What a fabulous interview here with painter Felix Carr, who recently graduated from the Glasgow School of Art and is on to tackling London! I love the gestural, scrawling forms in his paintings, hinting at language when it is not actually employing it in a stylized way, as well as the way he interprets and experiments with the way the human form can manifest itself in an image. More at the links below, of course!
+ + +
First, can you introduce yourself? What first interested you in making art?
Hi! I’m Felix Carr - I’m a recent painting graduate (as of last year) from Glasgow School of Art, now moved to London and giving it a shot in the big, bad city! I’ve always loved drawing and painting and generally making a mess, so I guess it developed pretty quickly from childhood. My Ma’s side of the fam are super creative, so I got a lot of influence from there. I got serious about it just before I left school, when I realised that I could actually do this all the time. I’d spend all my lunches in the art block exhausting their paint budget. I experimented a lot with photography, installation etc. until I realised painting and drawing was what fulfilled me most. I was always mega excited by the notion of art school throughout my teens when I was really hating on school, that was always the dream, and then hey presto, nice ’n’ cheesy.
Your practice seems to primarily centre around painting -- can you tell me a bit more about it?
It does, for the most part - I write as well, and a lot of the influence for my paintings come from literary sources. For example, I’ll write a poem and then lines from that will work their way into a painting, literally and figuratively - then the sentiments that that thing is trying to address will get relayed through the mood or tone of the work and subsequent choice of imagery. In this way, the paintings tend to get built up through segments of cross-weaved and interconnected narratives or fictions.
The works tease at painting’s unrelenting relationship with the figure and the multitude of variegations, interpretations/reinterpretations of form and line that can manifest themselves within that framework. They’re marked by an emphasis on fluidity, gesture and the actuality of physical expression. The paint is often thick and fleshy, relishing the corporeality of the medium and its inherent malleability. My painting tends to traverse the interstitial point between representation and abstraction (which is far from being a new concept, but really thinking about the nuances and art historical contexts of each, dissecting them, poking and playing with them) - examining how far one can deconstruct a certain instance or example and then piece it back together; they work at disclosure and opening up the floor to play and potentiation. In this way, they operate in the same vein as I believe a good poem should, exploring joy, sadness, gladness and longing all in one.
Ultimately, they’re ambiguous, that’s what I’m aiming for - they feature floating limbs, strange characters, mysterious shapes, made up words - so I want questions. They’re polysemous, indexical, all referencing the personal, the universal, our subjective and objective realities, all existing analogously within an anatomy of subjects, symbols and language.
What is the thing that intrigues you or challenges you the most about your medium?
The history of it - its unrelenting necessity and adherence to people’s understanding of life and experience, how it’s one of the most timeless forms of expression and is still acutely relevant to our daily existence. This is challenging inasmuch as one might find the weight of history resting on one’s shoulders when they make that decision to paint, quite intimidating, but ultimately, I see it as a blessing. Being able to engage with this lineage, to get some kind of a hint of a certain individual’s or nation’s belief systems, trying to gauge their motives - their psychology, ideologies, fears, desires - years on, through observing and regarding a painting. I think that is so incredible.
What is your process like?
My process is an intuitive thing - it becomes pseudo-ritualised in my head and I have all manner of ways of getting into the mindset of working. But I can sense it! It starts with a trigger: perhaps an extract of text I’ve read, an image, a state of mind and all the trickle down emotions and sentiments that can induce. (Actually, that’s wrong, it starts with a full pot of coffee! And then things really start to happen.)
But back to that point, I might have been fixating on one quite specific idea for example, an impression or sense of something, a phrase or whatever, something hard to capture - and through becoming involved with this one notion, working oneself into this particular headspace whereby it feels only natural to articulate and actualise that feeling through paint. In terms of the process itself, I tend to accumulate lots of sketches, oftentimes working with recurring motifs, recognisable visual signifiers, quotes, lingering memories…
There’s a whole load of push and pull, adding, subtracting, enhancing, reducing. The surface of the canvas acts like a palimpsest, continually being reworked, reappraised, remoulded, until I feel enough is enough. There’s a great quote by Valéry that states “a poem is never finished, only abandoned”, and I feel like this is pretty accurate with regards to painting as well. It should never looked totally finished - there should always be a little bit of unresolved-ness - a tension.
Do you do any research or study in preparation for beginning a piece, or a new series?
If I’m starting a new project, I’ll pore for hours through the internet, through books, texts, essays, looking for a catalyst - that one piece of gold that sparks a hundred other ideas. It can be a time consuming process though. A lot of procrastinating as well… a lot.
What is your studio like currently?
My studio is currently based just outside of London, so I tend to get the train out and spend a few days there bashing out paintings and sleeping in the fumes. The majority of my work is large-scale (over 6ft), so I need a lot of space. It’s generally well ordered (at the moment at any rate): paints in one place, books in another, tools for stretchers etc. although there’s definitely a good deal of room for slippage here. I’m usually pretty messy, so I’ll find myself lying in splodges of colour or eating sandwiches out of a palette or something. I’ve got a studio mouse, so now I need a studio cat. There’s usually either loud music or radio 4 blaring out or real, absolute Zen silence, all about the opposites, all about the temperament.
What do you consider to be the most challenging part of pursuing an artistic practice, whether creatively or professionally?
I’d say, currently, finding the balance between life and work, deciding when and how you find the time to dedicate yourself to your practice when living somewhere like London. It’s never simply about just making the work - you need to promote it, meet likeminded people to share it with, find places to show, apply to grants, awards, opportunities etc. It’s a constant thing and requires utmost dedication and engagement. But I love that, it’s all part of the fun - no point sitting around eh.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice that someone has given you, who/which has changed the way you approach your work?
I’ve had a lot of fantastic advice from many brilliant tutors over my years studying at Glasgow, but what really stands out in my memory, more as an approach to thinking and making generally, was when I was on Foundation in Manchester - this tutor’s practice was the absolute antithesis of all the sacrosanct, kinda semi-boogy ideals of art that I’d been exposed to in all formal education prior to that. He’d introduced me to Kippenberger and Oehlen for example, Chris Johanson, maybe even Basquiat actually - and they just blew my mind, he was a real inspiration. But this standout moment was when we were hanging the end of year show, and I’d set everything up perfectly, spent a lot of time doing it, just so - he came in, turned one of the paintings to the wall, unhooked one and turned it upside down, knocked one over so it was lying face up, then stood back and looked at me. “What do you think?”. In that moment he really opened my eyes to art being playful and joyous and cheeky while also being really earnest and heartfelt and expressive.
What do you need most, or value most, as an artist?
Time, space, perseverance, for the most part. And what I’ve yet to find - a wholesale supplier of really decent paints! I use a lottttttt of paint. But time is the biggie, time to think, time to act, time to reflect. Time to get your priorities right.
If you could dial up an artist from any era and ask them anything, who would it be and what would you want to know?
Probably Picasso. Give him a bell, “Which pub and when?”. That, and if he can remember how many paintings he's made.
What are you working on right now?
I’m starting a new series, lots of sketching, lots of reading - going really in on use of colour. Stocked up with loads of really nice tubes of paint, got plenty of wood - I’m going to go bigger, hehe, I’m pretty stoked! My last project was in anticipation of a group show in Edinburgh at the Royal Scottish Academy as part of RSA New Contemporaries and then subsequently, another in London at DRAF, entitled New Scottish Artists. Now that they’re done, I’m hoping to get another body of work together in anticipation of hopefully showing sometime late summer/early autumn. So, 'til then. Ciao for now!
+ + +
To submit your work to the website and find other current opportunities to get involved, visit here!