AK: Richard, we’ve known one another for over ten years and when I first met you I didn’t know about your practical work or for that matter your back ground? Since then I’ve seen photographic books, exhibitions of a photographic essay and several illustrated books of your narrative ideas. Can you explain your background and how you came to making these particular books?
RS: At University I studied Graphic Design but made frequent excursions into other departments….sound, moving image, photography, surface pattern and printmaking. In that institution printmaking was interesting because officially it’s apparatus had been banished in favour of computers, and required an act of faith to rejuvenate as a medium.
Cross-discipliniarity, in a sense, was never a big issue for me – to be interested in nearly everything, every means of communication, seemed a perfectly natural stance. My Graphics work was very image-based and the conceptual content, I strongly believed, was just as important as the form. It was essentially the ‘fine art’ end of Graphics. I was a mild-mannered Refusenik.
At one point, post-Uni, photography somehow became important for me. I felt it was receptive to the idea of a haunting, romantic kind of image which expressed some of my existential feelings at the time. I really felt there was something that echoed in the images I was making ; they had a theoretical basis but were principally, and importantly, intuitive in nature. I used this to build fragmentary, un-fixed narratives, on the axis of the word-image relationship. I self-published three such books, and still have a first prototype which I hope to belatedly publish in the coming year.
AK: Your last exhibition shown in the Parkside Gallery, BCU was entitled A Space Between Utopia and the Place We Know, it was a photographic record of a particular place in time. Can you tell us more and perhaps how it came about?
RS: I moved to Italy on a ‘romantic’ mission in 2005 – I had fallen in love and so departed my beloved Brighton. Close to where I lived, in Mestre, I discovered, rapturously, an actually incredibly strange late-Brutalist public park. I committed myself to recording it photographically over a six month period. Yes, I tried to discover it’s soul. It was a fantastic stimulus for visual exploration and also triggered a phase of research where I was also able to interview the original architect about his personal/public vision. Research, for me, has usually generated more energy when it occurs ‘organically’. Analysis follows from that. Though seemingly quite low key, my principal fuel is passion – for something – anything.
AK: Recently you’ve made some interesting forays into the Print room, can you tell us a bit about some of the prints you’ve pulled and what you were hoping to achieve?
RS: I carried out a lengthy printmaking residency in the School of Visual Communication, BCU then at the former Gosta Green campus. This was principally re-visiting my periodic and long-term exploration of screen-print. Two of the exhibitions I held: Animal Kingdom – Human Dominion and The Architecture of Sleep (2012-13), were developments of photographic work with added manual mark-making and digital manipulation and analogue execution – an integrated process which invites and sustains the inevitable technical indefinables. In a way I have no idea exactly what I am when I produce these, which I quite like, the word ‘artist’ almost seems to lose meaning the more oft it is applied. Perhaps the resurrected term Graphic Artist comes to mind. Animal Kingdom’s theme was of the historical transition from superstition to scientific rationalism, while Architecture of Sleep attempted to re-create the disquieting nature of spatial configurations in dreams – the ones I experience anyhow.
AK: In terms of your own practice how do you see research fitting in, do you have particular research ideas or are you looking to develop these through your on going practice?
RS: Research is a fundamental element of personal practice, and indeed likewise for art students. Research is (at least) twofold – research into factual background (objective), and creative research (subjective, could be observational drawing/sound recording etc. etc.)….that is my simplification perhaps. The desire to do this is intimately linked with the desire to go on learning essentially. It’s an incredibly important component to me as this is the means by which to keep broadening horizons – to make some kind of discovery. A future research idea is aimed at exploring a specific community; the social structure and the poetic structure, so-to-speak. Both species of research would be important in that endeavour.
AK: One of the interesting things I’ve noted is that you do a lot of photography and clearly this is important both an important part of your working process but also an outcome in its own right. Can you tell us how you see the role of photography working in your practice?
RS: When I am out, on a field trip we could say, the camera becomes a very important part of a sequenced continuum. It doesn’t seem like an intermediary but something very direct – not as direct and physical as mark-making on a tangible surface maybe, but nevertheless fused with the experience of the moment. Sometimes these photographs are purely research visuals, sometimes finished works. They are only finished work if that visual image is ‘definitive’ as a photographic one. If it is not it will appear ‘vacant’ I poetic terms, let’s say. When you work with a camera a certain rhythm can develop and that is a bit like experiencing hypnosis; a being at-one-with, and totally absorbed in the experience. That is a learning.
AK: Can you tell us about some of the people or events that have inspired you in recent times, for example are there any current practices you think are worth sharing? I know you are particularly interested in People in Print for example.
RS: I think hybridization in art & design is a condition I feel most comfortable with… should I feel comfortable? The boundaries dissolve only quite slowly… or rather they only dissolve amongst the like-minded who wish and have the opportunity for them to do so, quite regardless of their historical location. I feel most at home where the creative scope is broad-ranging and is not limited by considerations such as vocational ‘suitability’.
Sometimes this can be at conflict with commercial preoccupations, but, paradoxically, experience I think shows that the success of the two are usually intimately linked. We can be creatively uptight at times and this is when the dreaded inhibitions can kick-in.
Very often inspiring people and events will, of course, come from a completely different discipline or source, for instance where we have used psycho-drama practitioners or fringe theatre groups within a student module…I have always threatened to bring a farmer in…some still believe it to be a joke…
I have more contentious things to say, but in an appropriate future context.
AK: We’ve called this centre Graphic Arts Facility and you’re very much a key participant, can you share some of the ideas you may have going forward in the centre?
RS: I think this could be the very territory to throw away the various snobberies, superiorities or reservations that might be variously encountered in the visual arts. The idea of the Graphic Artist as an integrated creative on an all-encompassing adventure seems well-tuned to the future we face. Pragmatically speaking this environment can be a very useful for students of the applied arts who don’t wish to be streamed into more closely defined activity. The tricky thing is to strike a balance between dilettanteism (in the long past considered a compliment!) and the dedication to a particular specialism, i.e. typography. The need for skill.
AK: Thanks Richard and we look forward to seeing some of your forthcoming projects.
RS: Thanks to you, and I’m currently working on a few mid and long-term projects, including a retrospective show of my screen-print work.