22 Jan 2014 • Amandas Ong
Q&A with Graham Fink
If Graham Fink’s illustrious, award-winning career doesn’t impress you, then his foray into photography certainly will. We speak to the Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather China, and find out more about his ongoing exhibition at the Riflemaker Gallery in London.
In what ways have your background in film and advertising influenced your work and in particular, the Nomads series?
I went to art school and studied painting, photography and graphic design. I also had my eye on fashion, as I fancied a couple of the girls who were in that department. After I left college, I went into advertising as it allowed me to explore all those different areas. I learnt a lot from working with some of the best people in the world, including photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, designers Peter Saville and Neville Brody, and filmmakers Tony Kaye and Hugh Hudson. It was the film and photography world that I became especially passionate about. Eventually, I started directing and making music videos, commercials and short films. One of these films involved stop frame animation and I became intrigued by it. It was certainly an influence in the making of the Nomads films in my show, where I directly scratched the emulsion of the celluloid with various blades. The photography side of the exhibition is something I've been working on for years. I've always seen 'faces' everywhere, appearing out of flaking paint, cracks in walls or broken concrete. I've discovered thousands of these ghosts over time and given them new life.
The paintings that you're showing at this current exhibition are also highly textural, as you mix pumice stone with acrylics. How did you decide on the type of materials used, and can you tell us about your creative process?
The decision to print directly onto marble came after a year of experimenting with various surfaces. I wanted to achieve an interplay of the actual image with something else, and it needed to be more sculptural than photographic paper. I let the sparkle of the marble amalgamate with the image through the printing technique. This very special stone comes from the quarries of Thassos in Greece. It is the purest, whitest marble on earth. There are no veins in it and it has a beautiful texture. The concept of using cement and pumice stone mixed with acrylics became a natural decision for the paintings. The textures are important as they allow me to build up many layers on the canvas, again achieving a sculptural quality.
Visually speaking, many of the works in Nomads resemble aerial photographs of breathtaking landscapes. Was that the kind of look you were going for?
Everyone sees something slightly different. The faces I see (in the Nomad works) remind me of certain people or characters. I have pet names for them: Pink Mao, Spiderman, Green Rembrandt, etc. What's fascinating is when someone else sees a cow or an angel in them, or in your case, aerial photographs. I have people say that after seeing my show they have started to find their own 'faces' when they walk down the street. That's what art is really about, waking up people's eyes.
Could you elaborate on the major inspirations behind your work?
There are many. For example, I am fascinated by the work of Norman McLaren, the Canadian animator. We're going back to the forties here, but this guy was way ahead of his time. And of course Stan Brakhage who painted onto film, but not always in an animated way. The artists Frank Auerbach and Antoni Tapies have also left a deep impression on me. And of course Hermann Rorschach and his inks.
What is a typical day in the studio like for you?
It is always filled with a sense of wonder. I like to have many canvases around me as I sometimes work on them simultaneously, with the all my paints perfectly arranged. The studio needs to be very quiet, as there are already enough voices in my head to fill the Royal Albert Hall. I sometimes meditate to become internally quiet and still. Usually, I tend to work all day and sometimes all through the night. I'm very bad at eating at the right times, as I get so immersed in what I am doing. The paintings require different degrees of drying time and getting this right is crucial before adding other layers. If I am animating, then I need incredible concentration, as the working surface of each frame of celluloid is only a centimetre or so across. It's hard on the eyes too as I need a giant magnifying glass. But whatever it is I am doing, there is always tremendous energy in the room.
Any future projects?
I am always consulting the pavement and discovering new faces. Now, I’m working on some early ideas for the next exhibition, probably at the end of this year. I'm also talking to some galleries in other countries about my current exhibition. After all, Nomads must travel.
Fink’s show at the Riflemaker Gallery will run till 27 January.
Riflemaker Gallery, 79 Beak St, London W1F 9SU
Images courtesy of the artist.