Artist Will Claridge challenges our perception of mundane reality by creating hybrid art pieces that obscure the narrative and provoke intrigue in the viewer. His work intends to get people to look beyond the colourful lashings of paint and instead question what is happening in the photograph. We talk about the intricate process and emotion that goes into producing each piece and how the combination of paint and photography helps to preserve a moment in time – more so than the modern technology we rely on today.
‘Beach of a Day’ (2019)
There’s always a deeper meaning behind the paint.
What made you want to integrate paint with photography?
I’m originally a painter and since graduating from university I have been experimenting with different mediums. I think in the art world we see photography as being one avenue and we see painting as another, they’re very separate, so I thought ‘let’s smash them together and see what happens!’. To begin with, it was much more sketchbook/ journal and experimental. For the last two years I have been experimenting with the idea of having painting and photography as one entity. I feel like I’ve developed with it and I am enjoying the process.
What does the application of paint symbolise for you?
The main aim with applying paint is to obscure the narrative in the photograph. We live in a world where we’re obsessed with how fast technology is advancing and how quickly we can access things. It’s not very often you see someone stop in the street and look around and take in their surroundings – we are used to walking past the everyday.
By covering up a mundane moment in life, the viewer is automatically intrigued by what is going on in that scene – almost like wanting to scratch away the paint like a scratch card. Bearing in mind that some of these photographs were captured months ago, it’s like looking back into the past. There’s this element of nostalgia, which makes each individual photograph more special. I think a lot of people view my work and think I’m mass producing photographs and throwing paint at them but this isn’t the case. Each piece really does take time and there’s a lot that goes into it emotionally.
Can you share your creative process with us?
My process is film photography, I have an old Olympus Om10 camera. We now have these amazing phones where we can take 100 photos in ten seconds and we can be very picky about what we choose. Whereas with a film camera, you take your photo and you can’t look at how it has come out in the moment. This is the main theme that runs throughout my work; it’s about being in the moment and it’s about emotion and feeling. When you develop the film it’s this one photograph, it’s an original piece. It makes me think about what is happening in the photograph, what story is being told and who is in the photograph – there’s always a deeper meaning behind the paint.
Perhaps I’m a bit old school, but I like capturing a memory and preserving it.
It sounds like a cathartic experience, how do you feel once you have completed a piece?
It is, there are moments when I get lost in it, and there are times in my studio where I have a hundred photos stuck on a wall and I’m very picky about which pieces I choose to put down and paint over. I want to pour that emotion into it to form a tangible thing that’s an original piece of art which isn’t a print and won’t ever be mass produced – they are all hand finished. I guess that expressive production has spurred me on to make more and more and really experiment with different cameras including polaroid cameras.
‘Out At Sea’ (2019)
Does this emotion correlate with the colour of paint you use and how you apply it?
My palette choice is mostly taken from something in the photograph. So, a lot of coastal photography will include the blues and the whites, but the other avenue is emotion and what I might be feeling at the time, or what I was feeling at the time I took the photograph. I think colour choice is important, there have been pieces where I’ve splattered green paint over and just gone ‘absolutely not’ and just put it in a pile, because it doesn’t flow and it doesn’t work with the image. Sometimes you need to create a hundred pieces to find one you’re happy with. There are some pieces I create that I’m not attached to but other people love it and it goes on and sells, so I’ve learnt to not be too picky with the finished product. It’s a balance of me opening up who I am and also giving the viewer the chance to relate to what is happening behind the paint.
In altering a scene that portrays everyday life, what reactions have you had from viewers?
I think people’s first reaction to my work is that they are aesthetically drawn to it, without using the cliché “eye-catching”, the colours I use are quite bright which can be juxtaposed to what’s going on in the photograph. I think at first they’re drawn to the colour, but everytime they look closer they see something new. I personally do, I go back to get pieces I’ve framed or put in storage for a fair and fall back in love with them again and that’s lovely. Growing up, my parents were keen on taking photos and printing them off to put in photo albums. It was nice to look back on memories and that’s very much lost in this world now, instead everything’s now taken on your phone and stored digitally. Perhaps I’m a bit old school, but I like capturing a memory and preserving it.
In terms of ‘evoking a perceptive change in people’ – is this because you feel people can be stuck in their ways? And what changes in particular do you hope will occur?
There’s definitely a fear of the unknown and people are lazy, they want to get to the answer quickly because again, we live in this world where we want everything instantly. I want people to stop and think. I remember doing a piece of art back in art school where I went scrumping and collected lots of apples and fermented these apples in a vatrine which is an air-tight plastic box – it was really smelly. I emptied the apples from the box and filled the box with bananas, so people were smelling the apples but seeing bananas which was really playing with their minds. That was the start of it for me; people think they know what they’re looking at – so if I can get that emotion into a painting then I’m winning on that.
I’d love to have a Damien Hurst studio moment where I throw a whole pot of paint at a photograph!
From your experience travelling, do you find that Western cultures take mundane living for granted in comparison to other cultures in the world?
Absolutely. I remember going to India and I was taken aback by how happy their communities were with so little. When I was volunteering in an orphanage, something as simple as a pack of crayons and some paper made it the best day for these kids. I also helped to paint a mural at a local school and the kids were fascinated by the paint. In western society we take it all for granted.
‘Spring Step’ (2019)
Do you seek to challenge this notion?
I suppose so. I suppose my art appears very playful and attractive, but the message underneath is about obscuring what we’re used to. I just want people to stop and have a think and appreciate what they have and the landscape they are a part of.
I’m very much about living in the present and not dwelling on the past. But we also need to understand other people’s past in order to move forward into the future. I think photography captures that beautifully.
How do you decide on which moments to capture?
It’s completely random, I don’t stage anything. Whenever I have a weekend away in Amsterdam or Berlin the camera comes with me. I usually capture the everyday and snap away but there are moments when I do think about how the sun is hitting that building or see kids playing in a river, or people walking past; I make an effort to go and catch that moment.
Your art has changed from earlier work such as ’Tundra’ from the body of work ‘Cultural Landscapes’
Yeah and I’m pretty sure in the next year or so it will change again. The landscape paintings were the starting point that were all taken from my travels, but again it was about this ever changing landscape. Although photography was a new direction in my art, I was returning to my sketchbooks and my work at university where I had been exploring this collage simulation abstract fractured form.
What dreams and hopes do you have for your art?
The big dream is to have more solo shows. I had a solo show last year which was very successful and it was a big learning curve for me. I would love to show hundreds of photos on the wall and show huge projections and large images. Right now I’m working on a small scale because I’m working from a 6×4 photo. I’ve started blowing them a bit bigger to A4 size, but I would love to work billboard size and see how that plays with people’s perceptions. I’d love to have a Damien Hurst studio moment where I throw a whole pot of paint at a photograph! It’s all about growing, getting in with galleries and getting my name out there. The more I can sell and get money the more ambitious I can be.
‘Modern Master’ (2019)
The message underneath is about obscuring what we’re used to
We are experiencing challenging times right now which is affecting the art world, as an artist how do you intend to fight through this and keep going?
There is a huge anxiety for artists. I think it’s about always creating, promoting yourself, networking and being a bit of a yes man to publicity. I think you can continue to grow if you believe that you’re going to make it. We’re only here once, I want to make it count.
What do you have coming up that we can look out for?
I’ve got Roy’s Art Fair which is happening from 2nd – 5th April and I’ll be at the next Roy’s in October. Then I have a local art fair called The Secret Art Fair in Colchester 10-13th of December. Lots lined up and I’m sure there will be more lined up for the summer –exciting things to come!
To view more of Will’s work: