Q) When did you first discover fine art and how did you decide that it was what you wanted to pursue professionally?
I have drawn and painted for as long as I can remember. I painted my sister at the age of four years seven months, and it won a national painting competition organized by the Daily Mirror. My mother had it on her bedroom wall for forty years. At primary school my art teacher told me aged six I would be an artist when I grew up. From the age of eight at school my work was put into national competitions. I won prizes, and commendations every year. So I never decided. It just happened.
Q) How has your artistic practice evolved since the beginning of your career?
I studied at the Architectural Association, not at an art school. I became interested in design, in mass production, and in particular with designs whose function was psychological in their conception. Designs which imbue identity, by communicating feeling through surface; very different from Modern Architecture, which was about the grid, equality of the individual in the group, and which was communicated through line, the engineer’s means of expression. I practiced as an architect, and designer alongside my drawing to begin with; gradually I lost a dimension. The subject of the work is still architecture.
Q) Much of your work looks at the impact of an ‘oil hungry civilisation’ – what continues to draw you to this subject?
The machine was an optimistic symbol for architects, particularly for those who I knew who gravitated around Richard Rogers and Norman Foster in this country. This intrigued me because as far as I was concerned machines always broke down – at least my car did - regularly. My teaching started to investigate this myth, and thus the death of the machine. At the best I am ambivalent about them. I worked with Roland Muldoon and John Arden in political theatre and was interested in their thinking particularly In regard to America and capitalism. The key moment in bringing the idea into focus was a retsina assisted lunch with my AA tutor, and an artist whose name I can’t remember who had just come back from Miami, and who was waxing lyrical about the light, the colour, and the culture. My take was vehemently opposed on political, and social grounds. I wondered later whether I could take a leaf out of the country music songbook and make a series of images that appeared to do one thing whilst doing the opposite. By adopting the glossy, bright look of mass production, images in large numbers all the same sizes I could over a long period of time reveal something about society.
Q) Your drawings are painstakingly detailed and are impressively realistic; how long does it typically take you to finish a piece?
Typically they take six weeks, five days a week, ten hours a day, a total of 300 hours. By that calculation I have drawn alone for thirteen years without a break. Some take more. ‘Mulholland’ took six weeks just to draw the tree, at which point I was maybe half way through. It’s much harder to draw something, which has no regular form or has a random surface. My life has been that of a monk, in my cell.
Q) How important is photography to your practice?
For all of the 100 drawings that make up the Gas Tank City project I used film. I have taken tens of thousands of 35 mm film frames to do it. I love transparencies projected large. Prints are too grey. Most photos just don’t make a drawing. There’s nothing a drawing could add. Typically a drawing will be more intense; colour will be stronger, and more saturated than a photographic print. Typically I will take four or five photographs at different focal depths of a subject, and then combine them to make something sharper than any photograph can be. I try to convey the emotion when I first saw the subject just before I started to take photographs. That emotion has to be very strong, and remain strong until the time I make the decision to make the drawing. The quality of image obtainable with a digital camera surpassed that of film about two years ago. I have started planning a new series based on images I have just taken in very low light at night that reveal something the human eye can not see. Along the way I have used a Polaroid Land camera, at a point when I physically couldn’t draw for two years when I developed a prolapsed disc in my back from drawing about fifteen years into my career. It proved a blessing in disguise because I had to pursue my subject by other means, in other media.
Q) A lot of your work is based around Los Angeles – what is it about the area that inspires you?
Los Angeles is a garden in what used to be a desert. Everything that makes a city is therefore visible. I’m less and less interested in the finished city; but rather on the one hand the places where people are clinging on in the desert, or work places where people are clinging on in the city. My work has mostly depicted the day, now I am interested in the night.
Q) What is your studio like, and how is it organised?
It’s on the first floor of a classic detached 1930s house with Critall windows both ends, and runs east west, so that the daylight is very even throughout the day. It’s really like an architect’s studio with an A0 adjustable drawing board and stool in the bay window; layout tables and drawing cabinets on either side; laptop, large screen and printer; signed photographs of customisers ‘Big Daddy’ Ed Roth, George Barris, Mario DeAlba, and footballers John Charles, Gordon Banks, Bill Foulkes, and the Wolverhamton Wanderers 1960 FA Cup winning team.
Q) How do you like to relax outside of the studio?
I really don’t much. My work occupies my mind most of the time. Except for watching the ‘Breaking Bad’ box set of course. Even then I got an idea from one of the early episodes – another long-term project. Everything I do gets used somehow. I now have decided to exercise my shoulders and neck against becoming stiff so have joined the Lea River Rowing club. I’m not sure it is relaxing, but I should be able to carry on drawing longer, just as long as I don’t develop any muscle. If you have muscle you can’t control the pencil.
Q) What exciting projects do you have on the horizon?
Immediately, I have a show in Los Angeles at the Ace Museum on South La Brea Avenue. It is an exhibition of fourteen drawings from the last ten years, and a video installation from 1990 of ‘The Golden Hour’. It is the opening show to a new venture, an extension project of Ace Galleries in a former garage with a parking lot on the roof. It couldn’t be better. There is a lot of work to do. I have designed the show but there are walls to build, and furniture to make.
Meanwhile I am working on my current series. ‘Progress’ are what I call scriptures based on my love for John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ which was read to me at the age of six by my form teacher, American detective novels particularly those of Ross MacDonald, and an interest in the work of Albrecht Durer particularly his etchings. Most people don’t know there is a second part to ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, the story of his wife’s journey. The new work is her story told as if she was a detective driving through the wastelands of California. There are ten pages of text and ten images. The texts, which are on the left of the image, describe her driving. The images show what she sees on the drive. The wicket gate through which Pilgrim passes is a camera, the road she travels is The Highway, and she travels through all the tests on side roads named after those tests, so that The Slough of Despond becomes La Cienega, and so on. The images are black and white.
Q) What keeps inspiring you to continue with your work?
What makes us breathe? I have my subject. There are so many shades and sides to it that it has proved inexhaustible. The set of 100 colour drawings, which took 40 years, is finished. Along the way I have investigated this world using other media, film photography, Polaroid, videotape, digital movies, and constructions in response to things I wanted to say. I’ve always got an opinion, which rarely chimes with the mainstream view or what is current. There’s always something to battle against.