Tell us a little about where you grew up and your early life.
I grew up in Northampton, a big industrial town in the Midlands. At school, I was considered a bit of a troublemaker and was almost expelled a few times. I was severely dyslexic and the teachers didn’t quite work it out, which I think was the problem. I remember having to choose between my two favourite subjects, PE and art – which I never thought was fair. I chose PE, and I knew pretty quickly that I’d made a mistake because I was drawing all the time in every other class. Outside of school there wasn’t much to do growing up and I found myself going to London whenever I could – I liked the buzz of the city.
Describe your background in art. What has your journey been like?
I came to London about 15 years ago and graduated from Chelsea College of Arts in 2009. I always wanted to do a postgraduate degree, but I couldn’t get into the big schools, like the Royal College of Art or the Royal Academy. I had interviews and was placed on reserve lists, but I never quite got in. I subscribed to this magazine called Turps Banana - it was a platform where painters interview other painters and critique each other. I really liked the concept and shortly after that I saw that they were opening a painting school. It was non-accredited and an off-the-wall postgraduate course, but you didn’t get a piece of paper at the end to say how well you’d done. I ended up going, and I really think this was the best place for me to develop as a painter. I had always struggled with the fact that Chelsea pushed me into looking at other mediums – painting was dead. In the group critiques the tutors just wanted to see installations, assemblages and video art, but at Turps, I feel like I truly learned about painting. Looking back, I believe that the more traditional schools would never have been the right fit.
What do you think drove you to keep going when you didn’t get in to the big art schools?
At the time, not getting into those schools felt like the worst thing in the world; I felt rejected, but I think that artists need rejection to better understand their practice. There are always going to be knock-backs and some people will like the work more than others – it’s a subjective industry. Being an artist is a lifestyle choice, if you are lucky it can become a profession, but really it’s an obsession. It’s never going to be easy, so it’s important to believe in what you do.
What are some of the risks you’ve taken to dedicate your life to being an artist?
I’m from humble beginnings, I’m a working class boy - the son of a carpenter and a teacher, but I had a lot of support from my family at the start. They often helped to pay my rent when I couldn’t afford it. I even remember having to steal paint - it was a pretty difficult time! My girlfriend, who I’ve been with for almost two decades, also supported me a lot.
Do you remember seeing a work of art that had a profound effect on you?
One of the paintings that had a huge impact on me when I was a student at Chelsea was Eddie Martinez’, The Feast. I saw it at the Saatchi Gallery around ten years ago and I remember just thinking, ‘wow, that’s a great painting.’ It really resonated with me, it didn’t feel as high-brow as the art that I’d seen in books. It felt tangible and fresh.
How important do you think ambition is as an artist?
It’s always good to set targets and I think you have to be really ambitious, but I’m realistic as well. I just love making art. I think it’s the most raw thing you can do, it’s like therapy. I get such a sense of fulfilment, and it’s that feeling that keeps me going and makes me want to make a better picture, I’m almost never satisfied.
If you could have one painting from history on your wall, which one would you have?
It would have to be a de Kooning piece from his Woman series, because that was a big inspiration for me at the start. It’d be the one that’s on display in the MOMA, ‘Woman I’.
If you could have any artist paint your portrait, who would you choose?
I’d probably have Picasso, because I love his modernist style in his later works. I’ve got wonky features so I think he’d do a good job. It’d probably look really accurate!
Is there a painting that you’ve sold, that wish you could have back?
I think some of my earlier works are some of my best works, so I wish I’d kept some back from that period. I think it’s important to hold some stuff back, and I’m trying to keep more works for myself, especially ones that mean a lot to me.
Do you ever paint from dreams?
I don’t paint from dreams, but I definitely dream about painting. It’s really hard to disconnect. Sometimes I’ll make a really good painting in my dreams!
When do you feel most free?
I think as an artist, in general, you feel a huge sense of freedom. You’re not working for anyone but yourself in theory. Of course there are galleries you work with that may have some input at times, but you don’t have a boss. I’d say that’s definitely why I chose to be an artist, to have that freedom to use my own time as I please and create what I think is important.