There are certain people and artists in life you hope never reach their destination. You hope, as far as these people’s artistic output goes, poor health will be the only destination stopping them from producing work.
If Radiohead reach their destination and all the consistently bending themes and merging ideas prevalent in their work and art become repetitive and in doing so they released seven albums of by the numbers rock’n’roll in the vein of... (Insert the band of your choice in here), you might feel a little bit disappointed.
Progression is the key here and if you reach your destination, simple science says you are no longer in flux. You have ceased to move and become an inanimate stationary object. Often the best way to escape this is to fuck with the models that encourage you to stand still. Chuck Elliott is a Bristol artist who has managed to play with the model in a way that allows his own and other artists’ work a chance to be showcased through a medium where the integrity of the work is at the heart of the project.
Chuck explains: “The Transistor project came out of the idea that if you weren’t in control of your own work you would be at the whim of the market, which is a really bad place to be. If you take control of your own marketing and promotion you can, in theory, be just where you want to be.”
Cutting a gentle and unassuming figure, Chuck’s intelligent mantra and logical, yet highly deep level of thought, underpins the entire project. He is a man of many ideas and thoughts and conveys them in a brilliantly expansive manner with a confidence that is completely at home with what his work and project are trying to achieve.
“The project is synonymous with an indie record label; you create a label partly because it allows you to put out the music you want, but partly because you are hoping to be picked up by a major.”
Transistor is a self-promoted tilt at artistic independence free from the constraint of dealerships. The project features an ever-changing roster of artists, invited guests and promotes contemporary work at a number of art fairs each year, alongside a programme of gallery shows and events.
Chuck says: “It puts you in a middle position because you are never going to be able to compete with a major London or international gallery or dealer, but you can still showcase work effectively.”
The pro-active mantra attached to the project is a perfect ideological platform for art to be presented as it was originally intended. The financial constraints and wealth accumulation are pushed down the priority list as the money men are removed from the equation. This leaves an honest open relationship between the artist and the outside world. It’s an extremely unmuddied model and one Chuck fiercely believes in.
“There's loads of ethos behind Transistor, it’s meant to be fairer for the artist and it’s meant to be artist led. In all the shows we’ve done so far, artists have put in whatever they want – often at the last minute. It’s the idea that you back the artist instead of cherry picking the work. The finances are more geared toward benefiting the artist instead of the project as well.”
By trusting the artist based on informed decisions about their work rather than their financial potential you have an engrained honesty built into the model. If the art in the model is constantly changing and the parameters become blurred, you aren’t just moving – you're running.
Artists who feature in the project are notably Grammy Award winning Stanley Donwood, creator of all Radiohead’s artwork from The Bends onwards. In a completely different style, the strong image led, structural photography of Bristol artist Ulf Mark-Pedersen is a contrasting example of the vibrancy and different styles of art prevalent in those who feature in the Transistor project.
Chuck’s own work and the project are inherently linked, as he explains: “By putting your own stuff out there and other people coming to see the work, you expose yourself to the potential to be discovered in a way that stashing it under your bed or putting it in a small provincial gallery wouldn’t do. It also achieves this in a much more constructive way than sending out begging letters with CDs of images attached to them, which don’t really turn anyone on at all.”
“I think it was Alan McGee who said: “I would never sign a band who hasn’t already released their own record”, which is kind of logical isn’t it? What McGee was basically saying is, ‘if you can’t get your shit together to release your own record why would we be interested in you?"
Chuck’s own art is a homage to the power of the computer and his intellect. Using the wonders of CGI, his canvas is the computer and a total nod to the magic of the machine. Engaging, hypnotic and unmistakably modern, images swirl and colours collide in a beautiful series of arrangements that confound the brain and pulse. Futuristic and sense pounding, Chuck’s initial wandering into this particular strain of the art world has its origins firmly rooted in the computer, as he explains:
“One night in 1984 a friend and I made an illicit late night visit to a software development company in Bath. She was working there and had seen the future; the first Apple computer to be imported into the UK. We were blown away. Sitting on a huge desk was a small beige box that allowed you to draw a black line on a white screen, using a device called a mouse. I was sold.”
Since Chuck’s graduation in 1992 he has pursued the business of creating images, initially in 1994 by setting up his own studio on Greek St in Soho. This studio was a vehicle for developing his working practice and in recent times moving to a larger space in Bristol. In recent years he has been commissioned by Mucica Prada, Yohji Yamamoto and Nike, amongst many others.
Through consistently updating his working methods he has been able to explore some of the latest production techniques available to the contemporary artist by constant reinvestment in the studio. Having successfully kept pace with the progression in technology he is now in a position to create larger and more ambitious pieces.
Chuck’s fascination with the machine as an object for generating an artistic product is not just confined to the world of physical art, as he explains:
“With the digitisation of music there are huge examples, if you listen to Aphex Twin, Orbital or Underworld, of how you could push things forward. I mean look at Tomato Studios and Underworld in the early 1990s. You used to get the whole package. You had people in there doing the graphics and artwork, as well as the music. Through these various parts they were putting together these totally beautiful, immersive environments. The world of fine art I suspect should be very organic as much as I would imagine Underworld’s studio to be, with the whole artistic package working as one.”
“When Underworld plays live I’m very interested to see them push the music through the computers at the same time the images are produced, as if you are playing them as a piece of music.”
“The digitisation of my work just comes from really enjoying working on computers and sticking with that. It’s about realising the technology is far more advanced than we appreciate it is.”
Chuck’s time in London is where much of the inspiration of the Transistor project came from. Through being exposed to the all too opposing worlds of classical capitalism and fine art, he was made completely aware of the horrid discrepancies that exist between the two.
“When I lived in London, the money guy was living in Chelsea. He was the same age as me. I went to college for seven years and he went straight into business when he was 16. When he met me he had two Lotus’s and lived in Chelsea. He taught me a lot about business and ran the financial side of things for a couple of years and inevitably ended up ripping me off.”
So we go full circle. By taking out the money-middlemen you can produce fine art as it was originally intended. In most cases this doesn’t happen, as the world of monetary advancement permeates most levels of artistic effort, as Chuck explains:
“I knew a guy who was an A&R man. He said he had 40 bands at any one time. He kept 12 on at any time in the category of ‘act he was happy to give a 12” single to’. If they did well with the first 12” he’d give them a second one, then a third and then move on to an album. If at any point they failed in that process he’d drop them and bring someone up from the pool. All the time a wide field of people are just getting played. It’s like a pyramid model. The art world is completely like that.”
Chuck and the Transistor project bring the art world right back to where it should belong, with the art and the artist. This makes his philosophy a brilliant idealism for the fine-art world, as he explains:
“Fine art is in essence without a brief. Commercial art has a brief. It’s the only difference between the two in my mind. Fine art is generated and put into the world without anybody being able to make an editorial decision on it apart from the artist. With commercial art there is ultimately a client who can hold sway over the output. That’s the clearest definition between those two fields, so you might be doing brilliant illustration work or brilliant artwork, but if it’s for British Petroleum they are going to have control over who it’s for and where it goes etc. Then even if you are a fine artist that piece isn’t fine art. Fine art is generated without constraint.”
Where there are no constraints is a beautiful place to be. It’s good to see a Bristol artist pushing these boundaries with both his own work and the way he puts forward other people’s.
Chuck Elliott in conversation with Jake Applebee and Tom Frost of Crack magazine, ahead of the now influential magazine's first issue, 2009