June/July 2016

Fallout: interview with Phil Ashcroft

Q.Can you tell us something about your approach?

PA. I like to combine elements that can allow the work to be approached as either an abstract or figurative work, to play with scale. The use of gradients in the paintings, particularly within the sky, hint at computer usage and digital language, but they are processed in a handmade lo-fi way, with marks, drips and errors left in as a part of the working process. They also act as a compositional means to create drama within the frame.

Q. Nightmarish urban dystopias, nature under siege and music all feature in your practice – can you say more about this?

PA. The light boxes and graphic works hark back to my love of architecture and a background in illustration. The titles of these works usually refer to music I’ve been listening to at the time of producing the works. I try to introduce an emotive element with the titling.

My newest light box, ‘All Day All Night’, is named after a key track written by Prince and performed by Jill Jones for her Paisley Park 1987 debut album. It references an area local to CANAL. Another light box in the show, ‘Newbuild’, is named after a 1988 acid house track by 808 State. I was looking across to a new build site in a developing area of Creekside on the Deptford/Greenwich borders. Both works have an uncertainty about them that could suggest a near-future utopia or nightmare.

Nature is also ambivalent in my works: ‘Five Past Midnight’ - a sci-fi re-imagining of The Isle of Dogs half-submerged in a future apocalyptic world – features some alien or dark matter from nature looming in. ‘Turbines (Wear Point)’ references heavy industrial architecture sited within the natural environment. And the ‘Cave Paintings’ series were inspired by a speedboat trip around the caves on Ramsey Island in Pembrokeshire.

Q. Which artists have had an influence on your work?

PA. My influences include Hans Hofmann for his to-and-fro of blocks of colour, working to and against each other in space, Richard Diebenkorn - when I first saw his work at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1991, I was surprised how lightly applied his paint was, I’d expected heavy impasto but it was closer in feel to watercolour, albeit on a grand scale. His Rizzoli 1990 monograph was my first big artist book I owned in my first year at art school. Pre-Amazon and ebay, £45 was a lot of money back then!

Then there are the heroic works of Clifford Still and Robert Motherwell’s ‘Elegy to the Spanish Republic’ series; the low horizons of early Nigel Cooke; the digitally inspired madness of Albert Oehlen; Howard Hodgkin’s loose brush swoops; the colour and application in Patrick Heron’s ‘Late Garden Paintings’; the cinematic feel of Peter Doig; David Thorpe’s early collage works; and always the enduring influence of Matisse, in particular his ‘French Window at Collioure and View of Notre Dame’ and his other works of c.1914.

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

PA. Currently planning more graphic works as I’ve enjoyed creating these new light boxes. Plus a series of large format abstract gradient paintings in a new studio space.