Silesian painting - The Pipe
Mik Godley has a studio at Primary and is undoubtedly one of Nottingham’s most talented artists with a paint brush or pencil. His long-running working project, Considering Silesia, explores his German heritage and the landscape of the former Eastern Germany which his mother was forced to flee towards the end of the Second World War. Although he describes himself first and foremost as a painter, Mik’s artistic exploration of Silesia and his Anglo-German heritage utilises the internet as a major research tool and many of his paintings from this series draw on imagery captured from the web.
His interest in digital technology also extends to the iPad on which he creates scenes and portraits which, to most viewers, look like traditional drawings and paintings. These have recently included fine portraits of fellow passengers on buses and trains around Heanor and Chesterfield. Mik was recently asked to put together a show in the cafe of Nottingham Castle to accompany the exhibition Painter Painter, and at Primary he hosts exhibitions by other artists in his own Mik’s Front Room project.
You have confessed yourself to be a "professional at not knowing what I’m doing." When embarking on the Considering Silesia project, did you have an idea of what you were looking for?
The whole project started by complete chance because I finally got a computer - I’d never had one before - and didn’t even really know how to use the internet. So I thought I’d try and find out where my mother came from. There had been lots of TV programmes about peoples' roots, so I thought "that’s what you do when you’ve got the internet, you find out about your heritage". This was fine, but I got a number of surprises. I think the main one came about because I wanted to find out what Silesia looked like. There was masses of information, partly because of it being a tourist destination and ski resort, and also because of the history from the Second World War; it was intriguing and mysterious as far as the Polish population was concerned. [Editor's note: most of Silesia, which had been in Germany, became part of Poland after the Second World War]. I also really loved the images as they were really low resolution at that time. Everything was quite vague and blocky and I thought it was like painting straight away. Bear in mind this was over ten years ago.
You have never been to Silesia so a lot of the information you have is second-hand, passed on from other peoples’ experiences and memories. How do you feel this affects your research into Silesia as a place?
I’ve never quite seen the information as ‘secondhand’ because I quickly caught onto the idea that I was being an explorer in ‘virtual Silesia.’ The nature of the information being transmitted through the internet has been very much part of my response to it. So, in many respects, it’s almost like I’m using my research about Silesia to gage my response to the world we live in now as it’s so dominated by the internet. The project, over the ten years, has documented those responses. It’s intriguing to think long term about what’s going to happen to us, in a universal sense, with our relationship to the evolving work.
iPad drawing - Glenn
How would you feel about going to Silesia now?
When I was doing my research MA at Nottingham Trent University, I realised I could get a flight from East Midlands Airport for thirty odd quid and I just thought that was too easy. I was also becoming more interested in the internet side of things. But there’s a lot of other reasons not to go yet; a lot of things I’d have to prepare for. Something that has grown from that time was that I made the decision to start going on field trips. I’d always operated in a studio situation but never worked ‘out.’ So if I was ever to go to the real Silesia, I need to have some idea of what to do when I get there. I went to places like the Derbyshire coal fields, which have had a big reputation for the British National Party, because I thought would be the closest thing I could get to Nazi Germany! And I was amazed, by going round looking and responding like I’d never done before, I found links with Silesia that I hadn’t anticipated.
As a painter, how do you feel about the process of working with the iPad. Does it feel the same to you?
Not the exact same, no. I describe myself as a painter but I come from a drawing base. I think that when I use different media it’s quite obvious the work comes from a painter’s perspective. There’s something about painting, the way you look at it and think about it. When I’m looking at pictures online I’m always thinking about what would make a good painting, and when I’m out with a camera or an iPad, I’m in the same mind set. I’m not sure I can be precise in what that means as it’s changing but the digital and the ‘analogue’ of the paintbrush inform each other.
Do you think the iPad drawings would’ve existed without paintings?
I’ve been looking at a lot of other people’s iPad drawings as well and it seems to be dominated by illustrators and designers. Yet I think, as a painter, it holds a lot of possibilities. But I also think that traditional training with drawing and painting translates to the iPad very easily. I’m aware that they often look just like standard drawings or paintings. One of the things that I have really enjoyed is that the technology is actually very intuitive, and very easy to play with.
How do you feel about the way the internet can change the way the work is seen in terms of who comes across it and how it is viewed?
I like the circular relationship of taking imagery from the internet and putting it back in again. There are more opportunities to show work online, I can make an album on Facebook and people will see and respond to it. Having that type of audience is very valuable, and also some people will come to your exhibitions and already have an idea of what you’re dealing with. The experience will be different in person though, especially as my paintings have started to become much more physical.
Do you think it’s important to have the work seen both online and in person?
Digital images are a second best but it’s never going to be the same. However, seeing the iPad images digitally, what you see is what you get and there are no translation issues. You don’t have to struggle with photography or printing.
Tell us more about the project at the Castle.
I hadn’t initially realised that they specifically wanted painting but when I did I was well up for it. But then I had to think about what I wanted to do. Most of my thinking can take months but this was a really quick turn around, which has proven to be quite a challenge. Obviously I realised that they’re going to be viewed from above, so I wanted to work in a way that the view point was from above. This is why I created round paintings, which are based on views from above. I thought I’d use a field trip as a basis for this work so I went up to the Park Estate, just as spring was beginning. I meant to go back and take more images but I found that the original snaps I took on my phone were alright, though they needed some playing around with.
Space Invaders by Michael Bowdidge can be seen at Mik's Front Room, Primary, 33 Seely Road, runs until Saturday 12 July.
Mik Godley's profile at Primary