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An Interview with Brendan Pickett

By Jason Noghani

LTTW (Jason Noghani): This is the interview with Brendan Pickett for Listen to the World, and this follows the brilliant exhibition he had last month in London, which was titled Truth and Power: Art from the Brexit Era, and I suppose we could start by asking the first question.

Can you draw some connections between Cubism and Brexit, and why was Cubism the chosen medium for expressing your art?

Brendan Pickett: Well Cubism wasn’t chosen, it seemed to choose me, or at least my fascination with Picasso and Braque. More Picasso obviously he’s the big man of Cubism. It comes from a long fascination of “how did they do that?” So, I set upon “How do I actually do that?” So, I studied how to do it. That happened around the same time as Brexit and they kind of conflated at the same time, because we have a multiplicity of viewpoints about the same thing, so you might be remain and you hate leave, or vice versa, even though you’re basically looking at the same facts, you know…if you are actually looking, instead of…most people have made their minds up about how they were going to vote for ages beforehand. Conflicting perspectives about the same thing, which is very much a Cubist type of method. Brexit’s also like Marmite; some people love it and some people hate it, and that’s kind of the same thing about Cubism when it first came out. Gallery Cubists…because Picasso was only privately shown around the 1910s. They caused quite a massive stir and yet even though it was equally loved and hated it did form the basis of 20th Century abstract art, for after Cubism which created collage, you got Dada which then created Surrealism, and then Surrealism basically points the way towards anything. Abstract expression…we can make something interesting without having to represent anything, so in the same way that Brexit will define at least British politics and other aspects of geopolitics, it will lay the same foundation stones for our political landscapes in the same way that Cubism did a century ago.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. And you only discovered that while you were making the art so it became like an alchemical reaction in a sense?

Yeah it was like call and response (laughs). Looking into one thing meant “Ah I can apply this to the political weirdness that we encounter now.” Because everyone looks at things from different ways, truth is fragmented as…the postmodern world we live in everything is fragmented. So, everything is a collage montage, the old phrase which I’ll probably say a few times. Truth is fragmented and the way we experience it is so why not use a literal painting method which does just that?

Yeah absolutely.

It was a happy coincidence really.

The way I look at it as well, that transfusion of…finding the symbology rather, through Cubism for expressing your points of view, also through that arises the transcendent one could say, because of the fact that two contrasting forces of expression combined together create this otherness, I suppose you could say the newness that could be apparent in an authentic work of art, and discussing the word “spiritual” is quite difficult to rationalise, but I suppose when you are thinking about the great art of an age, you immediately think of the transcendent let’s say – it shines through. And we’re living in a day and age where you could say that we are in a sense of spiritual decline in the West, and this has been going on for quite some time, even since the Renaissance, although this has obviously exponentially speeded up, where science has superseded religion, and it has meant that we have subsequently lost touch with our spiritual roots. And I feel this is particularly the case with Britain and America (US), I mean America is a country built without roots, its roots are basically back to Britain. Britain is a country that lost its root at least since the 18th century since the United Kingdom formed as a whole, which meant that England in particular completely disowned almost its history prior to that which was where everything organically originated from and…hang on (both laugh)

What are you saying?

I’m getting there in a second…um…and…like I said Britain became detached from that, and as I was going on about the West getting spiritually detached in a sense…

Well I think the spiritual roots of Western culture are still there they’re just really dormant at the moment, unembodied, purposeless, unpersonified…

Well in slumber you could say? Lying dormant…

“The World Father” | Painting by Brendan Pickett

Badly written (laughs). Badly written in our imaginations and badly written in the Hollywood films that are supposed to be our factory of dreams, they aren’t our factory of dreams anymore, they are our factory of disillusionment. I mean look at the treatment of Luke Skywalker (in recent Star Wars films), who should have been treated like a hero, who was treated like dirt. So that’s kind of like a symbolic way of showing…when Star Wars first came out it really connected with audiences because it spoke to their mythic sense even though it was like a space opera. It didn’t matter that it was a space opera with silly droids and wookies in big bear suits and stuff, it spoke to that mythic sense which is what completely was lacking from the recent Star Wars films. So I use that as a popular meme of…the spirituality is still there, we all yearn for it and we all want our hero to come back, but…fragmented and disembodied and purposeless which in a way was an accurate representation of our time, especially for men…“oh we had so much optimism when we grew up watching Star Wars in our youth” and then now it’s all come to this. And we’re like “oh, can we not celebrate our true selves?” So, in that sense we’re looking for new archetypes and new symbols and I think that’s why I’ll probably be going next…after doing in the exhibition there is of course Dionysus and Venus, and numerous and development of the Atlas character, so Atlas looking to the past and to the future at the same time…no not Atlas Janus sorry! And then I mixed Janus with Atlas and then created the World Father painting, which seemed to be probably one of most people’s favourites in the exhibition that I was talking to about. And I think that’s because, it wasn’t just Atlas and it wasn’t just Janus and it was its own entire thing and it was…part of the world mixed with it. And it was like a new archetype, which had its classical roots from a kind of spiritual Western understanding of things, but also was its unique self so I think probably that’s what I’ll do more next, is develop more like kind of archetypes which speak to you, in the same way when Obi Wan was like “use the force Luke!” at the end scene of the original Star Wars film, everyone clapped originally so I’m told, wasn’t even alive at the time. So that’s the kind of thing all art needs to do, to touch…like in a jazz performance where you spontaneously go “Wow!” and you clap, that’s the kind of transcendental thing.

Definitely yeah.

…Enthusiasm comes from the Greek word enthos, inner-God, and that’s what it kind of feels like when you’re inspired and spiritual in that way…

So, using those archetypes is a way of shorthand communicating to someone. As long as they understand what those archetypes are, if it’s a different archetype or a different symbol which you’re not familiar with you might as well be speaking a foreign language (laughs). So yes I would probably say there is spiritual decline, and that’s why Jordan B Peterson is quite popular because he talks about belief in God and he thinks his thoughts about that in many different ways, and that was quite a revelation to see audiences going to see the Bible lecture stories in Toronto and those videos getting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, was something quite interesting to experience over the past couple of years because that was like “oh this is refreshing” and it echoed back to my own roots because my parents are Christians, my mum made sure that I understood the Bible and had a thorough understanding of it, which I am grateful for because those stories have lasted through time and they give you a sense of roots and at least a rootedness, so even though I don’t practice Christianity now and still kind of come from those roots. I can’t really escape that and neither do I want to or need to, I just never got any spiritual feeling from the religious ceremonies every Sunday, it felt more like a chore. I didn’t really experience God in those moments and for me creativity can make you connect with your own inner-God. Enthusiasm comes from the Greek word enthos, inner-God, and that’s what it kind of feels like when you’re inspired and spiritual in that way. So, I’ve said before, Brexit means rebuilding through art, which I mean is creativity, imagination, which we’re sorely lacking. Interesting to know that Rory Stewart’s campaign got a lot of profile because he was doing different things. Just going about walking about and talking to people like a human being, and that was a bit of fresh air and unexpected. I don’t watch Newsnight anymore but I used to watch it quite avidly and I was always impressed when I saw him on so I was pleasantly surprised when he ran for Tory leadership because he’s not your typical Tory. Even though he went to Eton and did all that, he’s not…people hate Eton but they’re obviously doing something right to give their kids so much confidence, I mean obviously they come from rich backgrounds so that helps but…I think it’s like we want to make every school as good as Eton but without the high fees. Gone a bit off track there (laughs)!

No that’s fine! One of the other things I was going to reflect on as well: When you think about art throughout the ages, it was more in congruence with…there was more universality with it, and this is something…

There were a lot more rules though.

Well there were, but it was a lot more fragmentary, I’m just going to quote a John Cage quote: “We live in a time I think not of mainstream, but of many streams, or even, if you insist upon a river of time, that we have come to a delta, maybe even beyond a delta to an ocean which is going back to the skies.” And this is obviously like come from numerous branches that have come from one initial trunk, you could say that the trunk started with plainchant or whatever, and it as gradually spawned off into polyphony, and then you had these various forms but then up until the 20th Century, every country seemed to have its own flavour let’s say, and then since the end of the Second World War things have changed with the pop music scene for instance. And then you had the Beatles which defined an entire decade in the 60s, and then you think of all the different subgenres that emerged throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, and now we get to the 21st Century in this information age in this digital age, and it’s almost in congruence with the hyper-dimensional aspect of the internet, that we have innumerable genres. What I’m trying to say is that whereas you think of time like the 60s when there was a universal sense of change, and what made the 60s distinct, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot, obviously it came with a lot baggage, but it also was the only when you think about human evolution in recent years, whereas most of it has been materially driven, that was the only time where it was driven by conscience, that was the only time in the 20th Century where a real in change in consciousness happened through a series of events. The Beatles were the catalyst of that, but then you also had the convergence of east and west, eastern countries getting more westernised, and ideas from the east like yoga and transcendental meditation and the I Ching coming into western culture. This has been happening for quite some time, but this became more of a mainstream, and it became fashionable to be a hippie in India at a point. So, it opened up that possibility more

Well the 60s created hippies, which is the only longstanding social group, social tribe, social pop tribe you could say…

They’re the sort of expression of that is how I see it, and what I’m trying to say is that change in consciousness came from a universal sense of that, and the thing is nowadays because everything is so compartmentalized, and because every musical scene or tribe has its own set of ideals. So in this day and age do you try and counteract with your art to try and open up something up universal and have you got any suggestions or ideas of how we can create that universality again that can bring about this shift in perspective?

I mean universality, why is that the goal?

I don’t mean in terms of that we like the same thing, but in just in the universal sense of something, not the mass confusion we have today. We’re so bogged down by details today, hence our obsession with labelling everything, whereas in the past everything was a lot more straightforward because there was less. I’m not saying it was 100%, but there could be a bigger reaction to things because of the newness of things, and the comparative simplicity of things, meant there was a universal source of play that was an aspect of the zeitgeist, whereas the aspect of this zeitgeist is…that still exists somewhere in the background but us becoming fixated on details has enabled us to get pigeonholed rather than…

“Gaslighting” | Painting by Brendan Pickett

Well I don’t think universality is possible at the moment. I was thinking about it last night, postmodernism happened at the same time as we got technological super-advancement, i.e. the computers that we all have now. The same time the philosophy of fragmentation happened, we got the equipment which allowed us to categorise and subdivide, as you were saying, genres and subgenres and then to go to the super niche level, and the quote you were saying about the many streams – there is a mainstream, and the mainstream media…

That’s corporate culture now isn’t it?

Yeah but it’s the one we have the most access to so that’s the mainstream we can dip into, but we have so many other streams we can dip into and can ignore the mainstream quite easily, because they don’t really provide any other information you can get anywhere else these days. And usually I find out on twitter before I find out things on sky news or BBC news so why do I need that? Because you’re then just providing an opinion on top of that. So, universality at the moment is probably not possible at the moment, I don’t think it is the end of the world. The spiritual kind of hope always kind of goes to that cliched heaven where we’re all happy and holding hands and there’s a rainbow in the sky and that kind of imagery repulses me in a way because it’s not reality. I’m not saying that…war is part of the human condition but it’s always something to fight against, but as we move away from physical violent war we go into psychological, cybernetic, memetic war basically. The article, you need to put a link to the article as it’s good reading!


So, talking about that, a new Geneva convention to politely and civilisely fight our war of ideas will provide a more universal framework, possibly a constitution of the bill of rights of internet usage so twitter and everyone can’t ban. And all platforms should have an equal chance to grow there shouldn’t be corporate strangling of other things because it goes against competition. If you have a new idea and you want to spread it, you shouldn’t be throttled by bigger companies, or just simply bought out and throttled in a different way.

(both laugh)

When we talk about the universality just to get my understanding of it, you’re saying that the momentum that was garnered in the 60s came with it a baggage of false hope through the naivety of the situation…

“The Process of Epistemology” | Painting by Brendan Pickett

Well the hippies from the 60s then became yuppies in the 80s because they all became detached and nihilistic because they didn’t really solve a metaphysical problem, which hadn’t been solved really since the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment gave us the epistemology of the scientific method, which is the most useful form of epistemology, because it is peer reviewed, everyone gets to bash away at it and find faults, and find every error possible, and then only the survivor of this very rough process gets to last because that’s kind of like how reality works. We have this very narrow sphere of life on earth, which has taken billions of years to evolve into that very narrow equation of life…

Now we’re going back to proper roots (laughs)

The Enlightenment didn’t solve any metaphysical problems as far as I can tell, I mean I haven’t read every piece of philosophy…

So, you’re saying this goes further back and is actually fundamentally rational even though the reaction of east and west garnered momentum for global change in the 60s?

Science is rational and humans aren’t, like all the time. If we’re rational would we enjoy a bad film? So, it’s so bad it becomes good. That’s irrational but that’s part of being human.

Would you also say the irrational panders to the spiritual within the human?

Yes. I think the spiritual kind of plays on that as a central part of its existence, which is not a bad thing because it provides function and meaning for many people, although we gotta realise that’s what it is, it’s a mythic purpose. I mean gods are fictional because we make them because we need them, not the other way around. If there was some almighty creator I would have a lot of questions about why he makes it so hard to go into space for example (both laugh). I mean that’s not necessary, or why does gravity work the way it does? Those kinds of questions, I have no need to reverse the Enlightenment, I think that would be a terribly regressive thing for us to do, because it provides us with the science that we all use from day to day life. We are reliant on satellites which orbit the planet in geosynhronous Clarkian orbit, so it requires a bit of maths and it requires a culture to understand that maths and apply it into a technology and industry and stuff, and without the Enlightenment I don’t think we’d have that. But at the same time it doesn’t solve that irrational metaphysical problem, which is always there in the back of our minds, because we’re like “why do we exist? What is consciousness?” we can’t answer that question fully – probably will never be able to. How do we fulfil that metaphysical function in the 21st Century? I’m not quite sure (laughs). But I think we’re on the cusp between the yin and the yang, we’re surfing between the black and the white of the yin and yang symbol, which is always the point of most tension, and I think around 2025 it is when we’ll emerge out of the current situation, and a new perhaps universalist, I don’t know, a philosophy will emerge around that time.

That will be amazing if that happens.

I can’t really see it happening before then.

That’s very optimistic that you think it’ll think it’ll be that soon, because you think only six years ago…

I’m not saying it’ll necessarily be the best, I’m not saying it’s going to be a positive thing, we’re in the turn of it, it could go very bad or it could go very good. I kind of think it will go good but it will be very tough (laughs).

If it goes bad it won’t be an existential thing because love will always prevail, but I think if it was an external thing then it could get bad, and that’s obviously the case with how history repeats itself.

Yeah will it’s the psychology of people affected by smartphones when we’re still finding out the consequences of that really, because it’s only been a few years really, it only seems like a blink since 2005 when everyone was like “oh I’ve got to sign up for Facebook, because myspace is crap” (both laugh).

(brief pause)

So like the Beatles conquered the 60s because there was only the BBC really at the beginning, so everyone listened to the same thing whereas now we don’t.

That’s interesting so technology actually dictated that.

Technology and economics is fundamental to everything, especially music. I mean the Britpop era was killed off because all the small labels which had developed bands got bought up by the 3 or 4 major labels and then that just changed the economics of it, so new bands just weren’t picked up, they weren’t developed. And then you just got Coldplay type bands which are expected to have massive hits, or 2 or 3 hits off every album, and if they don’t they’re dropped you know (laughs). So whereas the culture is for developing things, economics has just swallowed things up again, so in that way maybe Brexit will change things because it will provide opportunities to fill gaps, which…Britain shouldn’t be isolationist, but we should and provide mostly our own culture for ourselves, and that way it makes something which is exportable, British culture is quite exportable, it has been for many years.

Well the only way that can happen is if it’s not contrived, otherwise there will be malaise within there, and obviously culture is organic, they’re like trees they’re not like buildings. So any indigenous culture came from a quasi-tribalistic underpinning…

Yeah of course, but people need places to meet, and there’s Cross Rail destroying Soho at the moment… another good venue in central London which has just been destroyed, because there was the Astoria and then…I can’t remember the name of it…

Half the music venues have been slashed.

They’re crap now!

Since our future Prime Minister, Mr Johnson, under his tenure as mayor, quarter of the pubs in London as well which is…again, a huge cultural relic in Britain is the pub. Very unique in the world.

And yet we sit here drinking at home as it’s much cheaper (both laugh). That’s part of the pub problems at the moment, as well the smoking ban, goddamn 2007 (laughs).

Yeah and it all connects to culture in a way, I mean the Viennese coffee houses, they haven’t implemented the smoking ban in them because having a coffee and a cigarette was…

Well it’s different in the continent because you usually have large spaces in front of a café where you can sit outside…

Oh no we’re talking about indoors in these Viennese cafes, since the early 20th Century the artistic circles in Vienna would sit around and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee all day, it was a cultural thing, it was almost ritualistic…

Well yeah but the café culture in this country is quite different, we don’t have that, especiall in London, all the cafes are fairly cramped, so you don’t have time to spread out or relax, there’s usually crap music playing in the background, Crapital FM or even Radio BBC dumb!

Well this is a completely different café culture!

Well yeah exactly, so you don’t want to stick around, you just go in there to get your grub, stuff it down your face and get out!

I suppose this connects to the next point of inquiry. I think we remember great art through authenticity and authenticity alone, obviously there has to be a sort of command of technique in order to convey one’s vision, whether it be auditory, visual or other sensorial factors. But authenticity is what defines the qualitative aspect, which I think could also pertain to the transcendental and the irrational one could say, and we’re living in a day and age where authenticity, especially in music, seems to be dying out, it’s almost like everything has been discovered, I mean the 20th Century was the apex of material evolution in the arts one could say. When you’re thinking about all the genres that appeared in the 20th Century like rock music, hip hop, early EDM, there was more authenticity at the start as nothing like that had been done before, and that’s what created this moment of affirmation or moment of universality I suppose, at least within certain circles, and nowadays this is getting more and more pigeonholed because there’s nothing that’s really that new, I mean as you say art it is collage, and lots of different artforms converged together…I find myself listening to earlier stuff (metal) like Black Sabbath and other bands like Iron Claw for instance, because I got a lot more out of it, because firstly it’s a lot more raw, but secondly there’s this integrity there almost, that something that hadn’t quite been done before just sort of emerged and…

Well it hadn’t been done before, but more importantly it hadn’t been recorded before. So we live in an age where we can access anything we want basically, if we have the means we can be able to get any file of any recording of anything, and so because there’s never been a point in history where we’ve had a musical archive available to people from the past, that makes it like explorers but it’s already been chartered territory, and it’s well documented, and time based documentation so we can actually hear it in 4D. So, if it wasn’t that then a lot of that stuff would seem a lot fresher, because it’s your perception and they’re building on those classical traditions, so in a way there’s only so much you can do to a song before breaking it down and deconstructing it before it becomes either pretentious as hell or just annoying (laughs). You can’t really have an abstract song so much.

Well it’s not so much as an abstract song but what you said about technology is interesting…

Well it changes our perception.

It’s also a reciprocal thing, I was thinking when I was walking to yours about Jim Morrison and how much of a purer mind he had compared to the frontmen of rock bands nowadays, I mean his influences were what, William Blake, and other writers and poets, I mean he was a very well read and thoughtful individual Jim Morrison, and nowadays you have people saying “well I grew up listening to this and listening to that” and I’m not saying they’re not well read because you’re going to a get a lot of brilliant minds who make music of course, naturally, but it’s almost like the innocence has been lost that Jim Morrison kinda had and that also I think means that when anything is done now it is done with a knowing rather than before it was would have still been a knowing but it would have been based on less information than today, exponentially less.

Well yes, it’s metatextual as in things are referencing artefacts rather than original access to the force (laughs) to use another Star Wars metaphor! I mean as the force being a metaphor for the kind of pure kind of like Zen essence, so you’re not reflecting upon the essence of existence you’re reflecting upon someone else’s reflection in their archetype, and that’s common in everything and that’s very common in music and in art as well. You have to place your art within the framework of art history and how you’re taught art in school you have to base it on someone else’s work first, you can’t just come up with an original idea, and I always found that annoying back in A-Level and back when I did a…pre-degree whatever the word was back at St Martin’s.


Yeah something like that, just for a year. It was always annoying when you had to base it on someone else’s work, I can understand the point “OK you have to study someone else’s and then it makes a reflection on that” but it’s not like you’re having that unique “eureka!” That kind of late night “Oh I get it! I get it! I know what to do now! I’ve got the idea of what this is.” That vision, can be like experiencing a Godlike moment and I’m sure that’s what old Biblical prophets saw. They had a feeling which conceptualized and universalized things, but because we’re humans they personified that into a saint or a god or a goddess or a nymph or a mymph or any of those mythological creatures, they’re personifications of human personification…oh I lost my thought…

We were talking about authenticity and how eureka moments…

Oh yeah! So metatextual, always referencing other things, and to use another pop culture reference, everything is a sequel and a reboot and a reimagining of someone else’s franchise, so it becomes the branding in the franchise. And that really isn’t a very good way of creating stories which reflect with someone, and stories…I would say not really subconsciously, but each painting is kind of a story in itself. Just looking at the picture of Theresa May which I’m composing now, it’s a story of my reflections of what she’s been up to…

Not very much (laughs)!

I don’t write spiritual poetry but I try to access that core of the human condition, which is often irrelevant and surreal.

Yeah exactly so it’s a mixture of blandness and highlighter pens to make her look as ugly as possible because it’s not that I think she’s an ugly person, I think she had the best intentions, she just didn’t know how to do anything. Lacked creativity and imagination, and access to that spiritual kind of Zen eureka moment, which is authentic. And if you’re not coming from that authentic beginning, then you’re kind of a sellout, to use an old 90s term (laughs). And that’s something I can’t do, because I was reflecting on what William Burroughs said about Jack Kerouac in an interview once, and he said Jack Kerouac just couldn’t sell out, it was not in his capabilities, he was kind of like angelic in that sense, even though he was a drunk and I’m sure he would have voted Trump actually Kerouac, I’m sure he would have, he’s that kind of…very nationalistic kind of guy. Anyway, the point is he would never sell out, he couldn’t write a book which wasn’t authentic to the core, even if it meant sometimes writing some crap gibberish which Visions of Cody is just pure annoying to read, and I’m sure glad that he went on to actually write On the Road after that and not use that as On the Road. But the point is he always came from that core, so even when he’s writing bad stuff you know he’s not trying to fool you in any way, he’s not trying to sell you propaganda. Even when he’s writing the spiritual Buddhist texts that he did…someone who writes that you can’t be a sellout if you’re going to do that kind of stuff. I don’t write spiritual poetry but I try to access that core of the human condition, which is often irrelevant and surreal. It’s like if David Lynch didn’t have access to that essential…something authentic about it, you would not tolerate his films, you would be just like “this is total random crap!” (laughs) But he’s accessing something intangible and irrational and authentic even though it is surreal and dreamlike.

The thing is I get the impression also, maybe I’m wrong, but it was probably easier to creep your way into that in the past. This isn’t being naïve because I acknowledge that there was a lot of imitation going on during that period as well, but because there was sufficiently less of it…you know, there was almost like a sense of meritocracy where it was almost like the irrational was celebrated to a certain degree. I mean obviously within reason, because Beethoven wasn’t the most celebrated composer in his lifetime, even though he was highly revered. But nonetheless they were still aware of his greatness, whereas nowadays, anyone that authentic, I can believe that they could exist, but I don’t know because today’s world is very different, but you’d imagine that they wouldn’t get noticed because of the amount of information drowning out everything…

Well Mozart will have gotten noticed because he was a spectacularly young genius, so like all pop music they would have fetishized his youth and go “oh look at this spectacularly young and talented person” and then cart him around Europe and show him off. Tour him to death like Amy Winehouse was toured death. And Jimi Hendrix and probably Michael Jackson, they tour too much…

Michael Jackson was the Mozart of the 20th Century. Prodigy milked in a sense.

Yup milked to death by greedy producers. You don’t need to go on a worldwide tour where you’re doing shows every night in a different city, that’s gonna be exhausting. What kind of life is that? That’s not good on the road life, that’s a derisory…getting into a coach and live in that. I’m glad I never got famous as a Rockstar for that reason alone, it just feels a bit like “Oh my God.” And then you have to play your own songs every night, and you get so tired of that, I’m sure I would. It’s like if you have to paint the same picture every week (laughs) you have to make exactly the same painting (laughs). Live (laughs)!

That brings me onto another point of authenticity. I suppose in a way whereas you could say authenticity would have been louder in the past and it’s become quieter now, in a sense thanks to corporate culture let’s say taking over the mainstream, whereas the mainstream before was more governed by people’s tastes, even though corporations obviously had a play in that, as you said, the Beatles were played on TV all the time. But nonetheless, there was still a sense of meritocracy because the Beatles wrote great songs, compared to Miley Cyrus who…doesn’t (laughs) or Rihanna, who has more number one’s than the Beatles do, and sings on one note for pretty much all her songs (sings). And…one of things that I find that is a problem in today’s world…

One note, that’s a good analogy for modern art as well. You know like installations and bland conceptual art which is basically…you have to read the crappy bit of A4 paper printed on the wall to understand what’s going on. And there’s nothing visually engaging, like in pop music there’s no hearing engagement for me, and much of modern art is the same way, it just leaves you a bit like going to church on a Sunday like I used to with my mum, well it’s a bit like a chore (laughs). Feels like something I have to do, but I’m not really getting any reward from it. So that’s why people have walked away from modern art and pop music, OK so Rihanna has got more number ones, but I’m sure the Beatles total number one sales were far superior. Each number one probably sold a million or something, whereas number one is now, what fifty thousand, a hundred thousand? I don’t know but it is a lot lower, you don’t have to have that many sales.

Well the thing with authenticity I think it coincides our proclivity for loudness, as we’ve been conditioned to. We hear the loudest voices before you hear the wisest voices, you hear that in politics…in general we hear the loudest voices first. Anything quiet and rational flies over people’s heads. And when you’re listening to very quiet music you really listen because you’re paying attention to the sounds you’re hearing, and it’s really an important exercise in listening…listening to quiet sounds. And it’s almost impossible in today’s world, particularly in London because it’s a very loud boisterous city…

Well listening to quiet sounds I would say is a parallel to actually paying attention and absorbing a piece of art and standing there, and at least giving a couple of minutes, not just going “uh, what’s that?” moving on, you know…but carry on (laughs), I’ve interrupted your point there.

I was just saying that any sort of change that arises now almost has to be a quiet thing rather than a loud thing. And this is something that is beyond our control, this is something that will just happen, if it does then obviously technology will play a role in that, if it does through the distribution and sharing of information, and mutual interests coinciding through the acknowledgement and recognition of that. But with art obviously, it’s almost like some things can go seemingly unnoticed, so I think, your role as an individual artist, how do you counteract that, given that you make art I suppose, not necessarily to incite change, but because change is inevitable and you’re orientating it in a certain direction through your actions?

Well people not always noticing everything is actually a useful tool when making art. Especially in something like Allegory of Power which is quite big and is multifaceted. There are lots of things which people cannot notice on the first viewing, which is actually quite pleasurable to them when they notice it later. At the exhibition, if I point out something which people might not have noticed because it is at the top of the canvas or something, because it might have been slightly hidden. That’s actually a useful tool for any artisan to remember, because people cannot experience everything in one go, so if you give them a reason to come back and enjoy it a second time, that’s actually a good thing to do.

This brings up another point. We live in a day and age of immediacy, we want everything “now” and thanks to living in a world where we can basically get anything on demand…

Sure, we also live in a time where longform content is becoming a lot more popular…as in podcasts with Joe Rogan, his podcasts last for a couple of hours sometimes. It means people can just sit and listen they might be driving or just at home, but it is getting more popular, it gives radio a new thing, because…if you listen to Radio 4 they’re all half an hour programs, and it’s like, don’t give me magazine content, give me the formal journal, being a proper journal as in the old school scientific journal, or periodical kind of sense. OK, we know this is a bit of a specialist program, but give it an hour at least, instead of magazine content, which is dying out. And that’s what old TV really was, it was just magazine content, you can never go in depth. Which is why I find with so many TV documentaries just like “Oh I know all this stuff already.” And you keep repeating the same stock images, so it’s not very engaging. I gave up on TV ages ago, switched to YouTube, it’s much more raw, people actually speak to the camera, or make their own stuff, it’s just unfortunate YouTube seems to be going the same way any great communication device. At first it is used by everyone and there is this real sense of freedom and then it gets chomped down on by people going “(makes disgruntled noises),” comes down and it gets eaten up, like TV licenses are a prime example of that, which is well past its sell by date in my opinion. BBC should go to the subscription format as soon as possible whilst they’ve still got enough people willing to pay it (laughs), but that’s a different kind of thing.

Well they’ve definitely had their day…with regards to authenticity sometimes ideas fly over people’s heads, like you think Da Vinci, his ideas were ridiculed in his lifetime, then 400 years later they started to make the helicopter and all these things that he’d envisioned 400 years earlier. And I think that’s the reason why when we look at pioneers of the past we say “this person or that person was far ahead of their time,” and I suppose in a way we’re living in a time of timelessness, or I think of it like vertical time, because all timelines seem to be converging simultaneously, like that river-delta quote by John Cage…

But also, as time progresses technology gets better, so as time progresses the better we understand the past because our archeological understanding becomes much better. In the future we’ll know more about the past then we do now, it’s really bizarre but it’s true.

But sometimes something very innovative just flies over people’s heads or something startlingly new or bold, and you can see it’s almost playing into the paradigm of human behaviour, this immediacy mentality. Not just in the sense that we want to consume things immediately when it’s there, but…it’s almost like we don’t want to challenge ourselves like we might once have done for a start but also the fact that we haven’t got time to process anything, and obviously the more space we have around something, the more time we have to process and reflect and understand something…

Well the speed of life definitely seems faster.

And the thing with art is that challenging art will either blindside you and you will be like “wow that is amazing” or you’ll need a bit of time to let it ingest, and the thing is I suppose you can’t do something as startlingly radical as you could have done in the last century because all barriers have been broken but nonetheless, there is still that potential for the inexhaustible, and…

Well things can always be perfected, so I mean everything may have already been tried before but there’s new ways of perfecting it. I mean, Cubism is a century old, does that make me out of date because I’m interested in it? It doesn’t matter because you can always perfect a medium and a genre and refine it to its time. So that’s kind of like a new thing, to go back to the point of reboots and sequels it would be pointless for me to just do Les Demoiselles d’Avignon II, but a 21st Century version where women aren’t naked because feminists don’t want them to be naked, that kind of thing would be pointless, and would come from a really irrational place of stupidity. But that’s kind of like where the common culture is now, we prefer something which is already processed but slightly altered due to the current climate or the current year, it’s a really bad tendency that we’ll get out of eventually, I hope. Here’s to 2025! Cheers! (laughs).

Authentic art tends to smash that out, either in a very blunt obvious way, or in a quiet way and in this day and age of loudness, that seems to be a harder barrier to smash, so…do you see any way of that being able to break forth somehow, in the sense that you can’t startle people to the same degree, or if you can, fewer people will experience it comparatively in a sense? Even though it’s more widely available but then it will just get drowned out by the loudness…

…Just don’t be afraid of that, don’t be fearful of what you don’t understand, kind of like walk to towards it.

Well that’s true but I think that can happen in any time. I mean William Blake wasn’t particularly popular in his time, Van Gogh wasn’t…he only sold one painting (laughs) so at least I’ve beaten him in that respect (both laugh), you being one of the buyers, one of the people that have! So yeah, things will always go over people’s heads. I guess is there a compromise, could you make a landing every now and then? I would say, try and entertain people and then you can say what you want to say. That doesn’t mean you have to sell out in any way, and people will always sense when something is a sellout, they might enjoy the fact that it’s a sellout, it’s perfectly valid. There’s ample reason for liking something because lots of other people do as well, because you want to know what other people are thinking, humans are social creatures. For someone like me it doesn’t really matter if it goes over other peoples’ heads. My own dad doesn’t really get my art to be honest, and that’s fine because he’s not that kind of person, and it kind of goes over his head but it’s like “oh well, fair enough.” Great leaps forward mean it’s going to take…like e=mc2 everyone knows that, but only now about a century later do people actually understand what relativity is generally, most people kind of do. And the thing is about 30, 40, 50 years ago was people were still going “what the?” it was only scientists which got that, and now it takes a long time for general great ideas to go around the globe and for everyone to actually process it. So, there’s nothing to worry about, some things go over people’s heads, some things go over my head and that’s fine (laughs). If people have humility and that then it’s OK, things go over our heads and we don’t understand everything and that’s fine, you don’t need to understand everything all the time. Just don’t be afraid of that, don’t be fearful of what you don’t understand, kind of like walk to towards it. Universality I think will come when people go “well I don’t know everything,” humility. And that’s where good political debates are lacking humility because no one is coming in from a point of “I want to learn more, I want to admit that I might be wrong, but here are my thoughts” and then someone says their thoughts, and then there isn’t any kind of mutual understanding. It’s too much like a TV show, like a reality show, like who’s the weakest link? So, sportsmanship, but bad sportsmanship (laughs)! There aren’t set rules to politics but there should be. That’s the bad thing about Trump, because he unleashed the Pandora’s Box of political language, because everyone is like “oh well he said that so now we can do the same kind of stuff,” and that’s the problem really at the moment. “Oh well he’s acted in that way so we can act just as bad.” No, the point is, if you don’t want to be like Trump then don’t act like him, and don’t create the same kind of outrage porn, which goes back to your point…authenticity of debate. Philosophical discourse has really run dry, it’s annoying (laughs). As children go by (out the window) it just reminds me that you kind of need that childlike sense of wonder and acceptance and playfulness. Even when you’re an adult, you don’t need to be silly all the time, but if you can’t be silly, you can’t be serious I think. You have to allow yourself to have that freedom to experience something new and playful. That’s why it’s a good being around kids, because you can channel that, “oh water is great sometimes!” That sense of wonder and enlightened kind of experimentation. So if you don’t have that as an adult you’re not really a very interesting person, and I can’t really take you seriously, because you can’t not be serious. There’s no balance between that yin and yang, so (Christopher) Hitchens, “I make jokes because I’m being very serious. I take things seriously so I make jokes about them.” If you don’t have that kind of juxtaposition like being free and playful, you can’t be a serious person at the same time (laughs). It’s like finding a good balance between child, adult, man, woman. Any kind of opposition can be balanced against each other, and that’s probably the path to universality, it’s like the balance of opposites, where you can understand that you react against each other and that you create each other.

Yeah, it’s like the celebration of diversity isn’t it?

It seems obvious that the far right has been caused by the far left. By intersectionality, it’s perfectly obvious to everyone, but isn’t that just a fact? If you stop pushing so much in that way, on the left side, trans rights and stuff, which are very fringe, then you won’t get the opposite reaction on the other side, it’s very obvious. But people obviously need to experience that in their own real life to make understanding of it. And that’s the process we’re going through at the moment. And then maybe in 40 years again the same thing will happen, with a new generation of crazy people coming about the earth.

That also brings about what you were saying about diversity of differences, celebrating diversity let’s say. Because we unite our differences, and that seems to be an underlying principle for those trying to seek solace in this particular moment, which I think encapsulates all that you have been doing with your art. Because obviously Brexit is a very polarizing issue, and you don’t appear to be taking either the remain or leave side, but you just portrayed an expression of various aspects of that, as you described it marmite, and I suppose in a sense without trying to sound kitsch, that could be considered the humanitarian thing to do nowadays, as it always has been, adhering to some sort of unity, true humanitarianism not in an ideological sense, and through that to what extent do you consider your contribution to art and the act of making art, both by yourself and others, a humanitarian act?

We’re all humans, so everything is more or less humanitarian until we’ve met aliens. And then it would be speciest!

Well art can reveal the human condition, so in that way it is humanitarian. But I think most artists if they were brutally and bluntly honest with themselves, art is a selfish act. You kind of need to get something off your chest, or even if it’s not a rant, a political idea or anything, you need to get something out of you. So in that way it’s like kinda selfish, cathartic, therapeutic, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but in that sense of leading on from that again, I found that when say if I’ve written a poem and performed it out live, a poem which I thought was like really…you know I would be embarrassed to read it in front of my parents, then that would be actually something which probably touches a nerve. And therefore, when you metaphorically take the top of your head off and reveal the inner workings of your brain to someone else, they go “ah yeah I feel exactly the same way!” and you go “ah shit it’s not just me!” And that way art can be a humanitarian act, and it brings people together often, but not always. So when you’re kind of naked and being truthful to yourself and you have a Jack Kerouac “I cannot possibly sell out, I’m just going to express art for art’s sake and am going to blow this trumpet as well as I can, and make a joyful noise,” or a joyful expression on canvas, people will sense that. They will go “oh what are you doing here? There’s something going on.” It isn’t just paint on a canvas, or poetry just floating past you going over your head because it sounds nice, something actually goes into your brain via the senses. Biologically that’s the function to provide external stimuli, which then activates your brain in a unique way, in a way that hasn’t been caressed before, so is that humanitarian? Well I guess, but I don’t like the word humanitarian, because it’s kind of pointless until we’ve actually met aliens (laughs). Because what’s the point of reference? We’re all humans, so everything is more or less humanitarian until we’ve met aliens. And then it would be speciest!

(Both laugh)

Very interesting take! But that brings me to another point as well, I mean art can be made individually or collectively, and the thing is making art as an individual is easier on an existential level because one can release exactly what one intends to release, although the difficulty arises that one has to do everything in trying to ensure that that is realized. I suppose music is slightly different as people perform that music, but you can still perform your own stuff. But when you’re collectively making art with other people, which seems to be something that’s incited by collaboration, I mean your paintings could be showcased with someone else’s, or it could be presented with music, or you could be contributing art for a particular event that has particular dimensions to it…so I suppose the humanitarian aspect also comes into the act of making art as well as the work of art itself…

Well anything involves more than one person because nothing is seen…a painting is not seen really until it has been seen by other eyes other than the person that created it. So in that way there is always a kind of interactive thing, but in terms of painting, I would say I enjoy it because it is a solo thing, I wouldn’t really consider working on a joint painting really. I know there are people that do it in pairs…

Gilbert and George for instance.

But there aren’t many of them, I think it kind of benefits from being a solo voice in that sense. Because I make music as well, that’s a more social type of making art. It would be very difficult for five people to gather round a canvas and all paint at the same time. Of course it would be possible but it’s not going to really produce something which we would call art. And that’s different from the old masters, which would have people mixing paint for them, and in that sense their production was a film production. So collective art in that sense is film, because you have got directors who can be auteurs, but mostly it’s completely group effort, with many people involved in a film. So, if you want multiple art forms go to films, if you want a solo expression painting remains the fundamental for that. Which is why I enjoy it and plays to your own ego. I haven’t had any group exhibitions, I wouldn’t say no to them, but the same time I would prefer my own solo shows, because then people would actually get to experience a film, like a development, in the stage of things…

As you say it’s different with music and art.

Yup, each medium has it’s unique qualities which must be played to. There’s no point going…postmodernism seems to, especially in Clickbait Rats, the novel I’m working on, everything goes against what it is. So, a painting is an anti-painting (laughs). It’s the double postmodernism which I don’t want to happen, that’s why I’m writing about it, because it’s what I don’t want to happen after 2025, 2030s, 2040s…

That’s a humanitarian act.

Yeah that’s a humanitarian act!

It’s like your 1984 in a sense. It’s your reflection on a dystopian future and warning humanity about what can happen. And that is a humanitarian function I guess.

…my creativeness is defined by “everything is a collage montage”…

Have you seen THX1138 by George Lucas? It’s a film he made before Star Wars but it didn’t properly get released. It’s a dystopian future, where people are controlled by chemicals and they have mass control panels and people are treated like a tool in a technological machine, and it’s one of my favourite movies. One of those dystopian type of themes. And dystopian novels are always written as they are kind of forewarning what is happening. But what I have been working on, I need to write the next third of this novel, to be like the show of the collapse of where all these nihilistic and fragmentary things all go. So, like everything, my creativeness is defined by “everything is a collage montage” so it’s not really a straightforward plot novel, but I hope to touch that kind of spirit core force nerve, and make it compulsive as in writing images cascading onto each other to build up something which is emotive. So, it’s not going to be like Ulysses, and impenetrable to most people, more like Burroughs without all the gay sex every two seconds (both laugh). Which is fine enough, but sometimes your like “Burroughs can you like…it’s not just about you know” (laughs).

Yeah, well he was just expressing himself. Another humanitarian act back then as gay rights didn’t have the same semblance as they do nowadays. Gay marriage wasn’t legalized, gays weren’t seen as equal as straights so in a way…

Yes, in that sense yes.

…in all his morbid weirdness, Burroughs actually…I think he fundamentally was. Talking about the evil spirit, or the ugly spirit, and trying to write his way out of it, that was ultimately spiritual act you could say, it was his catharsis and so I suppose it runs quite deep in that regard. I suppose it all comes down to truth, as you reflected in your exhibition.

Yes, what it is truth? It’s a process basically.

It really is a process, and that’s the problem with our culture of immediacy, we think it is just a set of answers that are immediately there.




Author: Jason Noghani

Jason Noghani is Listen to the World’s UK-based contributor. He is a composer, musician, cognitive psychologist, writer, illustrator, thinker, psychonaut and devout agnostic.

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2 years ago

Interesting in-depth interview. Thanks Brendan and Jason, well done!

In someway I agree with Brendan. Perhaps the 21st century contemporary art form should always have this kind of “collage and montage” element to it. Of course it includes art collaboration. We are live in the era of “unlimited-perspectives-but-tend-to-look-at-a-single-perspective” which often leads us to a confusion instead of enlightenment hahaa…