Wednesday, 29 July 2009

5.1 / Money changes everything / Stuart Semple

What: Artist
Where: London, United Kingdom
Website: stuartsemple.com

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His thing…
I’m really interested in pictures and images – the possibilities of how they can be made and what impact they have on the world. Drawing and painting are my things really but I’m also into design and crossover stuff. And I love music too.
In particular…
There’s a solo show in October in Hong Kong. I’m making some new paintings for it and I have a few commissions going on. I’m working on a collaboration with The Prodigy at the moment. I hope to have it done in a couple of months – the artwork goes with a track off their new album called ‘Thunder’. I’m working on my next article for Art of England magazine and trying to do some more critical writing, just for myself. I’m working on designs for another large public work too.

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Day in the life…
Well, we’ve just had a little boy so I’m trying to spend as much time as I can with him, and when I’m not doing that I’m in the studio carrying on with my work.

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Geography and history…
I was born in Bournemouth and was quite a quiet kid. I spent all my time drawing and making things. I was always impatient and easily bored. I had a great, loving family and was very close to my grandfather, who I made things with, and my grandmother who painted. I went to a catholic school and after a decade or so of that, I realised that the belief system wasn’t for me. I went to art school and did advanced art and design. I left with a distinction and then moved on to Bretton Hall at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I focused on painting and printmaking although a lot of people wanted me to go the Mac design route, because in those days you could get paid well doing that. While at Bretton, I got very ill and was hospitalised for a while. I made it through that experience but it was a close call and took me several months to get over.

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Then I started making very different works (compared to what I was doing before, at least) and I was selling them on eBay. I sold a few a day. Then I started working with other young artists in the North of England (I lived near Leeds at the time). Eventually I moved back to Bournemouth, into a studio and started making more works. I had my first show in the west end when I was 21 and that went well so I carried on. In 2004, my friend Anthony d’Offay (the art dealer) suggested that I move to London, so I did and I’ve been here ever since.

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Unconventional learning…
I sort of learnt as I went along. I think I’ve made a lot of mistakes, which is the best way. I also read a lot of books. I used to live next door to a Borders and I would go in there every morning for at least two hours. I’d sit there and read as much as I could. I could quickly spot any new magazine or book that arrived. I did this for three years religiously. I read the entire marketing section, the whole thing from left to right. I also read a lot of the spirituality section and flicked through every fashion, lifestyle and design magazine. I think
I learned the most in the time that I spent there. I still go into Borders now and read but only twice a week because it’s a bit of a walk.

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Art vs science...
I was always quite frustrated and hyperactive. I had to be doing something all the time. I was always drawing or making things. As a teenager, I was good at school – just as good at the sciences as I was at the arts, so I was very torn about what to do. I think right up until the last minute I could have gone either way. But if you look at my school exercise books they are basically sketchbooks. I think I’m less frustrated now because I have more resources to realise the stuff I’m thinking but overall I don’t think I’ve changed much besides being a lot hairier.

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Doing it for love…
I never really thought about being good at it, I just knew that I enjoyed it and it felt right. It always felt like I was doing what I was supposed to. I guess I was encouraged, which I’m very grateful for. I won a few competitions as a kid too. I got to switch the Christmas lights on one year with the mayor because I won an art prize. I won a few things with my pictures. I was better at being on my own and daydreaming and doodling than I was with other kids, say, playing sport or something.

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Ups and downs...
I like the challenge of it and strangely I like the struggle with the work itself. I love coming up with new ideas and working away until they're finished. I don’t like the social aspects of the art scene. I don’t really like private views. I hate eating out. I don’t like the hustle of it all and having to sell my work.
Home sweet home…
I think growing up in Bournemouth is strange. There are two sides to it. There are all the old people – exactly how you would picture them being – and then there’s also a very affluent younger scene too. There are some very rich people and a lot of entrepreneurs. I think because it’s a closed community to an extent, there are a lot of people there that have become big fish in a little pond. So you’d see the stereotypical status symbols around. There are also pretty rough neighbourhoods, drug problems, crime and all the rest of it too. So it was clear to me when I was growing up that there were only two ways you could go and I
obviously wanted the more favourable one. That desire motivated me. It became apparent that there was no real culture in Bournemouth, apart from music, which is strangely vibrant. Quite a few good bands have come out of there and it’s a destination for some pretty good DJ’s too. I think if you’re born in Bournemouth and you want to be an artist you need to achieve some sort of success so you can leave. I miss it though. My family is there.

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Day in his life…
It’s busy. I’m managing the studio so I make lists of what I want to happen. I sometimes have meetings. I paint as much as I can, obviously. I’m up at seven and I do all my computer work 'til about nine then at 10.30 the assistants arrive. Works might be being shipped out. I could be working on proposals, designing things, writing. By Friday I’m normally exhausted. The assistants leave at 6.30 and I work through 'til about 11pm with a supper break.

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Confidence kick-start…
Initially I could have gone in a totally different direction. I could have been a doctor or something. At one stage I really wanted to be a paediatrician so my family were forcing me in that direction, after all this was before the YBA (Young Britsh Artist) thing so the main artist example for them was Van Gogh and that’s not the sort of life you want for your child. I can definitely see that now, after having one of my own.

I think to an extent there was a motivation in me to prove them wrong, to make art and to show I could make a go of it. They always encouraged me with making pictures, even though they might not have thought I could make a living from it, and said my work was good.

Now, because so much in my career has happened, they’re more like ‘oh that’s very nice dear’. I think they’ve become a bit immune to it all, they are very used to it.

My friends are great. I love them all. They always support me and pitch in and help. I hope they feel that I do the same. I’m very lucky with the community I’ve found myself here.
In the family…
They are all amazing. My grandad could make anything out of anything, and I’d spend as much time as I could working in his garage with him making allsorts. Weather vanes, chess sets, bird tables, magic tricks. It was brilliant! And my grandmother, on my mum’s side,
painted and had all these impressionist-style works she did. She had some amazing art books, she showed me Pissarro (who I loved) and Rodin. I was drawing from those books and playing with her art materials almost from day one. My mum got me my first set of proper paints (ones in little metal tubes) when I was about seven. I remember how happy I was. I was always surrounded by music, every kind of music and I think that influenced the way I thought about making pictures. I memorised all the lyrics and quite early on started writing words on things I was making.
Jumping over hurdles…
There’s always something, a creative hurdle like a creative block. Keeping enough momentum in the act of making things is really hard sometimes. Then there’s business type stuff, tax and deals and things. Having to raise funds for ideas or just getting into work when you’re exhausted. There were my health problems when I was younger and my shyness, which is an ongoing annoyance to me. Technical things too, with different materials, pose some challenges. Sometimes if something is being done outside the studio there are hurdles in trying to explain what I want it to be like.
Basic instincts…
I’m learning all the time. I’m not sure what the most important one is. I think one thing I’ve learned is to really trust my gut feelings and instincts. There have been times where I’ve felt very strongly that a particular thing should happen or I should do something. On those occasions I have let logic or other people talk me out of it and each time I’ve made a big mistake by doing that. Sometimes when this happens it sounds and looks completely irrational but in retrospect it would have been the right course of action. I think I’ve learned the hard way to trust my hunches.
Heroes…
Not particularly. I collect music, and I collect images in huge amounts. Massive amounts. I have heroes that I’m obsessed with and I need to read about them or have anything to do with them. Cyndi Lauper is a huge one, I’m fanatical. Then Conor Oberst, Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
Truly inspiring…
There’s music, which I find mostly via word of mouth or particular blogs that I like because I know the writers are on a similar wavelength to me, magazines (I still go through all of them) music videos, Borders, iTunes and blogs.
A friend indeed…
Hockney is a big inspiration. He talks about the process of making pictures in a way I identify with a lot. I think all my friends in one way or another inspire me. All of them are doing their thing, whatever it is. I love to hear the stories of people’s lives because I’m very much just keeping to myself in the studio. I love it if someone has travelled or has some kind of gossip. My heroes have inspired me a lot – a whole heap of artists actually – Twombly, Polke, Rauschenberg.

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A few favourites…
My friend Ken has this blog This Heart's On Fire I love it! Ken and I have similar tastes in things so it’s a great place to find out about stuff that I’m going to be into. Slamxhype is good too and Facebook/Twitter to keep in touch with what’s going on with people I care about, which is most interesting to me to see what’s going on.
Time to unwind…
I meditate and I like to exercise. I’ve not been to the gym for a while because I’m balancing the little one with work time and it’s still very early days. I love reading, normally things relating to spirituality. I love a hot bath and music television. I’m also a big DVD collector. I love films. I’m also a bit of a gossiper on the phone.

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Back to the future…
I’ve made so many stupid mistakes. But I don’t regret them really. You’ve got to go through what you’ve got to go through to end up where you are. There are a few personal memories that are sore points but we’ve all got those though I’m sure.

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Big goals…
To spend as much time with my son as possible and to keep making, keep pushing along doing what I’m doing.
Day dreaming…
In my dream life, I have a house in the country, not flash but comfortable, with a barn at the bottom of the garden to paint in, a few dogs, some long walks, a couple of kids and a treehouse to meditate in.

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Starting from scratch…
If I wasn't an artist, maybe I’d be a paediatrician, perhaps a graphic/editorial designer or I could have run a record label – I still might.
Advice…
Keep doing it, every day counts. You can use today to build on what you did yesterday and if you do that long enough you’ll find yourself in a different place. You should defiantly follow what your gut is telling you. You should be yourself, find your own language, your own vocabulary. Never ever, EVER make stuff just for the money no matter how bad it gets. And never believe you’re not any good at it.

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