Hey Steven and thank you for your time today.
Firstly can I start by saying I am very much a fan of your work and find your pieces very inspirational…where do you come up with your ideas and inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from the unconscious from the unseen mysteries of life, the magical and symbolic place, I call it the ”Bardo” state. It is the place in-between, the mystical crack, the still point where to worlds meet.
I see my visions in a dream like state, then I work feverishly to bring them to life and share with you.
You grew up in the South West of England and in your late twenties you were hospitalised after having a near-death experience after a drinking binge…did this experience effect you for the rest of your life and do you find this experience has in fact helped you to create some of your darker work?
Yes, I was born and grew up in the south west England, and I’ve lived most of my life there.
I didn’t ”fit in” I spent most of my childhood feeling isolated.
On rainy days you would normally find me with a pencil and paper drawing something, or in my dads work shop messing around with a motorcycle.
As a child I was more interested in the unseen and the magical, that world somehow seemed more real to me.
I had a natural gift to see the unseen, talking to dead relatives or imaginary people. But in the playground of life I was ridiculed for being a dreamer, so I quickly learnt to keep my opinions and observations to myself.
I went a normal state run school, but being a dyslexic left handed dreamer, I didn’t fit in too well there either.
The education system and me parted company as soon as we could, I think it was a great relief to both parties!
Coming from a working class background I worked to pay my way in life; construction work, repairing motorcycles, anything I could make a living at. Luckily I had developed an interest in tattooing, that at least gave me some outlet for my creative side, without tattooing I don’t think I would have ever survived those ”barren years”.
I suppressed my creativity, energies and visions with drugs and alcohol to do the life, and try to ”fit in” to what I thought I should be. It was how I functioned, going to work, holding down a job and paying the rent. Unlike some artists who use drugs for inspiration, I was using for the opposite effect.
Finally, at 29 my lifestyle came to crisis point, with another hospitalisation my body and liver had shut down, bringing on a near death ”Bardo” experience. This graced me with a moment of clarity into my condition, ”the spark of insight in to me” That spark lead directly to my personal process of recovery, and the life I have today, the life as an artist. The life I live and the art I create are somehow a result of that experience of recovery from darkness.
I don’t live in that dark place today, I just shine the light into it.
I feel that the desire to create was always present inside of me, but it was heavily suppressed by drugs; primarily alcohol. While lying in that hospital bed feeling rather beaten, I somehow accepted I was beaten;
being beaten by my own best actions, trying to do the life how I thought it should be had not worked out too well for me. I could see it. This I can only describe as a spiritual awakening. From that point on I learnt to embrace my creativity, I got help from whatever I could, including AA. My life did turn around from that point and miracles seemed to happen.
I had started out on the learning curve of how to be me, the artist, in the world. I started to accept and love myself for who I was, and express what visions were inside of me, becoming the artist you know today.
Yes, I’ve got around a bit, not so much as a tourist but more as a seeker.
I used to follow the little voice inside of me, it led me to many wonderful places. Really it was never about the places, but about the wonderful people I encountered. I visited the USA and Canada, spending time with the Navajo and Hopi tribes, and also with the Huron [Mohawk/Mohican] people.
I feel privileged to have been embraced by these people, some of whose traditions, craft skills and mystical healing arts I now incorporate into my art and my life today. Indigenous peoples I could identify with, theses encounters definitely helped me to find my way forward in the life.
5 years ago I visited the Tibetan peoples who are living in exile in India, a meeting was arranged for me with the State Oracle for Tibetan government, at his holiness the 14th Dali lama” palace. This meeting became the inspiration and catalyst for my Bardo body of work.
Yes, I first started to show my work as most artists do, to friends, family and clients in my tattoo studio.
They in-turn encouraged my to show publicly, so I started exhibiting in small venues and it grew into a cult following in the UK.
A breakthrough came when I was asked to show my work in Europe. Quickly, I found my work being exhibited in prestigious venues and museums.
I prefer to use non traditional spaces to show, space and setting is of up-most importance to me.
I like the space to hold the viewer and art together in a moment of space and time, so as the magic can happen. I’ve exhibited in spaces as diverse as mortuary chapels, a horse hospital, to a full gallery installation. The main thing I strive for in exhibition is immersion in the vision I am expressing. Currently I’m showing solo shows in Europe and the UK [details below] and I’m proud to say, in May 2014 ”Bardo II” opens at the world heritage site of Kernave in Lithuania, this will be my biggest exhibition project to date.
Very difficult to choose a favourite, they are all like my children to me, my paintings all have different qualities and characters. My creative process is an evolution; one piece leads naturally to the next. New works just add to the whole body of my work.
So for me they are each as important as the other, contributing and leading to the next breath of expression.
It’s like a journey; one step is as important as the other.
But if I was forced to make a decision…I could say I have some personal favourites at certain times, this is of course dependent on my mood. ”Black Tea II” being one of them right now, probably because I just discovered a new green tea that I’m obsessively drinking. I’m liking “Biker Biker” as well right now, probably because it’s pissing down with rain and I can’t get out on my beast for a blast! I still like to go out when the weather is nice.. make some noise and ride it like i just stole it!!!
Do you prefer to paint, or sculpt?
I don’t have a preference in a medium I work in. It boils down to how I feel a piece can be best expressed.
I get a vision then go learn how to create and express that vision. If needed, I will seek out a teacher to learn a craft.
I did this with the ”Stonehenge Skull”, it needed to be 3D made from Stonehenge Sarson, but I guess you could say, considering most of my pieces are 2D, that this is what I prefer.
I really like this medium as it helps me express the dream-like visions of a 3D world contained in a 2D space,
this transcends the boundaries of the 2D space, giving us so much more to feel, this to me is magic.
No, I never attended art school, I learn by myself ”in the curve”,
I think that defines my creative process as ” Visionary ” I see the vision in my minds eye, then I go about figuring out how to make it real so you can see it.
Which has been your most challenging project to date.
Physically “Bardo II”, the exhibition, because of its size and content. It’s a full labyrinth installation and it has taken 5 years of work to birth. But in all honesty, the most challenging project to date has been trying to master my own life. I’m trying to become a better bastard than I used to be! Mastery in any form inspires me.
If you could create a work of art for anyone, who would it be and why?
I would not create my work just for another person. I do not do commission work, I have always refused to ”sell out” with my visions to flattery and a pay check. But (and its a big BUT) creating art for others is what I did and loved for many years as a TATTOO ARTIST. I loved every minute of this, meeting peoples needs, helping them to express their inner desires and needs on the outside of them. Tattoo art is a great work of service to people.
Using my creative artistic skills to help people achieve their vision and rights of passage was very enriching for me as a artist.
But as you know, I stopped tattooing professionally some years ago, and handed over the reins of my studio to Mike.
[I still do tattoo, but more as a passionate hobby] It became clear to me that the visions I was wishing to express were coming from outside of the loop of the personal interaction with a client. So I stopped tattooing to focus on painting as I like to give 100% to what I do.
I am sure I would have continued in a career of misery and suffering, drinking large amounts of alcohol until I faded away. I can’t think of anything else I should be doing at this time.
Is there any concept you aren’t prepared to create?
My shit on a canvas springs to mind, 😉
i.e., personal catharsis as art; it may well be a valid form of self expression and has a rightful place on a canvas, but
this is something I don’t personally feel needs to be expressed.
It is a catharsis, not visionary.
Don’t get me wrong, I have created cathartic and narcissistic works, but I’ve just burned them, and moved on in my life. It can be a great turn out, but it’s not for everyone to admire. Concepts that are narcissistic in nature are not appealing to me, or works that match the colour of wallpaper, fad, or fashion.
You have been in this profession for many years, do you feel the industry has changed at all?
The industry may have changed; there are new mediums to work in and technology has improved, so there are new toys to play with, (some are better than others) but I feel at the core of what art/artist ”is” and how it fits into the world has not changed.
The artists inspiration emerges mystically from the core of his or her being, then that inspiration is expressed to the world in the chosen medium, and we call the end result of this process ‘Art’.
This is how it is and always will be.
I should mention I feel strongly that medium and how it is applied is important.
The great master painters of old painted their masterpieces on canvas, they took their time, a long time to get it right, or as I say ”get it in there”.
They were not just putting an image on canvas, they were fusing the soul of their vision into a painting.
This takes time, love, and mastery, combined with a medium that will hold it in place, including the ”things of mystery” we cannot see, but for sure can feel.
Go sit in front of an original masterpiece, by say, ”Vermeer” or ”Rembrandt”. Sit there for 20 minutes, and you will feel overwhelmed buy its beauty and power. Go try the same with a digital img. The effect will not be the same, you just get a headache. As I like to say, fast food industry techniques do not belong in the world of art.
When I paint, I build layer on top of layer, time after time, image on image, laying in the vision, bringing it to life, and I will stay with it until it is IN. You know it is not uncommon for someone to start to cry while sitting in front of one of my original works. It just ink on paper, but it has moved them to feel something profound, that I believe is the magic.
What advice would you give someone, wanting to follow in your footsteps?
If it is in your heart to create, just do it. Create.
Let your heart rule your head.
Be true self, know and learn with feverish passion if necessary; that Death will come to you.
Do not follow in my path, but let my footprints inspire you to make your own mark in the sand.
Looking back at your past work/projects, is there anything you would like to have changed?
No, nothing. I learn on the journey and evolve from the past.
This is how my expression grows, it’s one of the primary driving forces for my creativity.
When I look back and see things I feel could have done better, I accept them, learn from them , and make changes in the now so as to not repeat them. This keeps me alive and fresh, and moves me toward mastery.
NOW is where it’s all happening, right fucking NOW.
Lastly…where can people see your work?
In the UK:
A permanent public exhibition at
Sacred Symbols Gallery.
At the National MKC art museum of Lithuania.
From 23rd May 2014 “Bardo II” permanent exhibition.