Liz Ballard, Alex Strachan and Jon O’Dwyer: When OUTPOST invited you to have a show here, you told us that your current practise had moved from painting to concentrate on drawing, especially since your residency at Atelier Baztille. ‘View-Point’, however, seems to employ highly developed concerns with painting, so do you consider these works to be paintings or drawings?
Tristan Stevens: They are both; they hold certain qualities from ideas of painting and drawing. Often people see them as illustrations, but I think that is a remark made from their pre judgments with the standard you get from that discipline. They are only illustrations in the literal sense because, well, they illustrate, but I don’t have the ideas fixed, in fact I don’t have a clue! Drawing for me is a much more immediate response to concerns, where as painting is a process with which I travel to get somewhere that is further away from the end point and I don’t know where that is. So in the end I think these are paintings.
LB, AS, JOD: The method you adopt for many of your paintings is layers of subtle colour washes, creating an obscure ground from where reoccurring characters then seem to emerge, or immerse themselves in. Is it during the process of preparing the background that dictates the final composition, or do the figures follow a preconceived order?
TS: As you mentioned the characters are reoccurring, so they have often been predetermined in the sense that I have a file of images ready to use. The order of events in which they guest in is not. When the grounds are applied it changes every time I come back to it until I feel there are spaces to add my characters. Adding elements makes me go back to the ground and apply more or change it entirely. A good example is in ‘Back in 10 minutes’ where there was a white mountain with a pink sky, a pink sphere light on a string and a lake. Then I started to consider it differently. This created a whole new scenario where different characters could appear. So, it often is undetermined who or what will appear in each picture and if they remain or not. In terms of context, the characters seem preconceived but are really never worked out, even after they are finished. Looking further this can bring up the question of what they are about, and discussing the process is important as it shows that I don’t really know the answer to that.
LB: I was going to ask if the characters are self-portraits, but you seem unsure as to who they are and if they will stay, as if they come from somewhere beyond your consciousness.
TS: Yeah that’s pretty much how it is. I could say they are a lot of different things, such as arcytypes of my psyche or referencing symbols of mythology, all that shambles. These are all influencing me, from everyday occurrences to the stuff I read or learn about. It’s just a big kettle (my head) a store of information and sometimes I use them to create the pictures. I used to get concerned with not being able to explain what my images are about, but more recently it has come clear that they don’t need to be explained. They are the freshest way of creating work from the unconscious, that perhaps says more than if I were to be sure of what I am creating by using my ego. Bacon and Guston, they were very good at describing what they were about, but I think they didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Perhaps rather than self-portraits they are indescribable events hoping to be told.
LB, AS, JOD: Reoccurring characters implies a narrative, or chronicle, as it seems evident that the works were created in series. Do you think that there are individual narratives present in each of these groups?
TS: I don’t see them to be narratives but more situations. I often go through asking myself what I would imagine the situation in my head to be like if it consisted of characters and objects. Sometimes I don't think about it at all. Drawings say it in 'Black and White‘ where as the paintings add all the 'baggage'. The fact that they appear in groups or sets is down to the materials, aesthetics and characters I am using at that certain period.
LB, AS, JOD: Your titles are also curious, with the more recent ones being just one word, mirroring the decreasing scale of the paintings. Is this to regain an immediacy, or are you just getting more concise?
TS: I don’t like titling my work so like my pictures I just write down the first thing that comes to my head.