CHUCK ELLIOTT

THE HUM / BCFM

 

LQ Hello and welcome to the Bristol Hum with me Lynette on BCFM 93.2 FM and the Bristol Hum is all about arts and theatre and culture around Bristol, and they indeed are our topics for today. We are going to be hearing from Bristol based artist Chuck Elliott about his solo show currently on at the Bristol Gallery down at the waterside and a very amazing show it is too. We’ll hear all about that, and then continuing with our director’s cut season from the Bristol Old Vic theatre school we’ll be hearing from the director who is currently on, showing her work there this week, which is very interesting, and we should be joined by one of the cast members as well. That’s all coming up, and of course there’s Mayfest to talk and talk and talk about. All coming up after this tune...

 

LQ That was the real Beatles doing Come Together, and the reason I say real is because the fake Beatles apparently are playing in Bath this week at the opening of the Peter Blake exhibition at the Holbourne Museum. I’ve just been alerted to that fact. I’m joined in the studio now by Bristol based artist Chuck Elliott. Hi Chuck...

 

CE Hi Lynette...

 

LQ And, um, it was you who told me all about the fake Beatles...

 

CE Yes, yeah...

 

LQ At Peter Blake. Now Chuck, you have got a beautiful, colourful, wonderful solo exhibition currently down at The Bristol Gallery, down at the Millennium Square. And, you’re a digital artist, I can say that with confidence, can’t I?

 

CE That’s right, absolutely, all the work is computer generated.

 

LQ Computer generated, now, there already you might have to explain something. First of all though for people listening, can you describe your work?

 

CE I would describe the work, um, I’ve been asked this a lot of times, and I currently say that I think they are sculptural drawings, rendered onto photographic paper. And what that really means is that they are drawings of sculptural forms, fairly basic loose sculptural forms, which are then coloured up with translucent glazes of colour and imaged onto photographic paper using a high tech laser process. And that gives you these large format colour prints.

 

LQ It certainly does, and because I’ve seen them I understand where you’re coming from exactly, and it didn’t sound too technical, although when I was standing in front of these beautiful, beautiful images I couldn’t even, to be honest, understand the little piece explaining what they were next to them, because it just seemed a bit technical for me.

 

CE Yes, yeah...

 

LQ But you’ve mentioned the photographic paper...

 

CE That’s right. I’m using this amazing Kodak paper, and the light is exposed onto the paper using laser light, and then they’re developed and washed in the normal way. So you do have kind of traditional photographs, but instead of using a camera I’m drawing on a computer, so the images are created completely manually as drawings, but they’re done in a kind of sculptural way. So they’re done in three dimensions, and you can move around the drawings, whilst they’re still on the computer, as if you were looking around a real object in the real world, and choose a view of it that’s going to make the picture in the end.

 

LQ Okay, I think that’s really interesting that you mentioned that you draw them on the computer, because I think a lot of people when they see computer art or think about computer art, digital art, they think that the artist’s skill has somehow, is somehow being done by the computer? And a lot of people still think that drawing is kind of the pinnacle of the artist’s skill. But you’re saying that you draw with the computer?

 

CE Yes. I think both of those are true. Drawing is, probably, the pinnacle of the artist’s skill, and certainly the computer is being used as a tool for drawing. Obviously some people think that drawing will always be charcoal or pencil on paper, and other people think drawing is more of an activity about line making, and really what I’m doing is I’m making lines in a three dimensional space, in a kind of sculptural way, so I’m describing shapes using line, and then choosing views of those drawings and using those as the basis for the new images. I think the drawing process is about examining the line, exploring the line, making the line, making the mark, making the expressive marks and getting them onto the paper. So I do call it drawing, but obviously the computer does make that controversial. Computing really is a modern way to make marks which I totally embrace, other people eschew, and you have to choose for yourself whether you think it’s a valid tool. It does allow you to edit, reedit, colour, recolour, move and really get to exactly where you want to get to in terms of image making, and you know, employ those amazing new tools in a creative way.

 

LQ Well that’s right, its the tool of the time isn’t it....

 

CE Yes, yeah...

 

LQ And you mentioned also that you rework the images in the computer, so I was going to ask whether you have an idea of your image in your head before you start or whether it evolves and emerges as you’re working on it?

 

CE It’s kind of both of those I think. I think it’s a smash together of a whole load of visual reference that I’m thinking about for each new image. Each of the images is hopefully fairly different from the previous one, and the sources come from all over, from walking through life, and seeing what you see as you travel. Lots of natural forms, lots of man made forms, architecture, product design, lots of glass, I’m looking at a lot of stained glass...

 

LQ I can recognise that, saying that stained glass is an influence...

 

CE Yes, yeah. And all kinds of studio products, product design, modern design. But also art, lots of art history thrown in there...

 

LQ I was interested with you working in computer art, what the link is with past artists. Have you... is there a link, or do you feel that you are treading completely new ground, and if there is a link, how have you picked it up?

 

CE I think there’s a huge link. I think it’s impossible to create anything that’s genuinely new in some sense. I don’t think you can do unique. I think you can only build on what’s gone before, and I think you can move forward from the massive body of work that’s come before your own, and enjoy what’s there, you know, choose what you want to work with, and add to that, sort of enormous pile really... so certainly I’ve spent my whole life looking around, mostly Europe, but also America, looking at art in all the core places, you know, Italy, Spain, France, America, um, well those are my influences, obviously there’s a lot of art going on in other countries as well...

 

LQ And would that be modern artists?

 

CE Yeah, but also the old stuff too. Definitely. 15th, 16th century Italian icon painters, all those amazing golds and blues. But then...

 

LQ If you think of the colours...

 

CE Yeah, definitely. And certainly the modernist movement, especially for architecture, Bauhaus, Josef Albers, Anni Albers, millions of people, um, Moholy-Nagy I think is hugely influential. Twenties work, thirties work, and then of course you’ve got the Sixties, the pop stuff, the op stuff. People like Bridget Riley, lots of great Bristish artists in that area as well...

 

LQ Bridget Riley I picked up on I think as an influence...

 

CE Yeah, yes, yes...

 

LQ But, um, this is the first time I’ve seen your work, and it is, as I’ve mentioned, such huge impact, the colour, the design, the effect, you know, that you’re using with this new technique. But I’m interested, how long have you been doing it like this, is this a new body of work, what kind of art were you creating five years ago?

 

CE Five years ago it was this body of work, I’ve been making this series for about six years. Before that I was working more as a commercial artist, working in my own studio, but making images more for, um, business to business and corporate use. So for instance I drew the FIFA logo, and I drew the British Airways logo. So it’s that kind of...

 

LQ Well that is terribly of the moment. FIFA and British Airways are both in the news...

 

CE They’re always in the news aren’t they... um, yes, so. It’s a similar kind of space, you know, looking at shape, looking at form, looking at colour, and I just decided really that I wanted to move away from those kind of clients and just start making work for it’s own sake really. And really pushing into the technology more, and exploring what I wanted to explore, with my own voice, rather than being briefed by other people. I think the difference between commercial art and fine art is really about making your own exploration rather than being told what to do.

 

LQ That must have been a very exciting moment, to take those skills to create individual pieces. What are you hoping, what kind of a response do you want, or do you hope to have from the viewer, of your works?

 

CE I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that. Um, I hope that people just enjoy the moment, and enjoy the colour and the movement and the light that’s in the work. I hope that if you live with a piece over a number of years, I mean I think art is a very slow burn, I live with quite a lot of paintings by my brothers in my house, and other people, and I think over a number of years you can really kind of get into a piece. Hopefully there’s a lot to explore, visually, I think they have to be dense, with the potential to hold your interest over the long term. If they’re at all successful that should happen.

 

LQ You mentioned movement and light, and that is pre eminent in a lot of them, and standing in front of them for me, I felt that it was almost, there’s quite an emotional reaction, but a physical one as well, and a pulse, some of them seem to have a bit of a pulse, because they’re so rich in design, the colours, whatever, the shapes, the lines...

 

CE Yes, yeah, that comes from the sculptural forms I think, there’s a kind of set up, so that although they are flat images on the wall, they do have this kind of base of being studies of three dimensional forms, so you get some of that three dimensionality coming through, and you get that sense of solidity from the forms probably...

 

LQ And the other thing was the light that they exude. I thought that they must be lightboxes, but they’re not.

 

CE No, they’re not...

 

LQ That is incredible, that you can get such a shimmering light from within almost...

 

CE Yeah, yes. I think that’s part of the study process, working out how to get maximum hue and light and dark all onto the paper at the same time. And that’s done by a whole load of optical... um, I’m not going to use the word tricks, but they’re kind of optical observations, processes, of how things can be lit in such a way as to maintain these big colours but also, you know, have highlight and shadow, and certainly, with stained glass for instance, the black line is key to making the colour areas look more colouful. So you’re using your lines to emphasise the colours where you want them to come alive.

 

LQ Let’s just mention, there’s one in particular, I think it’s called Torsion....

 

CE Right.

 

LQ And that is the one for me that really, because it’s very large, it’s as you walk in the gallery, and it really does sing, stained glass influence. Very very beautiful piece. So were you intending to make a sort of, uh...

 

CE Yeah, absolutely. That one is about eight feet high I think, and um, it’s really designed to completely fill up your kind of peripheral vision with the colour and the forms that are there. And it’s a kind of fairly complex study of lots of smaller, basically studies of kind of glass work, which are then embedded together into a much bigger study. So what’s happened there is there’s been a series of small studies, probably a hundred and twenty small studies, which have been meshed together into this bigger piece, in exactly the same way that you’d make a stained glass window, I think, where maybe someone would’ve painted out hundreds of figures and then put them all together into a bigger tableau or scene.

 

LQ Oh. Well it’s beautiful Chuck. That’s really interesting. We’re just going to go for a song, and then we’re going to come back, and you’ll stay here, and we might hear a bit more about how you came to be based in Bristol.

 

CE Great.

 

Listen to the interview here

 

 

Chuck Elliott in conversation with Lynette Quinlan, transcribed from an interview on BCFM. Broadcast shortly after the opening of  'Kinetic' at The Bristol Gallery, May 2011

 

Listen to the interview here

 

LYNETTE QUINLAN