Curator - Patrick Davies
I came across Will’s paintings last year through Instagram and a flurry of activity on Artsy. His graduation year from Leeds Arts had been turned upside down by the Pandemic with the University closing. Left with nowhere to paint he was forced to begin making work on a smaller scale from his bedroom. We met up and I loved what I saw. A new lockdown put paid to face-to-face, so we were compelled to chat about his practice and ideas via email.
When did you realise that you wanted to become an artist and why did you choose painting? Do you come from a creative background?
I didn’t seriously think about the prospect until my second year of university, when I really started to engage with my practice and my learning. I don’t come from a creative background and I don’t have any relatives that have perused a career in the arts or really know anything about it. It wasn’t until I was put into an art school environment that I could start to build a hunger to make work and really begin to paint. In my first year of study, we were encouraged to experiment with different forms of art outside of what we’ve previously been accustomed to. I remember just being very stubborn with the idea because all I wanted to do was paint. I didn’t want to turn my back on the medium when I was just getting started and I believed there was a place for me within it. I just enjoy the act of painting and the freedom it offers. I like being left to my own devices where I can listen to music whilst I work and get lost in the process. It’s also the spontaneity of the medium where pretty much every time mistakes and accidents dictate the final image.
2020 was your graduation year from Leeds Arts University and COVID changed everything. Can you tell me about your work before lockdown and how the pandemic altered your approach to painting and why? What other challenges did you face?
I was using the same subject matter but I wasn’t really happy with how It was being represented in paint. I was working on a larger scale and my painting had become too predictable and systematic. These were very stylized but realistic representations that would directly copy the material I was referencing. I began working on a much smaller scale where I felt free to experiment and loosen up my use of paint. Lockdown meant the closure of university which caused the problem of not having a space to work from. I didn’t have much space working from home so I decided to abandon my work on large scale and then double up on the number of small-scale pieces I was initially working on, which allowed me to expand on my material and the language I was developing with each piece. Prioritising a smaller scale as a result of the pandemic meant I had to reconsider technique. I had initially planned for the work to be even looser and less refined. In terms of my painting process, time was a thing I had to adjust to as I would complete work at a much faster rate, rotating multiple pieces at a time. I also liked the level of freedom from working in complete isolation compared to the communal studios provided at University and I don’t think without the lockdown my work would have taken this direction.
What ideas or stories are you trying to convey? Is it important how the viewer reacts to your work?
I’m interested in sharing a perspective of young manhood from my experience, a coming of age. In doing so, you could say I’m trying to convey the shared guardedness within groups of friends, a sort of inner circle where figures coalesce and confidently occupy space across a canvas. I want to express a state of profound boredom. Finding yourself within a specific environment, performing certain behaviours as a result of boredom and little money. Within that, there has to be a sense of freedom and carelessness. The work is very much about the now and the moment, but naturally there’s a sense of uncertainty; what will the future hold for the figures represented and where will they go next. Will these relationships continue or fall to the hands of time as we get older. It’s important that the things I’m trying to convey are reflected in the work so people can draw an understanding. However, I don’t paint with the intention of trying to get a reaction or trying to make the viewer feel a certain way. It’s ultimately up to the viewer to react and interpret the work themselves.
The individuals and groups that you depict are exclusively male, why is that?
The work strictly dominates a male perspective because it’s coming from a place of lived experience, a reflection of myself. The figures depicted are exclusively male, as the work follows the relationships between young men and moments between friendship groups. At this point in time, it’s what I know and respond to the most. I’m interested in self-image. How we’re perceived by others and how we want to be perceived through our appearance, dress sense, body language and behaviour. It creates a dialogue about the type of relationships between the figures in the work and is something I wanted to reflect in the painted image.
Does your imagery come from direct experiences or are they imagined? Tell me more about the people depicted; are they friends? Are the situations spontaneous or planned?
The imagery comes from direct experiences, some of friends and some from different sources. A lot of the moments are spontaneous and candid. I like it where figures are caught loitering in space where each figure is performing something different across a composition, almost waiting for something to happen.
What part does social media and photography play in your creative process?
I primarily use Instagram to gather imagery. I also find a lot of useful images flicking through old photos on my phone and group chats where photos have been exchanged between friends. I spend a lot of time looking for material and eventually gather a wide selection before singling out the most suggestive images that allow me to cause a reaction in paint.
How important is your use of colour which can be both intense and washed out?
I’ve always been attracted to colour across all forms of art. With my most recent work, colour has been something I’ve have had to think about more than ever. Well, actually I’m kind of contradicting myself because when I’m in the process of painting and applying colour I don’t really think. I’m quite intuitive in my choices and also rely on chance and accident. From there I’m able to decide what colours react well with each other and what a painting could be missing. I think what I mean when I say I’ve had more to think about involving colour is asking myself what representing the material in such saturation is doing for the image. For me, it’s about bringing attention to these otherwise mundane scenes and accentuating the self-image of the figures. The resulting paintings are loud in tone. The colour adds feeling to the images and opens a window to a different, more inviting space.
You often use strong outlines to accentuate characters. Is there a reason for this?
It works in accentuating the figure, movement and the body languages that are being performed as well as providing a structure to the flat plains of colour. I was initially influenced by the Edvard Munch painting; Melancholy (1894) and Peter Doig’s Lapeyrouse Wall (2004). Drawing plays a significant role in my painting which can also be said to be reflected in my use of outline.
How important is scale? For me, the small canvases create an intimacy without impinging on the greater narrative of the work.
The smaller scale is important for maintaining the intimacy of the imagery and a balance between the photographic and painted image. I thought the type of material is more suited for a smaller scale as these images are not fully fledged scenes. They’re spontaneous and somewhat meaningless moments. They’re fleeting snapshots in time. I don’t see them as something so significant and important to a point that they should be presented in such a grand scale. At this point in time, I like how the work operates as small icons, where a vast array of images can be displayed together at once, and the significance of the imagery can be spread across a body and not one unified image.
Which other artists do you admire and why? Do any directly influence your work?
I admire a lot of artists; I spend a lot of time looking at art on Instagram which I think can unconsciously filter into your own work. I’ve been looking at a lot of Nicole Eisenman’s paintings and more recently Florian Krewer. Peter Doig, and R. B. Kitaj have had a direct influence on my painting stylistically as well as Gauguin and Munch. I was initially inspired by Doig’s studio film club posters for the looseness of the paint and use of colour. Kitaj has also had a direct influence on my use of outline.