The Tactile and the Found: An Interview with James Clarkson, Artist-in-Residence at The Tetley, Leeds
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for Shlur. I find your work very compelling; I saw your solo exhibition at the Rod Barton Gallery in London, and it was fantastic because I come from the Motor City (Detroit) and love that you used car parts in that work. I also liked that some of your work seems to be in response to literature, film or other artists (Fernand Leger is one of my favorites.) So my first question is, where do you take your inspiration from, and what makes you choose the items that are found in your work?
Initially my interest in making found object sculptures came from a necessity to be resourceful. When I left university I couldn’t really afford to make any work and it was a tough economic climate for even getting a part/full time job to fund anything. So utilizing the objects around me and affordable items from junk and charity shops became my means of production. What became quite interesting about this process was that I never particularly sought to find one particular item, so I could let the materials I encountered direct the outcome of the artwork. From starting out with this process I then began to think more conceptually about the items that make up our surroundings, for instance the Citroen Picasso you mentioned earlier is a good example. So selecting the items has always heavily relied on chance.
Other times I am already thinking about something from art history and I see an object that might enable me to explore that. At the time of making the exhibition you mentioned that played with some of the ideas of Fernand Leger’s paintings I had been thinking a lot about a painting of his I saw, titled ‘Mona Lisa with Keys.’ This work was about the juxtaposition oh high art and every day objects to question ideas surrounding the hierarchy of materiality. The piece by Leger became a conceptual idea for the basis of a series of works in the exhibition. This is a way of working which I have moved away from in recent works, thinking more directly about the forms of the objects involved in the works now.
This may seem a bit silly – but for the layman, and for those like me who are just interested in the gestalt of the artist’s repetoire – what can you say about what your work means?
To describe my work in simple terms, I explore the mass production of everyday objects and how the process of mass production often refines many objects to a series of simple linear gestures. My work often combines references to painting through these simple gestures, yet the presentation remains inherently sculptural. I am interested in how the meaning of these objects changes when removed from their original context.
How did you become involved with The Tetley? Will your residency involve objects found on site, and will it somehow encompass the social ideals of The Tetley?
I began talks with the Tetley after they contacted me about visiting my studio almost a year ago now. We then just discussed the best way to present an exhibition of my work in relation to the site for the opening program of the new space. What we came up with was a residency period where my studio would be open to the public. The work I would make during this period, which turned out to be around five weeks, would be either made in reference or entirely out of material found on site. These works would then be exhibited in an exhibition following the end of the residency.
During the months leading up to the opening of the space, as renovations were taking place, I visited The Tetley a number of times to gather materials. I then began to use these materials during the residency but it became clear to me that in the short period of time it was actually a difficult undertaking to use some of the objects I had selected. So I decided to use some objects I had seen when looking through the archive at The Tetley as the starting point for the work. I selected a series of photographs of workers producing the metal casks for beer storage and two historic objects from the archive. The works look at the change in production at The Tetley site, a transition from factory to office based work during the rise and fall of the companies success.
You have already accomplished so much. What do you ultimately wish to achieve as an artist?
Being able to continue to make work is the main thing. I always enjoy the opportunity to show at new galleries and meet new people, so hopefully that too. We’ll see I never really know what will happen next.
What contemporary artists do you admire?
I am curating a group show, Apples and Pears, in Cologne at a space called DREI. The artists included in this show are Trisha Baga, Olga Balema, Cornelia Baltes, Ann Cathrin November Høibo, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Aude Pariset, Chadwick Rantanen and Anna Virnich. They are all artists whose work I enjoy and I am excited to see the result of bring their work together.
James Clarkson’s exhibit, “Smooth Flow” can be seen at The Tetley until 16 February. In it, Clarkson utilises objects found within The Tetley, relating to the social history of the old brewery.