João Abbott-Gribben

26th Jul 2018

1. Hi Joao, thanks so much for participating - we hope you’re enjoying the coffee! Can you give us an introduction to your practice, interests and experiences?

Hi Conch - thanks for having me! I’d say my practice moves between writing, painting, digital image-making and sculpture. I see myself as primarily a painter, but the paintings I’ve been making recently have been getting thicker and thicker, they also exist without a canvas and end up getting folded, draped over things etc. So I’m often wandering into sculpture as well, but this is still with a firm eye on painting, its history and traditions of display.

I suppose I would say the relationship between perception and knowledge, how sensory information is codified into something perceived as objective, the various stages between individual subjective experience and generally agreed on material truths (gravity etc.). Art history (painting particularly), philosophy and science studies are all disciplines I enjoy reading about and draw from in my practice. At the heart of this is the weirdness of perception, how you can have profound experiences that are utterly your own to the point where they are uncommunicable, yet stem from, essentially rely on, a material reality which at one extreme is just as unknowable as these subjective experiences and at another consists of generally agreed on things like squares, toes, traffic lights. The digital-physical relationship, particularly in relation to materiality, is also something I’m concerned with and address in a lot of my painting and digital work.

2. Talk us through your working processes, what are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on an experimental artists’ monograph of Jennifer Campbell’s work. I’ll be taking the premise of the monograph and playing with it so that the monograph’s final form and process of production reflect and comment on the artists’ processes, themes and subjects. There’s also a change in its scope so that it’s more a monograph of now rather than their entire oeuvre; I’m honing in on what they’re looking at, thinking about and working through at the point in time that they were interviewed.

A key part of Jenny’s work is the relationship between selfhood, the selfhood of others and the interplay between these and the surrounding environment. It’s been really interesting how this dynamic has become very much a lived experience for me. The longer I spent listening to the interviews, writing the transcripts and researching the ideas the more I start seeing the world through her eyes and interests. So I’m planning to include lots of content that I’ve come across during the time I’ve been working on this piece - things I’ve read, exhibitions and places I’ve visited etc.

3. Can you tell us a bit more about your recent show ‘J.A.G+E.H’?

J.A.G+E.H was a collaboration between myself and Emilie Houldsworth. Both our practices explore pattern, 2D:3D relations, representation, illusion and perception. We were hoping we might be able to make a joint-piece for the show due to these shared themes and formal qualities but despite our best efforts nothing came out that we felt did justice to both our practices. In the end we opted for dividing the space with my work being on the floor and Emilie’s on the wall with the works' natural affinity enhanced by a monochrome palette. Emilie’s work comes from a more two-dimensional starting point, using paint on board to create chequered and distorted patterns. They have a really strong optical quality which along with their flatness formed an productive contrast with the paint skins I put into the show. These paint skins were draped, folded and put into relation with frames and mirrors. They’re made by pouring litres of paint into a tray, marbling this and then allowing it to cure. The result is more three-dimensional and haptic but still heavily patterned. We were lucky to have a super writer, Phoebe Cripps, do the exhibition text, we gave her a list of the themes we were looking at and excerpts from previous statement that she wove these into a punchy and evocative written accompaniment to the show.

4. On your website you state that you ‘take paint through various physical and conceptual processes that mimic, refer to and abandon traditional and contemporary methods of image display and production’, could you unpack that for us a little and give us an example of one such conceptual process?

I maybe should have said ‘digital’ rather than ‘contemporary’! What I was trying to say in that sentence was that I take the process of working with and displaying images digitally - vector and pixel, screens, projectors etc. - as a topic of my work. So I’m interested in where paint and its treatment can intersect or refer to or mimic digital manipulation techniques - the abandonment is constant because I’m using paint and painting, to carry out digital tasks. The traditional methods of image display and production I’m referring to here are a scattershot of things that particularly took my interest when studying art history: gilt framing, changing traditions of graphical projection, painting as ornament/interior design, history of paint itself (move from crushed pigment to readymade in tubes, oil to acrylic etc.) painting as a portal to divine or mundane space.

To give an example, I take photographs and scans of paint, alter these digitally and then the file becomes the finished work, the original paintings and paint rarely, if ever, have an existence beyond being a source of imagery for the digital piece, so they’ve kind of evaporated into digital format much like the rest of our experience in the West. Not only that, but the record that remains of them is so heavily edited through software that the relationship the final digital work maintains to the physical source material is really unstable. What’s left is the ghostly materiality of the digital file. I’m also referencing this process with the paint skins. The paint is unbound to canvas or anything else, abstracted (in both senses of the word: non-figurative and displaced from context), portable and pliable, for me this makes it a metaphor for the qualities of digital images and what they’re like to work with and display.

Another thing I have been thinking about when working with vectors in Illustrator is their quality of being infinitely scalable without distortion in digital space. I refer to this when I was use a laser cutter to make shapes in paintings I’d made on transparent perspex, trying to set up a a dialogue between this easy ability to crop, duplicate, scale etc. with the comparative particularity, materiality and fixed-ness of paint and perspex. Another aspect of contemporary image production and display that I was thinking about, this is more in relation to my drawings, is the quality of being backlit. That’s how so many of our images are viewed and I want to try to recreate that shimmering quality so that the drawings might have some trace of it, even when they’re printed out and no longer illuminated from behind.

The physical screen itself has been more prominent in my painting/sculpture. I love the slightly reflective surface of the screen, its shimmer and the small bit of depth it gives to the surface of display, this slick pure liquid transparency, like perfect still water. So I started embedding, partially-embedding my paint skins with resin to try and transplant or maybe heighten that type of effect, which you can’t really get with glass alone, though thick perspex can offer something like it. Most of these works I’ve not quite decided on the final form yet, or they’ve been really difficult to photograph, so they haven’t made onto my site.

5. Do you have a studio at the moment? How important is it to your practice that you are embedded in studio life?

Yes I do have a studio at the moment, it’s with Bow Arts at their Royal Foundation of St Katharine site in Limehouse, which is an amazing place. It’s vital to my practice to have a studio, there’s a focus and continuity of thought that comes from having a dedicated space and the benefits in terms of being near other creatives and the support network that offers are also invaluable. So many good things beyond my practice have come out of my being here. I think I would really struggle to maintain the practice that I currently have if I didn’t have studio. In a way I wish this wasn’t the case because it would save me a lot of money!

7. Can you speak to us about the role writing plays within your practice?

I’m not really sure, it’s been slowly changing over the past few years and it feels like it’s very much in the early stages of whatever’s going to happen with it. Initially I was writing reviews regularly, I enjoyed it but it wasn’t meaningfully integrated into my studio practice. I would say - and this is maybe answering question six as well - that this changed and writing started to occupy a more integrated place in my practice after a commission from Line Magazine to write an open format piece on Jack Lavender’s work. The writers were able to decide on how best to combine the image and textual elements in a way that commented on or mirrored the themes and processes of the artist’s work and I found that much more rewarding than a purely textual response in a fixed format. As I mentioned in question two I’m working on another one of these with Jenny Campbell and I’m really excited to see how it turns out.

8. Are there any particular books or authors that you find yourself coming back to again and again, if so who are they and why?

The ideas in We Have Never Been Modern, Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam and Reassembling the Social by Bruno Latour. He outlines such a pragmatic and insightful way forward, in terms of how to conceptualise the relationship between subjective experience and objective knowledge, 'after' modernity and post-modernity. Here by Richard McGuire, as a meditative aesthetic experience and a reminder of the power of a simple idea, executed thoughtfully. The Hidden Order of Art by Anton Ehrenzweig for articulating a framework of seeing and making art that really resonated and I still draw from in my practice. Oblique Drawing by Massimo Scolari as a fascinating case study in different systems of representing 3D space on a flat surface, it acts like a vanitas piece in that it reminds one of the mortality/impermanence/contingency of our current systems of representing the world.


João Abbott-Gribben is an artist and writer based in London. You can find works in progress on insta @joaoabbottgribbenn and (mostly) completed works