Updated: Nov 17, 2018
I was really excited to interview Chris Horner about his work because I love Cemented at Last. He has a residency coming up next year, and a really interesting working method so I feel I’m going to have to start saving up to buy something in case his work suddenly rockets in price before I can get a piece to look at every day over breakfast. Being the granddaughter of a bricklayer I really appreciated this interview. Shefali Wardell.
Would you be able to tell us about the materials you use and why you use them.
I did my degree at the University of Creative Arts (UCA), between 2009 and 2012). I looked at London but Farnham was a more convenient location and UCA has great facilities, which was an attraction.
Then I took a few years out, working and still doing my art. I think maybe at the time I was a little naïve. At least I needed to develop my art. Then from 2016 to the summer of this year, I’ve done a masters which was brilliant. It really got me back engaged with what I was doing in my practice.
Over the last few years, as well doing a masters and on the side doing my art-making at the moment, I did building work. My dad is a bricklayer. So I have a lot to thank my dad for because that’s where a lot of my materials come from - from the building site.
When I’m working with Dad I am around all these amazing materials. It’s quite interesting to see cement or building sand or plaster because I know how they work within the function of building but I am interested in how they can be seen differently and expressed differently. Celebrated through the means of art. I am interested in combining them with art supplies, like different paints, glosses, turps and just seeing how they work and how they evolve together.
I termed the process I work with an “unknown working process,” because everything about it is unknown, in terms of when I put the materials together. It is quite an ambiguous way of working. If you want something to happen you would try it out and really make sure that it works but I get an excitement from putting a range of dissimilar materials together and seeing what happens. Will it work, will it not, how long will it last for, how resistant is it? So that’s what my practice is about really: This idea of being in control and out of control at the same time.
Initially I am in control because I select the materials to work with and then I find I am out of control once I create a mixture. For example if I melt down some paraffin wax and white crystalline wax, put that in with cement, put some building sand in, put some different glosses in as well, I’m creating this mixture and don’t know what I’ve got. That’s what I love, and every work is fresh. Nothing is ever the same.
Initially, looking back when I was at art school during the A Level time I was more into landscape and portraiture; more traditional forms of art. I got bored of it though. I was working with different materials then but I had an idea of what was going to evolve, where as working in this way you just never know. You are building completely new relationships with the materials all the time.
Hearing you talk it seems you have a real immediacy because you have an instant relationship with your materials. If you are painting from a photograph, for example, you are one step removed – not that it is wrong, but this is about having a different kind of relationship with materials I think?
I have been looking at your website, and I had an idea that you would be a very clean kind of studio artist that had conceived your pieces as a design and made them. Actually when I look at this it’s so process led, and documentation seems to be a real part of the work. So if people buy your work are they also buying in to a little piece of these stories?
Yes absolutely. When I speak to people about my work I don’t like to give too much away, and say this is made out of that because what I love is for the viewer to be looking at materials that are familiar but different. What I am interested in is to make the familiar in to the unfamiliar. So you are getting a new experience the whole time.
I have been researching sensory experiences and how everybody has their own individual experience. For me I have my own experience working with the materials. An audience has a different experience, and the space that the works are in adds to the experience.
When I was at art school I was making lots of mess. Where I live at the moment I have a room I can work in but I have to be slightly clean. So what I tend to do in the mixing stage is mix it outside where I can make a mess.
During the process of the mixing I put all these materials together and then pour them over the surface I have chosen to work on. I then start painting the surface. Paint for me provides the information of this experience, of the surface and the materials mixing together.
Oh so on top of all of this you are actually a painter really?
Yes I am amplifying this shift, highlighting the expression of these materials working together. I am basically tracing or drawing out the journey of where the surface is now: From what it was on the building site, to going through this unknown process, to being solidified within the materials. Then it sets.
Cement bags used to be a really hard paper. Now they come in a plastic-polythene texture, which is quite nice. The luxury I have is endless supplies of materials. I can go in to a building merchant with my dad when we’re on a job and he knows what he wants but for me it’s like being a kid in a toyshop looking around.
I think especially bricklayers and plasterers are real artists and there is a huge amount of artistic skill in their jobs that maybe not all people know about. They usually have a huge amount of technical skill. What does your dad or other builders you know think about what you do?
My dad… he says, “what is that?” He might not know where I’m coming from when I’m making it but when he sees the final piece he might not get the whole art philosophy or theory behind it, but visually he quite likes it.
The Time Series on my website were the three pieces I did for my MA show and it was amazing because we had such a great space. It was huge and I could really scale up. Now I’m back in a smaller space and it is a challenge. My dad really liked those pieces. He recognised surfaces from jobs and it was a nostalgia trip for my dad.
In terms of materials and studio / work spaces, how do you find the situation for an artist now?
It is quite difficult. I have mates where I live and in the Farnham area and everyone struggles with having a space. I am very lucky that I have a small space where I can work. I was doing a piece, one of the Time Series, and I made the whole thing outside until I brought it in and played around with installation format.
It’s not easy for everyone, for example if you do portraits you might not want to get the materials damp.
I can see you’ve got a time record sheet on the website for that piece, and it says at the end, “however due to intense rain conditions I was unable to continue,” but I assume that all becomes part of the work?
Yes definitely. The record sheet came from what I am like on the building site and how I could formulate that in to how I work as an artist.
When I work with my dad he is quite old-school and likes to start at a particular time, have a break at a particular time, very regular. I thought what about if I did that as an art piece so I recorded my movements every day.
I did a piece in Peckham at Safehouse with some people from the MA. It was a brilliant space, a derelict house vacant for artists’ use. I was up there for a whole week and built a piece. It could have been seen as quite performative because there was me constructing the piece while the actual show was going on.
Yes that’s performance art! But I was just thinking, have you ever thought about filming some of this process, whether you are in it or not?
Yeah definitely. I am very lucky actually because I have got a residency in London. It’s brilliant. It’s from January to the beginning of March in a great space. The Old Diorama art Centre. The nearest underground is Warren Street – it’s about 5 minutes walk from there.
I have got an idea… I recently helped dad in a big job in Newhurst, a place in Surrey. We were on it for a couple of weeks. We used so many of these cement bags, bags of sand and I collected them. So my idea is to try and create a story within my residency of this collection and forming them in to works of art. The great thing is I get a show at the end of the residency.
What made me think of film is the way you’ve presented everything in little square photographs on your website, I really read it as a story. I kept wondering how that would look animated or something like that… It’s easy to read it as a filmic event, or to almost take the photos as a storyboard.
Yes with the squares it is something I’ve looked at over the last few years. I have been looking at how I apply the paint as information and researching what information is.
Information arises from data, and data is information that has not been fully processed. So I was looking in to the idea of this, and thinking that the data in my work is the unknown working stage of mixing, creating information but it is not anything set. It is only set once I paint in to the surface.
So I was researching technological terms for data and how it is used within computing. The most recurring symbol that was coming up during my research, that represents data, is the square.
The symbol used in data records for on going work is a square. So I put the squares on when I’m still working on the process of layering and removing. I get to the end of that particular cycle when I put the paint on to the surface.
I record the shift that has been made. So the squares represent that journey of the materials. I am quite interested in time as well. How I can create the past, present and future in my artwork.
I didn’t know any of this about data. – it is really interesting and informative. I think what I picked up from the squares and the way you presented it might be the time element of this.
I was wondering about how important the nature of the materials you use is to you. For example with the cement bags is it important they are recycled?
Yes I’m definitely interested in the idea of creating something from the old and making it new - the idea of restoring and bringing back to life.
Cemented at Last was a cement bag that had been battered on the job! You cut it to get the cement out then it’s on the floor and gets kicked around. I bring it back to the studio. When it is on site it gets moved around all the time but when it gets to the studio I care for it. I appreciate it.
When I paint on the surface, for me it gives it life and a sense of authority again. It’s an important material to work with on-site because without cement you can’t build the walls but then once it’s on the wall as art it gets appreciated and valued in a different way.