Four Interviews/ Tristram Aver

In the last of our series of Four Interviews, artist Tristram Aver speaks to young curators Alex Leigh, Liz Gibson and Neetu Roy about The Chase, his new commission for Four.

Tell me about your new commission.
The Chase (parts 1 to 3) is a series of paintings based on Richard Ansdell’s The Chase  (1847) and George Robson’s Stratford-On-Avon (date unknown) two works from the Manchester Art Gallery’s collection and digital archive.

These two paintings are very striking in different ways, yet I think they represent the British landscape (socially, politically and geographically) past and present, which is a great starting point for me to examine and reinterpret the works.

Stratford-On-Avon presents a calm pastoral scene with signs of religion, industry and architecture in the background. But the tree in the painting has a remarkable shape –its outline has striking similarities to a mushroom cloud. Unfortunately, this is now a common sight on our news channels, particularly with the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip. The more I look at this type of image, the more I see bizarre parallels between images of contemporary warfare and the way that the British landscape has been portrayed in the past.

The Chase is part of a larger, more aggressive series of paintings by Richard Ansdell which document the stages of a hunt of a stag. This whole topic threw up so many questions and images, especially where this type of painting could be sited today without stirring up debates about the preservation of woodlands, hunting, animal welfare and aggressive dogs. Combined, The Chase and Stratford provided a lot of potential for exploration, links to contemporary culture and many, many Google images to utilise.

Is this piece typical of your practice, or a development/new direction?
The approach in constructing the paintings is not new to me – I have always gathered source imagery from a variety of locations and places before using computer programmes to alter imagery and toy with colour and compositions that are later tackled with paint; this digital ‘sketchbook’ of ideas and plans is essential to my practice. The latest development has been working directly with historical oil paintings and current affairs, fusing the two and creating work that responds to both sources/topics. Presenting the work in ovals, mounted upon faux-taxidermy heads and surrounding it with neon light ‘frames’ is very new however, taking my work into direction that I had never really expected – something more sculptural, but more importantly, less traditional than typical methods of displaying oil paintings.

Your work references 19th Century British paintings – still lives, animal portraiture and landscapes. What interests you about this period of British paintings? And what informs your decision when selecting works to re-appropriate?
Works from this period are almost too familiar to us. Commissions and works made during this time (and those on public display in our museums) would have portrayed a ‘chocolate box’ view of the world through idyllic pastoral scenes of the British countryside. Towns, villages, farmlands, wildlife, livestock and peasants walking the landscape are pictured in relative harmony amongst sweeping green lands, lush with oak trees and forests. Many paintings from this period were not necessarily true representations of the landscape, and although beautiful and romantic, there is something commonly benign about them, and most were commissioned to decorate the walls of the aristocracy. It is this artifice, this type of propaganda, that interests me.

Your work also samples images from news stories, advertising slogans and popular culture. What recent events have inspired your new commission?
Dog fighting, ‘violent’ breeds of dogs attacking children, and the use of dogs as status symbols have been gaining media attention whilst I created this commission.

The countryside, and moreover the issue of its preservation, was particularly relevant when I was creating my compositional plans. The 2012 outbreak of bovine tuberculosis and the subsequent badger cull, fox hunting, plus the government’s proposed privatisation of woodland, were all big news stories. As were the continued conflicts in Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Korea, Syria and more recently Northern Ireland.

More regionally, I noted events such as Carl Froch becoming the IBF super-middleweight champion for the third time in his hometown of Nottingham, the conviction of the ring leaders of the London Riots, and the East Midlands Morris Dancing Festival in Lincoln.

Does your work have a political agenda?
Not an intentional agenda. My work is increasingly being influenced by current affairs and the images that are generated by the world’s media. If any of my paintings lean towards a particular viewpoint, then that is because I am taking more notice of an issue at that particular moment in time. I have also focused on how the media portrays modern Britain, and these new paintings are almost a celebration of a stereotype, perhaps a glorified criticism of it too.   

How do you feel about working with young curators?
When someone takes a critical insight and interest in your work, regardless of their age, it is a very rewarding and humble experience. However, working with young curators is especially exhilarating due to their fresh approach when selecting work, which in turn, shakes up conventional curatorial, display and exhibition traditions. I am proud that the curators have chosen my work to harness their skills and interest in the visuals arts. It is also exciting to think that as young professionals, they may be leading curators of the future.

What influenced you when you were our age, so 17/18?
Girls, mostly.

What else are you working on? What’s coming up next?
2012 has been an extraordinarily busy year for me. Whilst becoming a father for the first time, I have been involved in group shows in Berlin, Korea, Nottingham and London, and as such, my painting has gathered momentum and pace, both in terms of development and execution.

As I paint in my spare time, my curatorial career sometimes takes over from my studio practice. This allows me to work alongside some very exciting artists and curators. Over the next two years I’m working on projects with Jeremy Deller and the Hayward Gallery; Fiona Rae and Dan Perfect; and Christina Mackie. I’m also curating some collection-based exhibitions featuring work by Paul Waplington and Harold and Laura Knight.

In terms of my painting, I have already selected works to base new paintings on, and I plan to look closer into the career of Richard Andsell. I’m looking forward to continuing some of the themes and ideas that the commission for Four has given me the opportunity to develop.

Four previews on Fri 25 January in Gallery 1. The exhibition runs until Sun 24 February.