complete Plesiosaur, and show my work in the British natural history museum. Oh yes, and more money too to keep me in the luxurious poverty I’m so fond of!
Is there an element of madness in you or your work?
I don’t think there’s any madness in my work apart from me treating my paintings as living beings.
My work ‘Inside the Swarm’ is a literal description of facts. 50,000 honey bees came to colonise my roof. Okay, great I thought, let them live, do my my bit for life. A couple of weeks later a massive swarm emerges covering the whole neighbourhood. Oh dear, my inner slacker has enabled the street to be infested with bees stinging children and old ladies. Fortunately the apiarists came to save the day, but now I hear their buzzing in my head all the time.
What are your indulgences?
Roquefort and treating myself to a rare cowrie shell for my expanding collection. And hammering hell of some Welsh mountain.
Tell us about the awards you have won at the RWA.
First prize, excellence in watercolour award RWA 3 times.
Is it right that some of your work was inspired by exhibits at the Bristol Museum?
Yes, I needed to get hold of an Ichthyosaur fast for my work ‘casting out bones’. Here’s the madness: I trawl the abandoned Severn estuary looking for Jurassic bones. In my mind I want to communicate with my dead girlfriend. I say please give me a sign, help me find another vertebrae, and sure enough I do. She casts a spell over me and I have now found a complete Ichthyosaur. So, making the work is me casting the spell and through ‘casting the bones’ I purify the emotional pain, no? In this work, two maps of the Severn estuary are attached to both our umbilicus, and each tidal surge brings back my lost love closer to me, I pray we are reincarnated in the belly of the beast as children in some re-incarnation (this appealed to my mischievousness when I showed this work in Gloucester cathedral).
There is a scientific element to your work which appears to be very accurate, do you have a science background or is it learned for your art?
I lost faith in my science background (in another life I would be studying zoology at university) although I do thorough research for my work visiting museum collections and literature. I think I would have preferred to live in a time where art, science and alchemy all merged together, the enlightenment maybe. It’s good to hold scientific facts up to the nebulous tower of art, only to slay those facts and certainties with the mere twitch of emotional truth, echoed through the nerves of a dying god.
You describe your work by referring to a clash of belief systems. How is this portrayed in your paintings?
‘Other Crucifixions’ examines human frailty, wanting pain to burn away. In stillness the ‘Christ’ is lowered into the laser treatment machine, descending into hell. The animals from the cave paintings and bemused hominids look on in sympathy as a 6th century chant permeates the Christ’s brain, lurking between the ears. Observe the crucified archaeopteryx rising above the figure weighing the artificial heart from the crusaders lead-lined heart box. Hands holding the Acheulian hand axe bang the black metal hip-joint into the soul. Bird fossil exhibits reptilian teeth and claws, the implications reducing a 19th century Christian paleontologist to a nervous breakdown (the hand axe is, I believe, the oldest artwork itself going back at least 1.7 million years).
It is somewhat unusual to see watercolours painted with these themes and style – why did you choose the medium?
Watercolour is dangerous, it can go very wrong. I wanted to veil brutal facts in beautiful soft layers of meaning. I can find new meanings that are lead through new techniques. Who’s doing giant experimental watercolours right now?
I am fascinated by your comment about aesthetics colliding with morality – what does this mean and how does it play out in your work?
Well, aesthetics and beauty have no moral value, beauty is not truth, human body parts poetically arranged and softly described, luxurious colour, all good seductive schemes. My work ‘Other Crucifixions’ touches on this obliquely. It’s like a string quartet playing Bach in a concentration camp.
Your work implies a serious and deep thinker – is that you as a person or you at work?
When did Kant/Nietzche & Foucualt and their brethren ever help anyone’s work? (I saw people’s work get minced through philosophy on my MA). My work is simple, I only ever wonder what every other human being or hominid has ever thought.