Interview with Andrew Black
Andrew Black is an exciting Glasgow based artist, gaining a first class honors degree from the Glasgow School of Art in 2012, he has been a notable presence in the city for some time now. Influenced by prolific writers and figures he taps into a personal expression of the subconscious mind. His subject matter varies but there's always an undercurrent of the relevant obscurity of the culture he lives in.
I chat to Andrew in his flat, he's about to move house, artwork and sketches in boxes, lots of nice plants and fresh coffee being brewed. He apologises for the mess but there is a certain serenity to the whole affair which transcends into his paintings which like Andrew himself have a stillness and haunting silence to them. I like the fact he lets his art breathe by deliberately being non-committal to the subject matter, not forcing messages and meaning. I asked him some questions;
You mention that you gain inspiration and influence from prolific literary figures like Jean Genet and Leo Bersani among others, How do you channel the inspiration and what is it that you find compelling about these artists?
I read a lot of queer theory at the moment, and queer perspectives on politics and social relations. So I guess it forms how I understand my place as a queer person in the world. And I guess that informs how I use my 'voice', what I want to 'say' and how/where I want to 'say' it. I'm interested in the hysterical paradoxes and crises of identity that are the co-ordinates of many gay/queer subjectivities, and the complex pain, fatigue and trauma that are inherent to many gay identities too. Bersani, and a few of the other theorists I've been reading like Lee Edelman, Guy Hocquenghem, Judith/Jack Halberstam, and also Simon Watney, are exploring a lot of how this works, how it manifests… but also what it tells us about the cracks and faults in the 'normal', how we can exploit them, and how heteronormative ideas of failure and abjection can be grabbed and used politically, to fuck shit up.
Jean Genet is one of the 'classic' points of reference in gay art and theory… he was a poet, writer and petty criminal who wrote a lot from prison… his writing is very rich and complicated … masturbatory and messy, what the kind of drab morality we're used to might call 'depraved', and so lovely.
Is there a connection thread running through your recent work and do you relate it to your previous material or are they both separate entities? In your still - lives there is a certain silence and video quality to them, is this an intentional attribute?
The recent paintings are taken from video stills, largely from documentaries about a multitude of things, but mostly the AIDS crisis. They're vacuous still-lives from the backgrounds of talking heads interviews in the films. The whole talking-heads interview setup is a sort of funny construction, the most 'acute' way to appear to be tapping into someone's knowledge and perspective, but often with this weirdly staged tasteful set-up in the background. Of course what the interviewees are talking about in these films is totally harrowing and agonising.
I'm working from documentaries because I’m curious as to what extent beginning from the position of ‘viewer’ allows me to flag up aspects of my own circumstances (white, middle-class, northern english, homosexual, cis male) for scrutiny – or to respond to and channel other authorial voices whilst mediating and framing my own. I'm critical of the cultural and personal images that we have available for our self-identification, and for non-straight people, how these have been influenced by the AIDS crisis and its legacies. I'm thinking from a gay male perspective but I'm fascinated by the intersections of gay/queer/gendered/feminist perspectives too.
A lot of the older paintings were taken from photographic images as well… I've always drawn, painted, written. Maybe I've been thinking about different things… but that's just to do with my life, what I've been feeling, listening to, watching, reading, doing, who I've been hanging around with, what's been going on politically and so on. To be honest I only graduated a couple of years ago so it's early days.
You mentioned you're not keen on explaining the meaning of a piece too in depth to an audience, do you like people to understand your message or create one of their own? You like an 'object' just being an 'object'?
I don't have any messages. I don't have the desire to start telling people stuff… actually the reason I make paintings is the opposite to that, it's about obfuscating things and pushing things away from being easily legible, maybe towards a point where they reveal that what is easily legible is only so because of its compliance with certain cultural norms that "we" are accustomed to. But really what I want to do is very simple. The paintings are just paintings at the end of the day… at best they might be intense, or just tense, the end-point of a process of research and then sustained work in the studio. And that is all they are, past that, it's no longer up to me.
They're never really shown alone, there's usually some sculptural element or attachment there too. Maybe it's a bit of commitment anxiety… I don't want to be totally committed to painting or something...
You have been writing short plays and scripts as well as painting and drawing for a while now and recently performed one of your scripts at a Gordon Douglas curated performance, citing the film 'The Silence of the Lambs' as the inspiration. The piece brings up many issues and themes which seem to connect to you and strike a chord in an audience. How did this work come about and what are the main themes in the work?
Well, the work was part of an evening of performances by various people, curated by Gordon and his pal/collaborator James T Harding. They were trying to open up certain conversations about collaboration and authorship and all sorts of other stuff, using the Hannibal franchise as a conceptual springboard. I wouldn't necessarily have thought to use The Silence of the Lambs as subject matter without having talked a lot to Gordon. But I watched it (and was kind of obsessed with it) when I was about 14, and I particularly got fixated on the character of Buffalo Bill, the “crossdressing" killer of women in the basement who breeds moths. I thought about parallels between my early sexuality and my partial identification with that character, and this opened up interesting stuff about how hollywood positions queer people as other, but further, as monstrous and grotesque. The film has the queer character perpetrate misogynist violence, as if people who don't have a sexual investment in women therefore have a total lack of empathy with them. As if by having what the film implies is the 'wrong' idea of how to inhabit his body ("wanting to be a woman", and having a totally narcissistic sexuality, which apparently logically resolves in violence against women), Buffalo Bill must therefore kill women to wear their skins as a suit. And as if misogyny is the territory of people who are 'other' and not something completely ingrained in the ideology that sets values in hollywood.
Anyway, the piece I wrote was very problematic… it took the form of a dialogue, to be performed by myself and my friend Joanna Monks, who is an artist and writer too. In writing her lines I was obviously literally putting words into her mouth, abusing any agency she might have over her own voice. This was something that was repeatedly and explicitly referred to in the text, and so it constantly folded back on itself. Jo wrote a few of her own lines; she broke character to disagree with what I had written for her, what I thought she might think. So although the piece was totally about performing and framing my own misogynistic impulses to 'flag them up', it was very hard to get up there and perform the role of a misogynist that was derived totally from my own actual misogyny. I did the reading wearing nothing but a jockstrap, I suppose to perform a 'gay' version of my body, and to offer up my own semi-sexualised body for ridicule.
How do you find perfoming your own words? Do you see your painting, drawing, scripts and performing as all incompasing of your being, do they connect or are they individual outputs?
Actually I heard back from someone that she was getting angry with me when watching the performance, because I kept going back on everything I said, putting myself down. I suppose that there's nothing more frustrating than someone constantly putting themselves down. But that was such a huge part of what I wanted to dig into. As for whether they connect, I don't really mind. They're all just things I'm doing. Anyone who has ever dated or employed or indeed parented me would probably tell you I'm inconsistent and fickle anyway.
Like I say, I am very anxious about the 'heroic male artist' as a poisonous archetype. And I'm often very sceptical of the possibilities that being an artist actually affords you, the agency it actually gives you. At best, I guess we can use it to fuck shit up, to hone in on the things that fuck us up and unpick them, reveal them, confuse them, undercut them, disavow them. Not that any of my work actually does any of that, but I guess that's the dream.
Andrew's recent collaborations:
Joanna Monks: www.joanna-monks.wix.com
Gordon Douglas: www.gordondouglas.org
James T Harding: www.james-t-harding.com
Interview by: Alistair Olgilvy