Michael Petry talks to Guy Reid in our latest interview in the Artist to Artist series. Reid is currently showing at MOCA London. The exhibition runs until 29th April.
MP: Guy many people are astounded that the Man Walking has been carved from wood – can you tell us a bit about the physical making process?
GR: I always start by taking a series of photographs of a subject from multiple angles. I then do preparatory drawings which function as cutting guides and which might be equated to dressmaker’s patterns. These do not represent any single photographic image but are an adaption of several images which readjust the distortions of perspective that occur through photography. For relief works, I stick more closely to the photographic image. I then chose my lime wood which I cut to the drawing or cutting pattern and join lumps of wood where necessary. After that, it is a case of carving around the sculpture using a variety of chisels until I arrive at the finished work ready for sanding and painting. All of this can take weeks or months depending on the scale.
‘I thought about a mantra, like an opened meditation and the wood material that we almost forgot.’
MP: Wood carving is not usually seen as a part of the contemporary art world yet you are making it fresh again, do you ever feel like an outsider?
GR: One of the most touching comments I have received about my work was made by Brigitte Meunier- Bosch, the ex-director of the Ecole Supérieure d’art du Nord, Pas-de-Calais who said of my work; ‘I thought about a mantra, like an opened meditation and the wood material that we almost forgot.’ The idea that any material might not be thought of as contemporary seems ridiculous to me. Reinventing it in a contemporary context has however always been my intention. As to feeling an outsider, I guess the answer is yes. People often assume that because I have chosen to work both in wood and figuratively that I am not engaged in other contemporary discourse. This is not true. My work fits comfortably into both the installation and realist movements. Many of my fellow contemporary artists have recognised this and as such have made me feel less of an outsider than I might otherwise have been. Either way, I have pursued my path with discipline, determination and integrity and that gives me the strength to be different.
MP: Many of your works deal with Deities – can you tell us about your thought process when making works like this that use your body as a deity?
GR: I am not really interested in portraying what lies beyond what we see and feel, this does not, however, exclude the belief that what we see, feel or create might not contain a metaphysical aspect. Physical representations of deities or archetypes are never more than man’s limited attempt to reveal an idea of the divine manifest in existence. As such, I feel the representation of beings as ‘God’ is justified. What else can we do and why not me as much as any other?
MP: You are also known for doing commissions of rather famous people. Can you tell me which was the most enjoyable experience or the most successful portrait?
GR: The celebrity I most enjoyed doing was the comedian Alan Carr, mainly because he made me laugh so much. By the way, he really is very funny! Perhaps my most successful portrait was a small standing portrait of the writer Philip Pullman who said of it, ‘That’s ME, small enough to hold in the hand….and so entirely THERE.’
MP: You often carve works featuring your partner Andrew. Was he resistant at first and how does he/you feel about all the intense looking you must have to do with his physical being?
GR: Andrew is my greatest critic! He always tells me the truth and seems to have a strangely detached relationship to my work. This detachment is true I think both of his sittings as a subject, to my prying eye but also to his reaction to the pieces. I think a lot of the time he just finds the sitting process boring and physically uncomfortable. He would rather be out in the garden!
MP: Lucien Freud did a few nude self-portraits and he was unsparing at presenting himself as he aged and his flesh sank, do you think you will continue using yourself as a model as time goes on?
GR: At the moment I am keen to push representations of myself even further. I wonder if, as we become older, we cannot become more liberated from the ideas and inhibitions of a self image associated with youth and beauty. I am currently working on a crouched, nude sculpture of myself and find my back and arse particularly ugly!
Guy Jocelyn Reid is a British artist who was born in Johannesburg in 1963 and grew up in London and Shropshire. After having completed his BA in Politics and History at North London Polytechnic in 1984, Reid began training as a classical carver and restorer, going on to work for the world-renowned Spink Workshop (now Arlington Conservation), where he completed work for institutions as varied as the Metropolitan Museum New York, the Getty Museum California, Harewood House and the Sir John Soane Museum London. Go to web page About Guy to read more on Guy Reid and his sculptures.
Michael Petry (b. Texas, 1960) has lived in London since 1981. He studied at Rice University, Houston (BA), London Guildhall University (MA), and has a Doctor of Arts from Middlesex University. Petry is an artist, author and Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) London, and Guest Curator for Futurecity. He co-founded the Museum of Installation, was Guest Curator at the Kunstakademiet, Oslo, Research Fellow at the University of Wolverhampton and was Curator of the Royal Academy Schools Gallery. Petry is a Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors (FRBS) and a Brother of the Art Workers Guild. Petry co-authored Installation Art (1994), and Installation in the New Millennium (2003), and authored Abstract Eroticism (1996) and A Thing of Beauty is…(1997). The Trouble with Michael, a monograph of his practice, was published by Art Media Press in 2001. Petry’s book Hidden Histories: 20th-century male same-sex lovers in the visual arts (2004) was the first comprehensive survey of its kind, and accompanied the exhibition Hidden Histories he curated for The New Art Gallery Walsall. His two-volume book Golden Rain (2008) accompanied his installation for the On the Edge exhibition for Stavanger 2008, European Capital of Culture. Petry’s book, The Art of Not Making: The New Artist Artisan Relationship for Thames & Hudson (T&H) was published in hardback in 2011 (paperback, 2012). Petry was the first Artist in Residence at Sir John Soane’s Museum (2010/11) exhibiting two bodies of work, published in Smoke & Mirrors (2011). His one-man show The Touch of the Oracle at the Palm Springs Art Museum (2012) was accompanied by a ten-year career review book. His current book Nature Morte: Contemporary Artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition (2013) was published in 4 hardback editions, T&H (UK/American), Hirmer (German) and Ludion (Dutch) and the touring exhibition based on the book will have its final installation at London’s Guildhall in 2017. Petry’s work was included in the 2015 Frontiers Reimagined at the Venice Biennale, and his one-man show AT the Core of the Algorithm accompanied his Campbell Lectures at Rice University, which will become a book – Art and Ethics for the University of Chicago.
Guy Reid MOCA London Museum of Contemporary Art Project Space 113 Bellenden Road London SE15 4QY Until 29th April