In a world where the arts are currently being put on the back burner due to the pandemic, creativity has never been so important. In the midst of these unprecedented times, London-based artist, Tristan Pigott has put together a new collection of work titled Behind Tired Eyes (available to view at Alice Black Gallery till the 16h of December) that explores liminal space and human experience, forming an exhibition so strikingly relevant to the present that it reveals the necessity of art as human survival.
Before we get started, could you please introduce yourself for those of our readers who might not know you yet?
Yes, sure. My name is Tristan Pigott, and I’m an artist based in London, where I studied Painting at Camberwell and also Sculpture at Royal College of Art.
We are currently living in a period of, to use everybody’s favourite buzzword, ‘unprecedented times.’ How have the last six months been for you as an artist?
I found lockdown creatively quite difficult because of the lack of input. It revealed just how important being able to escape and go to a museum or gallery is. There’s a bit of a sense of treading water this year… Optimism has turned into fatigue.
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Your latest collection of work, Behind Tired Eyes (now showing at Alice Black Gallery in London), illustrates the perpetual dread and mental toll that has affected a large majority of us as a result of living through a period of such chaos; it’s not only Covid-19 that haunts our thoughts when we lie in bed at night, but global warming, screen fatigue, financial worries, and the failure of our government(s) in the face of it all. Do you think creating this work was a process of personal catharsis resulting from your own anxieties as much as a comment on the fact?
I think there’s always an element of escapism when it comes to making work, which can be cathartic. I don’t use my work as an outlet for anxieties. I think I’m always trying to hold onto and reveal some reality. I had planned a lot of the work before Covid-19, but the lockdown brought a new context to certain paintings which maybe removed some ambiguity.
In the show, I wanted to explore how our gaze is constantly interrupted, creating a space where objects and people are given the same agency. One example being a boot, traditionally an object to represent the work/life experience of its owner, in the show I’ve imbued it with the same personality and tension I would with a sitter (if not more).
Really what I’m interested in is exploring how we look and engage with space all around us. How often the physical world is interrupted by images placed to pull at our ideas of desire, and how this impacts our gaze and can leave us with both a literal eye strain from overexertion but also a philosophical eye strain that leads straight down the optic nerve leaving us with a sense frustration and confusion over what reality is.
Your work, and this collection in particular, contains a strong human element that lends it a position of extreme relatability. Do you tend to look to the people around you, in your own circle and beyond, as inspiration for the characters you paint? Pieces such as the highly moving Wet to the Touch left me curious as to whether you are connected personally to the people depicted, or whether they are simply portrayals of society in general.
I always paint friends or friends of friends. I want people that fit a role; it’s less about a specific person’s identity than a theme that can be tapped into.
Has your work always purposefully revolved around the current or is the subject matter something that spills from your brush organically?
Most things have been thought out and planned by the time I start painting, although things often change when I start painting. I tend to be quite open about what I allow to spark an idea – often it’ll come from books, films, the news or museums. I like this cut and paste way of threading a narrative together as it allows for different veins of interpretation.
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As an artist who works with the traditional medium of paint, how does it feel to be creating in a world that is so led by technology and the virtual, particularly now as a result of the pandemic?
Painting has such an overwhelming history, it can feel redundant to try and add to it, but I think there’s plenty more to be said. One of my favourite painters is Avery Singer, who uses computer programmes to help design her work. I also use technology whether it’s the Internet for source material, or photographs and playing with ideas on photoshop. I lean into this digital crutch by painting in a way that is as clean and tight as possible, a nod to the screen and the disembodiment evoked by virtual worlds.
Even before the pandemic, we were living in a world that was increasingly distant, relying on screens to connect us and viewing creative content online through platforms such as Instagram. How important are physical exhibition spaces like Alice Black Gallery to you as an artist (and as a human more generally)?
Painting is a way of layering time that can only be experienced in the flesh, seeing how it interacts with space. I think it’s great that so much can be seen online – I certainly get a lot of inspiration seeing what other people are up to –, but it will never replace making a trip in order to see something physically.
Spaces like Alice Black are so important in nurturing artists. It has allowed me to think about painting in a less two-dimensional way, which you can only experience once installed. This in itself is a working process that will lead to new ideas and ways of working. Physical spaces also encourage a more organic interaction with the public and peers, which again can be extremely useful.
Your work, despite being modern thematically, seems to be heavily inspired by the Old Masters and art of the past, particularly the early modern period. What compels you about the work produced during these years and why do you think it is still relevant today?
In the same way as seeing painting as time layered, I find it interesting to layer art historical references with more contemporary events or ideas. One painting in the show, We Lay Waiting (The Sword of Judith and Holofernes), explores the highly depicted story of Judith and Holofernes. My version places the sword with its two faces as the protagonist. The choice of this story, which has a sword as a focal point, came about from wanting to give objects the same agency as people.
A sword has natural agency through years of tales of swords choosing their owners and having personalities of their own in video games. This all makes the sword the ideal metaphor for understanding and thinking about the world in a different way, whether it be more ecologically or simply thinking about the limitations of perception as something evolved in order to function.
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Although Behind Tired Eyes focuses on themes that are born from uncertainty and fear surrounding our present and future, do you also wish to convey hope and optimism through your work?
There’s an underlying humour to the show. The fence, for example, is oversized, with bars that don’t keep anything in or out. The Murals as well are meant, in their looseness, to act as antidotes to the cleanliness and tightness of the oil paintings. The waterfalls almost attempt to wash over the viewer in a hydrotherapeutic sort of way. The installation of the show is meant to feel hectic on one level, your eyes are encouraged to keep working and moving. It also hopefully encourages one to slow down.
Finally, what do you have planned next?
I’ve got a couple of group shows in the pipeline, but otherwise, I’m just going to spend the next few months researching some ideas for the next show.
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