Detail of 'Beast in Me', 2003 (C-type photograph) © Mat Collishaw. Courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

Artist Spotlight: Mat Collishaw
February 10, 2023
In the latest instalment of our 'Artist Spotlight' series, we talked to the prominent YBA, Mat Collishaw.

We caught up with the artist to find out more about his practice, NFTs, and what it was like to attend Goldsmiths in the 1980s.

Q. How would you define your work in three words?

 

All Things Fall.

 

Q. What medium do you mainly work with and why?

 

I’m afraid I’m not wedded to any particular medium. I have an idea and in developing it finds its own form. It’s not dissimilar to finding the most appropriate frame for a picture. I try to find a medium that brings the idea to life and allows it to breathe.

 

Q. Where do you find the most inspiration for your work and who has influenced it? 

 

Books, newspapers, documentaries, conversations, and stuff online; it could come from anywhere. Generally, it’s when something I come across chimes with something else I’ve read or heard and I begin to build the core of an idea.

 

Q. Take us through your working process.

 

When I’ve established several threads that I can weave together to make something I find interesting, I then start thinking about how I can find a form for it in the real world. I continue researching all aspects of the project while working on how the actual artwork will function technically. Sometimes there are several stages involved such as running a lot of images through an AI, then manipulating them in Photoshop, and then painting and framing them. I have several people I work with consistently and I’ll send them sketches that they will then elaborate on if it’s a process I’m ill-equipped at working in, such as Unreal Engine or various other animation software, robotics or engineering.

 

Q. Can you remember the first work of art that you created?

 

The first work I exhibited was Bullet Hole in 1988, an enlarged photograph of a wound in a man’s head from a forensic pathology manual. It was relatively expensive to make but executed on the cheap. In the first photo lab, I took the image to refused to print it. The light boxes were cut from sheets of galvanised steel and hand folded in a rusty steel folding press that was fortuitously abandoned near the exhibition venue.

I begged and stole glass and Perspex and ripped the fluorescent strip lights from the ceiling of abandoned offices. I then went to work laying concrete for the foundations of a nearby building to repay the debts I'd run up making the photograph and buying steel.

 

The response to this effort was pretty muted but I’m glad I made it as it’s become an artwork people can associate me with while they flounder around trying to remember anything else I’ve made.

 

‘Albion’, 2017 (Projector, media player, scaffolding rig, transparent film, wood, paint, mirror, stretching accessories) © Mat Collishaw. Courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

 

 

Q. Can you describe for us the process and ideas behind one of your favourite or most recent pieces of work and expand upon it? 

 

I’m currently building a life-size animatronic Stag that will be controlled by a live Twitter feed. I am currently working with hate speech and sentiment analysts writing software which will determine who is the most trolled person on Twitter and we will then grade the intensity of the incoming abuse. An algorithm will then instruct the Stag to slip, slide or fall depending on the intensity of the abuse. I started developing the idea during lockdown when everything went quiet outside and people’s emotions started firing up on social media. Twitter is often described as being the contemporary town square and all the ugly mob rule mentality emerged in full force when all communications moved online. It’s easy to attack people remotely when you have no skin in the game and your target is already under attack. There is also the facility to be anonymous which obviously ramps things up astronomically.

 

Q. What it was like being at Goldsmiths during the 1980s and forging the ground-breaking YBA?

Goldsmiths accepted students from diverse backgrounds and were multidisciplinary, you could be painting on Monday, sculpting on Tuesday and burning a church down on Wednesday.

The important thing was that you could talk about your intentions and what it was you were trying to do. This freedom was paradoxically intimidating as at that age you are still trying to work out what you think about the world, but this tension fostered a camaraderie that bound people together to an extent. That and the basement bar where a lot of us congregated after being decimated in a group tutorial. The tutors were very relaxed but challenged us to make a case for what we were doing. We were also aware that artists like Julian Opie and Lisa Milroy had been at Goldsmiths and gone on to show at West End galleries, there was a sense that you didn’t have to struggle for a lifetime before you got an exhibition, you could try and make it happen now. Most of us didn’t have any means of supporting ourselves after Goldsmiths anyway so there was an onus on making it happen.

 

‘Whispering Weeds’, 2011 (Wooden frame, border, LCD screen, fan and hard drive) © Mat Collishaw. Courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

 

 

Q. You are about to launch an NFT, can you tell us more about it? 

 

I’ve made works featuring flowers for almost 30 years and I have a show at Kew Gardens this year and have been studying flower hybridisation, something my grandfather did as a living. When the big NFT boom of 2021 happened it appeared to correspond uncannily with the speculative bubble of 1637, Tulip mania.

 

Beauty was dependent on rarity and rarity established value.

 

I’ve made a lot of digital works so thought it might be interesting to create an artwork that parodied this correlation. I am also interested in the way computer code resembles genetic code and the idea of designing flowers that could be hybrid with other flowers by using computer algorithms. So the basic idea is that you can buy a flower and hybridize it with another flower of your choice to adopt certain properties of your chosen flower. All flowers will be visible collectively in a virtual recreation of London’s National Gallery as it may look if it were neglected and overgrown with organic life. You will be able to navigate the National Gallery space through a browser, adopt an avatar, meet people and chat and establish the properties and value of a particular flower if it catches your eye.

 

Q. What is your take on how NFTs are changing the face of the art world?

 

Who knows where it will lead but the ability to ascribe definitive ownership of a digital asset using blockchain does feel like a significant development. The demand for painting will never go away and it’s wonderful to experience or own a tangible object but digital assets are obviously not going away either, so presumably they can both happily co-exist. Hardware and software for digital works constantly evolve so it’s extremely useful to have a tool which can seamlessly evolve with the artwork. My decision to host the digital flowers from my Heterosis project in a neglected National Gallery was, among other things, an attempt to contrast the elegance of organic matter with the cream of European art history and the splendour of these historical paintings with this new burgeoning digital media. Heterosis attempts to use new technology as a means of creating an artwork that couldn’t exist in any other realm.

 

Q. Finally, if you could invite six guests to dinner, who would they be?

 

Still thinking on this!!

 

‘Heterosis Flower 08’, 2023 © Mat Collishaw, Snark.art, El Gabal, Danil Krivoruchko & OG.ART. Image courtesy of Mat Collishaw & Snark.art.
Mat Collishaw's copyright is administered by ACS's sister company, Bridgeman Images, the world's leading specialists in licensing fine art, cultural and historical media for reproduction.

 

You can view all of Collishaw’s works that are available to license here.

'The Machine Zone', Mat Collishaw's latest solo show, opens on 25 February at Gary Tatintsian Gallery.

 

More information can be found on the gallery’s website.