London based artist Phil Ashcroft combines influence from abstract expressionism, landscape painting, Japanese woodcuts and graphic street art to present a vision of environmental, financial and political threats. His works immerse the viewer in surrealist settings in which cartoon-like motifs deconstruct modernist ideals.
Was there a shift from some form of realism to the abstract work you do today? If so, what brought it about?
I switch between figuration and abstraction depending on the project at hand, but it is true that most recently I have focused on more abstract process-based painting. However, even the recent abstract works aren’t truly abstract; they hold a basis in landscape, even if its just a horizon line to ground the work in some way. I plan to work on more detailed architectural graphic works soon. It's something I’ve left since 2009 but have an urge to return to.
Practically and technically, how do you create your works? Do you make sketches first or is a lot of the work freestyled?
Basically pretty old school, I produce paintings on canvas, layering individual elements quickly over a period of months. I usually work on three to four at a time, developing all works as I go. These works are intuitive but do begin from an initial thumbnail sketch or idea I want to explore. I don’t know how the work will finish or whether it will succeed and that’s the way it should be. Some areas contain crisp gradients, other areas are flat colour. Loose washes of paint complete the work in a manner that can never be produced digitally. Practice, planning and not planning.
You have described your work as depicting the detritus of the modernist ideals of the past. What are these ideals, why have they failed and how do you depict them?
This phrase related specifically to my more figurative architectural studies of ruins of buildings from 2006-2009. I wanted to show respect to those fallen ruins of the imagined future of the 1950s and 60s, a future that never came.
Their titles referenced ‘future music’ that I listen to, titles that I felt added an emotional charge to the work, ‘Fragments of a Lost Language’, 2008 (from Jacob’s Optical Stairway, London, 1995, 4 Hero at their best), ‘Good Life’, 2009 (Kevin Saunderson’s Inner City, Detroit, 1988), ‘Where You Go I Go Too’, 2008 (Lindstrøm, 2008). ‘The Skid Stops At This Point People’ 2006 was a phrase I saw on the back of a lorry whilst driving.
Are these modernist ideals in conflict with the corporate commissions you’ve done?
I don’t think any corporate commissions I’ve worked with to date could have any such impact.
What did the No Soul for Sale project hope to achieve?
This was a weekend celebration of independent artist groups to celebrate Tate Modern’s 10th anniversary in 2010. The curators’ idea was to bring attention to artist collectives on the fringe of the mainstream, hence Scrawl Collective’s involvement painting live in the Turbine Hall. Others participants included The Museum of Everything, Liverpool’s Royal Standard, Hong Kong’s PARA/SITE, New York’s White Columns. It was a fun weekend.
The intensity of colour and the hardness of the shapes in your work can make for intense viewing. What do you hope this intensity conveys?
I want my work to visually energise the viewer, to be dynamic. I hope it's not for sleeping to.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently working on a new series of my ‘Cave Paintings’. Also just remixing an existing record cover album gatefold for ‘Beyond The Goldmine Standard’, an art project curated by Matthew Hearn at RPM Records, Newcastle.
What’s your favourite film?
‘Bladerunner’ (1982), as per usual, followed closely by Tony Hancock’s ‘The Rebel’ (1961).