Interview: David Shillinglaw
'Unanswered, impulsive, instinctive and restless’ are just some of the words used by Jaybo Monk to describe David Shillinglaw; a London based multi-media artist who creates powerful and fresh interpretations of everyday reality.
As the latest artist to embark on The Jaunt, we were curious to find out what David got up to in Copenhagen, and how the experience had inspired him.
In our exclusive interview, David talks to us about perusing the planet, exploring nature, working with his brother and taking a fresh approach to making art.
First of all, you seem to be working all over the world right now – clearly you have a thirst for adventure and travel as well as art! Where do you think that comes from?
I was born in Saudi Arabia, so I started my life travelling, and was always encouraged to travel, see new places, try all food, hear new music and discover new cultures. I feel like it’s a very natural thing to travel; to see as much of the planet as possible. I am also very lucky to have a passport and access to so many places. It would be a big waste to not make the most of that opportunity and fortune. I’m even luckier that my work leads me to travel, and that the adventures in turn feed my work.
So tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to become an artist?
Well I currently live in London with my cat in an old false teeth factory, where I paint, draw and make things from what I find. My artwork shape-shifts between small drawings on paper, large wall murals and all manners of things in between. I have always been driven to make art out of a burning desire to express my love and fear of the human condition.
Have you had any formal or informal training?
I graduated with a degree in Fine Art in 2002, though the majority of my skills are self-taught, and I’m still studying harder than ever.
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.
How would you describe your style?
Ever changing; lost in a universe of analogue possibilities.
Who or what are you inspired by?
Good things, bad things, old, new, borrowed, blue. The answer to whom or what inspires me changes every day, like the music I listen to or the food I eat. Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
I like that. How do you spend your days – what might a typical day of work entail?
My days are predictably unpredictable. I have been travelling a great deal the last few years. I’m usually juggling a dozen projects at once too, meaning that each day has a different pace or dynamic. Sometimes it can be quite low energy, like doing this interview right now on a train journey to paint a wall. Tomorrow though, I will be on scaffolding painting that wall.
I find that as soon as I have exhausted one approach, I am hungry to try another.
Can you talk a little bit about the process you take – from initial idea to finished artwork?
Sometimes I’ll make a drawing in a few minutes that will feel complete and stand alone as a piece of ‘art’. Other times I’ll spend six months working on a canvas between trips. There are golden threads throughout my work, in terms of ideas, colours, reoccurring signs, materials, phrases and so on. But I also try to shift that way I work as much as possible to keep the process fresh and interesting.
I recently started working in ceramics, and that’s changed the way I work as it is a completely different way of realising an idea. It also takes much more time than ink on paper, for example. I find that as soon as I have exhausted one approach, I am hungry to try another. It helps me to balance my attention span, which is good as I have the potential to get bored or distracted very easily.
One of your most recent trips was to Denmark for The Jaunt – how did the opportunity come about and what was the experience like for you?
I was just invited and it ended up being an amazing experience. I was given absolute freedom to do what I naturally do and to respond to the place I visited, which was the beautiful Danish countryside. It was a very welcome break from the busy few months before too. It was a genuine escape, and the trip helped me to focus and reboot my artistic hard drive. The Jaunt is just an incredible project, and I was honoured to be involved in such a rich and unique ongoing project.
My entire trip was driven by nature. I loved the place, really felt completely at home, which in turn gave me the opportunity to comfortably create new work. Even though I only spent a relatively short amount of time at the summer house, it has made a deep impression on me.
Do you have a dream project, or perhaps a collaboration that you’d really like to happen?
Each project tends to lead to bigger and brighter projects. I am currently happy to be as busy as I am, working on a number of things. I hope to keep making larger work in further reaching places, applying what I make to new and interesting contexts.I am working with my brother on a theatre adaptation of ‘‘In Watermelon Sugar’, which is one of my favourite books by Richard Brautigan. Eventually though, I hope to open a restaurant in the middle of a forest that cooks pizzas in a kiln and serves coffee in ceramic pots.
What a great idea! And, of course, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for more on your theatre adaptation. And of the work that you’ve already done – any favourites?
That’s like asking me to choose one of my children! The best thing should be the most recent thing, so my favourite things haven’t been made yet.
What about a surface you like to work on best – canvas, wood..?
Found objects are the best, or paper, wood and other people’s walls.
I hope to open a restaurant in the middle of a forest that cooks pizza and serves coffee in ceramic pots.
What are you reading at the moment – anything you’d recommend to our readers?
I am currently reading ‘Keith Haring Journals’ and ‘A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney’. Also Francis Bacon keeps me on my toes, Chris Johanson makes my belly laugh and Simon Evans makes my eyes widen. Check out the ancient Egyptians – those cats were dope.
What do you get up to when you’re not creating art?
Sleeping, dreaming, dancing, eating, moving, shaking, candle stick making…
Do you have any projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
I have a few books being published, which is keeping me busy. I’m also planning shows in London and abroad.
How exciting! Upcoming projects aside now, what does the future hold for David Shillinglaw?
With any luck, plenty more travelling and adventure time. Also bigger, brighter exhibitions and projects to realise.