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Interview:Geoff Diego Litherland

1 February 09 words: Frances Ashton

"It’s not about there being a right or wrong. It’s about embracing the preposterousness of everything"

"What I am trying to do is to create from a single image a multiplicity of ideologies, view points, beliefs, aesthetics and philosophies. It’s not about there being a right or wrong. It’s about embracing the preposterousness of everything."

Can you tell me about your work, what drives you artistically and what your influences are?
First there’s a geeky fascination with paint. I have always loved paint, particularly oil paint. I love the idea of the unexpected, the unknown and being in a state of limbo where you are trying to control the material and something quite unexpected happens. I suppose the only thing I could relate this experience to would be the old notion of alchemy where someone spends a lot of time just messing about without any clear scientific purpose other than to explore the material. It's something that my work has been developing over the past four or five years.
Multiverses, my new body of work, has aspects of that but also has a lightness, a bit more humour and rather than references to modernist painting, you could call them 'pop' references. There’s a lot of imagery and symbols of contemporary society in there and a return to trying to conjure up a sense of narrative in my work.
In terms of painters and artists who influence me, I could talk about people like Tapies and Rothko as modernist painters - which is where I still see my background. And then contemporary painters such as Jonathon Lasko and Fabio Marcaccio who play with that dialogue and history of the medium and how the medium has been constructed in terms of its materiality - you’ve got the canvas, you’ve got the paint and how those concerns are twisted around and abstracted. 

And you’ve got the narrative element. I am reading all the time so I’m always interested in how literature or stories can begin to intertwine with the paintings. This whole series of work is probably loosely based on my favourite author’s life’s work – Jorge Luis Borges. He wrote lots and lots of short stories which are completely and utterly bonkers. If anyone hasn’t read Borges then I can thoroughly recommend him. Each story is between five and ten pages long and presents a perfectly illogical yet succinct universe where something completely out of the ordinary happens. And if you read them as a whole it creates this incredible picture of the world in all its bizarreness, sadness, and happiness. What I am trying to do with this body of work is to create from a single image a multiplicity of ideologies, view points, beliefs, aesthetics and philosophies. It’s not about there being a right or wrong. It’s about embracing the preposterousness of everything.

You and your work are quite heavily influenced by music. The show you curated last year at Southwell Artspace was called Gold Soundz after a piece of modern music. Can you talk a bit about this musical influence?
One of the things that I like about Jonathon Lasko is the essay he wrote where he decided to strip down the elements of his paintings to three or four main layers or parts. He describes it as a band: so you’d have the drums, a rhythmic section which could be the grid that he starts off with, then you have the bass line which could be the stripes and then the lead guitar which is often the main abstract shapes in the painting. This has been something I’ve always been interested in trying to explore and I think that the new paintings I am doing are as close to achieving that as I have been. I have always listened to modern minimalist music, which I sometime find a bit too scientific and cold. One of my favourite bands is Television, who are a late seventies/early eighties punk band. Their simplicity and lyricism is impeccable and their riffs are quite repetitive. So the thing that has inspired me musically for my recent body of work is that economy of musicianship and the whole ‘less is more thing’ but without being cold and mechanical with it.

The way that your work has developed over the last year, reflecting the issues of nationality with your painting My Flag Is Better Than Yours and the use of the bright colours that come from those flags, seems to be pulling on a much wider resource of cultural influences.
When I moved to my new studios at Egerton, I was carrying on the work I had been doing before but again it was very calculated, I was quite removed from the process. I was just there as a tool and not putting my own personality and experience into the work. I can’t really explain how it's happened, but I’m bringing in a lot of the experiences I’ve had from the places I have lived, the place I was born, the people I’ve met and the ideas that I hold. These are coming into my work and creating clashes. You could be quite obvious with it and say that the dull background colours are my northern European heritage and the bright colours are this kitsch Mexican side of me coming through.

What does it mean to you to be a Nottingham artist? How has it shaped you and your practice?
I had always wanted not to go to London. I spent a couple of years in Barcelona and got on quietly with work. I had a studio there but was not involved with the wider community or arts scene. I think that one of the most vital developments for me was working as a technician in the Bonington Gallery. I met a lot of artists, curators, writers, lecturers and students from Nottingham Trent University. So I was very well positioned as an observer and now through being involved in the Nottingham art scene. I have been supported by a lot of people and I am now in the position to help other people. It's been great and I’ve been here now for five years.

Can you tell us a bit about what to expect from Multiverses?
There’s going to be between eight and ten large paintings, all one metre squared, all around the room. The Wallner space is not huge but it’s a nice white cube. Its basically all the work I’ve done over the last year - one of which was exhibited as part of the John Moores Painting Prize, others which I have exhibited at last year's Castle Open.

Ah yes, congratulations for being the winner of the 2008 Nottingham Open Exhibition. What can we expect from your forthcoming exhibition there?
That will be an opportunity to try something different; to try to combine the sound work I have been doing with some of the video animation work which I produced last year at the Goldfactory space at Egerton Studios. I’d like to try out something a bit more all encompassing. An utter complete bombardment of the senses when you actually walk into the space.
It all comes down I suppose to the layers, the sound and images which are used to compose a song or painting or video. You talk to most artists and they would say that the layering is key to creating whether it's transluscency or a sense of depth. But also you can use layers to juxtapose different ideas to create the disconcerting and jarring images that I am trying to make at the moment.

Multiverses is at Lakeside Arts Centre from 26 February to 12 April

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