Edwin Aitken: 'A friend observed that I paint dead and useless things – rotten trees, skeletons,
Edwin Aitken is a UK-based painter.
You describe your work as an exploration of the interaction and intersection of the natural world and suburbia. Can you tell us about the inspiration and concerns behind your art practice?
I really believe that an environment in which you spend time will have a visual and emotional impact upon the work that you make. This is something that the artist Peter Lanyon spoke eloquently about in relation to the affect Cornwall had upon his own paintings. In the work of many artists an influence can be clear to see and at other times it can be fairly unexpected. I live on the periphery of Epping Forest, at the point where London starts to meet the wider county of Essex and the line between the city and the countryside starts to blur. For some people this kind of suburban environment offers great opportunities and is seen as being really aspirational and desirable. For others, it is a sort of nowhere land –stuck between places, not really one thing or another, and perceived to be gripped by a cloying material conformity that can supress individuality. The truth of the matter is of course fairly subjective, but I have always found these kind of in-between states and places fascinating. The idea of painting views of a place does not interest me and I’ve found the overlooked areas of the natural world and suburbia to be really compelling. A friend observed that I paint dead and useless things – rotten trees, skeletons, rubbish or old seed pods and much of the imagery in my paintings exists between states and is resistent to an absolute definition. I suppose when this is coupled with my painting methods it helps to create a subject matter that moves my paintings towards a condition that’s more akin to an interior, emotional environment rather than a somewhat expected portrayal of the landscape in a picturesque manner.
What’s your work process like? Do you draw and paint from real life or photographs or is it a more ‘intuitive process’? I am also curious as to why you use mixed-media to create your work.
I think all artists are looking for some kind of methodology or process that helps them make their work. For me, there is an close relationship between how I use various media and the way these materials help facilitate the creation of certain kinds of images. I’ve also found that using different types of media enables me to switch around my thinking and changing and mixing materials creates a noticeable influence upon how I actually make my work. Each material has it’s own strengths, weaknesses and qualities which (at least when I use them) lend themselves to a particular type of mark which can be made on the surface of the painting. Instinctively, my working methods are quite quixotic and partly due to this, there is a degree of flexibility in terms of how each painting is made and how I decide to keep or modify certain parts. A consistent feature of my recent paintings is that they all have their starting point in a direct experience of nature and are made (at least in their early stages) on location in Epping Forest. Partly due to my working practices and interests, my paintings mix a sense of pictorial observation with more improvised areas of paint and imagery. As such, each painting has a kind of autonomy that paradoxically resists or reacts with my desire to impose my ideas, control or intentions. I’ve also noticed that each painting has a kind of lifespan in terms of how much time I spend working on it. This can relate to my interest in that particular piece, or it may be that some paintings reach a stage of being finished at a particular time. The initial work that has been completed in the forest is reassessed in the studio using other drawings and photographs. During this stage I edit and paint over various parts of a painting as well as refining and adding new elements.
Can you tell us about the artists that inspire you?
There are lots and lots, but one person who has had a continuous relevance to me is de Kooning. I was thrilled to see some great examples of his work recently at the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. ‘Pink Angels’ in particular was fantastic and the tension and interplay that de Kooning conveys in this painting between line, areas of colour, abstraction and representation was amazing. The dynamism and energy of his work is thrilling and I find the sheer sense of engagement he has with his painting to be thoroughly compelling. There is a great moment when you look at a piece of art and feel a real sense of connection with the artist and I always feel that when I see de Kooning’s work.
I also noticed that some of your projects involve making artist’s books and related objects. Can you tell us about this?
Although I have a core practice that is concerned with painting there are many types of art that I find interesting and which have exerted an influence upon me. As a child my first meaningful contact with the visual world was through comics, and printed images and graphics have always had a relevance to my work. Later in my life when I was a student I tried to think of my painting in an autobiographical sense, as being like a type of language which was created from a combination of images and practical techniques that came from both from fine art and cartoon influences. The paintings I made at this time were very much a type of hybrid - constructed from graphic signs and images - which were in turn rendered alongside more overtly expressive areas of paint. This formed a personal polyglot of images and meanings and became like my own visual language. I’ve always enjoyed the intimate size and scale of books, magazines and comics, and in some ways the artist’s books I’ve made have (to an extent) been a manifestation of this. However, my books wouldn’t necessarily have happened without the help and support of Floating World. This is a publisher that enables artists to have the opportunity to explore their ideas in a book or multiple format. Floating World are also really proactive at showing the books they publish, engaging with the public and they work very hard to place the books in private and public collections like the Tate. This kind of ambition is very stimulating and the books I have made with them have been a great and enjoyable way for me to test out ideas that relate to my paintings in a different format.
What are you plans for the future? What’s next for your practice? I am really engaged with the ideas that I am pursuing at the moment. I’m starting a new body of work that will continue to explore abstraction and representation and I’m looking forward to producing some paintings on a larger scale. I have plans for further projects after my solo show at King’s. These will include another book with Floating World and a couple of collaborative exhbitions with some other artists.
You can find out more about Edwin's work at www.edwinaitken.com and his next project is 'Silent Green', a solo exhibition of recent paintings and drawings at King’s College, the University of Cambridge.