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Interview with visual artist Chris Clinton

  • Date: 13 May 2014
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: Midlands
Chris Clinton 'Spiderman' 'Spiderman' (2013) by Chris Clinton

Chris Clinton is a visual artist living and working in the West Midlands. After graduating from Birmingham City University with an MA in Fine Art, Chris went on to hold his first solo exhibition at The New Art Gallery Walsall. Two of his reworked corkboards, 'Spiderman' and 'Nascar #29 Kevin Hardwick", have recently been purchased by the Arts Council Collection, one of the biggest loan collections of contemporary art in the UK. Here he answers some of our questions about his journey to become a visual artist, who inspires his work and the advantages of being part of a development programme such as New Art West Midlands and group exhibitions at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Was it always your ambition to be an artist and if so, how does it feel to be making that ambition a reality?

It wasn’t always my ambition to be an artist. When I left school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but was encouraged to learn a trade and undertook an apprenticeship in technical/mechanical engineering. Once the apprenticeship finished I tried various jobs, which included working as a labourer on a building site and in a print room for a regional newspaper. 

Through visiting a friend in London, I began meeting and making friends with artists and visiting exhibitions.  After developing an interest in art, I enrolled on a part time foundation degree in Art and Design at Bournville College. After the first year I decided this was a career I wanted to pursue further and so re-enrolled full time on the foundation degree in Art and Design. Following this I went on to complete a BA in Fine Art full time, rented a studio and then returned to education to complete a part time MA in Fine Art. 

What medium do prefer to work in and how would you describe your artistic style?

My current practise occupies a space between painting and sculpture and consists of manipulating or altering existing object/material, material that has some kind of cultural and nostalgic significance and changing it through a preconceived process to create something new. I’m interested in creating art where there is a strong interdependence between the physical presence of the work and the intangible visual elements of surface.

Which artists have inspired you and influenced your work?

It’s hard to pin down a specific artist, but I have always had an affinity to Minimalism. Artists such as Judd and Flavin, but then also post-Minimalist artists, such as Eve Hesse and Bruce Nauman, artists that favoured process over product.

What was the inspiration behind the piece of work which has been acquired by the Arts Council Collection?

The works acquired are part of an ongoing series and to begin with I didn’t realise that you could purchase novelty dartboards with references to Hollywood fims, Comic books and consumer branding.

The first few that I made were from standard ubiquitous dartboard designs. The novelty dartboard that I made was ‘The Simpsons’ and from beginning to be able to recognise which dartboards are made from paper coil, I was able to scour Ebay to source other dartboards.

The anticipation and process of collecting is an important part of this ongoing series of works. I already have three more dartboards to remake, including newer ones such as ‘Game of Thrones’ and 'Scarface'.

What is it like being an artist studying and working in the West Midlands and how has being part of New Art West Midlands impacted your career?

Whilst undertaking my MA in Birmingham 2009-11, a number of artist led spaces began to emerge around the east of the city which led to more opportunities of engagement outside of University. Joining Eastside Projects associate scheme and applying to Turning Point West Midlands resulted in opportunities to build networks, receive studio visits and apply for residencies. 

New Art West Midlands has enabled my work to be seen by a wider audience and given me the opportunity to go on and do other things. It was a good platform towards building a career and through positive feedback I was encouraged to apply for a residency opportunity at New Art Gallery Walsall which ultimately led to being offered a solo show.  

Education is obviously important, but what other things do artists need to thrive and be successful?

Persistence and self-belief. To value failures when making work and not give up. When applying for opportunities such as residencies, when rejected, learning why and learning from this. 

What does it mean for you to have a piece of your work acquired by the Arts Council Collection?

It means a lot to be part of one of the UK’s biggest art collections and to be given greater exposure. It is great to have my work collected alongside so many artists whom I respect and admire. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges young artists face?

Finding a space to work, networking and forging links. Gaining relevant experience in order to refine your practice. Being organised in order to meet deadlines. Learning that being an artist is a non-linear business model and a lack of funding. Finding part time work to support your art practice, for me, having a separate job has motivated me to use my studio and make work.

What advice would you give to students who are just beginning their art degrees and what opportunities should they look out for?

Enjoy learning and have fun.  Attend all available lectures and artist talks, visit as many shows as possible locally and across the UK. Experiment with different workshops, learn different process and make the most of the university staff’s knowledge. 

Find out more

To see more of Chris’ work you can visit his website.

For more information about how Arts Council England supports visual artists in the West Midlands, visit Turning Point West Midlands website.