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Some might know that we studied together at City & Guilds of London Art School a few years ago, can you start by telling us where you went next and the paintings that you made during your degree course?
I went to study Painting and Printmaking BA (Hons) at The Glasgow School of Art where I graduated in 2016, even before this I was making meticulous life size oil paintings and drawings of friends and acquaintances, trying to capture their psychology or sexuality through costume, reinventing scenes from archetypal Greek myths or European folklore. I found Glasgow an intensely social environment so my interest in figurative painting and storytelling blossomed with everyone mixing together, fashion designers, painters, poets, performance artists and others in the wider community; there are collaborative processes happening everywhere so I was never short of models for pictures.
I began developing my own contemporary mythologies, continuing to paint scenes that told a story about the characters and personal relationships in my everyday life but also referring to the painting traditions, compositions and costumes of the early modern European period, combininghistorical symbolism with contemporary fashion, costume and subcultural elements, drawing the viewer into the present.I reference the shifting connotations of fashion and costume elements over time and there I was also influenced by a group of young fashion designers who are deconstructing gender stereotypes through Renaissance shapes and tailoring. I was honoured when they used my painting ‘Ideal Portrait of a Man,’ of my friend Sgàire Wood, a trans-woman, designer, model and performer as the poster for the GSA 2016 Degree Show, a modern take on 15thcentury ‘ideal beauty portraits.’
My painting style also developed, in 2015 I won the Richard Ford Award travel scholarship to Madrid to spend some months studying the works at the Museo del Prado where I learned a lot through looking at the paintings of the Spanish Baroque.
I’d have loved to have seen it in person, but I couldn’t! Your recent solo show with Moscow’s Triumph Gallery has been really well received and shows a series of paintings, etchings and a drawing. How did you go about selecting work for the exhibition?
Thank you, It was quite daunting as it was my first solo show - and in Russia - but it worked out really well. I showed 35 works and as it takes me a month or two to make a painting it was necessary to think about how old and new works could be exhibited together; I was looking at continuous themes in my work: mythology, fashion, Renaissance portraiture and thinking about how the paintings could relate to each other visually to create suggested narrative. The main body of the show was oil paintings on wood and linen, this included large paintings at 2x2m, to miniatures at 6x6cm the curator also selected a series of my more recent etchings and some drawings that help to break up the format along with 3d objects created using a mixture of painted surfaces and fabric. There is a sense of a story being woven as you move round the space, looking closely you can also see that techniques have shifted so you get this feeling of the time that’s been invested not only in the detail but in the development of ideas; there were works from 2014 next to works from 2018 and I am pleased to say there was still a feeling of continuity. Retrospectively, I also see it as the end of a cycle, realising there are some things I might never return to.
Can you tell us more about the overall themes of your work and why you chose to title it ‘Mythologies & Metamorphoses’?
There are so many themes that I touch on in my paintings: Renaissance portraiture, Greek Mythology, folklore, mysticism, animals, nature, the artificial, high fashion, subculture, gender, identity and sexuality. I feel the title really encapsulates this otherworldly domain that I am trying to create, mythology and transformation are themes that I have worked with for many years now and the majority of the artworks depict a character’s figurative or literal metamorphoses; like my painting ‘Artemis and Acteaon,’ in which my friend Fin is pleading against his transformation into a stag. There are references to animals, fur, rabbit masks, antlers, moths, and beetles, in almost every work and there is a strong link between spirituality, nature and the artificial so everything tied in nicely.
What have you got planned after this show comes to and end and is a London exhibition on the cards?
I can’t say exactly as I don’t want to jinx anything! I have a new series of paintings planned so I hope to have a chance to show them a bit closer to home next time.
Written by John Bingham, founder of Bingham.