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3 years, 3 months ago
NICK SHEEHY: I LIKE MARRYING ODDNESS WITH THE FAMILIAR
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'Biography' presents a wide selection of works from Elmgreen & Dragset's complex universe, including sculpture, performance and interactive installations. Works from the late 1990s onwards will be shown together with recent projects, ...
Photo Anders Sune Berg
perrotin.com

You said in an interview that some of your works are semi-autobiographical. Can you explain what about them is so and give us some examples?

They’re semi-autobiographical in that certain themes or motifs reflect what is happening to me at the time. For example, I draw more birds and plants in spring. I draw more skull and bones when things are coming to an end or dying. I draw guitars when I’ve been playing music. I draw wooden constructions when I’m building things. And so on.
Sometimes these things form mini, short-term obsessions in my non-drawing life and populate my work consciously. Sometimes they sneak in without much consideration.

Many artists claim that this job is a full-time occupation, since their mind is always looking for subjects, always questioning the environment. How do you work when it comes to inspiration?
I try to let inspiration come naturally. I don’t really try to seek it unless I have creative block. If I’m struggling to be creative, then I open a book, watch a film, go to a museum, go for a walk or look through previous sketchbooks.
I find that if I attempt to ‘question my environment’ too much then my work becomes a little too contrived and literal. Or perhaps I’m just too self-obsessed and inward. Or maybe I am questioning my environment on a level I don’t really consider. I’m not sure. I just like drawing.

Nobrow 7 - Brave New World photo showchicken.com

Nobrow 7 – Brave New World
photo showchicken.com

Your characters seem to come from another world. Can you describe a little how this space looks like?
I have no idea. If I did, I probably wouldn’t tell. I’d rather let that space exist in the mind of the viewer than impose my take on things. Once an artist starts spelling everything out then I lose interest. The imaginative process shouldn’t just occur in the creator’s head. Explicit and singular meanings can sap the life from a picture.

Your animals either have elements from humans or are making actions that are human-like. Why are you interested in antropomorphy?
I like marrying oddness and uncomfortableness with the familiar. If I can mix in some everyday banalness then that seems to add another layer of the bizarre. Also, the human form is very expressive, and can open up more possibilities and expressions in character design than with the forms of other animals.

Drummer Bird photo showchicken.com

Drummer Bird
photo showchicken.com

Your characters seem in transition or seem to be preparing for something, or they are seen moving. What do you think this state brings to them and, therefore, to your works?
I think it helps build the layers of narrative to the work. From what happened previously to what happens next. Usually my characters seem a little at odds with the worlds they inhabit and they have other weirdos to encounter and coexist with. Sometimes it’s harmonious, other times it ends -or probably will end- badly for at least one party.

Since you work with this subject, if you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Ideally one of those monkeys that live deep within the forest, up a tree somewhere. I don’t think sharing this planet with humans must be very fun.

The Journey photo showstudio.com

The Journey
photo showchicken.com

We were thinking about the fact that your works really create a specific environment. Which music would fit your works?
I don’t know. Either silence or some sort of percussive orchestra using logs and branches. Maybe some remix of a foley artist’s off-cuts.

You are also interested in the double (characters that look the same and so on). Why is this important and what do you think it creates for the viewer?
I’m still figuring that out. I like the idea of Frankenstein’s monster, Robocop, etc… where these characters exists, or have been created but don’t really know or understand what they are or why. The double can suggest mutants, split personality, a world of crazy gravity (as could be the case with the double skulls), or the idea that these characters have been built or assembled by either a greater power or by themselves. Much like a sandwich.

Snake Wrap photo showchicken.com

Snake Wrap
photo showchicken.com

Birds, snakes, skulls would be the main characters that populate your works. Why are these present more than others?
I grew up in the country in Australia. You see birds very often and snakes semi regularly. So I guess that’s the semi-autobiographical element sticking its beak in. The skulls are fun to draw. I started drawing them over and over when I was commissioned to do a Mexican Day of the Dead piece. Then certain important people and things in my life came to an end. So I kept up with the skulls. I will stop drawing them when I get bored of them.

Tell us a little about the process – from the first thought until the moment you put down your instruments.

I keep an A5 sized sketchbook where I try to draw lots of ideas as quick as possible. Usually on public transport where your brain is in a slightly different state. Once I start to see interesting ideas emerge I focus on certain elements and draw them repeatedly until the idea is refined enough to take it to the next step. Then I draw it big. This takes ages as crosshatching isn’t quick (not for me anyway). Sometimes I add colour at the end. Either with pigment or pixels.

Scarlett Clock Whine photo showstudio.com

Scarlett Clock Whine
photo showchicken.com

Which materials you like to work with?
For recording ideas I use a Moleskine sketchbook because the paper is nice and smooth and can take a beating. For finished works, I’ve started working on Arches watercolour paper. I draw mainly with mechanical pencils but I also use graphite, coloured pencils and acrylic paint. Photoshop used to be a big part of the process, but working directly on the paper is much more satisfying so I’ve been using the computer less and less.

Are you an artist that thinks about the audience or you work on your own path, regardless of the public?
When I think about the audience, I make bad work. I think it’s important to work to your own path and follow your intuition. I think that’s what people want to see. They want to be shown or let-in on this possible universe. If I give the audience what I think they want then I’ve probably made some choices based on an assumption… or reigned something in… or made something that is too close to something that already exists.
I think the work needs to be self indulgent, created intuitively and organically.

Do you ever receive requests on what to create? If so, what was the strangest one?
Not too many. I think having work that really only relates to itself negates that. I have created tattoo designs which are fun to do. But if someone was to request a portrait of their dog, I’d probably decline. Politely.

The Offering photo showchicken.com

The Offering
photo showchicken.com

Tell us on what dimension you feel the most comfortable working on and why.
The images are usually A4 in size on A3 paper. Recently I’ve been trying to shake that up a little. For instance making work on post-it notes or working on A1 paper. At present I’m exploring a more organic approach to drawing, so I sit down with a large piece of paper and aim to fill a space.
If a drawing is too large then it takes ages to finish and I quickly lose interest. I like to finish drawings more than anything… so spending too long with a piece can be a little frustrating

Have you ever considered making these characters move? If so, can you think of a story?
I’ve worked in animation before. It’s a lot of very repetitive work. If someone wants to have a go, then be my guest. Not for me, though.

Skull Variations 3 photo showchicken.com

Skull Variations 3
photo showchicken.com

Which artists you find interesting and why?
I like James Jean, Jim Woodring, Femke Hiemstra, Raymond Lemstra, Lee Misenheimer, etc. All are artist that create their own world and aesthetic and follow it through.

We’re curious what you are working on now and where can we see it and when.

I’m currently working towards my first solo exhibition which will be at the end of May. I may reveal some work in progress or I might keep it all under wraps until the show. I’m not sure.

Thank you so much! We’re looking forward to the exhibition.

Showcase photo showchicken.com

The Drummer
photo showchicken.com

Skull Man photo showchicken.com

Skull Man
photo showchicken.com

The Seeding photo showchicken.com

The Seeding
photo showchicken.com

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