Interviews with Artists

Michael Pybus

Interview by David McLeavy

Published August 2015


Themes of consumerism, collecting and obsession are prevalent throughout Michael Pybus' work. By using popular icons such as Pokemon, Pybus explores how contemporary we obsess over objects and our apparent need to accumulate 'things'.

Your work seems to take great influence from popular cartoon and animated characters and I wonder if you could talk a little more about this and why you use these specific references.

They work on many levels for me. Cartoons hold a strong emotional attachment for many of us, we grow up with them and we often first learn to understand narrative through them. There's a real visual sophistication to how they operate on such limited parameters, but on a more complicated level cartoons are used as a way to build an emotional bond with their audience to encourage its viewers to purchase merchandise. I think it was Transformers in the 80's that were the first cartoon brand to really push this - the toys came first and then the animated series was developed after as a way to give the toys depth and life, making them more desirable. Then came along Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Care bears etc.

Nurse Paintings, oil and aluminium particle paint on canvas, Evelyn Yard, 2015

I use Pikachu a lot, he's so cute and yellow. I love painting with yellow even though I'm told yellow is the worst colour to paint with as collectors don't tend to like yellow, but I guess I'm a painter not a collector so I'm sticking with yellow. Actually that's a lie I do collect too, the first ever painting I acquired was a bright yellow painting by Keith Allyn Spencer, so I guess some collectors do like yellow. Anyway the Pokemon franchise is the one that excites me the most, it’s unashamedly honest in it's ultra consumerist agenda with its tagline 'Gotta Catch'em All!' - the aim is to accumulate everything just like in real life! To do so you have to buy multiple versions of the same game and then with each subsequent new game there are even more Pokemon to collect. A self-perpetuating cycle of endless choice, it's a mini capitalist nightmare or utopia depending on where you find yourself in that system.

LOSS OF SELF-CONFIDENCE LACK OF CULTURE, oil and aluminium particle paint on canvas, Evelyn Yard, 2015

Why is it that you choose painting as the primary means to project your ideas?

I'm not sure I do. What I've found is that painting seems to be the format in my practice that most people put a lot of focus on. In January 2014 I consciously decided to develop my painting after about a decade or so of dipping my toes in the water with it. I just couldn't quite get it right and it was really bothering me. I felt I didn't have a voice or language with it so I spent all my time painting and after about 8 months I joined Instagram and started posting images of my paintings there. Weirdly that digital outlet was how people began to take me seriously as a painter and that virtual filter helped me understand how the work was operating at various levels beyond just simple image making. Looking back at my previous installations they have incorporated everything from collage and video to sculpture and other artists work. The world is too complicated and full of shit for me to only stay faithful to one medium.

Background (Transparent Midas Touch Void),The Waiting Room, London, 2015

You mentioned in a previous answer about how the Pokemon catchphrase of ‘Gotta Catch em’ All’ is something that fascinates you. Could you go into a little more detail about whether you feel there are similarities between the idea of ‘having everything’ and the act of making and/or collecting artwork.

Having everything is the goal in our society, a society which actively makes it impossible to have everything. This constant state of 'hunger' keeps people distracted and vulnerable but for better and worst it also moves us forward, bringing us new things to own and ways to be. In regard to my career and making work I'm really hungry and I think 'having everything' is more so just having time and opportunities to make everything you feel the need to. It helps if you are able to bring in an income from your art but also it's about actively focusing your available time on your practice. That involves saying 'no' a lot, no to drinks, no to going out, no to buying things. Ok it's a bit anti social I guess but I don't want to look back on my life and say I went out a lot but it cost me being able to achieve the things I wanted to achieve in life. So 'having everything' in this case is approached by not having everything.

Collecting art is a different game. It can become an obsession for people, some because they love art and some because of other things like status and power. I don't really have a moral stance on the drive behind why someone collects, whatever reason that's cool. It's kinda like Pokemon in that new art is always being made. A never ending stream of new things to desire.

The more you have the more you want.

Ghost Painting (Doctor), oil and aluminium particle paint on canvas, Evelyn Yard, 2015

So do you view art as a sacrifice in some way?

Not at all. It's a total privilege to be an artist. I work extremely hard on this but non the less I am very grateful to be in the position to pursue it. I'm not into the whole martyr thing. There are people all over the world making real life and death scarifies to survive and get their voices heard. Not buying lots of clothes, having holidays and not going out socialising often to focus on making art is not suffering. I make art because I love art, prioritising this doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all.
What do you think the responsibility of the artist is?

I'd probably say to be as honest as possible. When it comes to developing ideas into works I think the best art comes from artists who make exactly what they want, how they want. They aren't second guessing what their potential audience will expect from them. I'm all for artists creating new dialogue and platforms opposed to following trends and styles.

hubcaP sMiley, installation view, Evelyn Yard, London 2015

Do you find at times this may be difficult with the pressures of competition, time scales and even commercial issues?

I don't think staying true to what you want to make is hugely affected by those issues. In the past they've just forced me to think up creative solutions and many a time led me down paths I hadn't previously considered.


Michael Pybus lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include hubcaP sMiley, Evelyn Yard, London, People You May Know, Bosse & Baum, London, I Refuse To Participate In Failure, Spreez, Munich and Business As Usual, Turf Projects London & Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Leeds.


If you like this why not read our interview with Lauren Keeley


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