Thursday, April 03, 2008

Art Space Talk: Bob Smith

Bob Smith, formerly known as Patrick Brill, is a British contemporary artist who is also known by the pseudonym 'Bob & Roberta Smith'. Bob studied at the University of Reading and Goldsmiths College. He has had exhibited extensively throughout the UK, including exibits at the Tate Modern, Whitechapel Art Gallery, and The Lux Center.

BS: Patrick, you are better known by your pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith. My understanding is that you created several persona's and types of work while seeking gallery representation. Bod and Roberta Smith was the first persona to gain a positive response. Can you tell our readers why you created those persona's and why you still go by the name Bob and Roberta Smith? What other names did you use? Did the names-- including Bob and Roberta Smith --represent anyone?

BS: I no longer go by Patrick Brill. I changed my name to Bob Smith ten years ago. Journalists still refer to me as by my old name. Wikipedia does not help. The discussion about my name is not interesting to me. What does it matter?

BS: You studied at the University of Reading and Goldsmiths College. Can you tell us about your experiences during those year? Who were your instructors and how did they influence you?

BS: I enjoyed my time at both places but the work i did as a student was rubbish. I liked Bill Culbert at Reading and Ron Hasleden. They ran an area of teaching together which was interesting it was fluxus based very liberal and students did a lot of performance. I did not have anything really to say in those mediums then so I did painting, but I liked what they did. They did not really teach me.
At Goldsmiths I was taught by Jean Fisher. One day she brought Jimmie Durham into our studio. He blew me away. I loved him. I love his work. Its very powerful. In general I think the artists who taught all the YBA artists are far greater more powerful artists than the YBA's themselves. I like Susan Hiller and Phylida Barlow, Gustav Metzgar much more than anybody closer to my generation. I also had a studio visit from a Chilean artist Lucia Norgueria which was really insightful. Sadly she died. it was a tragedy for art.

BS: You are well known for painting slogans in a unique bright colored lettering style. You use discarded wood boards and banners as your surface of choice. The slogans often challenge art, popular culture, and politics.. and you utilize them for your activist campaigns. Can you tell us why you decided to go in this direction with your work-- when did you first have the idea to work with slogans?

BS: I was a painter as A STUDENT and I always liked to put words in the paintings but as a painter I ran aground. I was successful an I won grants to study in Rome and New York but it did not mean anything to me. I was in New York in the late 1980's and I spent all my grant money. I had to give up painting. So I started doing performance. The performances would require scripts and prompts so that started me writing. I was happier, From that it was a short step to making the writings into installations. I try never to think about them like I did the paintings. I just enjoy the colours because they are bright.

BS: It seems you would rather focus on today instead of yesterday-- as an interviewer I will admit that I do sometimes focus on the past in order to gain insight into how people see the work that they have done with the views that they have at present. Would you say that you are a 'here and now' sort of person? If so, how does that reflect in your performances?

BS: I never like to do the same thing twice. I do however make the same signs again and again just to get the points across but I never do the same performances twice once they have been experienced by me that's enough. Its all about context and time anyway. Those things change too rapidly.

BS: Some of your work has caused controversy. Have you ever offended anyone or been censored?

BS: The point is to annoy people. Make some people laugh. Try to get hit. Lead an interesting life. Most of my shows piss off someone although my writing is getting more reflective.

BS: When we think of art we often think of serious images that deal with serious issues. Do you feel that it is important for people not to take art so seriously-- to remember that art can be fun and deal with important issues at the same time?

BS: I don't really like humour in art. I think its trivial. Sometimes people laugh at what I do, but I don't set out to do that. I would rather people laugh at me than with me. laugh at my seriousness. laugh at my stupidity but please lets not laugh together at our cleverness.

BS: Are you an artist first and activist second... or activist first and artist second? What are your thoughts on using art to cause, manipulate, or enforce social change?

BS: I can't stand artist activists, I just don't believe them. Activism is for the activist and almost never does any good. I am a human being, I make art, you could too, maybe you do? The world is beautiful but idiots are killing people, it should stop. That's where I stand. I don't have any power and I don't want to tell people what to believe.

BS: You host The Bob & Roberta Smith Radio Show called MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MUSIC which is on Resonance FM. You also perform music with a group known as The Ken Ardley Playboys. It would seem that music is an important part of your life. How does music inspire you? In your opinion, how is visual art and music related?

BS: I have a very limited musical ability but I love it so much. I try to write songs.. They are not good. I like truthfulness in art so music rings true to me. Daniel Johnstone, Bob Dylan, Shoenberg, Kurt Weil, Ravel, L'enfant et les sortilege, Mark E Smith, I like instruments as objects. I don't have a clear idea about it. Lots of artists have bands these days. I think it is good. The music is not always good. Playing a guitar can be like making a painting, a really pointless activity done a million times better by everyone else, but I don't think that should stop people. Just don't charge too much admission!

BS: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are friends with Mark McGowan... I've interviewed Mark twice. Have you ever collaborated with Mark... if not, would you if there was an opportunity to do so?

BS: I do know Mark really well. I admire him. He is one of the best artists working in Britain. I have done things with him although nothing really major. I think what he does is really important art. He is next to Gustav Metzgar in my pantheon of worthwhile artists which includes Susan Hiller, Lucia Norgueria, Helen Chadwick, Phylada Barlow , Jessica Voorsanger, Hayley Newman and Liz Arnold.

BS: In regards to the British art scene, what is your opinion of the Stuckists and their views? If you ask Charles Thomson he would say that most people in the UK want art to move away from the art that has strong support by Charles Saatchi and others. Would you agree? What do you think of Stuckism?

BS: I would like the Stuckists if any of them were good as artists... however, sadly they are not much cop. Very few of them could put a line round a plant pot. Sexton Ming is the one exception. He is a brilliant poet but I think even he would admit he is no Leonardo Da Vinci. I think the battle against Charles Saatchi is boring and over. Saatchi always just bought young artists work and now he has his website which aims to help young artists. I don't think he is an ogre.

The real baddies in the Art World now are Jay Joplin and Gagosian because they have taken some quite decent artists and turned them into Faberge Egg makers. Art is more that an investment opportunity for Oligarchs. All artists should be allow themselves to be experimental and politically radical. No one needs the kind of money Damien Hirst generates. He should cool down and make some decent new work instead on churning out the same old .......... If anyone needed their 'Bob Dylan after he had his smash on the motorbike where he did nothing for a few years', period, its Damien. . The same goes for most of the White Cube artists.

However my point is not the same as the Stuckists. Although I don't find many of the YBA's all that interesting its not because they are conceptual or fashionable or even successful, it is because they need to move on. I think many of them have great work to come but the current greedy moment needs to shift.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Do you have any exhibits planned for 2008?

BS: I am a living sign-- the Bob Smith diary's --at Hales Gallery... the fourth Plinth Jamboree and a great show with people who were influenced by Paul; Thek in ZKM Germany.

BS: Speaking of exhibits... what are some of the concerns you have about the state of the art world today?

BS: I like the art world today. I like Frieze and all that. I can remember when Art in London was shit. Its really exciting BUT I think artists should always aspire to an art that turns things upside down and not just participate. Its more important than ever that Matts Gallery, Peer, The Tates The Whitechapel etc... promote difficult art that is impossible to sell.

BS: I noticed that you use the Internet as a tool for exposure. What is your opinion about the Internet in regards to reaching out to people with visual art and music?

BS: I have had an eye infection recently which means that using the Internet, responding to your questions, and looking at a screen is like looking at letraset on a light bulb... so I hate it these days. I would rather we meet in a pub than me sit at home and write this like some kid doing homework. However, I can see it is useful.

BS: I'd buy you a round if I was able to warp to your location! Back to technology... video art and performance art has gained a lot of ground due to the Internet. The advent of the Internet and affordable recording equipment has allowed video artists and performance artists to show their work with ease. Do you think there could be a downside to this? In other words, would you say that the viewer who observes these works online is missing out on the energy that they would observe or experience had they watched the video or performance at a gallery or other venue? The viewing environment can be crucial to video art and performance art, correct? What are your thoughts on this?

BS: I am not sure I agree. I like youtube. It gives access to so much obscure stuff. Some performance art is best accessible by someone telling you about it in the pub. The idea is the important part. Obviously that is not true for everything, but I'm not too bothered about being there. I don't mind turning up late.

BS: With the two previous questions in mind... do you have any advice for emerging artists?

BS: I have advice to emerging people... not artists. Do what you want to do. Don't hurt people, but make your life interesting. Don't go to work for other people. Don't betray people. Try to be truthful. Think all the time. Read............ lay around. Try to work it all out. Stare out the window. Eat well.

BS: Finally, when all is said and done... what is the message you want to leave behind?

BS: It is your turn now.
You can learn more about Bob Smith by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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