Tell us a bit about yourself and briefly describe your path to now.
I was born in Regina, Canada in 1982 where I lived for 21 years until I completed an undergrad in Vancouver. I moved to London in 2008 to do a Masters at Chelsea College of Art and I’ve been here ever since. That’s the swiftest version of a longer story. Short but sweet.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you draw inspiration from and how do you decide on a theme when creating work for a new show?
I think my modus operandi as a professional artist differs from when I was a student. As a practicing artist, I firmly believe you have to do whatever you need to do in order to reach your fullest potential. I guess it’s the same in any career, so long as you’re not hurting anyone else. But being an artist is so self-directed. I often approach it backwards, where I just work and let the concept envelop the art, which is really the inverted way of how you’re taught to do things in art school. At one point in my undergrad course I was actually more interested in art theory than practice. But now that’s changed.
As for the inspiration for a show, well, these things kind of just fall into place if I don’t overthink them. My last show, This is Not the Way to Disneyland, started with three things: a title, a background colour, and a size. Eventually, these pretty basic things start to mingle.
The new body of work, A Quiet Man, for Pulse Art Fair, is pretty intense and feels like a culmination of all the tricks up my sleeve. I’m definitely operating on a ‘more is more’ approach but there is a lot of technical play. I’m doing things I’ve never had the guts to approach before. It could go horribly wrong, but I always welcome a challenge. The show is named after a subject, who in a sense is just a stand-in for me. Everyone is a doppelgänger. I guess the show is about facades, true and false.
What does an average day in the studio look like?
Pretty boring, to be honest. I start fairly early – well, early for an artist – around 10am. I never sit. I stand all day and listen to music. I work alone. When things go right I’m a pretty fun person to be around. When a painting isn’t working, I’m not! I think a lot of people romanticise this idea of being a ‘capital A Artist’ when in reality there’s a lot of tedious, self-indulgent mark-making.
I think a lot. I’m very self-critical. The best artists are all quite intelligent people but also very hard on themselves. I always say “its my job to tell myself it’s never good enough.”
You often refer to your artistic nature as your sole defining feature. Why is this?
I mean, it really is, I guess. I’m quite boring without art. It’s why I’m always in my studio. I don’t have a lot of other interests. My career is also my hobby, my passion, my day job and my weekend fun. It sort of navigates how I live my life. Being gay, Canadian, tall, what else? None of that really matters. I don’t think those have altered me as a person. But the art has. It forms me.
The themes of masculinity, sexuality and identity are heavily prevalent in much of your work. What is it about these themes that particularly interest you and influence your paintings?
I think this is where I’ve come from…but my focus is changing. It’s becoming more technical. It’s becoming about paint and about painting, and also ideas around how we consume and understand the figure as an abstract concept. I think this ‘holy trio’ is all well and good, and it worked for me for some 6-8 years, but my concerns as an artist are evolving into something more complex, more cerebral, more technical. When you’re dealing with the figure, you’re dealing with identity. There’s no escaping that.
I also like how horrific the masculine form has become in modern pop culture and how society breaks down what it is to be a man. I mean really, what is it? We focus on feminist issues and queer theory and black studies…but what about just being a dude? I digress. In any event they say “paint what you know.” I’m a young gay white guy. It just comes up.
We focus on feminist issues and queer theory and black studies…but what about just being a dude?
Tell me about your experiences growing up in Regina. Do you still feel a connection to it?
I love Regina. Full stop. It’s a small city, around 250,000 people. It’s pretty. It’s wholesome. It’s so hot in the summer months. There’s a beautiful lake and a big parliament building. There’s nice people who live there. You know the woman who bags your groceries by her first name. You wave to the stranger on the running path because you see him or her every day.
There’s nothing that irks me more than when I hear people bash where they’re from. Reginians who move away do that a lot. And I always think, what a smug asshole you must be. I swear to god every Canadian I meet abroad is from Toronto. I think: “you’re not from Toronto, you’re from some shit little town. Stop pretending and be honest.” I always counter it with a really confident “I’m from Regina!” Fuck it. Why shouldn’t I? Regina gave me everything I have now.
You currently live and work in East London. How did you arrive in London and why did you choose to settle in this neighbourhood over another?
I actually wanted to live in Berlin originally. Looking back, that’s a bit of a cliché, but I didn’t realise it at the time. I was young and I was traveling. I returned to Vancouver, where I was living at the time, and took 3 years of German language courses. I eventually chose to study at Chelsea College of Art in London over Berlin University of the Arts (UDK) because I was too scared to write a Master’s dissertation in German! That was intimidating.
I moved to Berlin in 2010 for a year, and…it just didn’t work. It’s a tough city to live in. As a tourist, I still adore it. But after nearly 12 months of trying my damnedest, I just had to stop, look at the score, and say “Andrew, this is not happening.” My partner couldn’t get a job, I couldn’t sell a painting. The people were not so thrilled by us trying to live in their city. Berliners are very territorial – even they’ll tell you that.
When we left, I was pretty crushed. But things happen for a reason and I love London. I always wanted to move to East London – that little bit of London that feels like Berlin. I’ve been in Shoreditch for about 5 years and have since become a bit of a Shoreditch-snob. It’s as laissez-faire as London can get. I go to a lot of other neighbourhoods and they do nothing for me. Shoreditch is the fastest growing, most exciting, and culturally-relevant neighbourhood in one of the world’s best cities. You see, I told you I’m a snob!
Are you a part of any gay communities in London? How much of an affiliation do you feel with them?
You mean apart from being gay, outspoken, and relatively activist in London? No, nothing officially organised. I am a friend of the gays. I am a friend of the trans. I am a friend of the drag queens. I frequently donate to Pride London and my donations have raised over £40,000 for the Terrence Higgins Trust in 3 years, maybe more. I work with Diversity Role Models to educate against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. And I believe firmly in gay rights and human empowerment. I’m outspoken about being gay and proud as a professional. But I’m one of the lucky ones. London is a tolerant place.
You were victim of an homophobic assault in 2008 whilst at a music festival in Pemberton, Canada with your partner. This had a big influence on your work that followed, becoming seemingly more autobiographical and politically charged. If it’s not too personal, can you tell us how that experience affected your attitudes towards your own sexuality, the gay community and it’s aggressors?
No. It’s not too personal at all. I just get tired of talking about it. I’m a different person these days. It was 8 years ago. I’ve grown up. I’ve dealt with it in my personal and my professional life. It happened at a strange time. I was in a new country in my early 20’s, I hated my Masters program and had no money or career to speak of. There was anger, regret, denial and sadness, all of which accompany a life-changing event like that. It was a lot for a young person to handle but it made me a more powerful person. And it made me say “it’s not okay to be quiet about this.” It gave me self-confidence.
Fuck our aggressors. They make us better, stronger, more resilient. They say if you cut your hair it grows back thicker, right? Assholes are everywhere. Bring it. We’re tougher than some people think. And we band together like bees.
Assholes are everywhere. Bring it. We’re tougher than some people think. And we band together like bees.
What are you working on currently?
Next is a solo exhibition, A Quiet Man, at Pulse Art Fair, one of 3 primary satellite fairs, where I’ll exhibit with my representing gallery, Beers London. It’s quite a ‘big deal’ so to speak – 6 to 10 new paintings as well as (for the first time) works on paper. I’m excited.
After that I’ll have a show in Spring 2016, the details of which are still being ironed out. Followed by my third solo at Beers in Autumn 2016 which will be accompanied by my first artist monograph.
What are your future aspirations?
Aspirations? More of the same. Just amp it up a bit. Turn up the volume and continue to promote my international presence with works that reach and fulfill the height of my potential. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. I always say “the work has to be exceptional and the rest will fall into place.” But in reality it’s a really cut-throat business. I’ve learned that I have to be a business entity as much as I am a painter. An art career is all about where your product meets high visibility.
I’m not arrogant but as an artist, I have to have conviction. I often struggle with anxiety…so one of my mantras to myself is simple: “slay it.” It’s like an aggressive vote of confidence; like there’s no other option. “Don’t fuck it up.”