STUART PEARSON WRIGHT IN CONVERSATION
with William Feaver
WF Hello everybody, now Stuart Pearson Wright, he’s a master of all sorts, there’s going to be tap dancing routines; you did say that didn’t you?
SPW Yeah, only if you join me..
WF There’s a baby show, there’s all sorts. But the main basic… well one of the main basic… well apart from he’s a good artist. He was a member of the drawing year in one of its earlier days of the drawing school and so he’s the first alumnus to be invited back. It’s not because he’s the nicest or best or anything like that, or the most handsome, its just because he was available.
Sit down Stuart, let’s start.
Now this comes in several stages this conversation, were going to start with early work.
SPW Early, how far do you want to go back?
WF We wont go as far back as your son I think that’s one month old, fine boy at the back of the room, if anyone gets bored.
SPW And I should on that note just apologise for any lack of lucidity on my part, I’ve been suffering from sleep depravation.
WF This is Stuart saying he’s a good male parent.
SPW I change the nappies in the night.
WF That’s very benevolent of you. What put you into art in the first place? What time?
SPW Actually I had a strong feeling of being an artist when I was about four, I remember having a conversation with somebody at whatever school it was I was at, at the time. Someone asked me if I was an artist.
WF Was that the art teacher?
SPW No no it was another child, and I remember for some reason I said no I’m not because being an artist is a profession, and I’m not a professional. You know I don’t get paid for it.
WF You weren’t old enough.
SPW I’m paraphrasing myself, but it was along those lines, in the sense that I was just an amateur.
WF And you really were I suppose. What time/stage did professionalism start creeping up?
SPW I guess when I decided to go to art school although I wanted to go to drama school as well. It was a tough decision but I guess I was always going to go to art school really.
WF And were your parents behind it?
SPW Yeah my mum was, she’s here as well.
WF It’s always good to have one’s mother behind you if you go to art school.
WF And you didn’t entirely take to some of the art schools did you?
SPW I probably had quite a challenging time at Slade, that’s probably more because I was a nuisance than anything else. I think the school was probably a very good place; I was probably just a pain in the ass.
WF There’s a long and noble tradition of being a pain in the ass down the centuries.
SPW Actually on that note I would like to mention that the principle tried to have me expelled once for trying to break into the school on Sunday to get to my paintings, because I had an interview with an art critic.
WF An interview with an art critic?
SPW Well a meeting, it was with Brian Sewell actually this was a long time ago I didn’t realise…
WF I don’t think we want to know about this…
SPW But I tried to scale the fence to get in because the security guards wouldn’t let me in, and I got caught, I was on camera, cctv.
WF So it was your first video piece then?
SPW Yeah it was! I would like to get hold of that.
WF And they chucked you out?
SPW No the professor tried to have me kicked out, but the Dean saw my side of the story and took sympathy, and said we’ll let you stay and just give you a fine.
WF And then after that.
SPW Well then I came here for a year although that was a few years later.
WF And this was for the drawing year; it was already called the drawing year.
SPW Yeah I think it was maybe the second or third year so this was year and years ago.
WF Yes I think the schools been going 10-11 years now. Did this come as a revelation to you?
SPW What this place?
SPW Um, I can’t remember why I wanted to come now; I think I wanted to do some printmaking.
WF That’s tucked away in the basement, very surreptitious. So did you pick anything up here I mean in terms of technique, interests, range, prospect?
SPW Yeah I enjoyed the classes with Timothy Hyman, the out and about in London that was very useful. Is he still doing that?
WF He’s still doing it.
SPW Actually I don’t do any sketching out and about anymore, I did for a while. I’d like to think that I still do but I don’t.
WF And after that you setup pretty well straight away didn’t you? Or did you? Was there any struggle?
SPW Well no actually I did have a struggle but that was during my years at the Slade as I was impoverished, and I was so impoverished at one point I’d run out of money and had to live in my van in primrose hill. I used to see Rachael Weiss jogging every morning, which was about the only thing that made it bearable, got me through the winter!
WF Yes that’d warm you up considerably.
SPW But then I was sort of quite lucky because I won a prize, which gave me a small exhibition in the national gallery, which coincided with when I graduated.
WF And then you were commissioned to do a portrait weren’t you? As part of the deal wasn’t it.
WF And that launched you to some extent didn’t it?
SPW Yeah it was a series of happy moments.
WF Shall we look at some of this?
SPW Yes that’s probably a very good idea. [SLIDE SHOW STARTS] that’s called ‘All that Glitter'.
WF This is after his trouble with the law is it?
SPW Yeah actually this is a relatively recent painting. I bought this canvas in a exhibition in a place called… I’ve forgotten what its called it’s a little village in Sussex on an implausibly named road called Glenn Close, it was an annual exhibition of mainly Sussex landscapes…
WF That’s obviously a Sussex landscape…
SPW Yeah and this is a Sussex in a very special moment in which I’ve never witnessed it and it was called something like special moment, or serene moment, so I felt that it needed some figures added, so I added these figures here, probably in very poor taste actually.
WF There’s probably some brilliant breach of copyright going on here.
SPW I’m sure, no there would be.
WF Because you have been painting on found paintings quite a lot?
SPW I’ve done it a few times yeah. I did look into copyright law many years ago and this is breach of copyright, but whoever painted the picture hasn’t come forward.
WF Shall we carry on…
SPW This is quite an old drawing its an assemblage drawing of me cooking beans. I was planning to, in fact I would still like to make a film piece which has a series of really dull moments in the day of a mans life.
WF Making my lunch is the highlight of my day.
SPW I haven’t got much more to say about that one actually.
WF The elongation is one of your trademarks really isn’t it?
SPW Yes, I don’t really see it as being elongated.
WF That’s what I was wondering.
SPW Yeah it probably is. If you got a compass out and measured it you’d find that it was a very long thin figure. I was probably longer and thinner when I made this because it was some time ago. Yes I do elongate things and I think its because I have a long face and long forehead and a long chin and everything is quite long.
WF A long reach.
SPW Yeah and there’s an aspect of extending that longness onto everything I see and I’ve got an astigmatism as well so I see things sort of vertically, my horizontal field of vision isn’t as strong as my vertical.
WF Is that developing or have you always had it?
SPW Yes it’s an on going development.
WF Yes but what the eye sees and the brain registers automatically adjusts itself to some extent.
SPW It does with contact lenses. But I still feel drawn to long things. Id much rather them be like that.
SPW This is a drawing called Cad. This is from about three years ago. I just found the worst quality paper I could find because I had this permanent problem of making intensely anal drawings that are highly finished and it really makes me sick and I wanted to do some really terrible drawings, so I found the worst quality paper I could find.
WF So it’s already rotted?
SPW Yeah it’s already decayed and falling apart and I just got a photo from a book of old film stills and drew a Cad and tried to make it as-
SPW As Caddish but also as terrible drawing as I could.
WF That’s quite an elegant drawing I’m sorry to say.
SPW Is it?
SPW Well that the problem you see.
WF Can’t do anything wrong.
SPW I do try.
WF It does look like someone who bribes in the bath murders sort of thing.
SPW I’m sure his collars are quite uneven I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.
WF They match the moustache, which is also significantly uneven.
SPW It’s all slightly irregular.
WF And his ears of course, you can tell murderers ears by the fact they don’t match.
SPW No they don’t match at all.
SPW Actually I did this picture when I was studying here. In fact I made a big etching of it, in fact I think I spent most of my drawing year making the etching for this picture because I kept getting it wrong.
WF Was it a large etching?
SPW It was a big about a meter or so.
WF Huge then.
SPW Yeah on two plates.
WF Did it work?
SPW Well eventually, but it took me the whole drawing year to do it.
WF That’s what they all say.
SPW And then I painted it, but I did the etching first.
WF But there’s all sorts of ingredients, this could be a Victorian/Pre-Raphaelite ish sort of painting because there’s a story being told; images at the back.
SPW Funnily enough I was thinking of Bonnard at the time.
WF I don’t know why you were thinking of Bonnard at the time, maybe because of the bath and the foot in the tap. That never occurred to Bonnard did it?
SPW Someone complained about that, said it was ridicules that the person had a foot in the tap.
WF I think that’s a very natural thing isn’t it?
SPW Well that’s what I said. Someone had an objection to that, I can’t think why.
WF And was the fore ground homage to Damien Hirst?
SPW No this was before Damien Hirst. This picture is so old he was still in shorts at the time.
WF So to some extent he’s ripped you off really.
SPW Yeah he saw those pink pills and that set him going with his whole thing.
WF Very lucrative. What I like about this, well there are many things to like but you’ve solved the problem of the foreground by putting a plughole there, just works a treat doesn’t it?
SPW I’m very fond of the plughole actually. It just sorts of end up there doesn’t it really. It all goes down the plughole eventually.
WF And it’s all off centre and so on so it’s… yeah.
SPW There’s a sort of coding in there, this is an ex girlfriend who was a bit of a nightmare really.
WF Well she probably thought the same of you. Was it done as a memory or was it done while it was all going on?
SPW No it was done at the time, but my personal coding in this is there’s a picture of a happy wedding scene at the top to the right of my head and there’s a big crack going through the glass and that was a sort of note to self you know this thing ain’t going anywhere.
WF Its also very, very Holeman Hunt.
WF Which is a euphemism.
WF It’s got a bit of elongation going doesn’t it?
SPW This is called Eastbourne pier and I did this after I finished at Slade and in terms of the amount of time per square inch, this is the longest painting I’ve ever worked on it took me six months.
WF It's got quite an indescribable amount of detail hasn’t it.
SPW Yes it has.
WF Even a wicket.
SPW It’s actually a deerhound; it’s my old dog Ethel who’s sadly no longer with us. But I was experimenting at the time with Flemish painting techniques. Doing an under painting and working on top of that with colour, so I did that with this and I painstakingly drew the whole thing out with black and white cross hatch paint, took months.
WF In paint?
SPW Yeah in paint then went over it in coloured paint, of course you can’t see any of that now.
WF I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in the flesh but it does have an extraordinary sense of light behind.
SPW Well its because it’s painted on proper gesso. Not just gesso from Atlantis that calls itself gesso buts’ just plastic, this was the real stuff that I made with dead rabbit and chalk.
WF Did you kill the rabbit?
SPW Yes I did.
WF Good, thorough.
SPW Well the deerhound did actually. You can’t see the detail but there’s blood around its mouth.
WF There’s a considerable donation from the deerhound, that’s nice to know. Is that vaguely from life or is it as doll like as it looks?
SPW I did do some drawing with a real baby, it didn’t actually pose for me while I painted it.
WF That’s the only bit that look- unless it’s intentionally – odd. It could be Jesus in one of his grown up moods.
SPW I spent a lot of time going around the museums in Europe looking at the Flemish paintings and this is a recurring motif, and I liked the idea that the baby had a point.
WF So is this a Madonna and child?
SPW A little bit.
WF But not stressing it too much?
SPW No there’s an underlining reference.
WF If you went down Eastbourne pier again with your child, would you paint it differently?
SPW I wouldn’t allow him to be naked on the pier. I think I would probably paint it differently as well.
WF This is some time ago isn’t it?
SPW Yes this was in the 90s.
SPW This is called ‘Gallus gallus with Still Life and Presidents’, and this was a commission.
WF This was after the millennium or at the time of the millennium?
SPW This was in 2001 I think there abouts.
WF There’s a clue in the background.
SPW Yes the thing, the London Eye.
WF And why the dead chicken?
SPW That’s a good question actually, that’s what they said when they first saw it.
WF They all look like they’re averting their noses but of course you painted them averting their noses.
SPW Well I initially thought of painting them naked which sounds perverse, well I guess it is perverse, but at the time I was bothered by portraits in the way they were always illustrating someone’s social position, class or job. The clothes that the person is wearing give all those away and I was into the idea of painting people disassociated to their clothes so you couldn’t tell who they were of where they were from, but so you were looking at there faces.
WF Who are they?
SPW They’re all presidents of the British academy; they’re all geographers and philosophers. That man on the left is actually called Baron Quirk I kid you not and that’s not Buddy Holly, the third one from the left.
WF Did you have to get them all together round the table?
SPW No they lived in different parts of the country.
WF And it’s was presumably mainly form photographs was it?
SPW No it was mainly done from life. I had to drive up to Scotland with this in my van to paint this bloke here.
WF Did he not even lend you his wooly? You can’t have painted it on the spot.
SPW He did actually! I took the jumper home with me and painted that at home. I did some work from photos.
WF It’s probably the most memorable painting about Shetland whatever in modern times isn’t it?
SPW Well I gave it my best shot.
WF Did it stitch by stitch.
SPW It took a long time. But I didn’t answer the question about the chicken. I’ve always thought that chickens that have been plucked look like old dead people.
WF This is a terribly puerile joke exposing dignified gentleman is it?
SPW Well… its not a joke, well kind of I guess.
WF It’s a vanitas.
SPW It’s a vanitas yes it’s a momento mori, it’s a reference to their impending mortality but also…
WF The biscuits! You have it both ways don’t you.
WF The jammy dogger.
SPW Well you see now the jammy dodger… there’s a lot of stuff going on in this picture I cant even remember some of the stuff. The jammy dodger is a reference to the last supper you see, these three here and those two were past presidents and the guy with the jammy dodger was the current president, so I felt that he was the guy who should have the jammy dodger, because he’s the one who’s holding the mantle and therefore the last supper is his.
WF Well if this belonged to the Tate they’d produce one of their longest ever explanations to one side, because they’d love you, because you’ve given them so much to write about.
SPW Well there’s so much, you see the Polaroid? That’s the next president. You see its all in there I tell you. I’ve thought of everything.
SPW That’s called Ibiza and that’s a swimming pool borrowed from Hockney, the feet are mine obviously.
WF It’s also slightly Francis Bacon composition in a way.
SPW Yeah it is a bit…
WF Perhaps accidently. Next.
WF This is in the portrait gallery and this is a commission.
SPW It was a commission. I won the BP prize for the thing with the blokes and the chicken and then I did this as part of my prize. In fact I made it. This is a 3D piece. In fact if you click onto the next slide you might see a sort of side shot. I’m not sure if that makes any sense at all but the figure is cut out, it’s like a regency toy theatre so some things are flat…
WF The optical distortion all works in a kind of strange magical way.
SPW Yeah I find slightly nauseous when I look at it sometimes.
WF I feel slightly nauseous when I read her books… but.
WF Do you love them?
SPW The press never made that parallel.
WF I think it’s a terrific invention.
SPW Thank you.
WF And works rather beautifully and is one of the most popular things in the gallery now I believe.
SPW Ah well I’m pleased to hear that.
WF Well it does re invent something.
SPW Yeah the unfortunate thing was that a lot of people thought that was a money tree, which its not it’s an aloe vera plant. I think a journalist made that comment that I painted her with a money tree…
WF Was that Brian Sewell by any chance?
SPW I think it was… yeah he didn’t like it at all. He thought it was ridiculous.
WF You’ve not done anything like this again have you?
SPW I made one other piece prior to this, which is made of drawings and components, which are drawn and etched, rather then painted. I’ve got plans for another one.
WF Which suggest that you actually plan in detail do you? The group portrait for example you had it in your mind what you were going to put in way before you started? Or did these things occur to you in the long months?
SPW Well that was developed over quite a long time and I left a lot of things to accident. In as far as with the bloke in the jumper, because I painted the picture at his house he’s just wearing his jumper you know and slippers. But the other blokes came to the sittings in the British academy so they all put their suits on thinking it was a special occasion.
WF So there’s always the odd one.
SPW But the point was that I didn’t want to impose any kind of narrative on how the men appeared. I wanted to allow chance to determine elements of the picture because I thought that added another layer of narrative. In the sense that the painting was a theatrical construction from the start and I was aware of it, these men had probably never been in the same room at the same time, s o I was beginning from the premise it was a falsification as all portraits are.
WF Well particularly group portraits.
SPW Yeah exactly so I wanted to embrace the fakeness of the moment by adding a layer of reality to it, which was they did there own thing.
WF And what happens when they freak and say it’s not their type of portrait.
SPW Yeah. That doesn’t really happen often, it hasn’t happened with me.
WF That was for the portrait gallery wasn’t it?
SPW Well that wasn’t a commission it’s a very small picture, its about 3 inches square. I just happened to see him walking down Old Compton street and I just went up to him and asked if I could paint him. I had this little picture in my pocket; this was when I was doing that picture with the pier. I’d been doing these Flemish inspired pictures and I had a small portrait in my pocket, which was convenient, and I showed it to John Hurt so he agreed to sit for me.
WF That’s extremely good foresight and planning carrying a picture in your pocket and you stalked him!
SPW Yeah well there was an element of chance but element of recognising an opportunity and knowing I didn’t have any other back up plan. That’s been a driving force in my work in the fact I never had a plan B I could never hold down any job anywhere else, could never have somebody telling me what to do because I would want to murder them. I knew I had to make a success of painting.
WF And opportunism had to pay a very significant part.
SPW Oh yes.
WF And of course if you’re not an opportunist you don’t get the breaks you don’t find out what you actually want to do .
SPW You have to create all the breaks, that was a good example of that.
WF But they are labor intensive the portraits aren’t they?
SPW Some of them are, that one I’d got on top of the technique and so it was relatively quick.
WF And was it based on good gesso?
SPW Yes that was real gesso so another rabbit I’m afraid.
WF I always think its good to have a use for a rabbit if possible.
SPW This is called Florrie from Eastbourne. When I was at the Slade during a holiday I used to live in Eastbourne, sort of grew up there, there are lots of old people in Eastbourne and when I was a child for a while my mum was a manageress of an elderly peoples home so I’ve always had a bit of a thing for old people, I mean nothing sexual just...
WF I said nothing.
SPW I just thought I should clarify that. You know a fondness and an interest in them so during one of my holidays at the Slade I decided I was going to do a series of portraits of elderly people.
WF Which they probably appreciated.
SPW Well I hope so, well this was done in one eleven hour sitting and she sat there for ten hours without really moving… I had a couple of moments where I thought about prodding her to check that she was ok but then she left for her lunch and I worked on the ornaments in the background. But then I did the whole thing and for me this was an epic achievement I painted a picture in one single sitting and it’d been a long day and I was tired and I hadn’t had anything to eat and so on and at the end of it I showed it to her and she said ‘oh that’s nice dear’ and that was that.
WF It could have gone much worse than that, couldn’t it and the interesting thing is the things you’ve put in are all significant; you couldn’t have worked them out. The wooly thing she’s sitting on and the houses in the background, it’s like a pre Raphaelite painting everything has to go in.
SPW Well it all felt important, in as far as it was there, all those things said something about her.
SPW That’s a portrait of an actor called Matthew Macfadyen, that was part of an exhibition of portraits of actors I did some years ago.
WF Do you find them good to work from?
SPW Generally yeah except for Steven Berkoff.
WF Is he a human being?
SPW No I think being in the same room as him is difficult, let alone trying to draw him.
WF So ordinary actors? Their projection and also their defenses, they’re very much used to being looked at.
SPW That’s why I find them interesting.
WF And you make that interesting because all of those things could be no no’s for other portrait painters.
SPW I’ve always found that very interesting, because there’s always a sort of tension between who they are in inverted coma’s and who they’re pretending to be and when your drawing somebody its very difficult to sustain pretending to be somebody else for any period of time.
WF And the tradition of theatrical portraits, which I believe where in the Garrick club, but also the National Portrait Gallery, in which they appear dressed up as Macbeth or whoever and absolutely bizarre!
SPW Yes they are quite strange.
WF Very strange.
SPW Well there’s one here actually, amongst these slides, of Michael Gambon. That’s in his dressing room at the National Theatre and he’s half in his costume and half out. I would actually like to say in my defense, just because I got a bee in my bonnet for this. Brian Sewell, when he saw this wrote a very damming article about it in the Evening Standard.
WF ‘you got the hands wrong’.
SPW Yeah, you read the article? He moaned about the willful exaggeration of the hands and feet but because I know Michael Gambon I can report that he has a strange condition, which means he has very very long fingers and very long feet. I once measured his hand against mine and his fingers where an inch longer and he’s about two inches shorter than me.
WF And this is a genuinely optical picture by which of course I mean you do things from exactly one fixed position, so the shoes are actually enormous compared to the head.
SPW Yes well there was an element of distortion but I didn’t exaggerate his fingers. So Brian can go to hell.
WF I wish you’d paint his portrait..
SPW I did actually it’s a funny old story, I didn’t include it here because…
WF It was too shameful was it?
SPW Well what I think it was, I sort of fell out with Brian because I started this portrait years and years ago before I knew what was what, and then I fell out with him and that’s another long story. But I got my portrait (half finished) back and I did some things to it, which I don’t think the audience might be ready for so I decided to leave that one out.
WF I wouldn’t mind a private viewing at some point.
SPW This is called Mr & Mrs Cramp, that’s another elderly couple see I told you I like elderly people.
WF Yes, this is earlier is it?
SPW Yes this is from when I was at the Slade. The one thing I might say about this is the perspective, which is quite strange, I’d just been to Norwich and discovered the roof bosses in the cathedral, which are paintings, 3D pieces they have a very strange perspectives so the flat tables will be flat to the viewer and the figures will be seated around it.
WF So you brought that down to the ground.
SPW Yes that was a big moment for me when I saw that and could play around with perspective.
WF Very powerful weapon.
SPW This is called ‘Pastoral’.
WF Well your handling has obviously improved.
WF Do you know anything about Vernin? [marked bottom of canvas]
SPW Vernin hasn’t sourced any copyright reimbursements on this one. This was the first painting where I…
WF Took a liberty of someone else’s work?
SPW Yeah. But I thought this painting was crying out for this treatment.
WF Pity Brian would have liked the painting before. Next.
[member of audience] can I ask a question? What was the picture when you took it over?
SPW It was just a landscape without the figures, neither of them.
WF So other than the splash of water it wasn’t full of incident was it.
SPW No it wasn’t. Not really much happening.
WF Seen enough Danny [yep]
SPW That’s the piece that I said came before the J K Rowling portrait its called ‘Scene From a Play’, I’d been watching too much Beckett.
SPW I should have sat there, your neck’s gunna be fine at the end.
WF Ah, if you turn around a little bit.
SPW That’s better, that’s called ‘Spoons’ it’s just a couple of self-portraits and some spoons.
WF And it’s small presumably?
SPW Yes very small.
SPW That’s ‘With the Ducks’, the ducks where there already.
SPW That’s called ‘Ventriloquist’. That’s John Hurt again sitting on his own lap; make of that what you will.
WF What did he make of it?
SPW Oh he loved it!
SPW That’s just a sketch for a painting that I want to make but it’d be a diptych with a woman on a horse and a monkey.
WF Bestiality, well its not.. ancestiality. Next.
SPW This is called, ‘Woman Surprised by a Werewolf’, this painting is about that size actually. That was made about three or four years ago, I’m planning on doing a number of these in this series so there’ll be three of four.
WF Pastoral, sort of different.
SPW Yeah picking up on that theme.
WF The wild world etc.
WF Little like Neil Jordan’s Red Riding Hood.
SPW Yeah I’m familiar with most of the werewolf genre actually.
SPW That’s called ‘A Heart Warming Moment’, just because when I painted it I found it warmed my heart to look at it.
WF Well you can’t go wrong with a sunset- well you can go wrong with a sunset can’t you.
SPW You can. There is a clip there of a film that’s part of this batch called ‘Knight’s Tale’ which I made around the time of those pictures.
WF A movie interlude then.
SPW So this was a film piece made on a very small budget, it’s about half an hour long, but just show a clip… That’s pretty much all that happens.
WF So a little bit Monty Python esq.
SPW Yeah… That was very heavy [suit of armor and sword]… and so on and so on. It was my sort of foray into existentialism.
SPW So this is work from my last exhibition at the Riflemaker, which was last summer.
WF The Riflemaker is a very particular gallery isn’t it because it has 18th century paneling, creaky floors, did you choose the gallery or did the gallery choose you?
SPW They chose me actually…
WF And these hybrid picture fit rather well don’t they.
SPW Yeah they seem to work very well in the space, you can probably just flick through these. That’s called ‘Buddies in the Saddle’, most of these paintings, in fact I think all of them, the titles were taken from… this is called ‘Ed Cane and the Love Girls of Alaska’, or something like that. That’s called ‘Home on the Range’ and that’s another one where I painted onto a pre found canvas.
WF Were you did the irresponsible ducks?
SPW I did the ducks this time. I bought that in Arizona and it had that frame on it, which was wonderful.
WF Beautiful frame isn’t it!
SPW That’s called a ‘Whalers Tale’. That’s called ‘I Remember You’, which gave the title of the exhibition.
SPW That’s my wife with a red wig on.
WF Patient woman.
SPW Yeah very. And that’s called ‘If We Make It Till December’.
WF These sort of things do have a very curious effect of making, actually making the background more interesting than it actually is.
SPW Yeah well I’d like to think so. I did paint that background though.
WF Those are your cacti.
SPW I painted those; I actually went to monument valley this background is painted from my own source material.
WF But you’ve added a snow-white castle in the background haven’t you?
SPW Yeah I have actually. As part of the exhibition I recorded an album country western songs and one original song, which was written by my wife, and this was the LP cover probably an appropriate time to hear one of the songs if that’s ok. [song plays] what’s the general feeling would people like to hear another one. [YES]
[member of audience] Where can you buy it?
SPW Directly from me, I’ll be taking cheques from you at the end
WF Well I think that’s better than anything Brian could produce. So you did the song as a soundtrack for making cinematic images, or just because you wanted to?
SPW Well initially when I conceived the idea of the show I liked the idea when you saw one of these paintings, which I painted on top of a painting I bought in a junk shop you had a terrible re recording of an old song playing at the same time and I was going to construct and infra-red light which meant when you came up to the painting the song would start to play. But in the end when I started recording the songs I developed the idea of just making an old vinyl record.
WF And didn’t you basically have a love for the songs and a love for the vinyl?
SPW Actually I wasn’t a big fan of country and western before this but I’d done a road trip around the American west which kind of precipitated all of this, that’s ‘Rose-Marie’ that’s called ‘Shark attack’.
WF You like putting yourself into heroic roles don’t you?
SPW I do yeah very much.
WF Never the wimp, never the coward?
SPW I’ll tell you a little about the Genesis of this, I bought the canvas in Oslo in a junk store and then this image, the configuration of the images came from a film still from a Jimmy Stewart film ‘the man who shot liberty valance’ and so a friend whose a photographer took a shot of my wife and I adopting the poses, and we took lots of photos of us trying to recreate the pose in the film. But then in one picture I think my wife had a bit of hair in her eye and threw her hair back and he happened to take a picture of it at that moment and I preferred that to the images that we were supposed to be making, so that became the picture because it didn’t seem to make any sense.
WF It added extra drama.
SPW Yeah which she sort of looks ecstatic.
WF He looks like Jimmy Stewart drawling a little bit.
SPW So it seemed slightly incongruous which I enjoyed. That’s called something about the Injuns are Coming spelt with a J, I N J U N it’s a quote obviously, its native American.
WF Next, Haha.
SPW I think that’s the first I did actually. I bought this canvas in spitalfields market and just stuck us in there, it was quite tricky because the paint was really, really thick and I had put nitromores underneath where the figures are to get rid of some of the paint because the texture was so…
WF They’re made in Belgium aren’t they or used to be, now made in China probably guaranteed inclusto.
SPW Yeah I think they’re made in China they have villages.
WF They do Van Gogh’s in villages.
SPW I’d like to visit the village where they make them one day.
WF What would happen if you commissioned the full works, it wouldn’t be quite the same would it, it would need your touch as well that touch.
SPW I think it’s the marriage of the two styles that sort of brings the...
WF Relationship rather than marriage.
SPW Yeah that lends...
WF And you could reverse it round you could do the background and pick out a child with a tear in his eye or something.
SPW It would be an interesting idea actually to go down that route.
WF Well there you go. Next.
SPW Food for thought. That’s called ‘Together They Could Face Anything.’
WF Slight drift of Jeff Koons too.
SPW Yeah a little bit, I’m very fond of Jeff Koons in some ways. I’m very fond of this painting actually, and I hung this in the tent in the marquee at my wedding.
WF Didn’t you get married in San Remo or something?
SPW No Suffolk.
WF Suffolk, easy mistake to make. Next.
SPW That’s called Trevor Howard, that’s part of the same series I was doing of terrible drawings.
WF I think you succeeded more at doing a terrible drawing there than in the other one. The nose is quite something.
WF It’s quite a declaration isn’t it, Next.
SPW That’s called ‘Homeward Bound’.
WF Now there’s one more lot of the latest isn’t there?
SPW Well as part of this exhibition I made another film piece called Maze and there’s a folder there, and there’s some film stills and a 20 second clip of the film, which was two films, and the way it was shown in the gallery space was there was one film at one end of the space and another film at the other end of the space and there was surround sound speakers going around the gallery so it gave a very immersive feel as though one was in the maze with the characters, they where quite big screens.
WF Is this Hampton Court or somewhere or?
SPW It is Longleat.
WF And that worked? I haven’t seen it?
SPW I like to think it did yeah I was pleased with it.
WF I mean you got the connection between the two?
SPW Yeah I did. It was edited in such a way that when one character said something the other responded. That has nothing to do with the film at all, it’s based on a knitting pattern.
WF Quite a complicated knitting pattern.
SPW Yes it is, it’s a mono print of a complicated knitting pattern. If we can look at a folder called Maze there’s some stills of some installation shots that might help.
WF Tell us about…
SPW That’s someone looking at it, they showed it on the tube at some point and this pilfered from the Evening Standard. They showed it Moscow and because I didn’t go, because I couldn’t as I was about to get married they did their own thing with it and they had little screens. I don’t know what to say about it… it wasn’t how I imagined it.
WF No it doesn’t look… Equilibrium like it was a good idea rather military.
SPW And that’s a shot of it, and there’s Kiera.
WF And she was a good sport?
SPW She was great, a real old trooper. It’s a very sad piece actually.
WF It darkens?
SPW Well the basic premise of it is, it’s a nice summers day and they’re in a maze together and they’re trying to find each other and its very playful and they can’t find each other and it goes on. The film’s set across the length of a day. They never get to each other. That’s it. So they’re sort of destined in a sort of Groundhog Day type nightmare in which they never find each other and it’s a sort of metaphor for a terrible relationship I once had.
WF And the danger of knot gardens and things, Elizabethan gardens.
WF And this is the garage?
SPW This is where it was shown in Newcastle so that’s an installation shot.
WF You do all these different things.
SPW I don’t really actually.
WF It’s a long time period?
SPW The fact that it’s in Moscow and Newcastle make me sound a lot more exciting than I really am. This all happened in the last year and happened because Keira Knightley was in it and not because it was a good film. I mean that’s my own appraisal of it.
WF Yes but it’s rather nice that you get a screen idol that you refer to is actually there it’s a rather nice comeuppance in a way or up coming really.
SPW A bit of both really.
WF Next, shall we look at the new work?
SPW So the new work is the stuff I’m working on at the moment, I’ve got a show coming up in January. So this is a selection of work from that show. I’m fascinated with these knitting patterns.
WF And someone knitting their skin.
SPW And also tattoos I’m working on a series of portraits of people with tattoos.
WF How did you get hold of him?
SPW I went to a tattoo convention in Brighton and asked him if he’d pose for a portrait.
WF And he was delighted?
SPW He was over the moon.
WF It’s what it’s all about.
SPW Well I love to make people’s day. It’s my job, you know, I’m in the entertainment industry I like to give people something to smile about. That’s called Debbie and Paula. My wife found a box of slides old 35mm slides from 1981 at Spitalfields antique market. Sort of home made amateur pornography pictures and I felt that it was really a subject that John Currin had explored quite thoroughly but nonetheless...
WF It’s got a bit of a tinge from John Currin...
SPW Yeah I like to think it has a...
WF Different hand...
SPW Yeah well I didn’t want to get too anatomical and gynecological you know, not because I’m shy about it, but because he’d already done it. But I was somehow touched by these ladies, and because I was born in the mid 70s these ladies seem very familiar not because I knew them personally but their hair styles. They certainly reminded me of growing up in through 80s.
WF Bucks Fizz.
SPW I’m a big fan of Bucks Fizz actually. This is called Debbie and Paula Get It On this is a drawing for a mono print. I don’t really no what to say about it.
WF There’s not really much to say about it other than there it is.
SPW One thing I would say about it. I think it was less about this and more about that expression. That expression kind of hit a nerve somehow.
WF And was it in the original photograph?
SPW Yeah that’s quite reminiscent of the expression she had, touched some sort of nerve somewhere. That’s my cat Delie. That’s just a study actually I’m going to make it bigger about the same size as that.
WF I think that’s probably something Delie would sniff at. And a mottling is a nice thing to paint is it?
SPW Yes it is actually; I found that using soft brushes. I’ve already used hard brushes so this was a departure.
WF Splayed brush.
SPW And it works.
WF Magic, cleaning the brush is the only problem.
SPW This is called ‘Its Not Unusual To Be Loved By Anyone’ and this has the dubious accolade to being made by paint, wax, pubic hair, diamonds and some gold. The watch is gold leaf and the twinkly bits in his eyes are real diamonds and that’s real pubic hair.
WF And where did you source the pubic hair?
SPW I was sworn to secrecy.
WF Right, Next.
SPW That’s called Living in Lego Land, it’s a painting of a house in Eastbourne and it relates to another picture, which is coming up sort of where I imagined this lady lives.
WF A narrow, tall lady?
SPW Yes for a narrow tall house. That’s another of these tattooed people.
WF And this a modern tattooed person?
SPW Yeah she’s called mistress Jezebel.
WF Was she shy?
SPW No haha. That’s called ‘Debbie’.
WF Whatever happened to Debbie…
SPW I don’t know, that’s really why I wanted to paint it. I did find myself thinking that, whatever happened to this woman?
WF Gosh he’s a throw back, isn’t he?
SPW Yeah I don’t know what to call that painting, his name is Andy but that’s not a very gripping title for a painting… any suggestions would be welcome.
WF Handy Andy?
SPW Yeah I just finished that yesterday I really bodged up the hands but that was the sleep depravation and I was running out of time.
WF Don’t blame your child for everything.
SPW No it’s not his fault.
WF It’s a good belly though.
SPW He must take all the credit for that.
SPW That’s a mono print of the same man.
WF Do you connect to Peter Blake’s equivalent of those or...
SPW Yes, I love the Peter Blake tattooed figure’s. They were one of the main sources of inspiration for those, although I’m a bit annoyed with mine because they look like anything I’ve ever painted i.e. quite anal and tight fisted, where as his have a wonderful subtlety.
WF One thing you have to remember is you can’t get away from what you do so you have to be positive about it and why not! Next.
SPW That’s called ‘Teardrops Can Never Drown the Flame’. That’s my first painting on aluminum.
WF Ah, very nice, with the right Gesso?
SPW No I used the gesso from Atlantis, the plastic stuff. That’s my wife and it’s a reference to snow whit and the seven dwarfs, who are absent. It’s not supposed to be snow white but it’s a reference.
WF It adds up to seven if you count the animals, eight actually, although two birds count as one… never mind it’s its very good. Next.
SPW This is one of the latest ones I’ve done its called ‘Thank You For The Music’.
WF You have to be a certain age to appreciate the full richness of...
SPW I think you do, you need to be over 35. Its got real sequences stuck on it and real diamonds stuck on the eyes, I’m really going to town with sticking stuff on.
WF So the eyes really glitter all around the room?
SPW They really do and I’ve gotten slightly better at sticking diamonds on.
WF What put you onto that? Apart from doing a Damien Hirst and increasing the re-sale price.
SPW Oh no I did it long before him, actually the Tom Jones one I painted when I was a teenager I think.
WF With the diamonds?
SPW Yes long before him, it’s where he got his idea to make his skull. This is the lady who I imagined lived in that house.
WF Oh yes.
SPW Perfect little house.
SPW This is called ‘Together In Electric Dreams’.
WF And the mascara running... Next.
SPW This is called Woodwork. This is supposed to be part of my current show but I’m not going to show it with that show because...
WF Its doesn’t have the same mood does it.
SPW No and it felt like a bit of a cul de sac because it was taken from a knitting pattern but I felt it didn’t move on from the knitting pattern, whereas the previous one can, if we just have another look at it… That came from a knitting pattern as well. The pose was taken from a knitting pattern and I felt that it left the knitting pattern behind and came into its own.
WF Yes because knitting patterns are so tremendous in their own right.
SPW Well there they are, where do you go with a knitting pattern, how can you improve on it. But with this one I just copied the thing I painted from the knitting pattern with the other one I got someone to recreate the pose and painted it.
WF Yes it seems to make a difference doesn’t it?
SPW Yes in a big way.
WF Next. Ah were back at the start. Thank you, anyone got any questions or comments or complaints? Did you give you child lots of calpol?
SPW Yes sorry that my son hiccupping at the back.
(member of the audience) what’s your feeling about John Currin do you like his work?
SPW Yes I do I really like it. But I’m a bit annoyed with him in that he touches on things, which I would have liked to have done if I had got there first.
WF He’s sort of 10 years ahead in terms of output.
SPW He is and he’s American so he’s got a number of advantages.
WF On the other hand he can’t go to the far west innocently like you could.
SPW No exactly that’s true, but yeah, I’m always aware of him there and trying to avoid getting too close to him. It sounds like I’m in some therapy group. Do you know what I mean I’m talking about his work I don’t want to get too close to it, but I feel that sometimes I’m gearing a little bit to close.
WF It's common territory rather than common enemy isn’t it. Isn’t it a rich vein though, isn’t it?
WOMAN FROM AUDIENCE It’s a different sort of genre though, Lisa Yuskavage paints in that sort of genre, slightly kitsch and exaggerated features and sexy woman…
WF Yeah isn’t it a rich vein rather than as much as anything else?
SPW Yeah I wasn’t really very aware of John Currin until relatively recently, yeah I do feel that it’s a sense of common ground.
WF I think it happens quite a lot that something’s in the air and people suddenly start doing different parts. I do see in 60 years time a fantastic coffee table book, if such a thing exists, of the uses of charity shop art…
SPW That’s new; I was the first person to do that that I was aware of, painting on junk paintings. No.. maybe I wasn’t.
WF No you weren’t the first.
SPW But I never saw anyone doing it and thought that’s a good idea, I had the thought in a shop in Arizona and thought hey look I could do that. I once had this great idea actually and then noticed that Gillian Wearing had already done it.
WF Well you see Marcel Duchamp, god bless him, did...
SPW He did all those things.
WF But these things are in the air; post modern something or other… post kitsch, après kitsch.
WOMAN FROM AUDIENCE When you painted the painting of Kiera Knightley, was it meant to be like she was in an imagined scene in a film?
SPW Yeah I guess it began with the knitting pattern and I had no idea what I was going to do with that. I then thought whom should I ask to pose for it and thought I should ask Kiera… because I could. Because she made a film for me and I knew her and so then it went from there and I thought what kind of hair should she have; Big 80s style. I started working on the figure and then the background and it kind of evolved, but I guess at the back of my mind I was always trying to create a melodramatic still from a terrible 1980s film.
WOMAN FROM AUDIENCE It’s so different to see it with a famous celebrity face. It just stands out from the other paintings, I mean I really like the other paintings but that seems like more of a statement to use…
SPW Well that probably has advantages and disadvantages because I wouldn’t want someone to look at a painting and think ‘oh there’s Kiera Knightley’ or it’s a painting of Kiera Knightley. But at the same time it does lend something useful because when you see it’s an actor posing for a painting, you make a link to an actor posing for a film and it emphasizes the fakeness of the moment. You know, you think oh yeah this person is posing. It really enforces that idea that it’s just a fake moment and I enjoy the theatricality of that.
WF Do you think you like a finished painting, it actually excites you, the way you’ve done it? Or pleases you? Or satisfies you?
SPW Yeah I had a lot of fun with the painting with the technique, I mean what you can’t see is there’s a lot of very thick paint and I’ve mixed a lot of strange things like real make up, diamonds and gold, wax and glitter and all sorts of strange things. It’s a very textural painting so I had a lot of fun in the actual making of it.
WF So kitsch becomes not just kitschy and soft but really rejigged. I think this should be the last question…?
MALE MEMBER OF AUDIENCE This is only a small amount of your work in total.
SPW Well this is most of it I only left out a few pictures.
MALE MEMBER OF AUDIENCE well what ever proportion it is of it, it’s a lot of work and there’s still a lot of this sense of fake people and people who are other people and actors and all this stuff, and I just wonder if there’s part of you which even after all this time still feels a bit like a fake in some way or another?
SPW Totally, yeah, I guess that’s why I’m wearing a bow tie, it’s part of presenting myself as someone who looks like something, trying to appear convivial and intelligent, and I guess I’m fascinated with the process of everybody trying to be someone which maybe they’re not, and they’re giving it their best shot, and ones life becoming that process of trying to be that thing of what they wanted to be if that make sense?
WF There’s that terrible story about Hitler being discovered doing his front of the mirror thing and he had to rehearse being Hitler he said, everyone puts on a front I suppose don’t they? Are you going to relax and get to a stage where you can say this is really me?
SPW Possibly, yeah, I’m going to work on that. I did have quite and embarrassing moment on that note actually, once when I was making those cowboy paintings I had an industrial unit where I work next to a Chinese noodle factory and the guy who runs the noodle factory doesn’t really understand knocking on the door before coming in, and I was just getting my cowboy costume on, ready to do some drawings or take some photos ready for my painting. I had just put the whole kit on and I had the guns in the holster and what can you do, it was an inevitable moment I pulled the gun out in front of the mirror just as this guy walks in and I don’t know what he thought, but he hasn’t been in since.
WF Stuart, thank you very much.