Simon Bejer in his ACS funded studio.

Artist Spotlight: Simon Bejer, 2022 ACS X City & Guilds Residency Winner
May 10, 2024
The latest artist to be featured in our Artist Spotlight is Simon Bejer, winner of the ACS X City & Guilds of London Art School Studio Residency in 2022.

Simon received a £6,000 prize to help establish a studio space as he transitioned from a Masters student to practising professional artist.

Ahead of his first solo show in Taipei, ACS spoke to Simon about his work, the processes and ideas behind his creations and how the Prize has helped his practice develop.

How would you define your work in three words?

 

Optimistic, Pessimistic, Extravagant.

 

What medium do you mainly work with and why?

 

There isn’t a single main medium with which I express myself. I have a restless mind and I find, perhaps counter-intuitively, that moving between different media — painting, sculpture, drawing, collage — keeps me focused, engaged, and keeps things fresh. I’ve always felt that painting and sculpture are wonderful counterparts, two sides of the same coin, like dance and music. When exhibited together, the two media can play off each other in a beautiful, complex, and unexpected way, so, when possible, I like to exhibit both two- and three-dimensional work simultaneously.

 

Where do you find the most inspiration for your work? Who are your biggest influences?

 

It may be cliché, but anything I see, or experience can be a source of inspiration. Living in London means one is never short of inspiration; the people, the streets, the constant roadworks, the skies…the beauty of London’s skies, and sunsets in particular, are, I think, really under-appreciated. The low-lying rainclouds, that are, so often, the bane of our lives, also create some truly spectacular atmospheric effects.

 

Then of course, there are the museums and galleries. I have been addicted to art history for as long as I can remember and I can, still, never get enough; I think that’s the main reason I left Australia to come to Europe, there is always more to discover and inspire, it is literally endless. Over the years, I’ve built up a large collection of art history books; I keep them in the studio so stimulation is never far away. More often than not, I find answers to my questions in European art of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — the Baroque and Rococo.

 

It’s the theatre, the extravagance and the sheer joy of materials and the process of making that appeals to me.

Can you describe for us the process and ideas behind your paintings, such as 'Liftoff' (2024) and 'Reflection' (2023)?

'Liftoff' - I find the most fertile moment for my mind is at night, lying in bed. I have insomnia so I have a lot of time for ideas to whirl around in my head, sometimes these coalesce into fully formed compositions.

This is what happened with ‘Liftoff, it was one of those rare occasions where an image comes to you pretty much fully formed and all you have to do is make it.

 

‘Reflection’ – With the sculpture, ‘Reflection’, I must admit I’ve got a thing for legs. The expressive potential of our largest limbs, which I think are often overlooked in favour of other perhaps more gestural body parts, hands, facial features, etc. is enormous! So, I set myself as sort of challenge — to capture emotion through legs.

 

At the time, I was the Decorative Surfaces Fellow at City & Guilds of London Art School and visiting the Wallace Collection a lot, looking at the French porcelain and Renaissance bronzes. I was thinking about surface quality — the sheen of glazed ceramic and the slick patina of bronze— and wondering how I could play with these qualities. I also find there is a lot of power when scale is altered, particularly with the human body, so all these ideas about surface and scale went into my work.

 

With ‘Reflection’, I wanted to hit a really intense chromatic note, so I turned to these hyper-metallic tones and I just think pink flesh is a funny concept. The sculpture appears to be a fragment, seemingly part of something bigger; but it also stands (or rests) alone and takes on a disembodied life of its own. The cushion, by recalling a support for something precious and valuable, gives it an elevated status, but because I made it from this tacky polyvinyl it plays with those expectations. The cushion focuses our attention on this reflective, bizarre, kitschy, joyful object.

 

Can you remember the first work of art that you created? What was it and why was it so memorable?

 

That’s hard to say because, of course, it depends on what you’d call a work of art however, when I was eleven I made my first painting in oils on canvas — I still remember my excitement of being allowed to use the ‘adult’ paints. It was a copy of Van Gogh’s ‘Café Terrace at Night’, you know, the one with the yellow awning. I loved his composition, but I felt that his colours could be improved upon, so I changed them to suit my taste. I still have the painting, and actually, I’ll shamelessly admit, I think it’s pretty good! Eleven-year-old me used a lot of magenta, so I guess not much has changed.

 

When I was finishing my A-levels, one of my paintings (a self-portrait) was selected to go into the Top Arts exhibition held at the National Gallery of Victoria, a major art museum. I remember going to watch as two art handlers with white gloves hung the work in the gallery. My mum asked me to stand beside my work for a photo, I posed with my hand on it and was breathlessly told by the gallery staff that I couldn’t touch it. I guess that was the first time I experienced something I had made, make the jump to becoming an object of value, that was no longer my possession nor mine to control.

 

What did it mean to you to win the ACS Studio Residency at the City & Guilds of London Art School 2022?

 

It was an overwhelming feeling. Firstly, there are the practical benefits of the financial award, which are substantial, and which meant I could focus solely on making art for a whole year without pulling my hair out worrying about making ends meet. Perhaps more significantly, on a psychological level, it was a major confidence boost.

I had taken a real leap of faith leaving my erstwhile career in theatre design to take a serious stab at becoming a full-time artist, and this award became a deeply reassuring sign for me that the decision I made was justified and that I can, and should, continue to follow my own creative impulses.

How are you using the prize money? How did that help you as an artist?

 

I have found the most delightful little studio, or perhaps it was the studio that found me. It was the first place that I viewed and is, remarkably, only a short walk through the park from my flat. Not being a commuter is one of the greatest blessings I have received. I highly recommend going local! Having a whole studio to oneself is a huge privilege too; I can live by my own rules, listen to my own music, and now that it’s getting warm again, I can paint in my underpants. There’s also 24/7 access so I’m there every single day.

Since winning the ACS Studio Residency at the City & Guilds of London Art School, how has your practice developed?

My art made seismic shifts and developed speedily during my MA studies, so this post-MA period has become more about consolidation: gathering all I’ve learned and making sure I know how to keep it going.

 

I’m also hoping to really push my use of materials, to keep experimenting and to build upon the headway I made during the past two years. I’m also learning to be more relaxed when it comes to starting new work. I used to be quite critical of my own ideas, imagining the audience’s reaction before I had even put pencil to paper. Now I’m learning to be more instinctive and just embrace my whims, even if I imagine people might think them trivial or absurd. I’ve found that in fact you can never predict how people will receive an artwork. It’s rarely what you expect, often it’s quite the opposite.

 

What do you think the future holds for your practice post residency?

 

Well, firstly I hope that I can manage to keep working in such a great studio. I have a lot of things lined up for the coming year. Apart from my first solo exhibitions in London and abroad, I’m taking part in an artist’s programme with The Sunderland Collection, an incredible collection of antique world maps and atlases also known as Oculi Mundi. Responding artistically to these historical masterworks, is quite a daunting task, but one I’m thoroughly excited by. The programme will end with an exhibition displaying my work, hopefully alongside some of the historical pieces that inspired it.

 

Why do you think it is important for emerging artists to be supported by opportunities?

 

There is, surely, a no more challenging time for an artist than the moment after leaving the supportive environment and relative comfort of art school and facing the world on one’s own.

Quite frankly, it’s challenge enough to make good, meaningful, and worthy art, without the enormous weight of also making practical and financial ends meet. It’s no wonder that so many promising artists are forced to find other jobs to support themselves. Artists, like everyone else, need some sense of stability, especially when starting out, and that requires help

If artists really are valued members of our thriving, creative society, then we need to do a better job in supporting them. Studios are still too small and too expensive. I also find it odd that some studios are allocated based on aesthetic criteria; your work needs to be seen as ‘fitting’ into a trend to make you eligible to pay for a studio — lunacy! Can you imagine being turned down to rent a flat because your clothes aren’t cool enough?

 

A friend recently told me that she went to view a studio in a former Police station, and they offered her the old solitary confinement cell. No joke and this, she was expected to pay for. Can you think of a better metaphor? Is this really how we value the arts and artists? Why is it that artists are expected to be happy with the dregs that everybody else would deem uninhabitable

 

What do you have coming up over the next year? (eg. exhibitions, residencies)?

 

This month (May) I have a solo exhibition of paintings and prints opening in Taipei. And in October, my first solo show in a London gallery. Then I have the exciting project with The Sunderland Collection so, I’m busy, enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.