I normally get through a working day with the minimum of human contact. This is how I like it. I have a sign on my studio door telling all but the closest of friends to clear off. And even they are only welcomed (with a very small w) between the hours of 1 - 2pm. But although I'm probably somewhere on the reclusive spectrum, I was still surprised to find myself referred to as something of a hermit in press coverage of a recent London exhibition. There was mention of me "coming out of the wilderness", of being an "outsider", a "shrinking violet", and of living in "obscurity". Truth is, I don't live in obscurity, I live in Yorkshire.
Despite it being a pretty straightforward four hour journey from open moor to congestion zone, I hadn't bargained for the exotica I seemed to garner from having dared venture just 200 miles south down the M1. I doubt I'd have met with more wide-eyed wonder when talking of the light splattering of snow we'd had recently than if I'd been a visiting martian. It's just a pity I didn't think to put on me bonnet to complete the picture. Even a cabbie got me to spell out my destination - C.H.A.N.C.E Street - so flummoxed was he by my flat A's. I'm a regular visitor to London, I even lived in the place for twelve years, but it was only returning as an exhibiting artist that I realised how the UK arts scene has disappeared right up it's own Mile End.
To operate outside of Zone One, or narrower still, the E2 postcode, creates real practical problems for the UK based artist. If a reviewer is unwilling to travel beyond the stretch of their Oyster card, then what chance does an artist working in say, Rotherham, Pitlochry or some Welsh mining village have of getting meaningful coverage for their show?
Personally I've found it incredibly healthy to work in isolation (collaboration is one dirty C word you'll never hear coming out of my mouth) and left to my own devices I've been able to perfect a method of work that I doubt is employed by anyone else on the planet. Trouble is, while this solitary approach to making art might have been beneficial in terms of quality of work, when it comes to a 'career' (ha!) uniqueness has turned out to be something of a handicap. Because if, like me, you've moved up a hill to escape humanity, then the likelihood is you're not going to be associated with or attached to any kind of scene. And the problem with that is no one has a clue what to make of you.
Art history is studied through what have been classified, sometimes retrospectively, as 'movements'. Groups of people - men generally - whose work seems to conform to a trend. So if you're a bit of a loner doing your own thing you're fucked.
A recent-ish example, the YBAs, who were in effect a gang. All that energy and exuberance that attracted so much attention was in part down to the fact there was a bunch of them - a kind of post modern Bash Street Kids making so much mischief and noise that they just couldn't be ignored. In the hubbub even a few women managed to slip under the radar - albeit gobby, London based, childfree women who liked a drink... See it's easy to remain untroubled by the attentions of Charles Saatchi when you're up a track in the middle of nowhere just quietly getting on with your own thing.
While being on the outside of the tent pissing in kind of works for me, my concern is that when all the focus is directed towards just a handful of people, what is getting nudged out of the way? What's getting overlooked? That question keeps me awake at night. When it's the same old names that crop up over and over again, I can't help but wonder what's really going on out there that we're all missing out on?Suggest a correction