Studio Feature ://
Posted August 2018
Float.‘s first studio feature took place in the gritty depths of the Suffolk countryside in none other than 18th century classical painter, Thomas Gainsborough’s home town of Sudbury. For a town so deeply connected with Gainsborough’s legacy it is incredible to see two young painters, working within TG’s landscape, creating fresh, unique and dynamic abstract paintings. Working in a disused warehouse, Billy Myles-Berkouwer and Matt Congdon are working with rich concepts, using their studies in literature and philosophy and the immersion of working in the digital age as the core foundations of their work.
Float.: How did you find this space?
Billy: When I was in Costa Rica and working in the house I had quite a lot of room and I knew when I got back to the UK I would need a similar sized space. My Mum has a studio in this business park and so through her I found out that there were several potential places we could have a studio. I then mentioned it to Matt to see if he wanted to share a studio with me as we’d always wanted to work together.
Float.: Do you influence or inspire one another?
Matt: We hadn't really properly spoken about our work before. We’d seen bits of it obviously and we kind of knew what each other had been working on, but we had a couple of phone calls when Billy was in Costa Rica and then we started speaking more in-depth about it. Then we realised we were going on about the same sort of thing -
Billy: - there was a kind of convergence.
Matt: Yeah, yeah definitely, because we both started planning paintings digitally and then trying to render those digital lines, stuff like that.
Billy: Yeah I think that’s something I've always tried to do, like my first abstract painting was kind of a pixel painting. Before that I'd struggled to do abstract painting so I used technology as a way in. And this is the same with Matt’s approach.
Matt: I picture the way we work like a circle. We come from different points but they meet in the middle conceptually.
Billy: Yeah definitely, and we had a lot of shared philosophical interests. They are also a little bit different, but there is so much crossover because you [Matt] would tell me about certain topics or things that I wasn't reading and vice versa.
*Bird walks on tin factory roof*
Matt: Yeah this happens a lot [the bird]. It’s spooky when you're on your own here at night with all the weird noises and that.
Billy: I also think back to when we were young - 13 or 14 - when we were drawing, we were both doing figurative stuff and I remember feeding off Matt quite a lot.
Matt: We've made work in close proximity since we were kids, but it was in the last year or so that we became much more serious about our practices. We both began to settle on a more solidified style. Working together recently I think we’ve both just become more confident with our general approach.
Billy: An interesting relationship that developed when I was in Costa Rica was emailing my dad because he doesn't use technology very well but he can use email. So we would write long, long emails about the work and our interests and where we were going with it. We’d have these long conversations via email and now I have a record of this back and forth with my dad about my work and his work as well.
Float.: So is your dad a painter as well?
Billy: Not exactly. I recently found out he was a painter through his 20s but he is a full-time artist now and works more specifically with photography and printmaking. It was through those emails that I really started to develop my conceptual interests. So it was when I was speaking to Matt about the things I’d written in those emails that we began to realise the correlation between our own practices.
Float.: How long have you guys known each other?
Billy: Since we were 10 or 11, so about 12 years in total.
Matt: Yeah it's a long time *laughing*
Float.: Is this collaborative dialogue you have going on important to your individual practices and processes?
Matt: I wouldn't say the processes themselves but it makes the whole thing just kind of a lot more enjoyable.
Billy: That's how I would describe it.
Matt: I wouldn’t say we influence each other's work but we do influence just the general atmosphere because we have a similar attitude towards the idea of a process itself. Our work stays fairly separate but the very atmosphere of creation is influenced by both of us.
Billy: Just having a studio is great but working with someone you’ve known for a long time, get along with super well and share a lot of interests and tastes with makes the whole experience far more enjoyable for us both.
Matt: But also I think it’s an interesting thing that our tastes, just like the work, kind of come from different places but meet in the middle - there’s a lot of convergence there too.
Billy: Yeah, and there is a real understanding and awareness of the way one another works.
Float.: How important is it for you guys to have the space to work?
Billy: For me it's incredibly important. I wouldn't be in Sudbury right now if I didn't have this kind of space. It's crucial for a whole load of reasons but the main one is just to have the space to experiment and the ability to leave your work where it was the day before. It’s nice to finally be working in a proper studio, outside the home. Having a space that is really my own is great - I wouldn’t stay in Sudbury for more than three days otherwise.
Matt: To me it's taken the activity of working outside of your immediate environment, meaning it can become more its own thing. When you are just working in your own house without a proper space even though you can get a lot done you're still just in your house so you always end up doing other things. The work sort of gets lost in all the day-to-day noise. Saying that though in here if you’re on your own it can get a bit horrible because you can’t do anything else but work. Like you don't have any signal or Wi-Fi so there’s nothing really mindless to do, I mean you've got a load of books but if you're not in the mood to read all you can do is paint, so if the painting isn't going well one day you end up just sitting on the grotty sofa like…
Billy: Yeah, my first experience really having a studio was learning how you need to tidy up after you've been here for a day. Also knowing where things go - it can take a while to figure out and it's really important for our creative process to keep the space tidy. Now moving into a new studio would be much easier and smoother so yeah that's pretty important.
Float.: So I suppose it's again going back to the atmosphere that you're creating and the atmosphere of having the studio solely as a working space means that you're coming here to work and it can be as frustrating as it is productive.
Matt: The thing is that we can do literally whatever we want in here as well because the space is going to be demolished or renovated or whatever. Also like I said being here on your own is very different to being here with someone else. That can literally create a whole new atmosphere and it’s a huge aspect to think about when working here. There are some days when you're here on your own and it's not like it's less enjoyable but it is very different.
Billy: It's more serious.
Matt: Yeah it's definitely more serious. Because we do kind of just muck about a lot as well.
Billy: Yeah we muck about constantly. I mean Matt doesn't distract me from my work but if you take a step back from your painting while you need a rest for five minutes, your rest then becomes looking at what Matt’s doing and it’s also funny to see someone else getting frustrated about their painting. It makes you think ‘wow maybe I look like that when I'm frustrated’.
Matt: Yeah that is quite funny.
Billy: We make these stupid films too, to sort of document these little interactions.
Matt: Yeah so the other day we were working doing this kind of precise stuff and it was funny because every time one of us would make a mistake they would step back and be like ‘fuck sake’, and then 10 minutes later the other one would step back and be like ‘fuck sake’. It must have looked like some kind of deliberate rhythmic thing.
Billy: *laughing* maybe leave that answer out.
Float.: No worries, we can place some asterisks in there for that one.
Float.: I know the space may be being knocked down or changed so does the temporality of the space affect the way you guys are working?
Matt: Yeah definitely! I think it’s one of the reasons why we are working in quite an intense way at the moment.
Billy: Yeah because we are producing lots of work and we know the space will be going soon we’re putting less pressure on each individual piece. And I'm not constantly reevaluating my work or my life. I'm becoming more confident with my work and my processes so my paintings are improving one after another.
Matt: Both of us are just trying to cane it and make as much work as we possibly can. And that means that even though obviously each individual work is still important it's more like what's the end product of all of it going to be?
Billy: Yeah I think that is something that is true to an artists practice in general. When you really start producing work and developing your practice it's not necessarily about an individual piece, it’s about an ongoing process of making work. I think the time limit is for me a positive and a negative. At times I have found it difficult to work because I know I’ll have to leave this warehouse and probably adapt my practice to work in a more confined space. I guess this is something a lot of young artists feel but at times I’m quite concerned about the future. Sometimes the time pressure makes it more difficult to work, but there are other times where the time pressure makes us really productive. It's like we're here for long hours, days and days in a row and we make the most of being here. We haven't slept in here yet but we are staying in here till very late hours.
Float.: It’s great to see the space so active because I was here a couple of weeks ago and the space has changed so much in that time. The space is evolving as you're producing work. As the importance of individual works is becoming less and less precious, you're really seeing the progress in all of the works as a whole.
Matt: Another thing I used to do actually when I was just working in gardens and houses and any room I could find was constantly destroy work or paint over it because I wouldn't have room to keep it. Working in here means I can do anything and actually keep a finished piece, whereas before it would seem like I would never really have anything that was finished. I used to think it was kind of a good thing that you never actually had any work, do you know what I mean? You are always in the process of making it and I always thought that was an interesting aspect conceptually. Obviously it’s not great if you ever want to do anything with the work itself.
Billy: I was also just thinking how funny it is having the studio space being surrounded with all these paintings that we’ve made. While I was in my room in Costa Rica I was also surrounded by the same paintings. It's interesting to have them here after travelling all that way and to still be producing work in response to them in an entirely different environment. Working in a completely different geographical space is something I find interesting. The ‘Branded Content’ series has transitioned quite smoothly despite the change of environment.
Float.: That leads really nicely on to the next question… does being in a small rural town like Sudbury change your output? What are the advantages and what are the disadvantages?
Matt: There isn't much else to do other than work. It's not just because we have the space and that it’s temporary that means we are making lots of work, it’s the fact that because there isn’t much happening in Sudbury it just allows the time and space to work constantly.
Billy: I think being in a business park in the middle of the countryside allows me to get into a unique space. But I wouldn’t say it has a direct influence on the work because a lot of my work relates to things I’ve discovered on the internet, rather than my geographical location. I think it’s partly for this reason that I don’t really feel my work fits easily into the tradition of ‘British art’, whatever that is.
Float.: Do you think having this space in a larger city such as London, Bristol or Manchester would affect the work that you're producing?
Matt: For me it goes back to atmosphere. This space as it exists, I don't think you could get it in a larger city unless you are paying loads of money. I think it's the whole thing, like there's this quite isolated industrial environment that we are working in and that definitely makes the atmosphere very unique, but I would say that affects the process more than the work as a finished thing. It’s not like because we’re here we’re painting different things, it’s just that we’re going about it in different ways.
Billy: Yeah I think it would affect my work, I would have greater access to shows, meeting different people and I'd be living with different people. That’s why I’m moving to London. All of that stuff influences me and has influenced me. Like, having this space in London would be amazing. I think even though I use the Internet a lot, being influenced by things around you is key and I don’t really find that here [in Sudbury].
Float.: Even though the actual geography of a place might not affect your work, the opportunities that are available to you in a larger city such as exhibitions, talks and events being on your doorstep is a huge help. Here to get to an exhibition or anything similar it needs to be planned with train times etc taken into account which can instantly restrict what you can and cannot attend.
Billy: Yes exactly, the amount of times I see something on Instagram and I think ‘oh I'd like to go to that’, ‘oh it's tonight I won't be able to make it’, it is frustrating missing out on some of these things. I think it’s quite crucial as an artist to have the opportunity to regularly go to exhibition openings, to meet new people and to have access to spaces to put on shows. Those things affect your work and your interests. Although saying this, geographical location alone has literally affected two works I’ve made here in Sudbury because they’re made on signs found in this business park. They say ‘Stour Valley business Park’ on them and I've defaced them, but you can still read the text through the paint. They are site-specific. I suppose you could see this piece as a legacy for the studio. So yeah, maybe we just haven't been here long enough for Sudbury to directly affect our work.
Both Matt and Billy’s Artist Feature interviews will be up soon!