Thomas Whittle and Sebastian Trend met in Whittle’s studio to get to grips with his practice. They discussed instant reaction, the arbitrary as an artistic aim, and the inevitable failure in realisation.
Thomas Whittle: I always think that it doesn’t really make much sense to discuss my work verbally.
Sebastian Trend: How would you like to discuss it then?
TW: People coming to view the work; people looking at it, that makes more sense to me.
ST: When people view your work do they say ‘I like that because its got a crazy bear in it’ or because of the colours, or what? What do you think people get out of it?
TW: I try and make my images have a certain recognisable element or have an instant message. You can decipher them pretty quickly in terms of visual impact…Visually there is an instant hit, but there is more than that.
I think what the viewer gets is this barrage of images and colours and shapes and mashing of collaged elements. And I think at that point you either keep looking at it or you think you’ve got it and walk away. I enjoy that these images are a bit transitory and that they are immediately attention grabbing and then there are parts that will pick away. Often these elements don’t particularly make sense with each other and hopefully the viewer tries to understand these connections and discover a narrative within the information.
I sometimes, attempt to add an arbitrary banner or theme over an exhibition through curation or titling to give the viewer that interest which is actually irrelevant and not something that you can actually decipher.
ST: Flight Captain for instance, by installing it in your show Flight-BangZokZooAng-Winged with Re-worked Works on Paper 2009-2010 your leading quite an obvious path for the viewer, this theme of flight…
TW: It is an arbitrary connection, it’s a title and an icon, the icon of the paper plane, so the viewer thinks ‘there is a reason for the artist to make these decisions’ and so they look into this theme when actually its almost absurdly conjured up. I thing I’m trying to do with that is that one gets barraged with imagery, sound and other visual stimulus constantly. Whether its walking down a street which is adorned with shop signs and offer, advertising and Big Issue sellers or simply surfing the internet we are subject to thousands of images and sounds. I try to convey this intensity of overload in my work and have the connections as arbitrary as TV commercials back to back with each other…Well actually perhaps that’s not the best example, adverts are catered specifically for certain times of the day or type of programme.
SB: It would be an interesting project to watch just adverts and see if you could estimate what kind of programme your watching.
TW: If its shampoo adverts or beer adverts one could get pretty close with a guess!
ST: Do you see Flight-BangZokZooAng-Winged as one piece of work?
TW: It was several things; there were two separately titled works in the show, and actually there were 33 paper planes which were all drawings of mine that I folded up into planes and stapled to sticks.
ST: Would you continue that investigation to re-work your drawings, and is it a result of not being happy with a how a drawing has panned out?
TW: I don’t think it’s a result of a particular drawing not working, more that I want to progress what I’m doing. This drawing which is one metre by one and a half meters started life as a drawing which was cut into strips and spliced back together in a different order. It looks like its got a drooping belly, and it is heavily saturated with drawings and colours.
ST: It looks like its been disembowelled…
TW: Yes it looks pretty gruesome.
ST: Well yes but the imagery is not gruesome whatsoever, with the naïve rendering and primary colours. But now were describing the artwork, which I thought we weren’t going to do? We failed on that big time.
TW: I enjoy this idea of working so long on one piece of work and that essentially destroying it through the production of another piece of work. And through this process really failing what it is you wanted to convey or make, and actually this failure is inevitable when your making artwork. These paintings I have been making recently embody that; to be working on an image for so long that almost the only way to go is destruction of the image.
ST: Do you think that all art making is destined to be a failure, always?
TW: No, but there are so many interferences between the artist’s intension and the artwork during it’s making that you are always going to have a certain amount of play from another force.
Look at painting for example, before you have even started to paint there are so many variables. First, you have the paintbrush with all the different ways the bristles move, and their shape and even it’s handle when placed in your hand. There are so many different decisions being made by parties outside of yourself that it is completely out of your control. Then if you’re adding linseed oils or turps. or vanish to your paint it completely changes the consistency and properties of the paint.
ST: But you do learn from experience. Do you enjoy testing yourself, making it harder for yourself?
TW: No, I think it’s fucking hard enough…(laughing)
ST: (laughing)…What happens if you get used to a certain paintbrush and you could say ‘I know exactly how these bristles work’, then maybe that element of chance is eradicated. Would you then move on, perhaps making your own brushes?
TW: I don’t think I would ever reach that point with painting. Maybe I have reached that point with drawing. Because to an extent you know what your doing with drawing, there aren’t as many variables. I think painting has so many different variables; I would never be able to champion painting in that way. What is it the Cathy (Lomax) said about not being able to realise a painting that’s in your head?
ST: She has a picture in her head but when she paints she is always disappointed because what was in her head didn’t come into fruition. But that’s what is amazing about painting.
TW: Yes, that it controls itself, that it does what it wants and you as the artist can only guide I so far.
Artist website: www.thomaswhittle.co.uk