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Interview: Alex Daw

Thursday 30 June 2011
Words Spindle

Alex Daw is the new kid on the artists’ block who has been causing a stir since graduating with a commendable First Class honours in fine Art from The University of Central Lancashire in 2008.

He may be a ‘contemporary’ artist but his works would not look out of place amongst an exhibition dedicated to the School of London movement; the graphic intensity of Francis Bacon permeates his style, yet Daw remains current by channelling modern narratives, satirising and subverting the cult society in which we live – Warhol would be proud.

Daw has managed to transcend genres by satisfying the entire artistic spectrum, his credentials a ménage a trois of media; paint, pens, collage, sculpture and installations. His musings, like his canvases are eclectic; pop culture, art history, sci -fi and portraiture are ‘selected, injected and dissected’ to provide a starting point for painting. It may be this versatility that has aided his success, his debut solo show at Wieden and Kennedy sponsored by POP magazine was a sell-out establishing him a client base in the UK, Europe & America and he has had work commissioned by Fashion conglomerates Diesel, Ralph Lauren and UK designer Georgina Goodman.

Spindle got chatting to the man himself….

How did your affair with art begin?

That makes my passion sound particularly seedy! My ‘affair’ began when I was young I guess. I always drew and had a wild imagination that later manifested into a genuine, often compulsive, creative outpouring.

When I started going to galleries as a kid and seeing these huge beautiful paintings in these magnificent gilded gold frames, I knew that’s how I wanted to spend my life; attempting to get anywhere near to the likes of Velasquez, Bacon, Freud – even Lowry has a big influence on me. His working class scenes and in particular his portraits of  lower class people really pushed buttons for me. Every time I saw a painting all I wanted to do was run home and make stuff or draw. I never dared paint as I feared I could never accomplish anything to the level of that of the masters et al.  I only started to paint and create collages about six years ago on a part time course whilst attempting to get into art school – it forced me to be disciplined and to work hard alone.

There’s a long way to go until I’m an accomplished artist however. I think the word ‘Artist’ gets battered around and overused like ‘love’. You don’t ‘love’ it, you like it (probably not that much), and you’re not an ‘artist’ you’ve been to art school, so what!? Historically the world’s greatest artists spent decades perfecting their craft – that’s where I’m headed to hopefully!

Describe your style in three words:

Raw, Confronting & Subversive

What/ who inspires you?

I am drawn to the darker things in life, weird, strange things that are hard to label or put your finger on. That’s the stuff that really excites me! Anything that makes me feel slightly uneasy is a guilty pleasure. I admire art history painting and have been lucky enough to see the paintings of Bosch, Velasquez, Bacon & Lucien Freud in the flesh!
I am currently a bit obsessed with a lot of German expressionism from guys like Daniel Richter & Neo Rauch. Nigel Cooke is incredible as is Adrian Ghenie. It’s generally painters whom I look up to, though I love the stuff Dan Colen is doing right now and the installations of Christoph Büchel are fucking insane – I dream my work can reach the complexity of the worlds he creates.
I love quite raw, energetic images, and I am always inspired by progressive people, be they artists, explorers, musicians. Anyone who grabs life by the balls and says “fuck this, I’m doing it my way!” I have the utmost respect for. We live in such a negative, conforming rat wheel in this country – ambition, creativity and optimism are all but drilled out of us!

I want to attempt to remain original. I know it’s tricky given that we all wake and breathe similar images. I was referred to as ‘a lost soul’ by a spiritualist my mum had a reading from once – that was a good call! I feel like I’m always searching for answers through my artwork.

What do you make of the current art scene in the UK?

I think the art scene is perhaps a little diluted and overwhelming. There are so many people doing so many different things it must be hard for the viewer to access a lot of it as styles and movements shift so regularly with often no obvious direction.

It’s hard enough trying to stick out or make yourself seen or heard with so much ‘stuff’ out there! On any given Thursday in London alone there’s possibly hundreds of shows. It’s a bit of a head fuck.  The rest of the country seems to get ignored too. Artists away from the capital are seldom seen, it’s a real shame. In Germany they celebrate their smaller successes from such as Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Leipzig. I think artists from the North in particular have a hard job of showing artwork if they’re not in London or haven’t graduated from a prestigious London art college. I can remember hardly any people coming to our degree show in Preston, then when I moved here and saw the heat the London colleges got I felt like I’d sold myself short. I would definitely recommend anyone thinking of studying Art to do so in London!

The art ‘scene’ I think is just a critiqued Funfair. In the little experience I have had it can appear occasionally classist and snooty. I’ve heard all sorts of stories though, from advances that have gone tits up, Russian Oligarchs buying in bulk via tax-wrapping, gallerists disappearing without paying artists…!

I believe it’s becoming fragmented. There are sort of sub divisions of it like Urban and Street Art that are doing incredibly well financially but that must change. Historically all movements have a peak and then a new one comes along or artists shift into other areas.  I think the recession is still resident and not everyone is ready to drop thousands on work they would have previously happily paid for or even pre-ordered

Highlight so far?

I guess there’s been a few with all these big sort of brand, sell-out shindigs!? But for me, converting the former Shoreditch Underground Station from a literal, abandoned station into something that almost looked gallery worthy with my brother Laurence is up there!

The WowNow show went down well. It was the culmination of months of hard work and as a joint collaboration with Martin Sulzbach (an artist from Austria) it had genuine credibility and international flair in its own right.

Also, completely separate tangent, (this sounds daft) but being able to see my mum all dressed up at Phillips De Pury for an auction I was in last year and seeing how happy she was! You never really get too much satisfaction or feedback from shows or exhibitions you do and often people will just say ‘that looks nice’ or ‘that’s cool’. I’d rather people say it’s fucking retarded and belongs in a skip than just be, you know ‘nice’. My Mum and family have always supported me, they don’t ‘like’ my work but that’s one of the things that drives me!

Who are your ‘ones to watch’?

Well, there is Frieze around the corner and lots of exciting art shit on the periphery. I reckon people that are going to smash the remainder of 2011 art-wise are: Chris Jones – an incredible collage/ assemblage sculptor I used to assist, he’s creating new work to be featured in the exciting 5th Anniversary of ‘The Future Can Wait’.  Lucas Price, a newly introduced pal and potential future collaborator, Lucas makes great paintings and installations. I saw his work at the last Royal Collage interim show and was blown away. It was my favourite piece in the whole show and randomly he was intro’d to me and we got talking, top guy! Other art buddies ‘Perfekt World’ – I think they may take over this year!

Music wise, I’m into Cloud Boat, have been listening to a lot of Azari and III, and whatever VondelPark do next will be sick. I know they’ve broken through now but from the second I heard The Vaccines I was into them.

Fashion-wise. A dear friend of mine ‘Georgina Goodman’ is beginning to experiment and launch a brand new shoe line before the year’s out and she will absolutely have it! Girls, get ready, I’ve seen what she’s on with and it’s off the scale!

What does the rest of the year have in store for you? We want the gossip!

Erm, I’m in a book apparently ‘Cut & Paste’ 21st Century Collage which I believe is out on Lawrence King in September. Fingers crossed I will be delivering the most ambitious project of my life, ‘Safe House’, potentially during Frieze at a secret location in the heart of London.

I am due to appear in another incarnation of ‘WowNow’ in Berlin and Vienna with some top international talent, and as well as developing my practice I’ve been commissioned to create a series of portraits which I’m really looking forward too. I’m also creatively directing a couple of festivals! All in all, I will be busy and hope to hit the ground running come 2012!