Today opens the Dale Grimshaw show at Signal Gallery named ‘Moreish’ which in his own words is ‘a case of enough is never enough. The ‘haves’ want more and the ‘have nots’ can pay for it. Once we get that acquisitive taste, we just want more and more’. If you’re in London, by all means, get to the show! But if you can, this interview may be suitable recompense. Check it out.
This will be Dale’s fifth show at Signal, what about Dale’s work is so appealing to Signal Gallery that you have shown it so many times? How do the values of Signal align with the ideas and message of Dale’s work? When was the first time you showed his work? How has he matured as an artist since then? How has Signal Gallery changed since then?
Dale’s work epitomizes what we are trying to achIeve at Signal, a synthesis of various threads that are important to us – an urban/street aesthetic, powerful figurative painting and a directness utterance. His work is often deeply felt and personal, but he is also concerned about the welfare of our society and the planet in general. Many of our artists have found this balance in their work. We first showed Dale’s work in 2008. His work was virtually unknown then, but it was instantly clear that it communicated very strongly on many levels to a wide range of people. His work has progressed from that first show both technically and in the complexity of the subject. In the new show some of the works have a nobility and beauty that were only hinted at in his first show.
In the previous interview of Signal you stated: ‘We passionately believe that the distinctions between street/urban art and the mainstream contemporary art scene are not valid’. How has Dale’s work challenged such invalid perceptions? What particularly about his approach is both urban and contemporary? Dale’s work, as well as that of many urban artists, is both socially and politically motivated, and while many contemporary artists incorporate these factors into their work, it is not as much a hallmark of contemporary art as it is of urban art. Why do you think this is? Why do you think the work of street artists is present on such a higher frequency? Or is that even an accurate assertion?
Dale’s work does show why the urban/street art scene is so important now. It has opened doors for artists like Dale who are interested in putting their views across through their artwork, in a way that isn’t ironic or oblique. This is very hard to achieve in the mainstream contemporary art world. Emotion and passion are dirty words, with a sense that there is something unintellectual about this approach. However, Dale’s main artistic heroes don’t come from the street art scene at all, namely the exceptionally painterly Lucien Freud, Jenny Saville and Peter Howson.
What about Moreish is particularly in sync with the goal of Signal Gallery? How do you think that artists, and specifically galleries, a powerful outlet for art, can help call to attention and address the current social and political issues? What role does Signal Gallery play in terms of the voice of artists? Are you a microphone, seeking to support and amplify the ideas of your artists? Are you a podium, an indifferent platform to provide artists an outlet? Do you think that galleries should actively have a voice? Should they be social? Should they be political?
I suppose I feel that galleries cannot in themselves be political. However we can support artists who have something to say that is deeply political. It is our role to nurture artists, provide opportunities for them to show their work and try to find a commercial market for their work. We need to try to stick to our guns as a gallery and show artists we believe in creatively and politically, resisting the temptation to compromise our vision where at all possible (given the financial imperative to survive in a very unstable market).
Dale In your own words, Moreish is: ‘It’s a case of enough is never enough. The ‘haves’ want more and the ‘have nots’ can pay for it. Once we get that acquisitive taste, we just want more and more’. This is a very accurate statement, but it has been accurate for quite some time. Why have you personally chosen to make a series concerning overconsumption now? What was the personal or ideological process that resulted in your desire to create Moreish?
You are right, consumerism in the form that we would recognise has been in existence throughout history. I think one of my main concerns is that now not only is the human race expanding exponentially and therefore isn’t sustainable, but technology and science are advancing too… but not always for the best. When will this end, Chernobyl & Fukushima Daiichi? Hiroshima anyone? We are rapidly depleting seafood resources, amongst many. The way big businesses & governments abuse the planet and it’s inhabitants, furry, scaled or otherwise is mind blowing. I initially thought I would have loads of paintings full of dripping carcasses & corporate logos but I really wanted to travel down a less obvious route with this show. I’ll also leave those sickly, sentimental paintings of doe-eyed African children for others to do. I liked the idea of not only using Bacchus-esque grapes but cakes & cream too – oozing and dripping everywhere! These foods are metaphors for many things that human beings want, although these foods in themselves will make one obese and clog arteries in large quantities. Inevitably my figurative trademark style comes through with each show I’ve done, although I’ve always tried different themes for each annual body of work. I had been looking at those grand depictions of Bacchus in all his revelry, by painters like Rubens & Titian – all those grapes and exotic fruits acted as a springboard and got me thinking about decadence, consumerism and the general concept of people wanting more in our current time.
As Leo Tolstoy said: Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. Besides Moreish how have you, as a member of the first world, the greatest consumers, curtailed your own consumption? How are you changing yourself, what personal vices has Moreish made you aware of? How will you address them? How has your work during Moreish made you a more present and insightful person? What advice would you give to people seeking to reduce their consumption?
I’ve always had a strange relationship with food for as long as I can remember. I was very suspicious of meat products as a child and I inevitably went strict vegetarian when I was 14. Nothing has changed. The concept of animals being bred, reared in factory farms and killed and eaten, only to be shat out seems a selfish one. I’m much more aware of recycling now. The borough I live in London as just recently upped their game on the recycling front which has made me very happy – I’m still learning. I hate waste of any kind, even in the studio I try to use up every scrap of paint in the tube. A large proportion of western culture thrives on the whole use once and discard mentality, along with us now having a greater reliance on convenience & fast food – I don’t want to subscribe to this. There’s alternatives out there. This body of work also explores the concept of wanting more, not necessarily more products, food or objects but it can also apply to power, status, body perfection & even sex, for example. There’s that awful, niggling feeling that no matter how much money is made, how successful a career is or how beuatyiful your body looks we’ll still come away feeling unsatisfied with this life we have.
Tell us about the series itself, what particular themes did you draw on, what current events inspired you? Do you think the dialogue of consumption is more prevalent now than a decade ago? Why or why not? How have you approached overconsumption through Moreish, how have you critiqued it? How do you think, as a culture, we can address our overconsumption?
The first painting I did was ‘Temptation’ which was a stepping stone for the general bulk of the show and is based on the American transgender model and performance artist Amanda Lepore. Not only did she choose her gender but she’s opted for excessive facial modification – huge exaggerated lips and had her ribs broken and re-sculpted for a string thin waist. I’ve depicted her with huge cakes and bunches of grapes on her head. Like I said, some people in the world haven’t got a pot to piss in. I came across footage of people tormenting & eating “live sushi” on youtube. Lobster and fish writhing in distress while diners laugh on clutching camera phones. It appears to be cool to be cruel. I wanted to capture a more playful, ambiguous feel with this work. Some of the paintings have a strange, illogical, Alice In Wonderland feel, with excessive, pantomime piles of food dripping down. There’s a mysterious feel to others. As always I’ve tried to create paintings that have a strong psychological narrative to them too. Sadly I don’t think things will change too easily, certainly not where product placement, aggressive advertising etc is concerned – so yes it does seem more prevalent now. Do people really want change? I think the planet is a tough old cookie and will self heal long after we’ve stripped it dry and withered into extinction. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, you know.