London-based artist Justin Fitzpatrick works in painting and sculpture. His works hint at humorous, and frequently gruesome, stories, often exploring the body as the physical territory in which the relationship between self and world is negotiated.
Here, he talks to Traction about some of his influences, from Borges to Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Lots of the imagery in your work - contorted and tortured bodies, things being digested - connects to ideas we often consider off limits, making me think of a childlike fascination with the body - or perhaps an adult’s stream of consciousness. What draws you to these images?
I think the idea of the body, or specifically what lies inside the body and outside of it, are definitely of interest to me. I like that the physical body becomes diagrammatic of a relationship between self and world. Most of the paintings I am making describe these relationships in various ways, of trying to come to terms with the world or with yourself. The imagery in the recent works are all of animals, but they are always coming into being, becoming conscious or self-conscious. I am also concerned with the body’s relationship to language, so the idea of putting one thing inside another could relate to the idea of a metaphor, of one idea or object being nested inside another, so these bas-relief works specifically are a way to visualize that metaphoric relationship.
I am really intrigued by your titles and the references in them - from Francis Ponge to Sinead O’Connor! What role do these play for you?
Titles are a big part of the process of making a work. I never start with them, but they emerge through the act of painting or sculpting the works and become vital to the development and progression of the work. The pieces begin as something more instinctive but from the moment language comes in it starts to ground the imagery and give them a direction to develop in. In my head, the titles are a way to completely dictate to the viewer a particular way to read the narrative, but they end up being a bit more obtuse than I expect. For example the painting, ‘Francis Ponge in Prison’, the subject is a bar of soap, about which Francis Ponge wrote a beautiful poem in which he lists all the different ways you could talk about soap, and the object gets lost in all its metaphors, almost disappears through being named in so many different ways, just like soap disappears as you use it. He was concerned with knowing the object so thoroughly, so I thought I could converse with him by adding a razor blade into the bar of soap, so it’s Francis Ponge in Prison, unable to trust the materials that he thinks he can know in their entirety. But it’s a bit of a stretch for a viewer to follow that logic, it’s a bit labyrinthine I think, so the titles are for me to tell myself how to make the work, in short.
There is a gruesome humor in much of your work. Are you interested in humor as a way to engage with viewers?
I relate a lot to Grimm’s fairy tales, and the logic of objects and animals therein, and I think there’s a lot of humor in there, in the way objects act. There’s a great story where a bean, a coal and a piece of straw escape from the kitchen stove to make their way into the world, and when they reach a river the piece of straw lays lengthways to allow the others to cross. The coal goes first and gets scared half way across and burns through the straw sending them both to their death, and the bean, still on the river bank laughs so much at this that he splits his seam, ending up laying there eviscerated. Each character has been destroyed by their essential qualities. You’re left with no moral at the end, just the kind of chaotic logic of a joke. I connect with this a lot.
Is there a particular book or author that has been influential in your work?
For me, the person I always come back to is Borges, specifically the collection of short stories, ‘Labyrinths’. There is something in the way he writes, a kind of self-reflexive looping quality, as well as a permeable border between fiction and reality that I absolutely love and aspire to.
What is coming up next for you?
At the moment I am working towards a three-person show in February with two wonderful artists: Lucia Quevedo and Nils Alix-Tabeling, at The Koppel Project in Baker St. After that I will be having a solo show in London, and a solo show in Paris later on in 2017.
To find out more about Justin Fitzpatrick’s work, visit http://www.justinfitzpatrick.com.
Justin Fitzpatrick was included in the group exhibition ‘Lonesome Wife’ at Seventeen London from 30 September - 5 November 2016. For more information, visit http://www.seventeengallery.com.