Many of your early paintings have titles like ‘Ashamed’ or ‘Nothing’. Why are they so bashful?
‘There was almost an embarrassment in being a painter in the 1990s because it was so unfashionable, especially if you were making darkly coloured, minimalist work. Part of the reason for that darkness was the studio I had for a time in King’s Cross. It was in a very grim area and quite stressful because there was so much prostitution around. I’ve introduced brighter colours into my work since then.’
Does your later choice of colours connect to anything specific?
‘The scale of my work has always related to my own body and the colours often relate to fashion. One work which has a bright pink canvas is based on the colours of a toreador’s cape. What I like about using the language of minimalism is that you can do so much with it. I’m still making minimalist paintings but with a twist.’
What about the underlying narratives, such as in the ‘Clutter’ series…
‘I began making those works after going to visit my mother’s house and being shocked at how much stuff she had and also realising that I was the same, in that I could never throw away any of my paintings. It was also at the time of the Iraq War and the 2004 Madrid train bombings, when there were terrible images in the media of people in body bags. In “Clutter VI with White Blanket” (2004), for example, there are several broken paintings underneath a white canvas, as if they are bodies underneath a sheet.’
I’m intrigued by ‘Flat’ – an orange plastic chair that has collapsed on its splayed metal legs. What’s the story?
‘It was actually flattened by being sat on by a great big woman, when I was in one of the hospitals I stayed in for a long time. It became completely useless and irrepairable – bin material. I suffered a very serious stroke in 2005, from which I’m still recovering, and seeing that was probably the first time that I had laughed since it happened. My work has always had an element of slapstick to it – I love people like Jacques Tati, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. And after my own physical experience that kind of humour seems even more relevant.’