The London-based contemporary artist creates uncanny archival pieces of treasure out of our society’s trash. When was the last time you used an ATM? With digital payments on the rise and a cashless world seemingly impending, we are losing the culture of physical money. Callum Eaton does something about it.
The UK is in the top five countries for cashless payments, rendering the humble ATM almost obsolete where Callum Eaton is working from. But with graphic lines and cubist-esque form the ATM has a new function in this artist’s work: an object of beauty. Smirking at what we spend time looking at, Callum Eaton subverts what we might expect to see in a gallery space rendered in prestigious oil paint. To catch his next series of obsessions you can attend his upcoming solo show with Carl Kostyál in London this August.
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Your Hole in the Wall series is really attention grabbing, taking a relic of the past and putting this familiar object centre stage in the context of an art gallery. Why did you choose to obsess over a mostly redundant object?
I see these paintings as a certain type of social archeology; once at the cutting edge of capitalism and technology, the now almost redundant ATM litters our streets. Often out of order, graffitied or smashed, these objects carry within them the inherent fear of being scammed, robbed, and threatened.
The paintings are archival; a document for posterity when cash is no longer used. Since showing the paintings in Paris, three of the ATMs that I made painted replicas of have disappeared or been removed. No one would even notice - why would they notice? But I notice.
It wasn’t only that there seemed to me to be a time sensitivity to making these paintings. The formal qualities of the objects also appealed to me; evoking cubism and the aesthetics of formal abstraction, these trompe l’oiel, life size cash machines offer an uncanny simulation of the real thing. They are functionless as paintings - almost as functionless as the real ATM’s on every street corner. They are life-like paintings of a lifeless thing.
There is also the obvious tongue in cheek comment on an art world increasingly obsessed with auction results and price tags. These paintings could serve as a potential reminder that perhaps cash is still king.
How often did you visit cash machines to create this series? Did this action feel like a ritual from the past?
I would never go out of my way. Part of the joy for me was being able to take a different route to the studio, or be out with friends and still be “working” and finding subject matter. The night time ones were particularly fun to paint; artificial lighting, shimmering keypads, a neon glow. I’m happiest when I am in my studio with an uninterrupted day and these paintings allowed me to do that. I am also of a generation that rarely uses cash anymore so all of the machines in the show I have never actually used for their intended purpose.
You’ve talked about the pace of technology leaving ATMs at the roadside as it tears forward, and the importance of noticing them. What other objects deserve more care from viewers?
That’s not for me to say. Personally, I enjoy finding the beauty in the mundane. Painting as a medium is a time consuming process and it slows down the viewing process because of the imbedded time on the canvas. The joy of what I do is that I could choose to paint any object, and that labour and care poured into recreating such overlooked objects in oil on canvas gives them importance. If you want to see what I’ve been obsessing over of late, you’ll be able to in my upcoming solo show with Carl Kostyal in August.
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It was conversations with fellow artists Oli Epp, Ant Hamlyn and Liam Fallon that led you to realise the importance of creating a series like the one we are talking about. How do your conversations go with fellow artists? How else have your contemporaries inspired you?
I love talking to fellow artists. Gossiping, complaining about deadlines, hyping each other up. I seem to have fallen into the most amazing group of artists who are all so generous and wise. I’m lucky enough to be in a studio building with plenty of amazing artists who I’m constantly bugging for advice. One of my closest friends Tom White (painter) has a studio a floor above me, so we’re always talking about techniques, meaning and my dating life (laughs).
Another one of my closest friends is Brynley Odu Davis, a very accomplished photographer. We are constantly talking about our work, the context in which we are producing work and just generally giving each other the confidence to make the work we want to.
Oil painting as a medium is rich with significance, what drew you to it?
Initially I was attracted to it because it seemed like the professional way to paint. Quote unquote serious painters painted with oil and smelt like linseed oil and turps. I then consequently fell in love with its versatility and malleability. There are few better feelings than making a perfect blended transition. I should probably get out of the studio more.
There is obviously a cultural significance to using oil paint. The paint invented to paint the flesh of the son of God, pretty serious stuff. I like to negate that by choosing subject matter that isn’t usually the subject for series painting.
As an artist, I can give the same stoic grandeur of works of the old masters to a hole in the wall. I aim to be playfully disrespectful to a lineage I very much admire, but also can’t help but take the piss. I want to challenge your expectations of what an oil painting can be. Also, I was better at it than my older sister.
What’s in your headphones when you are painting?
Music or I’m on the phone to friends or family. Going through a heavy RnB and Rap phase atm; Deela, Coco & Clair Clair and Ama Lou to name few. Often with a sprinkling of Chilly Gonzales to add variety!
I also have the odd ability to be able to concentrate more on the painting if I’m mindlessly talking to someone whilst doing it. I’m sure most of my friends wince when they see my name come up on caller id, getting themselves mentally and physically prepared for a one sided, multiple hour monologue or therapy session. But at least I’m self aware - right?
Hyperreal art can be quite commercial, but your choice of subject matter really gives your oil paintings an edge. Is your work destined for an insider audience who understands your jokes?
I’ve always had a thing for shooting myself in the foot (laughs). It’s always been an ambition of mine to make a painting that a professor of fine art and my mum can have a conversation about and neither be condescending towards each other. What I mean to say by that is that I’m aiming to make inclusive paintings. Paintings that you don’t need a masters degree to decode. I am painting objects of my world, our world.
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You share an interest in Britishness with Corbin Shaw. What does it mean to be British?
At the moment, I’m not really sure. It’s not something I scream from the rooftops about, even though I am very aware that there is an inherent nostalgia in the objects I paint that is British. I just don’t think about it too much, I paint what catches my eye. I am constantly visually digesting my surroundings, and at this moment in time I am currently based in London so the objects I depict are English. If I was to spend time elsewhere I’m sure there would be change in the character of the paintings. But perhaps those would be the paintings of a brit abroad, perhaps its inescapable!
You count Ozwald Boateng as a client. What is it about your work that attracts the fashion-type?
I’ve always felt a kinship with fashion designers. My studio is currently at VO Curations which is a very collaborative and creative space. Just down the corridor from me I have some amazing designers, one of my favourites being LA MASKARADE. We often have conversations about truth to materials, tromp l’oeil painting and the bagginess of our trousers.
Does a bashed in ATM say capitalism is broken? What else does it speak to?
Funny you draw that parallel. I actually painted that whilst going through a rough break up so it was more of an emotional painting. Often the paintings can take on a narrative of their own.
The opening of my show Hole in the Wall in Paris coincided with the most recent protests and riots in the city centre. At some point in the evening a group of Gilet Jaunes came to visit the gallery. I was completely oblivious to the significance of having these protestors in a commercial art gallery full of cash machines. Funnily enough they enjoyed the smashed up machine and the taped off one the most! Quelle surprise!
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