Thursday, 16 February 2017

In Conversation with Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency

Graduate Resident Jack Waddington urges audiences to confront humankind's weighty rapport with love and acceptance through an abundance of colour and playfully assembled characters. His upcoming exhibition, Give Me Love, showcases a series of new sculptural works created at AirSpace Gallery throughout his six month residency in Stoke-on-Trent. Speaking to the artist ahead of his show, Waddington discusses his inspirations, creative development since completing his studies at Camberwell College of Art, and life as a practicing artist in a polycentric city. Surrounded by towering polystyrene figures and grounded, sculptural collages, he points out the therapeutic value of art and its potential to heal both the artist and the viewer. Whilst his work identifies closely with the idea of 'child's play' and exudes a youthful aesthetic, it maintains a macabre undertone with primitive forms and chaotic compositions reflecting upon sentiments of anxiety and vulnerability forged by society's oversaturated and artificial way of life.

AS: Much of your work examines the aesthetic and psychological traits of Western civilisation. How do these themes, and the world of 'child's play' and self-love, integrate into your practice?
Jack: My work is meant to look innocently made and that's how I see a lot of Western civilisation; that we're innocently absorbed within these constructed settings and seek comfort in them. I see a similarity between this and child's play, and how children immerse themselves in fictional narratives to comfort themselves. My artistic practice is similar to child's play – we absorb ourselves within narratives to understand or escape something. That's where the surreal, artificial aesthetic of the work comes from.

AS: How has your work developed since graduating from Camberwell, from six months ago to this point now? Have you developed elements from your graduate show or has the work changed completely?
Jack: It has changed. I ended the final year doing large-scale square format canvas paintings. They were these congested, site-geographical scenes that were tighter and less messy. I've gone more sculptural in doing the residency. The space and obviously the funding have helped; I've been able to put more effort and money towards the work.
AS: Can you talk more about the transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, and the reasons for going more sculptural?
Jack: The canvases felt a little flat, and I had these prototype models of some of the scenes within the paintings. They were a bit more unrefined, so I've embraced that and taken it to a larger scale. I'm unsure why I've gone more sculptural: I've always liked to use different materials in my work and show how we regurgitate elements from different cultures. It's a chaos of content, and that works more with the physical nature of the work.
Packit, 2016.

AS: What first motivated you to participate in the Airspace Gallery graduate residency?
Jack: I was concerned about what I was going to do after university. I wanted to carry on making work and be in a setting where I could do that whilst communicating with others also making art. This residency seemed perfect. It's in Stoke, and I'm already familiar with the city – my Dad's from Stoke, I support Stoke City football club, and it seemed really nice to come here.

AS: You've also spoken about an interest in the polycentric nature of Stoke-on-Trent in your statement. How does this link up and impact your practice? Has your work been inspired by the layout of the city?
Jack: Yes, that was part of my show proposal when applying for the residency. My practice looks at geographical substrates, and so instead of having an imaginary substrate, I proposed to use Stoke-on-Trent and its unique identity as a city of mixed towns. It reflects some of the ideas from my final graduate paintings, which were compositions of different towns. It's enabled me to have a foundation for these sculptures. I thought it might be nice to connect the towns within the residency exhibition; it's one way of composing and curating the show. So, you're walking through the city in the exhibition, hopefully. But that's just a really loose, naive association with the towns. For example this piece (The Walk, 2016) uses a bullseye or dart board to resemble Hanley, because it's the city centre. It's really simple ideas like this that allow me to create.

AS: What can audiences expect to see in your upcoming exhibition? You mentioned certain pieces being loose representations of places like Hanley. Do you envisage the show being lots of representations of the different towns, or will it take on a different format?
Jack: Initially I wanted it to be strictly geographical. Now, I think that whilst it's a part of the work, the pieces aren't about any specific town. It's rather an idea of the space and people's relationship with their immediate environment. I want the show to be really anxious looking, and hopefully viewers will be able to sense anxiety through the immediacy of the work.

The Walk, 2016.

AS: Have you enjoyed your residency experience as a whole? What have you learnt both in and out of the studio? Can you mention any highlights?
Jack: It was really quite tough to move city having lived and studied in London for three years. Luckily Tom (fellow graduate resident) was also from my course, and so I had someone to socialise with from day one. I've learnt how to be resourceful with materials and objects. It's different from being at university where you take things for granted. It's been tricky, but I've learnt how to have a part-time job whilst making artwork, and putting on a show. Also, in terms of exhibition logistics, I've learnt how to negotiate and communicate more with others, and how to be more professional when assembling shows. At university, exhibitions were created in a relaxed, slap-dash way. Here, it's more of a formal environment, and something that I've not really experienced before, apart from my degree show. It's been really exciting thinking about the composition of the work – it's not simply making pieces in the studio to shove in a show. The residency is geared towards a final exhibition, and that's really good. It's been helpful to envisage the work outside the room that it's created in – I've been thinking about that a lot more. There's been lots of highlights, including being able to work so often, and being proud of the lifestyle that I'm living.

AS: Supporting yourself as an artist and being able to make work in the studio can be difficult to balance. Staying on the topic of exhibitions, how did you find the interim show? Was it helpful, and did it enable you to think about what the final presentation might look like?
Jack: Yeah, I got a bit carried away with the interim show. It was the first time that I'd had a whole room to myself, and I painted it in red and white stripes. It was a productive experience, because whilst I had control of the space, it was important to learn how to negotiate with the gallery directors. There was a minor miscommunication with some of the logistics about painting the whole space. In terms of the actual interim show, some of the works were half finished, so it was interesting to see what needed to be improved or added. I think only one of the works from that show is going into the new exhibition – so yeah, it felt like a different entity.

AS: You mentioned painting the walls for the interim show, and I noticed that colour as well as found materials feature predominantly in your work. Are you drawn to any particular colours or shades, or is it all at random?
Jack: It's random, yeah, very random. I don't wear or have these colours around in my life; they just belong in the studio. I don't know why I use these intense colours, maybe it's a portrayal of a congested, anxious mind where lots of content is happening – that's my idea of what a studio is, or that it's a portrait of a mind. My work also looks at wellbeing, and to me bright colours have a positive impact on your mind, so that remedial quality of the work comes through with the brightness. And it just makes black look really good, it makes it look really black. I've always been interested in artists that look at children's art, like Karel Appel and Dubuffet. They use bright colours and I've always been drawn to the playful side of art.

Install shot of Want, 2016 (interim show).

AS: I'd like to learn more about your creative process. A lot of your sculptures feature found objects. Do you go out and seek a particular object for a particular purpose? Do you have a premeditated thing in your head or is it assembled in the space?
Jack: There's not just a one-dimensional act that I go about. If I'm resembling something, then I'll go and find materials that I can reappropriate in a certain way. For example, I was trying to make a bottle kiln, which I found was really hard to make as I was working with foam at the time. So I thought about using a bowling pin, and subsequently went out to find a bowling pin. But other times I'll just stumble across items. Recently, I've been working with polystyrene to form my own shapes.

AS: You talk about the studio being a place where you find colour, and that it's maybe not in your everyday life. Do you see your practice as being therapeutic for either yourself or others, or is it rather just a commentary on modern society, or is it both?
Jack: I think it's both. People should embrace the fact that art is very therapeutic, or that it has the intention of being so. We often come into the studio to create work that we can proudly display on the wall, and seek satisfaction from others and reassure ourselves. I think that in that sense, art is a very personal thing. You do it because you want people to relate to your viewpoint. It's sweet really, that's why I try to make my work quite innocently. With regards to it being a commentary on modern society, I guess we're often numbed or entangled within our own environment, but we're not really content to do so. Similarly, in the studio, we're told that we're lacking in stuff or that we have to improve.

AS: Which aspects of the residency have been the most supportive? Has it been through the meetings that you've had with the directors or elsewhere from the community living in Stoke-on-Trent?
Jack: Both really. I think there's a really solid arts community in the city. It's not that large, but the people within it that I've been privileged enough to meet are really determined to give Stoke-on-Trent more of an artistic reputation. It seems that in London, people can be in it for themselves, but here people collaborate together, and I really like that. Yeah, Glen (AirSpace Director) has been helpful with more than just logistical things, and he also introduced me to my mentor, Mally Mallinson. I've had regular constructive chats with him through meetings and emails. He also gave me some polystyrene, so that was nice.

Jack installing Give Me Love, 2017.
AS: Can you provide any tips for emerging creatives fresh out of art school or university?
Jack: Apply to stuff. We're privileged enough to have the internet, and online forms that you can fill out, so why not try and look for them. I found the AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency on Keep ahead of the game, notice a track and just stick to that track. You don't even need to know where it's going, but as long as you know that you're on a track, you'll get somewhere.

AS: What advice can you offer people applying to the residency here? How did you find the interview process, finding a job, and settling in?

Jack: It seems so long ago. Literally you get here, and you just create the work and then the show's around the corner. But the interview wasn't that daunting, just be really passionate about what you're doing, that's the most important thing. Settling in was pretty hard because there's not a lot of accommodation in Stoke-on-Trent, but it's really cheap. We got somewhere in the end. We did have to stay at the gallery for a few nights whilst we were trying to find somewhere.
AS: A bit cold then..
Jack: (laughs) Yeah so not ideal, but it is a welcoming place. Have a solid proposal, don't stick to it but know what you want to look into. Have a specific task that you want to be working on, but rather than changing your whole practice, know what your practice is after leaving university and then hone in on one area that you want to expand. I think that you will find new influences through that process too.

AS: Do you think that you'll continue to develop the work that you've created here after the show, or are there new thematic avenues that you want to pursue and perhaps integrate into it afterwards?
Jack: I definitely don't want to abandon this thing that I'm working on. I like where I'm going to be leaving this. It depends on what space you have really, or how importantly you see the work to carry on. There's different areas that I would like to look at: I'm interested in the traditional idea of carving and forming shape, and I'd like to quite literally expand that just to make it bigger. I'd like to try working with some large-scale industrial blocks of foam.

AS: Has your time in Stoke-on-Trent opened up new opportunities? And what will you take with you, after you leave the city, if you intend to leave, maybe moving onto something else?
Jack: Yeah, I think I'm going to move back home for a bit, to work and to think about new work that I can create when I hopefully go back to London. It's a great place here, and I'm definitely going to come back and apply for some of the residencies and shows. What will I take with me.. I've realised that I am really committed to my work and hopefully I can carry that on without the security of a residency or the university. It would be nice to have a studio and carry on with this momentum. I feel as though I've got a good momentum and it's good to acknowledge that once you've finished the residency. And, I've learnt social skills and how to be more communicative. I'm looking forward to putting on more exhibitions, and having more interviews. I feel as though this has really helped me with communicating with people.

Why Can't I Be You, 2016.

AS: Is there anything else that you want to add or talk about your work? Would you like to describe one of your pieces in more depth to me?
Jack: Yes I could, so at the moment things are in different parts, that's how I install things. There's no finished work here, and because of the space you have to dismantle works and tuck things away.
AS: It's interesting that you can do that with your work, not everyone could disassemble and reassemble pieces.
Jack: Yeah, and I really enjoy that aspect of it. It reminds me of how you sort out your room or sort out your toys, it's very therapeutic and obsessive. This piece (Why Can't I Be You, 2016), is kind of a statement piece and I'm looking at the taboo issue of suicide. I'm looking at the theme of wellbeing and I thought about the idea of when you can't accept yourself or you feel like a failure or something. As a completed piece, this figure would be propped on a chair, and have a ceiling-hung snake-shaped noose around his neck. It reflects upon feelings of physical entrapment between the floor and the ceiling. This taboo subject is something that's not really acknowledged in the visual arts, and it's quite a serious topic.

AS: I think that art and mental health is starting to development a lot more these days. It is an interesting theme to approach, especially within your own practice, independent of something like art therapy. The piece seems to be one solid entity, whereas the others are typically assembled. Is this a new progression, or the start of a new way of making?
Jack: This is actually the second version I made. I made a really small one, then a big one, but I like how the larger one is looking. I'm interested in an alternation of scale, so I'm unsure if it is a progression. Maybe I could dissect these larger figures and perhaps they don't need to be so tight. They are created by attaching different limbs together. I'm thinking why not emphasise the process of making each separate limb. Perhaps in the future I could have these figures where the head or arms aren't attached, or they're attached by a rope, or some sort of skewer. The assemblage of different layers is visible in my other works, and so this could be reflected more in the figures too. A thing I could improve is the hanging of the work. At the moment it's a bit immediate and not too considered. For example, this piece (The Walk) is just nailed to the wall and it will tug at the work. But I do enjoy the immediacy of it.

Jack Waddington is a Graduate of Camberwell College of Arts. His practice centres around experimentations with found materials and handmade objects. He is propelled by art as a form of escapism and explores this concern through sculptural and painterly works, echoing the innocence of child’s play.

The AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency Scheme, running since 2012, seeks to tackle graduate retention in Stoke-on-Trent and offers new arts graduates an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and a professional arts career. Residents receive a studio space for 6 months, monthly mentoring meetings and full access to the Gallery's facilities.

Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, February 17th - 25th, AirSpace Gallery.

See more of Jack's work:

Interview by Selina Oakes.

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