Steve Pantazis of Corridor8, the Contemporary Art & Writing Journal, talked to Kevin John Pocock about his solo exhibition at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.
Steve Pantazis: In most of your paintings and drawings, you depict buildings. They appear as semi-abstract geometric forms, as there are no windows or doors. Why are you interested in this kind of representation?
Kevin John Pocock: I have always enjoyed making art ever since I can remember, and have drawn and painted since I was very young. One of my earliest childhood memories is of a tall simple factory chimney towering above a large brick rectangular factory building. This was very near my grandfather’s house, where I used to visit often and he would sit and draw with me for hours. So there is a strong association.
Later in my early art work, which was more traditional/figurative, local townscapes in my home of east Dorset were one of my common subjects – together with the Dorset landscape. Then I studied architecture at Cambridge University and during this period there was a fundamental shift in my art work – from depicting something which already existed, to something that I imagined could exist. This was a direct influence from my architectural design training – about creating something new in a space. Some of my earlier art pieces during this shift did have holes for doors and windows but in a very minimalist fashion. As the work has abstracted more, these have largely disappeared, although there are still suggestions such as in Streetfight.
SP: In the early paintings exhibited at Castlefield Gallery there is more texture, as you can see the brushstrokes, compared to the latest works. Why have you changed your technique? Are there any painters who influenced your technique or choice of colours?
KJP: The core theme of my work is to express my private interior of thoughts as an exterior space. Our external environment contributes to our interior emotions and feelings, so in my work I am trying to blur these lines between us, as people, and the environment we inhabit.Just as we have an interior and exterior face so do buildings – we see their exterior but often have no idea, or just a hint, of what actually goes on inside. They are, on many levels, a reflection of us.
With this in mind the later works are more dynamically aggressive as, for various reasons, I have increasingly felt more uncomfortable, agitated and disengaged about living in a large city. I am originally from a much more rural area. This is not directly about Manchester as a city, as I have always loved this city– it’s more about my own personal situation, age, outlook on life and the environment in which I want to live and work now.
I wanted to strengthen this ‘aggressive’ feeling using stronger colours and very thin, sharp, blade like shapes – and I think the flat, smooth surface heightens that.
There are many artists (and architects) who have influenced me but not with any particular technique or colour palette.
SP: Usually in your paintings and drawings, you mostly represent buildings and architecture. Why in A Simple Dream about Japan are you focusing on landscape?
KJP: As I mentioned earlier, landscape painting has always been a love of mine, and the Dorset landscape and coastline was one of my main subjects early on. My earliest influences when I was studying art at school were the landscapes of Cézanne and the landscapes of the Japanese print makers such as Hokusai, Hiroshige etc. I was fascinated by other aspects of Japanese culture too especially the older buildings and gardens – the minimalism and serenity had meaning and was very appealing. So from about the age of 15 it was always a country I wanted to visit, even though at that time it seemed an impossibility to me. This painting is really therefore what it says – just a simple dream about (visiting) Japan – something I finally got to do much later in life.
SP: Mickey Mouse World is a reference to pop culture. Have you been inspired by Pop art?
KJP: No not really – Mickey Mouse was chosen for two reasons. I wanted to choose a corporate symbol to represent the changing hierarchy of the city skyline. Who really wields the power and how do they show that in built form? If we take London as an example, the skyline would have been dominated many years ago by church spires and domes. In the present day, it is corporate buildings that mainly dominate. So I chose Mickey Mouse as the corporate symbol. It’s a strong, recognisable, friendly front for a very serious business. In my drawing it dominates the buildings of the city behind.
Secondly, and more personally and lightheartedly, in one of the studios I worked in as a young architect we used to call design decisions and features that were too superficial and lacked integrity “a bit Mickey Mouse.”
SP: City Square is a work that for me has strong links to Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings. Does his work have an impact on you? Are you interested in creating dream-like themes as the Metaphysical painter?
KJP: Yes, de Chirico was a very strong early influence. City Square itself was inspired by the memory of a visit to Chicago – it was an important place for me to visit as an architect especially as it was the birthplace of the skyscraper.
SP: Bed also reminds me of Henry Moore’s Four-piece Composition: Reclining Figure, 1934, where a female body, made by individual pieces of bone-like or stone-like shapes, is resting on a plinth. Why are you interested in creating a human figure using different geometrical forms? Have you been inspired by Moore’s interest in arranging various components that shape a human body?
KJP: Whilst I like Moore’s sculptures I really prefer his drawings that are studies for these works. Ben Nicholson and some of Picasso‘s works were also an influence. The anthropomorphic nature of Bed is really again about making the parallel between us and our built environment – my theme was if buildings could dream what they would dream of?
SP: In Brutal Facade, Street Fight and The King is Dead, there is a sense of pain and intrusion by the sharp objects, which contrasts the other works where architecture and landscape (as in a Simple Dream about Japan) are depicted and give a more pleasurable feeling. Why is this happening?
KJP: I think this is partly answered previously – as I mentioned it’s about my personal feelings and situation about living in a city now, where I feel more uncomfortable, agitated and disengaged than I did when I first moved to London and then Manchester several years ago.
However Brutal Facade and Streetfight are also directly about architecture itself – the ‘object’ buildings that aggressively confront and cause uncomfortable spaces for us – with no real regard for context and their place in the whole. There are many examples.
SP: In general has Modernism played an important part on the formation of your work?
KJP: Yes that is true.
SP: Shadow is a key element in your work. Do you use it so as to give a three-dimensional quality to your work?
KJP: Yes. Light, and therefore shadow, was always a fascination for me even before I studied architecture. We never used CAD at college and we drew everything by hand. I found that architectural drawings took on a different life once the shadows were put in.
SP: In City Square you use a platform for the sculpture, while in Bed you arrange the geometrical forms on the bed, which can be viewed as a stage. Are you interested in theatricality?
KJP: Yes, I think architecture and theatricality are closely related. Playing with a mix of different types of drawing projections (perspective, isometric etc.) also lend that air of theatricality I think. City Square, which as I mentioned is based on a visit to Chicago, is about the memory of public art in front of buildings, so the platform is really a plinth. In this piece the figure like sculpture is trying to assert itself dramatically in front of an anonymous tower of unknown height.It also visits one of the themes in my work which is about power and hierarchy – both amongst buildings within a city and amongst ourselves.
In addition the boxes of Joseph Cornell and the trompe l’oeil Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza by Andrea Palladio (with scenery by Vincenzo Scamozzi) was a special place to visit, and both also come to mind as influences in answer to this question.
SP: Your work Ladder could be viewed as the painted version of Donald Judd’s Untitled (Stack), 1967 – twelve units of lacquer on galvanized iron installed vertically on the wall. Also, the buildings in most of your paintings can be associated to Minimalist sculptures. Does Minimalism have an impact on your work?
KJP: Yes, I very much like Judd’s work – although I would say that modern architecture with strong, simple forms was just as much an influence as minimalist art. Architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, Tadao Ando, Richard Meier, Aldo Rossi and currently John Pawson for example.
Ladder could be viewed as the painted version of Judd’s piece, but it’s really about the cycle of ascension and descent. Is the structure rising out of the foundations of the hole in the ground or is it now about to be buried?
SP: Are there any contemporary artists whose work has a significant impact on your art?
KJP: I can’t think of any specific contemporary living artists who have any particular influence, but there are many contemporary works that I like and admire such as those of James Turrell.
SP: I have realised that your video work does not have sound. They seem as paintings where the images are moving. Do you agree with this or there is another objective as well?
KJP: I do agree with this. They are often like moving paintings, but I also wanted to explore a more spontaneous way of working using video. They are sometimes, but not always, just captured in the moment and not pre-planned. This doesn’t happen with my paintings and drawings, which are the long result of an idea settling and then going through a ‘design’ process.
My videos also explore other themes such as my passion for travel and the passage of time. For example in Life Begins, a single photo of the sky was captured each day for one year. Slowly animated as a linear timeline each triptych frame represents yesterday, today and tomorrow – gradually and repeatedly mutating in to each other.
SP: In your video These Final Moments, there are intertitles such as “Looking to the Distance,” “Getting closer,” etc. Are you trying to guide the viewer’s experience?
KJP: These Final Moments was shot on the train from Bergen to Oslo after traveling around Norway. It was not preplanned and was captured in the moment on my pocket camera. The journey was long, I had a lot of time to think and this is how I was feeling at that time as I headed to Oslo to catch a flight back home.
It is about the feeling of melancholy at the end of a special trip together with a contemplation about sharing time with people you love, as they near the end of their life – in my case this is about my parents. I am partly trying to guide the viewer’s experience to capture that feeling I had. I wanted to use the words like stations along the journey. They are regularly spaced and are short stops.
Steve Pantazis is an online editor for Corridor 8, independent art historian, writer and associate editor for Versita Publishing in the field of Arts, Music and Architecture.
Original interview at Corridor8 here