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Martin Maloney interviewed

 

Habitat Artclub Magazine, Autumn 1998

David Barrett: It took you a while to become an artist, didn't it?

Martin Maloney: I did a degree in English at Sussex University, leaving in 1983, going on to teach in Paris for a year. I then went to the London College of Printmaking and did a post-graduate diploma in printing and publishing studies. After that I worked in a publishing company doing production and typographic design. I liked the design department and I thought 'Ooh, I'd love to go to art school'. And I always had wanted to go - I thought, 'I don't want to wake up and be 40 and for flower arranging and nouvelle cuisine to have been my only creative experience'.

So I did evening classes and got a portfolio together. I did classes with old ladies painting life models and flowers. I eventually went to Central and did a foundation course there. I was 27 or 28. Then I went to St Martin's for a year, then to the School of Visual Arts in NY for a semester, came back for a term, went to Nova Scotia College of Art & Design for a semester, then came back to Goldsmiths for 2 years. So I had a long art education.

Long and varied.

I was obviously looking for something. Maybe I had an idea of what art should be and I wanted to find someone to confirm it.

Did you find it at Goldsmiths?

No I didn't, actually. I learned valuable things, but I didn't find a product to apply them to. So I learned a lot about how to look at art, and the questions you should ask yourself when you're making something, and the questions you should ask other people when you're looking at something.

It was a fantastic education, but the end products that people were making when I was there didn't really interest me. There were lots of boys who made process paintings. The intellectual atmosphere was very theoretical, but in a way that seemed dated to me, because Sussex in the early 80's had been very theoretical which was intellectually exciting, but art schools hadn't kept up. It was intellectually embarrassing and way out of date. The equivalent would be your parents talking about the hit parade and you think 'It's not called the hit parade any more, Dad.' At the hipper schools it would be like parents talking about drum 'n' bass and knowing a lot, but having managed to completely misunderstand what it was about.

I was at Goldsmiths post-'Freeze' (warehouse show of Goldsmiths students curated by Damien Hirst in 1988, popularly taken as the start of the Brit Art phenomenon) and none of the students who were there knew it first-hand but they were trying to imitate the look of that kind of work.

You could really spot those second-generation 'Freeze' artists coming through Goldsmiths.

Second- and third-generation. Everything was very hands-off. If you used your hands you were considered a fool. If you faxed something to a factory and had it made - something like the equivalent of three double-glazed windows - that was fine. I didn't have any connection with that.

In the early 90's I'd been to art school in New York, I had started to see the work that was coming from Los Angeles, and the work from New York was changing very quickly. I was going back quite regularly for holidays and it was exciting to see that stuff: it was so much more interesting to me than Brit Art.

Not that Brit Art wasn't exciting, it was exciting, but in New York you could see the next thing coming before it was in the magazines and I suppose I like to look for the 'next thing coming'.

What role did your gallery, Lost in Space, play in that? Was that trying to find the 'next thing'?

No, it wasn't trying to find anything.

You found the next thing in two ways with that, though. One was the work you were showing, which was very different to what was being shown everywhere else: it did seem to be the 'next thing coming'. Second was this idea of having a gallery in a house, an idea which has really taken off now: suddenly every flat is a gallery.

I would love to say it was a great big master plan, but actually I had the idea for my first show in 1994, way before I had the flat to show the work in. I had selected small, intimate, domestic things that didn't need the presence of being in a warehouse or a glossy catalogue: it looked quickly done and easy. I put the idea of a curated show to one side until I moved to a flat that didn't have any other furniture and I was cleaning the floor with a friend - it had nice wooden floors and she said 'Ooh, this looks just like a gallery', and I said 'Funny you should say that, because I have this idea for a show'. So, basically, it was somebody else's idea - Maf Foxwell's.

People picked up on showing in a domestic space in a way which completely surprised me, because really it was the work that interested me and not the flat. It was something that was practical which now has seemed to become a fashion. Maybe people wore baseball hats backwards to stop their necks getting burnt, it had a real practical reason but people picked up on it as a style thing.

It's extraordinary that now, whenever you read anything about this new kind of work, this idea of the domestic and the suburban always crops up.

The suburban really interests me. And the domestic - all British artwork is domestic, you can't get away from it. It's a complete British fascination. If its made by a British artist or the artist lives in Britain, they're going to do works around the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, getting up, having dinner.... If you look through the whole of British art, it is always about that. Making Conceptualism and Minimalism domestic was the late 80's. You can't fight the domestic in Britain, it's part and parcel of one's national cliche.

And the suburban? Well, I like suburban trash, I like suburban culture, I like Zone 5. I like the idea of not making a connection with the coolness of the centre. There's something kind of low-grade about suburban values, and there's something about getting it right and getting it wrong at the same time. Suburban culture bastardized the mainstream, not necessarily in an aggressive, punky way. But all the punk people came from Beaconsfield and Potters Bar and places like that.

There's incredible creative energy in looking at what you were given as you grew up, and then making a version of it later on. You make it with much more knowledge and intelligence. It's like, 'You've given me this, so I'm giving you that.' Of course it depends on what point you want to make, art can seem angry or you can take the anger and change it and make art that doesn't seem so angry. Anger's been done to death recently. 'How do you take that spirit but not copy its product? Or can you apply that spirit to where it is least expected?'

What about the work in 'Die Young Stay Pretty'? It's as if the artists are doing something and then changing their mind half way through. Like in Michael Raedecker's paintings there are always holes from where he's repositioned the string, or where the paint has spilled where it looks like it shouldn't have, but you know that he meant it to.

You either have hands-on or you have hands-off. Once you start to use your hands you get a certain look. It's like when kids at school had jumpers that were knitted by their mums, rather than coming from Marks & Spencer. They looked weird because they were thicker and bobblier. Even if their mums were perfect knitters, it didn't look machine-made. I think painters today are extremely skilled and extremely knowledgeable and they use their skills in different ways. So when you look at Michael Raedecker's paintings, there is a choreography of different techniques. He is not just doing the one pour; he is not Ian Davenport. But he has looked at Ian Davenport to be able to make the pour. And he's looked at Chris Ofili and Gary Hume, put them together and given something of himself. Painting has always had the ability to be eclectic in its borrowing, now it just makes a unified picture which looks less fragmented.

These artists haven't been in a cupboard; they have looked at what's gone on before. But there's no point making a copy of it. There are plenty of people making copies of Gary Hume but to make art, you take something and do something new with it.

These artists in 'Die Young Stay Pretty' don't look sophisticated in the way that the previous generation did, because the previous generation borrowed a very high-art, international look: they borrowed Conceptualism and Minimalism, and added their own pop, cultural, yob content to it. Choosing Minimalism and Conceptualism guaranteed international credibility. This group hasn't felt the need to do that. They have been lucky to find London now attracts an international art audience and are relaxed enough to know that you can make very sophisticated products from odds and ends.

It allows you to borrow unfashionable things...

...and not make it seem regional. It's very international but it doesn't need to prove it. The previous generation had a much more difficult task because they seemed to come from nowhere and they had to prove their internationalism.

In the Wall Street-corporate-80s-advertising-money world, Minimalism and Conceptualism made sense. In the sitcom-goofy world of now, people can do small, low-key things or have weird ways of working and fit in. Artists didn't make this change; the culture does. When art responds to culture, people get it. And when it doesn't, then there's confusion and anxiety because people don t get it. They don't get what the art is trying to say.

 
text copyright david barrett
images copyright the artists

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