Published by Galerie R, January 2019, updated 2024

Q. How did your interest in Art begin?

RS : My mother got me interested in art. She didn’t have an art background but she’d seen an exhibition of the Abstract Expressionists and couldn’t stop saying how fantastic it was. She taught me to draw and I liked art as a subject at school. I did a foundation course but didn’t get a place at art college. I worked in a warehouse and went travelling to France and Africa before going to Sir John Cass in London to study Photography, and then to Farnham in Surrey to study Photography, Film and Television in 1983.

At John Cass we were all mature students with completely different interests and it was a great, fertile environment. When I went to Farnham I found it oriented towards documentary, journalistic photography whereas I was interested in photography as fine art and left at the end of the first year.

Q. What were your early influences?

Graphic design, the Bauhaus, the New Topographics,  Roy Lichtenstein, Kline, Pollock, Judd, Bridget Riley, Warhol, Duchamp. Picasso was still really intense but I felt you still had to go through him in a way. Anthony Caro’s ‘Early One Morning’ made me sure I wanted to be an artist. I later got into Turner, Manet, van Gogh, Monet, Delacroix.

Q. Did you exhibit at this time?

I did a few exhibitions at Cass and Farnham and in a group show at Camerawork in Bethnal Green. I couldn’t afford to make large photographic prints. I was living in bedsits and made miniature works. I tried to get a studio but I didn’t need a studio like a painter. I think you can generally say what you want to say in miniature.

Q. You’ve never been represented by a gallery. Did you apply to galleries?

I’d make submissions from time to time. I thought my work was okay but it wasn’t very coherent and it wasn’t obvious what I was trying to do. That said, a lot of the ideas and the work from that time I’m still doing. I didn’t really exhibit at all. I was living with Jacqui Ham (musician with Ut and Dial) and we were moving a lot. We ended up moving to St. Ives in Cornwall but it was still difficult to find time and space to work and I moved to France around 2000.

Q. What were the origins of the ‘Line’ artworks?

When I was at Farnham a friend, Tim Hutton, and I, were both interested in human intervention in the landscape and wondered how we could take the New Topographics further but I think we realised you can’t. Tim was very into the Greenwich meridian and the idea of a single line defining the world. I was making conceptual photographic works, lines and rectangles projected onto thick sheets of glass painted with light-sensitive emulsion. I went back to the line idea later and saw it more from a fine art perspective. I was more interested in its graphic references, areas, graphs, territories and borders, the need to delineate and define things. It could also be seen as an end of Modernism.

Q. You use computers a lot in your work.

I learned to use basic graphics software and started scanning things, objects, packaging. It was the beginning of a lot of work like art materials, receipts and scanned objects .

Q. Were you drawing at this time?

I’d started drawing in London in the late nineties. I didn’t have a studio or the means to make much work so just tried things out scribbling on bits of paper. It was a time of video, installations and so on, drawing felt like the dark ages. I saw an exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery called ‘Drawing the Line’ curated by Michael Craig-Martin, ‘old master’ drawings mixed with modern works on paper. It was a great exhibition, it had a big effect on me and helped me think about the possibilities of drawing. I felt that if you were an artist you should be able to say what you want with a minimum of materials.

I started walking through London constantly drawing on the same sheet of paper but the results were very chaotic. I made a few A4 drawings walking, and on buses, but couldn’t work out what I was doing. I wanted to keep drawing on top of the drawing because that’s what happens when we keep moving seeing different things, you only take in a fraction of what you see. I wanted to represent the experience of constant change, between a drawing, a film, and a photograph. 

I made a drawing board that would fit under my arm so that I could walk and draw at the same time. It took a lot of different approaches before I realised that a scribble is all I wanted the drawing to look like, something chaotic and close to instantaneous, but based on observed reality, the kind of freedom Pollock had but where the lines were depicting something observed, while also being the most meaningless, least aesthetically contrived mark-making possible.

Q. Do you think an artist should be able to draw?

I don’t think there’s any obligation, it depends what kind of work an artist does, but drawing is interesting because it’s so basic.

Q. There are references to art history in a number of works.

I was staying near Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise was nearby. I drew the sites of van Gogh’s paintings and others around 2011/12. It led to work I’m doing now, mixing art history with drawings and computer graphics. I like how an image changes depending on the process used. It’s a reminder that an image isn’t reality. Impressionism was a lot about techniques, materiality, and how processes of representation and interpretation work. It’s why I like Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein is often associated with comics but so much of his work is about perception, representation, art and art history. 

Q. Isn’t  much of your work just decorative, and out of place in today’s conceptually based art world?

Some of these works do go back to something aesthetic rather than idea-based. Impressionism wasn’t about pretty pictures, it was about painting, perception and materiality. The looseness of Impression Sunrise paved the way for a lot of modern art. Impressionism was about image and surface, rather than Cézanne’s representations of depth and structure. The computer programmes I use allow you to go into the image and take it apart which for me is an echo of the materiality of the Impressionists. Conceptual forms have dominated art practice for several decades, but no one has gone beyond, or come anywhere near, Duchamp, in my opinion. All art contains ideas.

Q. Do social media have a place in today’s art world?

Technology may be useful as a means of communication but the experience of art is usually dependent on its physical presence and the relationship the viewer has with an artwork in a space. Social media are playing havoc with materiality.

Q. When did you start writing about Art?

After leaving college. If I couldn’t make work I spent time in libraries. Most discussions around modern art would turn to the idea that talking was pointless because art is whatever a person thinks it is, but that doesn’t explain the consensual nature and coherence of art history. I felt that the most basic question - “What is art?” - hadn’t really been answered adequately - what makes a work of art, Art. I started trying to answer those kind of basic questions in essay form in Penzance library around 2000. They had an unusually good art section, lots of monographs where you can often find what an artist says about their own work rather than interpretations by critics and historians. Finding what artists actually say about their work isn’t always easy. 

Q. Why did you feel the need to write about art?

When I left art school there were still many critics denigrating great artists like Caro, Riley and, of course, Duchamp, Warhol and Andre. I read, and started writing, so that I could be more confident that I knew what these artists’ work was about. I think the public are very sensitive to pretentiousness. I feel that art’s primary role is to communicate and it can and should do that without any interpretation, but if explanation is needed then it has to be clear.

Q. Don’t you think subjectivity plays a role in deciding what art is?

Not really. In the sense of what one likes, yes, but not what constitutes art, which is decided over time by consensus.

Q. Don’t you think that the ‘great artist’ is a worn out concept?

We often fall back to the argument that ‘everything is art’, that ‘everyone is an artist’ but we need greater nuance in those kind of discussions. When I started writing about art I realised that the number of artists in any history book is only a few hundred over several centuries, but they’re who we mean when we talk about art and art history. That means just one or two artists per year over the five centuries since the Renaissance, and that is quite a dramatic statement, but I think it’s true. It therefore begs the question of how today there can be tens of thousands of artists, and what exactly it is they are doing. 

Q. When did you start playing music?

I was in a group at foundation course when I was 17. I started playing more seriously when I moved to London and started an electronic project with a maths teacher friend, David Harper. I started playing with noisier guitar bands at the end of the eighties and in 1991 started Dial with Jacqui Ham from Ut and Dom Weeks from Furious Pig.

Q. What are your musical influences?

The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, The Birthday Party, The Fall, The Beatles, Dylan. I think for musicians there are a lot of basic references, early blues, quite a bit of jazz, especially Coltrane, Miles, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, field recordings.

Q. Is it easy to be both a visual artist and a musician?

They’re different and use different energies. Both are very intense full time occupations and require time, resources and infrastructure of one kind or another. It’s a very underappreciated part of cultural production.

Q. You’ve talked about the “End of Art”, taking on from Hegel, Danto and others. Do you really think art is finished?

Of course you can’t say that art is over, but you have to wonder if a certain trajectory hasn’t been achieved. Modern art seemed to use ever less means to express the profoundest emotions and ideas possible. It is hard to find any really new terrain. When you look at Rothko or Kandinsky you’re talking pure spirituality and Art has been so stripped down to its essentials. The fact that a lot of contemporary art is dealing with social issues is for me a sign of that. Art reminded us where humanity should be headed and I think has done most of what it can. Art doesn’t make us change the way we see the world, it is part of the world. 

Q. You stayed outside the gallery system. Do you think you might stay unknown? Did you try to be represented by galleries?

It was kind of accidental keeping my work, to sell it as I went along didn’t feel right. I only made about 5 paintings in 20 years and they’re important to me at least. I came out of college in the Eighties when the art market was exploding. I wanted to keep the work so that it could be seen, and only sell it if it stayed available to the public.