Garth Gratrix, a Blackpool based Contemporary queer artist, curator & directorwho successfully established the only contemporary studio within Lancashire coastline and whose work represents how his choices are influenced by his own queer identity.
Q: Can you tell us about your Artistic background/education?
I studied a foundation diploma at Blackpool School of Arts in 2002 and then went on to complete my degree in Fine Art at University Of Central Lancashire (2003-2006). I have been self-employed as an artist and curator since then alongside having opportunities to work on some great projects locally and internationally.
Q. Do you work in a studio or from home?
I work from Abingdon Studios, which for until this year was the only contemporary artist studio provision on the Lancashire coastline. In 2013 I recognised a need for studio provisions with a focus on professional development and career-driven artists, so I established Abingdon Studios.
My studio is split into part making and part admin/management of being an artist full time. I have access to a project space within the studio to test larger scale works and exhibition ideas in order to document and propose my work to other galleries/commissioners.
Q. Who are your Art Influencers? inspirations?
I identify as queer and my work tends to look at ways that queer identities are embedded in the foundations of what I make. Whether through choice of materials, the language attached to colour specifications and or lived experiences which are innately queer for me. Inspirations are quite wide from Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Morris when exploring the conceptual thinking around objects and sculpture and my interests in the formal and minimal display. Other artists who invite a more human/romantic idea of sexuality and identity such as Felix Gonzales-Torres. I enjoy the work of a lot of female artists working today such as Emily Speed, Rosanne Robertson that allows me to consider the body in relation to space and architecture. I tend to get drawn into sculpture or installation artists' works like Fischli & Weiss and Elmgreen & Dragset as collaborative dream teams in art history to the present day. Partly because I enjoy collaboration as part of my portfolio and finding opportunities not just for myself to exhibit and get paid. In 2020 I collaborated with Nicola Dale, Jez Dolan, Harry Clayton-Wright and Channing Tatum and have collaborations in development for 2021 with James William-Murray, Will Hughes and Chester Tenneson.
Q. Do you listen to music/podcasts whilst creating? or anything that gets your creative juices flowing?
I have a random music playlist. All sorts from Madonna (obvs), to Lamb (from the 90's), Roisin Murphy, Steps, Little Mix, FKA Twigs, Fleetwood Mac, Bjork, Cazwell, Cher, Christine and the Queens. So its never dull in my studio.
I also like to listen to podcasts about art. Mostly I listen to Desert Island Disks and a podcast called Talk Art with the actor Russel Tovey.
I tend to listen to things when i am doing admin/management relating to being 'The Artist'. When i am making new work though, I tend to do this in silence with a lot of focus on the thing i'm making. Almost pin drop silence whilst I stare into the abys (like most peoples stereotype of an artist in a white cell). But its important to give attention to the work sometimes rather than the next lyric from Madonna Ray of Light, which can be quite the distraction :),
Q. Do you keep a sketchbook? How often do you use it and do you travel with it?
I tend to have various books, sketchbooks, bits of paper lurking around that capture ideas. I have one next to my bed to note down thinking at night. I have a few in my studio than I add to alongside development research and new work.
I then have lined paper notebooks for more creative writing and planning work and my schedule as an artist.
I always travel with some level of paper and pencil and fountain pen.
Q. Where does a piece of work begin for you? Can you describe your process?
My work is usually a combination of materials, objects, colours; given that I make installations and sculptural interventions.
If I am contained within my studio thinking through new work, I tend to start with the core attributes and look at the materials I have available. Starting with potential waste materials/off cuts and seeing how these can work, then looking at my collection of colours that I like to use that all have camp or innuendous names like Flamboyant Flamingo, Ooh La La, Unicorn Horn and Morning Glory. I explore the title of work almost like a short poem and strapline and this feeds into how best the materials explore and express what the title might allude to. It's then about testing, moving, stepping back from it, asking it whether it is doing what you want it to do a) conceptually and b) Aesthetically. I try not to get too concerned about whether the work ends up looking nice, I am more concerned about whether the pieces of the puzzle feel cohesive as a story in some way. A good approach to thinking through life and our surroundings, attitudes, and behaviour to things.
There is a lot of personal reflections when making work. Can i make it, am I skilled enough to make the thing my brain is imagining? So I have become more relaxed about exploring materials that have to go and be made by other hands as well, for example, my recent works designed to be printed on Beach towels as the best material to have an aesthetic conversation about objects growing up by the sea.
Q. What technique do you prefer to use?
I wouldn't say I use specific techniques, like that a painter might. I am not a craftsman in that sense where there is a perceived best method when applying materials on-top of materials. I think any individual artist will apply things differently, even if given the same materials to work with. So it's more about reassurance that my creativity has value just as much as anyone. Instead of carving, molding; I place, arrange, curate materials. I suppose in a similar way to a director exploring the presentation and narrative of material in space.
The only 'techniques' are that of a decorator. Masking, measuring, painting as a means to areas reveal or conceal something.
I operate as a curator as much as I do as an artist, so my work takes on a formal organisational technique of what's going where and with what, more a series of questions and answers in my mind when I start to make work in a space and then the supporting logistics to achieving that idea, like a project manager.
It isn't necessarily a technique but the attitude of resilience and determination. It's very easy to be told to give up on creative ambitions living in the north west and being working class. It also comes as part of the small social ecology that you tend to get local ridicule or interference for working the way I do. Saying "I make queer contemporary art" isn't 'normal' or it's arty-farty' to some. It's as if striving for your goals is 'upperty' or ostracising and elitist. People instantly feel they know what art isn't, rather than accepting that art doesn't exist in one reality.
I prefer to listen and engage with peers who also want to listen and engage with me. Is reciprocity or showing mutual respect a technique?
Q. What are your most important artists tools? My eyes, my hands, my voice, my peers and ongoing collaborators. All inside an important tool such as a studio.
Q What are your favourite materials?
DIY materials- wood, concrete, metal, glass, household emulsions. I like to work with everyday accessible materials. The notion of the 'readymade' in Marcel Duchamp's work is something I find interesting. Recently I have become interested in textiles as a way of softening otherwise hard materials and aesthetics. I like how hard and soft start to play out together in a space.
Q. What are you currently working on? I was fortunate to receive a grant from Arts Council England during COVID-19 and its impact on developing paid work opportunities. That has allowed my an increased period of time in the studio to test new work, gain a new mentor to explore the next steps for my work, and run Abingdon. I got a grant for the studios as well, so that enabled us to manage a series of commissions and small bursaries to our studio artists. Part of that is our Work/Leisure residency programme that is currently running.
I secured funding to bring an artist-led conference and event to Blackpool in 2021 in partnership with a-n, the largest artist membership organisation in the UK, so I am working on the logistics of that currently. Including the launch of some new opportunities to connect artists living in coastal locations with a number of partnerships involved in the development stages.
Abingdon Studios is part of something called the GUILD programme offering a period of business development to recognised artist-led spaces. So I am continuing on with work related to that, liaising with the other 20 spaces. As well as forward planning our 2021 programme to include solo exhibitions and duo shows that we have supported studio members to achieve.
I have collaborations coming up from Nov which will lead to three new exhibitions to plan across Newcastle, Brighton, and back in Blackpool.
I am curating a digital online gallery supporting the work of emerging artists from across the UK, which launches in Nov-Dec in partnership with UK New Artists, following the success of last year exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, London.
Q. Where can we see more of your work online or in person?
I currently have work exhibited at Warrington Art Gallery as part of Warrington Arts Festival, and at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes.
My Instagram page shows works in progress and daily life: @garth.gratrix