Tyrrell Winston began collecting unusual things around his local Brooklyn: used needles, cigarette ends and empty drug bags being just some of them. For him, these each hold a personal history, and by categorising and repurposing them into art he leaves the viewer also wondering at the mysteries behind them. By getting his work into the public eye and opening up a discussion, could he clean up the streets whilst cleaning the streets?
Could you briefly tell us where you come from and how you came to be an artist?
I’m from California. I moved to New York to finish college. After I graduated, I had a hard time finding work and found myself roaming the streets between job interviews and to simply pass time. Around this time, I began frequenting galleries, openings and museums. I would collect paper scraps from the street and combine them with cut-up newspapers to make very Dada-esque looking collages.
If you had to, could you describe your current work in one sentence?
Your work has previously been labelled as ‘found art’, but you don’t just pick up an item and pop it on a plinth à la Duchamp, you give it a new meaning. Are you trying to make social or political statements about America with your work?
I work with universal objects that stretch across cultures and places. I’m re-contextualizing the overlooked in a way that becomes unavoidable. There are underlying statements in everything that I make but those are for the viewer to decipher.
The titles of your work are really intriguing and tongue-in-cheek, from Tony, Joe and Hannah (Montana) to American as Apple Pie. How do you come up with the names and what’s their relation with the artworks? By the way, which is your favourite?
There is always a new favourite. Currently, a large cigarette piece that was just showed at Art Brussels titled We’re At The Table is my favourite. A lot of the names come from conversations overheard on the street or pop culture. I listen to rap and have movies or The Sopranos on in the studio non-stop; lyrics and lines from these constantly make their way into my work.
Your name lends well to your medium in your cigarette works, and you use the Winston cigarette company logo in your works, and even sign ‘Tyrrell’ on found Winston cigarettes. Are you expecting an upcoming lawsuit from Winston?
Nope. If they did, you can bet that I’d use it in my work.
There is always such a mystery behind used objects, who their previous owner might’ve been and why they chose that specific shade of lipstick that’s stained on their cigarette. Do you often imagine stories or anthropomorphise the items you find?
I think about this specifically with lipstick-stained cigarettes and deflated basketballs. Was the disposal/loss of each object a moment of joy, sadness or something else?
You named one of your basketball net quilts in your most recent show to an album by former Wutang Clan member Ghostface Killah. Does music have a big influence in your work?
It influences my work more than anything. I have a difficult time working in silence.
Whose music should we be listening to and whose art should we be looking at right now?
You should be listening to Young Dolph, Lil Durk, Freddie Gibbs, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Brent Faiyaz, and Jorja Smith. And you should be looking at Cheyenne Julien, Nina Chanel Abney, Paul Verdell, David Hammons, Wolfgang Tillmans, Yuji Agematsu, Umut Yasat, and Jordan Nassar.
In New York, there is of course a lively art scene - but just like my home city of London, it is an expensive place to live as an artist and everyone has to support each other. Do you buy or trade work with a lot of your fellow contemporary artists?
I’ve recently begun making more trades. Still not in the market to afford a lot of my friends’ work!
I find your fake hotline ads really cool – do lots of people call up thinking it’s legit, and what do they say?
Most of the hotlines are dead now. I think one is still active. Kind of like when a drug dealer gets a new burner phone, the old number dissolves into the ether. I’ve received some pretty wild messages that I have saved but I’m focusing on other projects.
Sorry to be predictable, but if Donald Trump called you up what would you say to him?
Don’t end DACA. Denounce white supremacy.
You have exhibited in New York City and Los Angeles, and more recently in Brussels (Belgium). Are you hoping to show to a more international audience across the world?
Yes. I’ll be showing in Brussels again in September with Stems Gallery. I’d also like to show in Paris and London when the time is right.
Could you give us a sneaky tip for what exciting things we can expect to see in your upcoming show?
Until recently, I’d built my career through self-promotion via Instagram and now I’m trying to hold work back and have it surprise people, as opposed to always posting what I’m up to in the studio. I can’t give too much away, but there will be some one-off sculptures and a few larger cigarette and basketball pieces.