Q&A @ Stiwdio3 July 6th 2019
A Question and Answer session in the Stiwdio3 Gallery with artist and curator Peter Rossiter.
[S: Suzi Park PSJ: Paul Steffan Jones J: Jake C: Carole King]
P This was kind of my idea in a way, because I came up here and I was bowled over by this show and I thought these pictures; there’s a lot of thought, a lot of ideas. Some of them are explained quite thoroughly on the walls and some are a bit more mysterious and I thought I’d really like to talk to Glenn about that and then I thought well, maybe some other people might like to find out a bit more about what goes on in that head of yours. I sketched together on the spot a few questions, which we may or may not touch on. So, just to kick off, what I was struck by particularly was your attitude to pictures as a repository for an idea; for a thought; for storytelling or ideas and how that seems to be very important to you. G Well, it is, yes. As a school kid I always wanted to be a writer. Art was in the background all the time but it was never taken seriously. It was always the English which was important and the aspect of English I liked most was the essay writing. So it seems natural to me now that I should apply narrative intent to my art. Narrative painting went out of fashion because of Victorian academic sermonising and sentimentality, so it got a bad name through the whole of Modernism, but is now making a big comeback Through people like Paula Rego who I think is probably the finest artist living in this country. P Ok; yes, that show. Narrative painting has a kind of story line. I am thinking of sequential stories like Hogarth’s “Rakes Progress”, but also in a Victorian painting you have a moment where it is like a scene from a drama in a way.., but your work seems to be not so much a scene from a drama as more like a whole story in one picture and put together. A whole narrative as it were; a whole series of thoughts. Its like a beginning, a middle and an end of a story rather than just a moment That is how they seem to me. G Interesting. I have not thought of them like that really. it’s difficult looking at your own work. You have an idea that they are one piece of storytelling, but it takes an outsider’s view like that to cast a new way of looking at them.
Archery Practice: acrylic and oil on canvas
P How about this one here; the archer aiming at the apple? [Archery Practice] Can you explain what is going on here? G It comes from various sources; the William Tell story, American superhero characters like ‘the Green Arrow’ and then I’m playing around with identity. There are two sets of identical twins there because the two models are being used twice in the picture so I suppose I am dealing in ambiguity there and offering up something for a viewer to look at, but am just providing dots for them to join. Painting is almost like a contract between the artist and the viewer; both of them have got bring something to bring to the party to complete the artwork. So your sensibility comes into play when you see something like that and is every bit as important as my intentions when I was painting it. P Right. So how would the conception of that work start? Where would it start? Would it start with life drawings and then you assemble them?
Smoke and Mirrors: acrylic and oil on canvas
G Well, with that one, I composed it on a laptop from different sources that are mainly photographic. The one beside it [Smoke and Mirrors]; that’s more various. The levitating figure and the female figure on the cloud are from life drawings; the central magician is from a photograph. The cloudscape is from some plein-air paintings of the landscape and the dishes at the bottom are Simon Rich’s pottery which I painted on a table top. The different sources are synthesised by re-sizing things one to another on the laptop. P You mentioning Simon Rich triggered a thought in my mind as well, which I was considering when I was thinking about your work and running through the images in my mind and what’s here; that although you have lived a long time in Wales it seems like there is not a lot about being in Wales in your pictures. I think that’s intriguing. It’s not a criticism; I don’t expect you to do men with flat caps at cattle markets or anything like that, but it’s just interesting that your approach is to art, rather than to your specific location. G Being in Wales helps more as a state of mind rather than subject matter. I have got a bat colony above my studio; birdsong outside. That’s why I am here rather than in Ealing or Acton. I suppose the ideas that I am pursuing here are more international rather than regional, but I can appreciate the Welsh landscape -and I do use it, but mainly as practice rather than finished pieces.
Death of Richthofen: acrylic and oil on canvas
P The one with the planes [Death of Richthofen] I love the whole story about the relationship with your father and model building and the rest of it and I just thought there’s a kind of dialogue going on between you and your father even though he is not there anymore and does that still continue with you now? Do you still think of him as looking at your work? G There’s probably not a day goes by without I think about him. We had a really good relationship -which I thought was the norm between most fathers and sons, but apparently not. My only regret is that he never saw how happy I was once I moved to Wales because it was about four weeks after we moved here that he died so unexpectedly. He never saw that I had finally got peace of mind; which again, is what Wales has given me. P It’s a shame, yes. G I found it a very difficult painting to tackle. P How did you conceive of doing that high viewpoint looking down? Was that trying to resolve having all those figures? G Partly, yes. It was mainly an aesthetic decision, but I had always been interested through superhero comics with foreshortening and strange points of view, rather than share an eye level with the subject; I’d want to go low or high above or get in close, so you start to see foreshortening effects. I just find personally it lends a greater dynamism to a composition. P Some of the ones which haven’t got any explanation at all. Could you provide us with some kind of explanation at all? Could you provide us with some kind of pointer as to what is going on? G I’ll try
Human Bridge: acrylic and oil on canvas
P What about the the gravity-defying one [Human Bridge]? G That’s from a series which I provisionally entitled ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. It’s about illusionism and I suppose it really encapsulates what I was about when I worked at the BBC and in the television and film industry in that we dealt in deception and illusion on an industrial scale. Something like that image, if one wanted to recreate that in in the studio, you’d have two figures in those positions across a blue painted floor and then the action, the background, would be projected thereafter; it’s a ‘blue-screen’ technique. These are the things I enjoyed when I was working in the studios. You could go into Television Centre; Studio One, and at lunch time there might be someone in an Elizabethan costume chatting to an actor from an episode of ‘Dr. Who’. It was just mad. They were such surreal images, but that sort of thing has fed my work ever since. From that spun all the different circus and carnival characters. P So it’s the kind of juxtaposition of the world of cinema and the illusion and the romantic storytelling and mythology and all the rest of it. G I was fed on cinema from quite an early age. When Dad was working weekend shifts Mum would sit me down in front of the television and we’d watch things like ‘Sunset Boulevard’. As a ten year old kid these things were magical. P It has made a lasting impression on me as well… I was very lucky that I was at a further education college where there was a cinema club and the guy got extracts of films from the NFT very early on in the seventies and he showed us things like “La Jetée” and Antonioni and all that kind of thing and I think it liberated the possibilities in your mind of what you could do with art in a way that it seemed like painting was a bit of a dead end in some ways and I can see that somehow you have found your way forwards through the more kind of open ended world of film. G You just mentioned film club at student level; they internationalise you, don’t they? P Absolutely; they put you in touch with another art worlds outside. G Things you wouldn’t see on television, you get a handle on.
Tumblers: acrylic an oil on canvas
S What about the long one there [Tumblers]? G It’s from the circus performers cycle and another one that can be hung either way up. I painted them by rotating the canvas, so there wasn’t a particular bias as a result of the brushwork. S And you have a fascination for the circus? G No; I hated them as a kid. The first -probably the only circus I went to, I was frightened out of my wits by these made up as Apaches and cowboys who started racing around the ring, firing these guns and they seemed so loud. I just bolted; terrified!
Levitator: oil on canvas
Through television, it’s the artifice and the preparation that I was interested in and that’s why on that on that one [Levitator], rather than an environment, they are actually placed against a painted backdrop with folds visible. P illusion and that real world… G …and breaking that illusion P I think I have covered quite a lot of the areas I wanted to talk about realism versus magic realism..Yes; you’re Yorkshire. You’ve still got a Yorkshire accent G Really? [laughter] I sound like Cary Grant to me. P You sound normal, yes. I wondered how much that is still important to you; those roots. G Difficult to shake. Someone asked me that in reference to a travelling show that the ‘Human Bridge’ painting was shown in last year, I said that being Northern, it wasn’t a location, it was a state of mind, and I do feel that, but I hope it doesn’t impinge too much on the work. P No. S I don’t think you’d know. P But I think it’s indicative of a certain kind of determination and confidence. Hockney is proud of his roots in that kind of way. It’s not that he’s particularly about that bit of the world that he comes from. It’s about an attitude; a sense of taking no nonsense and knowing where he is going and I think that’s what I would associate with that. G When it was suggested to him that he must have a great life drinking by the swimming pool, he rather took umbridge at that, saying that he didn’t do this many paintings by loitering by pools. P I think it’s a belief in hard work, hard graft and also this refusal to be swept along by this, that and the other a having your own course that you have set on and knowing where you’re going, which if you come from outside the London focused art world you do have to have that. You have to develop that in some way. it happens with some of the Welsh artists. G Unfortunately, we are in a country where art critics really won’t take a trip beyond the M25 -unless it is to Venice. P It’s very hard to get them to review a serious exhibition outside London and cover it properly. G I was expecting Waldemar Janusczcak to turn up… P No… This is true. it’s become in the last twenty or thirty years increasingly so, I think. G Although when I was a student back in 1980, I went to a symposium at the ICA and Sarah Kent, who was at that time art critic for ‘Time Out’ said, without any shame, that she would not review a show that was beyond the North Circular. I’m not sure how you can operate art criticism that way. When I came to Wales, very early on we saw work by Roz Hawksley, fantastic work. She’s based in Newport [Pembs.] and I wondered why I had never heard of her before. people should be broadcasting that sort of nationally and internationally, but I’m not sure how much attention she actually gets. P [to audience] Have you any thoughts/ Questions?
JoJo Johnson; Ventriloquist: version 1 and 2 acrylic and oil on canvas
PSJ Yes I’ve got one question about the two paintings of ventriloquists.Where did you get your information from? Because the story supporting the influence and the idea for the two paintings, I tried looking it up online as it were, but I can’t find the story. G you probably wouldn’t… P He’s made it up G The paintings came first, then the story was fabricated PSJ Oh, good, good G What I tried to do with these unreliable narratives is place a fictionalised character at the centre of a story but all the people brought in are actual. I try to weave a credible story around in an attempt to achieve a greater truth in a way; to make a point about something. In this case it was about feminism. PSJ The narrative you’ve given there is just before the internet and so it could have fallen off the edge of inspection. G Most of the characters I wrote about are the sort of people who might just be footnotes in someone else’s story, so there is a possibility that it might be true -but isn’t.
Consignment Batch 11 unit7: acrylic and oil on canvas
S Can I ask more about the way you paint, Glenn? The studies there [Consignment] The concept of what you want to do; what sort of visuals would you need to start to create something like that? Is it drawings and photographs? What’s the build-up to actually starting to put the paint on the canvas? G With the ‘Consignment’ series, because I had to use myself as a model as they were really difficult poses, what I did was construct a crate; I got in it and I had a camcorder on a beam above, recording all the movements that I made. It was going to be a painting about a Houdini escapologist character. Once I got in, the whole mood changed. It just felt that bit darker. At the same time as I was filming there were stories about Guantanamo and people trafficking, on the radio and the two things coalesced quite quickly and I decided to go away from the performers and try and investigate ideas of human commodity. So technically, I was using stills from a video and basically projecting those stills onto the canvas. I had ten that size, so I decided on eight or nine colours I’d use for that particular set and get to work. I use the same source material on different sized canvases and changed the colours so with each batch, there is a slight colour change and size change and medium change. With these paintings I’d start with a series of acrylic layers and then overlay a final top coat of oil paint. You can put oil on top of acrylic, but not vice-versa unless you want some interesting resist effects, but they are difficult to control. P So you use projection techniques quite a lot, then? G I do, yes. Its just easier. I served an apprenticeship at foundation and degree level almost one to one with a model and although I don’t use that technique quite so often because access to a suitable model is quite difficult now, it did enable me to decide what to use in a photograph, what to ignore and what I needed to add to that information. Even the best photographs flatten things out so it does help drawing from life to see what might happen around a form as it disappears from view. Drawing is always important to me, but it might not be directly applied. S So you wouldn’t necessarily need to draw first on something like that? G There would be just an outline sketch
Target; "6079 Smith W." : oil on canvas
Barcode: oil on canvas
J These two are related by the way they are painted, I presume? G They are, yes; a recent project. The Barcode represented commodification of the individual and the target was about surveillance in both the public and cyber domain; how we offer up our information voluntarily to corporations and the state without us knowing what the consequences might be in the future J It’s something I think about quite often, actually. What you put online and every time you apply to a new website you have to give all this information It rather repels me from doing much of anything on the computer. G and it’s difficult to do anything unless.. J …unless you do give out this information; precisely. I think these two are certainly the most relatable for me. My favourites in the exhibition. G You have picked the most recent project -inspired by the work of George Orwell, whose writings are as relevant now as they were when he wrote them. Seventy years since ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ was published. S [picks up folio of scenic artwork] So these are the stuff that you had to do for the shows you were working on? G I struck lucky. Most people after doing a degree move on to post-graduate study. The BBC offered me what was essentially a post-grad course, but I was getting paid at the same time and I was having to work to deadlines, which is quite a good discipline for an artist. Good times. You were never quite sure what was going to be assigned to you. In a department of sixteen artists when I joined you would have expected that there would be a person that specialised in portraits; another couple who’d specialise in terraced houses for scenes beyond a bay window in a sit-com. That didn’t happen. They kept you on your toes by everybody having to do everything and it kept the job fresh
"The Biz": BBC 1994
S Is that a Hockney painting? G It is , yes. S so how were they actually done? Painted or digital? G Painted with big brushes and large pots of paint. This was before CGI came in. We were so much cheaper than commissioning photographic blow-ups or computer generated art of that time. By the time I finished in 2004, it had all changed There are certain shorthands there that I had to employ due to time limits that I employ in my own work now. There were two types of scenic art. That which was designed not to be seen. It was basically to prevent the camera from seeing the studio back-wall. Then there were pieces like most of those in the folio which were designed especially to be seen for programmes like ‘Later, with Jools Holland’ and ‘Newsnight’. Because some of the designers couldn’t draw, if they trusted you enough, you could actually end up designing the thing for them -even though they took the credit There was one series of ‘Crimewatch’ where there was a cyclorama fingerprints about eight by six feet each around the studio. They were all mine.
Chicago Bridges: "The Late Show" BBC 1992
S So that’s painted? [Chicago Bridges; ‘The Late Show’] G Yes S That’s what size? Oh it says eight by twelve feet. Bloody hell. How long would that take you to do? G Two Days S Two days?
"Alexei Sayle's Stuff": BBC. 1989
G They are quite easy to do. The one next to it [Eiffel Tower; Alexie Sayle’s Stuff] took about seven days because that was more intricate. Seven feet square It was seen on television for about five seconds with Alexei Sayle in front of it -dressed in a frog costume. S and where do these end up? G They were painted over S That’s tragic C We have got a couple at home G I rescued one of Groucho Marx. I thought ”I’m not going to let them paint that one over”… S Staggering. Well, I was bowled over by your life drawings and portrait show and now this is coming in and all this background. Amazing. G The time limits may seem unreasonable but in fact because you could paint broadly on a big scale and because television takes things down to [at the time a 26” screen], everything tightened up and you didn’t need to worry about detail. It was really quite broad. S So you get to know what you can get away with G Yes. Sometimes when you were working in spaces when you couldn’t get far enough back to to see what you were painting, they issued us with ‘reducing glasses’. Instead of magnifying glass, they used bi-concave lenses so you could see the whole of the picture without stepping back too far. S I’m presuming the kids who are there now would be really fascinated by this. The process now is completely different It’s all done digitally now isn’t it? G I suppose in theatre You’ll still get scenic artists but that’s about it. It has gone from television; that BBC department no longer exists. You can’t have a show of those because they are all painted over! There was nowhere to store them. Our standard sized cloth would be about twelve by twenty feet. You would get the same canvasses over and over again to the point where they were like painting onto the side of an elephant. They would be cracking as they were being put up, but it didn’t matter. You couldn’t see them. This is like describing someone else’s life now; it’s a world away from what I’m doing now. PSJ I’m glad you feel happier in Wales G I’ve not felt happier. I’ve got to a stage now where I can probably survive on what I’ve got so I don’t have to sell. It would be nice -but not necessary. P That was one question I was going to go into; that whole area of how much is selling important? G Not now P it’s a relief isn’t it? You can do what you want. G There’s a great line by the American comedian, Jackie Mason. Something like, “I’ve got enough to live on for the rest of my life -if I don’t eat”…..
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