Beyond The Frame: An interview with Patrick Simkins
by Marc Nair, 25 March 2018
Patrick Simkins is a British artist who works across a range of materials and media. He is currently based in Paris. Interested to find out more about his process and ideas, I trekked out to his studio in the suburbs just outside of Paris on a rainy afternoon to find out more.
MN: Tell me a bit about how you’ve progressed in your career as an artist.
PS: I was making a lot of London cityscape work after my graduation in 2008. I wanted to interview and paint athletes in the London 2012 Olympics. I met the Browning brothers and even Oscar Pistorius. The whole project gave me the opportunity to work with figures rather than buildings.
MN: It was a shift in your work?
PS: Yes, in a big way. I used to work impasto with the cityscapes and I did the same with my figures. But after the BT storytellers project, I was just trying to work out who I was as an artist. Then I remember getting at text from a friend of mine, and it read ‘your friend has killed his g/f.’ And I knew straightaway who he was talking about. And it got me thinking about the way we praise people, put them on a pedestal.
MN: And we kick them off as well.
PS: Yes, and it coincided with me going back to basics in a studio. I was looking at my paint marks, and cutting up bits of canvas then put them together to create another painting. And I started making portraits from this. I found them to be quite tactile, they were quite big, and it felt Iike I was creating some kind of god. That’s one stream of my work, in terms of these giant collage heads.
MN: What do you think the relationship is between form and content in your work?
PS: At the moment, I think it’s about even. For example, with the heads, I would choose the heads, the subject. Then I would paint them. Then I would go back and look at the individual marks I’ve used and reproduce them in the form of collage cut-outs and put them together like the painting. But at the same time, chance is important in the work as well.
Here, for example, is a detail of one of my sketches:
These come about from finding images through Facebook or Instagram. By redrawing these images, and playing into that act of chance of finding them, I am able to manipulate them to tell new stories.
MN: The (social media) feed is complete chance, and organic. You could miss something that horrifies, or changes your life. So what you’re doing is a kind of appropriation of daily life?
PS: Yes, and what I’ve been doing this past year is to bring the paintings and the collage heads together because they work with the same ideas, although they look like they are from two different artists.
MN: Is this new work meant to be interactive?
PS: No, but I do have some ideas for future work.
MN: What is your relationship with the audience?
PS: I don’t think I’m ‘special.’ I think anybody can be an artist and art is for everyone. The art world is very insular and elitist and the first three-headed performance came about as I was teaching. I was at that time encouraging young teenage kids to create I see art as something not just for the super talented, but where everybody can be involved. I want to have people involved in art in general. I think it’s their right. And if I can encourage people to do that, and if at the same time I can instil a sense of a message into the work, then that's even better.
MN: I agree that art is for everyone, but I don’t think everyone can make art at that same level.
PS: Of course, some people are just happy to be given the consent to create a simple piece of art. But that’s fine, if they can walk away with a smile, that’s enough.
MN: There are both physical and conceptual layers to your work. And this idea of misinformation (from your artist statement). How do you connect materiality and visual thinking to misinformation?
PS: I think it’s easy for artists to get lost in conceptual ideas and I feel I’ve been guilty of that. The statement from my website has probably changed from when you last looked at it, because I update it whenever I think I have a clearer idea of what I am about.
MN: So if misinformation is a theme, how does it translate into your work?
PS: I like telling stories through my work. It may not be immediately apparent, but I like the fact that a story lies behind the idea and so in my paintings I like creating a kind of narrative.
MN: Are you offering multiple ways of seeing, are you out to deceive people or are you replicating the deception in the world?
PS: The first and the third one! I think deceiving people is the opposite of what I want to do. I just want to show that there are so many different ways of looking. But at the same time, I like to have fun.
MN: Because this is not a photograph, you don’t have to faithfully reproduce what you see.
PS: Yes, I like poking fun, but I feel that I’ve been trying too hard with the message. The ideas become drowned. But my current works seem clearer, because I can only control so much of what people see.
MN: How do you see yourself as a curator of fictional narratives?
PS: Well, for example, people can give out false impressions of themselves and embellish the truth. And it has horrible effects on people on real life.
MN: But when you choose an image, what are you looking out for? Do you choose something at random?
PS: Well, I get images from my mates, and the majority of those people are genuine people, and what they post is exactly that. But at the same time, what I take doesn’t matter, because it’s the context of what I’m putting them in. I manipulate the images I take, but that’s what people do with filters anyway.
MN: The end point of a filter is that the image is still recognisable and is kept within the platform (Facebook, Instagram). But your medium is different, so your canvas is completely different.
PS: Painters in the past have always painted to accentuate one fact or truth over another.
MN: So you’re talking about representation. But art is, essentially, about parameter selection. What we exclude from the frame is what isn’t told.
PS: What is beyond the frame of the canvas?
MN: Is that what you’re interested in?
PS: All the different images I’ve selected are completely by random. So, in a collage, what’s beyond the borders of each individual painting is what’s important.
MN: And so too what happens at the intersection between the paintings. It’s more like a collision than a collage. And I’m drawn to it but also repulsed by it, because I recognise in it the symbols of this modern age. I’m drawn by the representation of the quotidian, but also feeling abhorrent about the images. There’s a tension there. And a sense of ambiguity as well.
PS: Ambiguity is simply that we don’t know the whole story. It’s mysterious, so from a visual point-of-view it draws you in. You want to go closer, to discover the idea behind the paintings. To come back to the idea of ultimate truths. An idea can be interpreted in different ways, but an ultimate truth means it only has one way of being looked at.
MN: How much anger is in your work?
PS: I wonder if my work has a dark side to it. Is that morbid? And is it dark that I think that the idea itself of representing how we see each other is dark?
MN: There’s a certain anger that drives the impulse of your work. There’s a passive rage against the machinery of our world, perhaps how easily people fall into modes of thinking and being.
PS: I say I’m an optimist, a traditionalist. I think that people having face-to-face conversations is something I want over people being ‘phonebies’; walking and texting and not looking up.
MN: What scares me is how easily is how we are moved as a society to being consumed by media, and how quickly we forget the basics that have kept us engaged as society for so long. And everything’s reduced to the ideal; the idea bedroom, the idea body. But using a medium such as yours with such modern subject matter isolates the subject and throws it into a strange landscape of how we are looking at ourselves. Through that comes a particular absurdity of looking at the images that we have created being appropriated in this fashion. And that is the mirror.
PS: Do you think you’re a pessimistic person like me when it comes to thinking about human interaction?
MN: Well, it’s only a matter of time before a breaking point in humanity occurs, and then we’re all dead anyway. But in the meantime, I feel like if we were to be serious and simply rant at people, maybe people won’t take us seriously either. But if you do a good job as an artist, then it’s no longer on you. I have a poem against plastic, and if people still go out and buy plastic bottles, it’s up to them. Artists can’t change the world.
So what’s next for you?
PS: In July, I’m one of 15 finalists for a show in a gallery in London. The prize is a representation for a year but that’s specifically for the collage heads. And I felt like I started a lot of these collages in 2017 but didn’t finish them. I originally wanted to finish 13 works by February, but I hope to finish at least 6. I’m not working towards a specific show with these but they need to be made, because…
Find out more about Patrick's work here.