Interviews with Artists

Mathew Parkin

Interview by David McLeavy

Published February 2014


Mathew Parkin’s work incorporates contemporary imagery, often relating to his own personal tastes and preferences. Parkin’s work spans sculpture, digital media and even printed mugs


Could you talk a little more about your personal fascination or fetishisation of this imagery?

I think I am interested this imagery and these objects as they are what surround me and what I grew up looking at. I'm not really interested
really responsible for the statements I make so using this stuff makes that easier. I suppose in making art within a vacuum or being that most of the work is fairly subjective and about my taste, and in many ways I really hate that, but I am invested in trying to communicate some form of experience within a social space. I see art making a lot as a social activity and most of what people do socially is about marking the boundaries of their identity so perhaps I am trying to do that with making art.
I am interested in objects existing without an author, just users. So the generic mug that I have used in the past is ergonomically great and designed for its purpose, but I am not aware of a designer (if there is one). There is also something about when objects and images
become available to be reused and restructured by a user. So the appropriation of sportswear and Burberry from luxury brands into a working class culture then the stereotype of ‘chav’ culture, then again into gay culture as a fetishised object, but still operating as status objects. So these objects and images become linguistic symbolic yet what they are symbolically representing shifts as you move through different in a way, as they become groups of people. I think this within my work could be mis-interpreted as some kind of ironic re-approriation when although I find most of this stuff funny I am actually genuinely affected by the surfaces. Surface is something that has become really important, the sensual possibility of surface, I think that’s fairly art historical. Also I think many things operate at a surface level, I don’t necessary buy into a deeper self. I think potentially a lot of my work comes from looking, the activity of looking. Its all tied into this gaze and an understanding of looking (or the rights and privileges of being able to look perhaps) being political. I suppose a lot of what I am using is a fairly public language, so maybe this connects to cruising.

One Touch, The Telfer Gallery, Glasgow, 2013

I am interested to know how you set about making your work. I remember you once telling me that you don’t have a studio based practice, and in fact you envy people you do. I am wondering if you have developed a more studio based practice as the demand for your work has increased?

I am not sure if the demand for my work has massively increased. I do envy people as I find the idea of working as artist, or of that labour of production - whatever that means - being as valid as any end product, exciting. So that engagement with materials, but also the idea
that you act as an artists and whatever activity happens in your studio is part of that. However I have never really been able to have that engagement and have mainly felt guilty about my studio - which I think is fairly common as artists have to deal with the logistics of everyday life, particularly for younger artists. For me I tend to be fairly unproductive in my studio and tend to spend my time there thinking. A lot of actual work takes place on my computer so editing images or films, or making plans for installs, or actual admin work or emailing which is all fairly central - this happens at my studio but also at home, and anywhere with an internet connection. A lot of recent work has involved more democratic forms of production so photo mugs, YouTube videos and photo printed towels - so these aren’t things I need to make. I tend to have some more organic elements that include gestural marks in clay or ceramics that tend to be made in my studio. The structures I make are mostly made on site just as making them in a studio then transporting them would be difficult, also I like to make use of other peoples skills. I suppose I have been thinking more about making exhibitions rather then art objects, so certain things dip in and out from show to show and are reused, so there are these materials that repeat and are used at different times to have different relationships with each other - so its this reading, re-reading, re- looking and re-structuring.

Looks Good With Trouble, part of Performance Fetish, SWG3 Gallery, Glasgow, 2013

Your degree was in Visual Studies as oppose to Fine Art. I am interested to know what you imagine the differences were/are between the two courses and whether studying Visual Studies has helped direct your work?

Visual studies no longer exists, it got shut down a couple of years ago, largely because a lot of people didn't understand it. I suppose it was a course about creative thinking really, so I worked in a fine art context, but others worked with graphic design, video, craft, community projects etc. A lot of it was about questioning and being aware of different contexts and learning from your peers. I'm not sure if it gave me a different outlook then a fine art degree. I think it made me think a lot about being an artist being a choice and something you work at, not this innate thing.

One Touch, The Telfer Gallery, Glasgow, 2013

So are you of the belief that being an artist is a lifestyle choice as oppose to a profession?

No not that so much, although I do think there is a certain lifestyle attached that you buy into. I do see it as a profession. I just mean I see it as an active choice to be an artist, and to work at that, rather then some internal force.

You mentioned previously that a lot of your working process takes place via the internet and getting work fabricated etc. I was wondering if you thought that this may be due to the fact that yourself, like the majority of young artists, have to juggle their time between regular paid work (often outside of the arts) and their art practice. What I am trying to say is do you think that your methods are the most time efficient way of juggling what limited making time you have in order to get the results you want?

Yeah I think that's true. It is a pragmatic view of making work, to fit it around working and having a life. I suppose this partly relates back to making work for exhibitions and not as a day-to-day activity, and also not being skilled so trying to make use of other peoples skills. I think it partly to do with being a younger artist and the internet being something I naturally use, so I am concerned with the conversations around it and its part of my life so it will be in
the work. I don’t know if it is the best way of doing this, and perhaps if my circumstance were different the way I make work would be different as well, but its the method I have.

A lot of artists spend a lot of time reading and scouring the web as a form of research. I am interested to know how you tackle the idea of research and what methods you use.

I use the internet a lot like lots of people. Both in a floating around way and in a more direct way of having information that I want to find. I spend a lot of time looking at images, but I try to avoid reading too much on the internet as its hard to trust. I spend a lot of time on Tumblr which influences me, not that I think I am involved with that aesthetic, but more in terms of what I come into contact with. I try to do a lot of reading, which I find hard at times, but is always positive. I don’t read very much fiction anymore. The last book I finished was a Derek Jarman’s ‘At Your Own Risk’, which was amazing and hopeful but also really sad, I cried at the end. I watch films for research too, but again I don’t feel I spend enough time watching films. Music comes into it quite a lot too, often in titling of work.

Risograph print edition for Two Queens, Leicester

So what’s next for you?

What a killer question. I am currently doing a research and development period, which has involved meeting some people and making work. I suppose I am just going to carry on as I am. All my plans at the moment are fairly vague and I think its bad luck to talk too much about things like that. Hopefully do some more shows – but I don’t have anything very solid lined up in the near future.


Mathew Parkin lives and works in Birmingham. Recent shows include Performance Fetish, SWG3 Gallery, Glasgow, One Touch, The Telfer Gallery Glasgow and When Passive Aggressive Strategies Fail To Get Results, Supercollider, Blackpool.

If you like this why not read our interview with Tom Nolan


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