Interview with TIM GATENBY
To commemorate the exclusive re-release of Tim Gatenby's hand-embellished Man In Pink Suit with Yellow Spots limited edition, we are featuring Tim in our first artist interview!
Gatenby’s work uses classical painting techniques to subvert pop cultural icons. Often combining deconstructed cartoon characters with dark humour, his images reflect the pressures of consumerism and modern societal tendency towards over indulgence, as well as being distinctly blurred compositions as a reference to his refusal to wear glasses as a child.
In this interview, Gatenby talks painting John Cooper Clarke on Portrait Artist of The Year, his recent solo exhibition, working with Guy Hepner in New York and of course Mr. Blobby.
To begin with, how would you describe your art to someone who had not seen it before?
My artwork combines pop cultural references from films, TV and music with a traditional approach to oil painting. One example of a painting I have made this year is, ‘Stona Lisa’, which mashes together Lisa Simpson smoking a joint with Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Painted in a classical manor, it simultaneously elevates the cartoon as well as subverting the original masterpiece.
Where do you get inspiration for your pieces?
Lots of ideas come out of working at the pub or going on long train journeys. Often when I’m in pretty un-engaging or monotonous situations my mind wonders.
How has your practise changed over time?
I trained in classical painting at an atelier in Florence so over the years I have attempted to incorporate my own imagination into my work. For me, combining classical techniques and imagery with modern pop culture says something about who we are. When I first left Italy I still had a fair amount of indoctrination as to painting naturalistic compositions from life so breaking away has been a gradual evolution.
Which piece of yours are you most proud of?
I think ‘Stona Lisa’ is possibly the piece that sort of combines quite a few elements together successfully. The original Blobby painting I made was quite a big turning point for me, I’d actually had the idea a year before I created it and the image had sat around in my studio. In June 2018 I moved into a studio in Hammersmith next to Damien Hirst and I kept thinking about how his spot paintings sort of reminded me of the spots on Blobby’s outfit. In one session of about 6 hours I had summoned Blobby onto the canvas. In many ways it’s a very dark looking picture, for a start he’s sort of appearing from the shadows and then there is this nightmarish grin on his face reminiscent of the Joker from Batman. At the same time it’s entertaining to go to all that effort to create such a banal character.
You reached the semi-final of Portrait Artist of The Year 2020 – how was that whole experience and would you recommend other artists apply for similar opportunities?
I found filming Portrait Artist of The Year much better than I anticipated. Three or four years ago an old friend of mine appeared on the show and didn’t get through his heat. He is a wonderful painter whom I really respect and seeing his disappointment really put me off entering. For some reason last year I thought I would just give it a go and see what happened and before I knew it I had been accepted to take part on the programme! Between finding out I would be on and filming I crammed in painting as many of my friends as I could so that I felt I had a bit of form going into the heat.
The heat itself is a bit of a daze, 4 hours is such a short amount of time (for painting) that one really ends up blocking out the cameras etc and concentrating on the sitter. John Cooper Clarke has always been a hero of mine as well as a national treasure, so to get the opportunity to paint the creator of, ‘Evidently Chickentown’ was a real honour. John has a very distinctive look, sort of Bob Dylan crossed with Edward Scissorhands, which was very inspiring, it’s almost a pity I only had 4 hours.
I think you have to go into the process with the mindset that it’s not everyday you get a chance to paint our heroes sat in front of you. Overall it was an experience I would recommend to any artist but I think some people can put too much pressure on themselves and take rejection / failure badly.
John Cooper Clarke actually chose your Heat painting as his favourite; did you ever hear back from him or see where he hung it?
Unfortunately not, I attempted to contact his team a few times - firstly to try and ‘check-in’, then there was a talk he did at the RA which was for members only so I wanted to see if he could help me get a ticket but was met by radio silence. I would love to hear where he has hung it in his house as I am a huge fan of the man and it was such an honour to paint somebody who I consider a national treasure.
Your first solo exhibition, held at The Waluso Gallery in London, has just finished - how was it?
The Waluso show was a really nice experience, they are a new gallery looking to establish themselves as a place to find exciting emerging artists. Obviously because of Covid-19 it was somewhat stranger than anticipated, the show was meant to open in April but was delayed until July. Obviously even in July a lot of people weren’t embracing public transport or gallery type experiences so we were lucky to have as many people at the opening as we did. Once the show started, four weeks went very quickly but it is still possible to view some of the work downstairs.
Since then you have released a new series of works with Guy Hepner and The Tax Collection in New York, how did that come about?
Over the course of this year I have become friends with Max from Tax Collection over Instagram, he has been such a champion of my work; including me in the most recent edition of Create! Magazine that he curated. Max asked if I would like to do a work release with Guy Hepner which was very exciting and has gone very well.
A few more questions, to conclude…
What is your dream project?
I’m looking forward to painting even bigger pieces, I like the idea of some cartoon characters that you always expect to be small to become real life giants. It would be nice to start including some sculptures and creating some public art.
Is there anything that you would change about the art world?
There’s so many different angles to the art world that it can become very confusing but I think nowadays with the internet that there are possibilities for work to become more accessible in a digital way. On the other hand it’s a slightly confusing time because an artist can sell a work directly off their insta DMs without having ever exhibited a hard copy of it for pubic viewing. I’m not sure Art should necessarily just be treated as a commodity.
What do you do when you are not painting?
I love the cinema, hopefully will be back to normal soon.
What do you think you would be doing if you were not an artist?
More hours at the pub.
Lastly, what is the best piece of advice you have received?