Camille Grigaut Q&A (2012)
1. Can you briefly introduce yourself? (name, age, profession, where you live etc.)
Hi, my name is Simon Monk, I was born in 1966 and at the moment I work in my studio full time. I graduated from art school in 1989 and started teaching art history part time in a college. I painted on the days I wasn't teaching but pretty soon the teaching took over which led to a 15 year break from producing any art works. I live in Southend-on-Sea which is a seaside town about 35 miles outside London, close enough to feel in contact with the art world but far enough away to ignore it when I feel the need.
2. Since when do you paint?
I returned to painting about 7 years ago, around the time my son was born. Initially it was just on the level of a hobby but an artist friend of mine encouraged me to submit a small painting ('Dinosaur Bag') to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. It was accepted and sold and the whole thing has rolled on since then.
3. Did you learn alone?
I went through the art school system like many other artists and anyone who has any experience of British art schools will know that the teaching tends to be heavily weighted to the conceptual rather than the practical. A lot of art students find this frustrating, as I did, so it was up to me to learn about the materials and techniques of painting for myself. Luckily I picked up a fair bit of knowledge after art school as I was researching for the art history lectures I was employed to give. I am still hungry to learn more about how paintings are made now and how they have been made in the past; recently I have been reading about egg tempera painting which is incredibly interesting.
4. What gave you this desire?
I've always been one of those people who like to know how things are made. My favourite period of painting is the 15th century and discovering how those beautiful surfaces of paintings by Van Eyck et al were so gradually built up from layers and layers of transparent glazes gives me endless pleasure and fascination. In addition I feel that if someone is going to buy one of my paintings they deserve to have something that is going to last for a long time. As a result I use only high quality materials in a way that ensures longevity.
5. What were the first things you painted?
Since my return to painting my main subject has been toys and models and there still seems to be a lot to explore there for me. Working with toys and models allows me to paint things such as dinosaurs and superheroes but still be a realist. I have recently found a way of drawing that works for me and I'm using photographic reference for these pieces which feels quite odd for me but is liberating as well as I can work outside of daylight hours.
6. How did you get the idea to put everything in a plastic bag?
When one is painting objects there is always the question of how to present them. I knew that I wanted to avoid still life conventions such as the shelf or table so I needed to find my own solution. The bag presented itself as a good answer to this problem as it raised questions about the status of the objects within: were they for sale or in storage or just bought from a shop; I enjoy that ambiguity.
7. Do you have other projects?
I am working on a new series of 12 paintings entitled 'Englandland' and a new series of 6 drawings. Because each painting takes such a long time to produce my ideas are always running ahead of their realisation. As a result I have a huge backlog of projects I would like to do, probably enough to keep me going for many years to come.
8. have you had positive feedback and / or negative?
The overwhelming majority of feedback I have had so far has been positive but I suppose most of the negative opinions are unlikely to reach my ears. The most common criticism is that the paintings don't have a very strong meaning. This is an understandable response as I try very hard to avoid the glib visual puns that one sees so much of in contemporary art in favour of a more lasting, less overdetermined meaning. I think that so many people are used to 'getting' the meaning of an art work in the way that one 'gets' a joke that the absence of that moment of understanding is often mistaken for no meaning at all. I want my paintings to be looked at for many years to come and presenting a visual gag like a Banksy piece is going to work against that desire.
9. Your favorite painter?
My all time favourite painting is the 'Descent from the Cross' by Roger van der Weyden in the Prado - made at the very inception of oil painting as we understand it and, in my opinion, never bettered. As for contemporary art I tend to prefer sculpture to painting and for inspiration I go to artists like Tom Friedman, Richard Wentworth, Charles Ray, Ceal Floyer and Tara Donovan. Each of these artists has an infectious way of seeing the world as if never seen before that blows all the cobwebs from my mind. I also love comics and cartoons so artists like Saul Steinberg and Chris Ware are inspirational touchstones for me.