The highest concentration of artists in the world live around Shorditch in the East End, The nucleus of the art world in the East End is the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square, owned by Jay Jopling. His gallery represents many of the leading Young British Artists - Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Gilbert and Geroge and The Chapman Brothers for example. I like the energy and buzz surrounding these sensationalists. The gallery has just been extended with glass fronted upper floors, from where I knew there would be a great view of the square below. So I wrote I nice letter to Mr. Jopling asking if I could come a do some drawing from his gallery as it was such an important place in the contemporary art scene. I was surprised that he said it would be ok when most London galleries are unapproachable or too busy to speak to you.
I was given a particular day when there were no people looking around. I had already done some sketches when it was open to the public, and decided on painting Hoxton Square through the window panes on the first floor. I was more interested in what was going on outside than on the inside, contrasting a sterile white walled interior with grit and reality, but the panes reminded me of my bedroom as a child from where I used to draw the road outside. Unfortunately the window was blocked up when I arrived because of a new exhibition but Sarah, Mr. Jopling's P.A. kindly allowed me upstairs to the private viewing room on the top of the building. I had brought everything I needed, planning carefully the day before- including a roll of plastic sheeting to protect the rubber floor from any potential spillages.
The room itself contained a few paintings at the time. I worked next to a Sarah Morris painting- beautiful architectural structures of grids and patterns, I smiled to myself as I compared the width of my masking tape with the lines in her painting. I was using the same width tape to mask out my window frame with the same clinical precision- but for the sake of illusion rather than commenting on modern graphic devices. Behind me was a circular painting- dead butterflies stuck on a sky blue canvas by Mr. Damien Hirst - a paradox since while giving the impression of freedom and life, behind the glass and frame they were trapped and dead. The guys came in to re-arrange the paintings for the next viewing, wearing linen gloves and three of them carefully repositioned a single painting - I had to drag my board from Balham, the edges rounded by abrasion with the pavement.
I was very honoured to be given such trust and left alone to get on with my work. Being in such a place also gave me time to think about what sort of artist I am. When I was at Glasgow School of Art I attended a lecture series called 'Art on the Margins'. To be honest I really didn't believe in what was being discussed, and kept quiet while the fine artists debated about moving the goal posts. I was studying illustration and spent my time going on drawing adventures in hills. Its always been quite simple for me- find strange and poweful places to paint. Ten years later and I am doing the same, and the idea of doing any commercial illustration work is becoming increasingly uninteresting to me. With everything that's happened in the last few years, I have become more aware of a personal message that I want to get across- a message about those places where the energy of people is the strongest. For me what makes the YBA phenomena important is the fact that they are still talking about the simple issues of humanity that have always driven artists - mortality, war, greed, depression and love - but presented in new and exciting ways.
The next stage for me is think about how my work is presented. I sometimes worry if doing paintings is anachronistic but I was encouraged when flicking through A Tracy Emin catalogue lying on the glass table, I find it opens with a Edward Munch painting entitled "The Morning After"- depicting a women lying in bed surrounded by last nights bottles. By acknowledging this painting, Tracy Emin is showing that she is following a strong tradition - commenting on the complexities of human existence - its not just about an unmade bed, its about coping with life.
So I get on with the painting, building it up layer by layer until its done. Its a concentrated effort and by the end I am feeling the push. When you spend a long period of time in the same place, something usually happens. In this instance I am painting the bikes tied to railing, noticing some of them have their wheels missing. The technicians are bringing the Gilbert and George prints into the room, and they look out of the window to the far corner " Hey, they've busted them." And down below there were the coppers booking a couple of thieves nicking bikes, so I quickly added the scene into the painting - satisfied that its now done.