Artist Martin Maloney chats hair scrunchies, bad TV and pattern porn with illustrator Julie Verhoeven.
Martin Maloney is a man who definitely knows his way around a canvas. Throughout a long and colourful career, the South-London based artist has used them as template for his paintings and, more unusually, his striking collages, which are often formed out of the intricate shards of previous works-in-progress. His vivid pictures utilise flat colours and imagery to create deep, detailed spaces that illustrate an assortment of characters. Here, the artist acts as a dedicated social commentator, serving up slices of local eveyday life. His subjects reflect an awkward sense of humour and affectionate wit that mirror Martin’s own.
Martin graduated from Goldsmiths University in the early 1990′s, just as the Young British Artist movement was in the early stages of taking hold of a national, and subsequently global, consciousness. Having arrived after the departure of the most notorious of his future contemporaries, Martin considered himself rather late to the party, not having been around to witness first-hand the temperements and endeavours that were instrumental in the creation of a new generation of art superstars. Nevertheless, his tutelage under Julian Opie helped him to evolve from a creator of “bad conceptual works” with a lack of self-awareness to a celebrated and skilled painter. His work soon caught the eye of Charles Saatchi, who went on to include his work in the legendary Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997. Since then, Martin has exhibited all over the world and combined the long hours spent in his cold studio with his other roles as a teacher, writer and curator.
The following interview took place when Martin met fellow artist Julie Verhoeven for the first time. The two shared plenty of laughs and compared notes on the human condition, identity and bad television. Throughout her life and career, Julie has also turned to colour repeatedly as a means of self-expression. It is her artistic weapon of choice, and one that has served her well. Or perhaps it is the other way round. Either way, it would appear to be a happy and faithful partnership, and there doesn’t seem to be any danger of her defecting to a life of monochrome any time soon. With her florid make-up and over-embellished wardrobe, she conveys the air of a woman who might find herself at home within one of Martin’s paintings. For this encounter, she settled for a good-humoured delve into the life and times of a man she has long admired. Martin was more than happy to oblige. She began by asking him where on earth he turns to for inspiration these days…
Julie Verhoeven: Do you still look at magazines?
Martin Maloney: I probably look at images on the internet much more than I do in magazines. It is strange, because I would never have thought that. Recently, I was looking at websites for provincial auction houses where they had furniture and objects. Full rooms of clutter, a bit like an installation. All of that junk arranged in a random way. I found it very interesting. I like that everybody’s become a photographer, even the bad ones. I like the democratization of the internet, everybody can be a filmmaker or a photographer. The level of skill is less, but there is an intention to record, even in eBay photographs and strange photographs from amateur porn. (Laughs). You’re sitting there looking at their curtains and the cat that runs across. It’s being able to see into people’s lives and it not being so stylised in a way, which I quite like. But the internet and the digital revolution have provided so many more images to look at and absorb. I often used to just cut out an image from the newspaper and paint it. The subjects would be looking at the camera or away from each other. Usually in black and white, very simple. I buy the Lewisham Shopper. I love local papers, there’s something about them, which is just so weird and odd and useful in all sorts of ways.
I think we need to talk about fashion. I loved that you took quite a lot of pleasure over painting a scrunchie! Is there anything else at the moment, like those horrible Ugg boots or Crocs?
I have looked at Crocs, I think they would be very easy to paint. The work evolves. I don’t come in with, “I want to paint a scrunchie today”, I don’t think that would work. I enjoy fashion details and I love make-up. My boyfriend will wonder why, after some Newsnight program about the economy, I say, “Oh, she had fantastic make-up”. I like eyebrows at the moment. They have become very shaped and done and visible. Fashion details tell you something about who you are in the world very easily. In a way, the scrunchie says a lot about class and glamour, but it is an idea of glamour gone wrong. It’s one of the joys of urban life! I suppose if I lived in the countryside it might be trees, but in a city it’s scrunchies.
What do you think of glasses?
They’re a 3-dimensional projection or architecture on the face in a way, which is quite strange. They help to create character and personality. I always like it in a film when a secretary takes off her glasses, that moment of being revealed.
Do you watch a lot of television?
Yes, I love it. Television is very exciting. I don’t feel snobby about bad television, I feel I can enjoy it. I’m glad that reality television has stopped shouting at people. I hate The Only Way Is Essex and Made In Chelsea, all that constructed reality. I love Big Brother, but I don’t like bad improvisation, which is too self-conscious. If it was directed by someone like Ken Loach or Mike Leigh it would be interesting. I love Him & Her on BBC3 at the minute. Have you been watching it?
It’s a love story with Russell Tovey. Do you know him? He’s beautiful and a very good actor. Him and his girlfriend live in a very squalid one-bedroom flat, like a bedsit, and they never leave. It’s very subtle, with very slight dialogue, and nothing ever happens. The interior is fascinating. It’s like, how did they do that? Is it real? Is it someone’s flat? Is it a set?
I’ll check it out, definitely! Where do you go for peoplewatching?
Everywhere! It would be my number one hobby and interest. There’s Lewisham shopping centre, or sometimes I go into the West End or a bit further out to Lakeland or somewhere like that. I love being on the Tube. You are always going to see interesting things, interesting people.
I was wondering about physical beauty. Is there an ideal that you like to paint?
It has helped when they’ve been friends and I knew them. I put an advert out years ago for a life model and all the paintings were terrible! I was nervous and felt like I had became a hairdresser for an afternoon. I didn’t like having to make the small talk and painting is quite an intimate process with me. A friend can forgive me for being very vocal, and will already know that I was a was a bit eccentric. I like painting women, there’s more hair and more interesting clothes. I’m thinking of what will make a good picture, what will convey some emotion or humanity, and who will reveal themselves to the viewer easily enough.
the scrunchie says
a lot about class and glamour, but it is an idea of glamour gone wrong.
I feel that a lot of your figures, I kind of want to go up and give them a hug!
So do I. Maybe a prescription from the doctor as well! (Laughs) A slight antidepressant. I want to tell them that it is all going to be OK and that all life’s disasters and sadness have a sense or purpose, or maybe they don’t. I like that they have revealed their emotional side in a painting so it will be a mixture of sympathy, empathy, vulnerability. If I can get those qualities in a painting, I think it has succeeded in a way.
You just immediately connect with people. Would you consider yourself a sunny person?
Maybe you have to ask my therapist about that! In terms of making art, you go through a lot of ups and downs. I like having a laugh and a sense of play. I can be quite shy socially and might think I would rather muck out a horse than go to a dinner party! I’m not good at small talk.
‘The Big Breakfast’, 1997, Oil on canvas, 173 x 303 cm
I find it quite fascinating that you can go from painting to collage which is such a different working method and mindset. One is so laborious, and the other is so rapid. What point do you decide what you want to do?
Collage is like having a job in a factory; almost like work experience, where all I’m looking forward to is my tea break. Whereas with a painting, you have to do it in one day; the paint has to be wet. You have to feel you are making a sort of lively dialogue with the paint in a way and amusing yourself and trying to make an amusing painting. You’ve got to be the best guest at that sitting. I paint in silence and there’s a lot of concentrated energy. I’m totally exhausted afterwards, especially if it is on a large scale, but a collage means I can work with the radio on, and you’re making a lot less rapid decisions. A careful detail might take all day. I used to be envious of friends, who were always complaining that their paintings took four months to make. They would make four paintings a year, and I would think, “Oh, I’ve made hundreds!” (Laughs) When you get tired of doing one thing so then you can go back to the history of painting.
Do you have attachments to your finished work?
No, I just make it and then put it out. As soon as the plaster is set, it is ready to go, and I don’t want to see it. Occasionally I will see one which I made a long time ago, and it feels like somebody else’s work with mistakes that I could correct.
What drives you to finish a piece in a day?
It’s something to do with making the paint seem lively and fresh and being able to move it around when it is wet. If I came back the next day to a half-finished painting, I wouldn’t know what to do. I have done it and painted over all my decisions from the day before because I didn’t understand them. Speed, spontaneity and intuition are very important, I want the paint to look lively. I wouldn’t know what to do if it went on for a couple of weeks.
I know that you like pattern. Have you got a favourite motif?
Anything with a pattern is mesmerising in a way.
Pattern porn! And colour?
I love it. That would be the desert island thing. If I could only take one thing, I would take colour.
Top ten colours?
(Laughs) I really like the colour of your tights! I love that yellow. I love all of the colours that you are wearing actually! You have made very, very good colour choices!
I think that’s ochre for me. For the record! Or not really?
It’s mustard. You can make it from Naples yellow, adding a bit of raw umber, maybe. I could mix and match colours all day. It’s my number one pleasure.