‘s Greater Reality of Elsewhere is part of Art Across The City 2013. It is situated above 229 High Street, Swansea, the current home of Volcano Theatre Company
How did the commission come about?
ST: Just before my exhibition at Open Eye Gallery as part of the Liverpool Biennial this year, I was approached by Gordon Dalton (Project Manager for Locws International) who was interested in commissioning my work for the 2013 programme for Art Across the City. It was peculiar synchronicity because only a few days before, I had read about them in AN Newsletter. I am a big fan of their commissioned artists including David Blandy, Bedwyr Williams and collaborative duo Joanne Tatham & Tom O’ Sullivan. At a time of global recession and drastic budget cuts (especially in the arts), it’s wonderful how Swansea are really taking the plunge – investing in the town’s regeneration and future legacy.
How did you approach the local context and site?
As with many public art commissions, there’s a timeframe in which to actively engage in research. Previously, the only facts I knew about Swansea were Dylan Thomas and beaches. When visiting Swansea I was struck by the cultural diversity as seen on St. Helen’s Road. Walking past you’ll see Welsh next to Ethiopian, next to Chinese, next to an Indian, next to Italian – and coming from Bali, I was particularly drawn to the unexpected presence of an little Indonesian restaurant called ‘Garuda‘. Although I am very used to towns and cities dividing themselves into cultural neighbourhoods such as ‘China Town’ or ‘Little India’, I have never seen such a crazy cultural mish-mash on such a small stretch of road. I wanted to create a piece of work that reflected this experience and challenged the stereotypes of Swansea – injecting a sense of ‘exotica’ into the fabric of the town itself.
Can you talk about the title of the work?
“A Greater Reality of Elsewhere” is taken from a quote from Truman Capote’s Travel Sketch of New York City. I enjoy Capote’s sharp style of writing which lies somewhere in-between story telling and journalistic reportage. For me, the title symbolises the activity of day dreaming whether this be in New York City or elsewhere. Yet the word ‘reality’ also suggests danger – too much dreaming causes boundaries to blur and self control to be lost. As an artist I am intrigued by the ‘fantasy / fiction’ duality – especially in the context of pop culture and the world of art. ‘Romantic truth’, as seen in the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, has been replaced by the ‘genuine fake’ of Andy Warhol – and it is this sense of ‘hyperreality’ that I wanted to bring into my work in Swansea.
What does the palm tree symbolise?
The printed palm trees are in fact photographs taken of a 1950’s brooch which was bought on e-bay and shipped over from America. I chose this jewellery specifically to heighten the feeling of a ‘Tropical Deco’ and ‘Americana Kitsch’. The photographs were then enlarged to a scale of 6 metres in height, placed over the painted background and positioned to create a spatial tension between the geometric components of both the painting and the building’s architecture. I use palm trees in my work a lot and apart from reminding me of Bali, they symbolise ‘paradise’ and the need to capture fleeting moments in souvenir / postcard format. The palms are never natural looking and often reference decorative craft and artificiality . Enlarged to such a scale, the palms in Swansea have a surreal and ominous undertone to them whilst remaining a bit camp and ridiculous.
Can you talk about the choice of colours in the work?
Even though the majority of my work is influenced by a Western art education, my visual understanding of colour has been heavily influenced by my experience of living in Bali as a child. It is often said that ‘smell’ or ‘touch’ brings back memory. I remember things through colour – especially the way in which colours vibrate against each another. I like the idea of ‘colour semiotics’ and the associations one has to particular colours in relationship to either brand or narrative. In recent works I have combined cooler tones of English Heritage with the eye popping colours of digital advertising. For me the juxtaposition of past and present reflects a world that is consumed by the ‘now’, nostalgic about its past and a little lost about its future.
What are your plans for the future? Any upcoming projects?
I have recently finished a collaboration with a sculptor called Nick Hornby for the lobby space of 1 Canada Square
. Nick makes white sculptures that are constructed from a composite of various art historical references. I have wrapped my colours and patterns on top of these sculptures – the results have been fun and surprisingly unexpected – part Memphis Architecture, part Malevich and part Farrow and Ball Paint. There’s a range of furniture products in which I want to develop too working in collaboration with a design workshop in London called Wooden Horse. I’m also in a group show which opens in Hong Kong in April this year and looking forward to developing projects abroad especially in Asia. It’s an emerging market which means that although it is young, there’s an incredible amount of potential to develop new audiences and new ways of making.