Rhys Coren is a multidisciplinary artist who switches between mediums like animation, performance, writing or painted marquetry, and is represented by Seventeen Gallery. With a postgraduate diploma from the Royal Academy of Art, Rhys displays an obvious pleasure in rhythm, form, colour an texture, space and negative space. Rhys Coren describes the direct link between his experience of music and the visual language of his practice, crediting the structure and strategies found in electronic dance music, jazz and disco as the genesis of the works. His recent exhibitions include click, click, click-clap-click, a solo exhibition at galeriepcp, Paris, in December 2016, and Whistle Bump Super Strut, a solo exhibition at Seventeen, London in March 2017. Rhys Coren also recently curated the group exhibition Cuts, Shapes, Breaks and Scrapes at Seventeen, London alongside Gabriel Hartley and he has co-founded curatorial projects including Opening Times and bubblebyte.org. Please enjoy this interview with the talented artist Rhys Coren…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
More often than not, I pause for an uncomfortable amount of time… then make a bit of a face… then finally say, “Artist.” Not because I am embarrassed about my job, but more because I am still so excited, and confused, and amazed that it is possible. It’s quite new, and it hasn’t really sunk in.
Two books. One is a collection of essays and exhibition reviews by the artist Donald Judd, simply entitled Donald Judd Writings by Flavin Judd. The other is New Art City by Jed Perl. That one is about the art scene in Manhattan in the mid-20th Century.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
The Twits by Roald Dahl. To this day, I still make references to that marvellous guide to petty revenge. Adding slices of wood to a walking stick to make someone think they are shrinking. Genius.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
This may sound odd… but I didn’t really want to be anything. I just wanted to draw or watch TV or play football in the street. That’s not to say that I was deliberately unambitious. It was more that I didn’t know what ambition was. I had no concept of it. I never thought about much beyond that moment. When I’ve told people that in the past, they’ve laughed, saying, “You’re still doing that.” They probably have a point.
Did you demonstrate an affinity with art as a child?
Drawing, yes. It was all I was good at and my favourite thing to do. But I was 18 before I was exposed or introduced to what I recognise as ‘art’ (as in fine art) and I was 23 before I started to get my head around it.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
It would be too much for school aged me to handle. Being a child from a pretty modest background in a small naval city, living a creative life in the multicultural, liberal capital would seem like an alternative reality. Like inter-dimensional travel.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. I didn’t really do very well at school with anything other than art. This excellent little book opened up a world of enjoyment in the written word that had previously felt beyond me. It made me feel more confident to read and write than 7 years of secondary education had.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I find reading very difficult. I have an incredibly visual imagination, and the visualising tends to lead to daydreaming and, before I know it, long periods of time have elapsed and I can’t remember what it is I just read. Handy for being a visual artist, but awful for actually reading and digesting what you read. I tend to find, though, that scenarios void of other stimulus seem to help. Or, times at which I am seriously bored and have nothing to hand but a book. So before bed or on buses. Or waiting for my tea to brew of a morning. Or holidays. I can read my annual quota in a week on holiday. Also, this difficulty with reading is probably why I love non-fiction or short stories and poetry. Shorter prose inspires less daydreaming.
Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt by John Cooper Clarke. Condensing all that emotion and the universality of the everydayinto something so short and punchy and memorable. The pace and rhythm of each poem, too. The character. It’s magical, and great inspiration for trying to make a painting with the same potency; the same economy of means. To get so much from so little.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring artist?
My advice is directed specifically at young, working class people aspiring to become artists… and that is, never become too disheartened by the enormous gulf in wealth and resource available to the vast majority of the other people you’ll encounter on your journey. This means the other students, not just collectors and patrons. Use what appears to be a financial disadvantage to your advantage, and work harder than any of them. Just work, work, work and work some more. From the minute your eyes open until they eventually shut. Use any negative feelings as fuel to work even more. There is no amount of privilege or social ease and innate networking ability that can outshine amazing work, and that comes from hours and hours of relentless practice. Let who you are into the work, too. It will give it character.
Who would you say are the three artists that continue to inspire you?
I would swap out one name of one well-known artist for a conglomerate of my artist friends. I get more from them than any person from history. So, ‘my friends’ is the first person. Then I would say Mary Heilmann. Then Mark Leckey.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
Not in any sort of serious or meaningful way. I have read a lot of footballers’ autobiographies, each reminding me of a friend who may support a team the footballer played for.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I prefer non-fiction.
Do you think reading is important?
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Real. Although I am just entering into the first ‘desperately need reading glasses’ phase of my life, which has seen me reading more and more digital books on account of the zooming. I have an eye test booked for next week, though. Then I’ll be back on paper.
Do you think there is a relationship between books and art?
A huge one. From artist monographs to collections of essays and reviews, I am yet to find an artist without an extension collection of books. Yes, 90% of the pages probably have pictures on, but the relationship between artist and book is a of great historical and contemporary relevance. It was how both the visual representation and analysis of work could be distributed.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
The New Neurotic Realism exhibition catalogue. I discovered this in my first week of Art Foundation at Plymouth College of Art and Design. This was my first glimpse into what contemporary fine art was. The goalposts shifted from GCSE and A-Level Art to actual, proper, fine art… and I liked it.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
As soon as I get my reading glasses, everything and anything I can get my hands on.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
This is a great game to play in the pub. One of my friends suggested calling my autobiography: Think About It Later. It was ironic, though. Because of my impatience.