EXCLUSIVE: Interview with William Blanchard on ‘This is William Blanchard’

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The Strand Gallery caught up with artist William Blanchard (aka Wild Cat Will) on our current exhibition, This is William Blanchard.

How old were you when you started making art? What is your heritage?

I first started making art when I won a painting competition at the age of 8 years old and won a beach ball as a prize, although i can’t remember what the paintings subject matter was (a traction engine I think!!). Art was my favourite subject at school and about the only thing I was good at.

After leaving college and failing to get into Chelsea to study graphics due to a lack of interest, I have spent the last 30 years playing drums in various outfits globally,with a stint as an assistant art director on video promos during the 1980’s.

Four years ago I presented my first proper art exhibition called “Assemblage” at MEN Gallery in Redchurch St after finding my way back into making art through assemblage and stencils and box framed pieces.

Heritage wise ,my family always encouraged me. My older brother is a painter and my two younger brothers are professional photographers.

On your blog you speak of a ‘hoarding gene’ – how do you feel this has influenced your work? Do you feel your upbringing has considerably contributed to your style, technique and roughness of work especially as you speak of having lived in a ‘bohemian chaos’?

I have inherited a hoarding gene from my mother who never throws anything away,hence resulting in a house full of stuff that is an incredible archive of her life, and I have always had a magpie eye, collecting objects, packaging and signs.My upbringing was in a wonderfully chaotic environment, nature playing an important role, and a family home that gradually turned into an animal sanctuary, as well as the hoarding problem, so every time I visit the family home I can still find a box of magazines or broken toys, or something that inspires me to incorporate it into a collage.

Even now I will pick up stuff off the road, a discarded toy or bottle top however small and insignificant, it holds a significant interest to me and I will hoard it with my collection of objects that end up being used at some point in my work.

I have had a stall for the last 4 years at Spitalfields Antique market and this is part of my process for finding inspiration in my work, combing boot fairs and flea markets for unusual objects or images that I will usually incorporate in to my assemblage pieces,or find an image that I will use as a print.

I love surface and patina, rust and dust, paint that has weathered away and objects that have seen better days. Part of my process is to leave some of my works out doors and let the elements do their worst.

My life feels like a living collage and everywhere I have ever lived ,my environment ends up a part of me,and me of it

Individual vs. Artist – Which piece do you consider as your most personal/individual or do you feel that the individual and the artist should not be separate?

Every single piece of work that I create is personal to me and I consider myself to be an individual and an artist! Therefore I cannot distinguish between art an the individual as it is so personal to me making art, each piece is a journey and has a life of it’s own and hopefully to be owned by another individual who will get pleasure from it forever!

Could it be suggested that your work goes against the institution? You often take more than just inspiration from pop artists such as Warhol. Have you ever had any negative responses to your art due to this? Does the fact you re-work these iconic artworks mean that you have a dislike for them or are you adding to them in favour of appreciation?

I have always been a rebel and find institution to be something that should be kicked against, be it society in general or especially the people in charge of ruling society or institutions as a whole.

Taking inspiration from Warhol (and others including Peter Blake and Joseph Cornell,Wallace Berman,Ben Nicholson and Jasper Johns and too many to mention) is one thing ,but for this show I am taking Warhol’s idea of packaging, banality and repetition, along with reproducing works by Jasper Johns and homages to Peter Blake, stealing elements of their work and trying to take it forward by adding my own individual interpretation.

I have been massively inspired and influenced by Warhol as much as everyone in modern society has, as I believe he was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century so re-working his ideas is down to my appreciation of them.

I hope to find out if the response to my work is positive or negative when they are viewed by the public in general (hopefully not negative!).

I have a great love for pop art, even if it was original and groundbreaking at the time, but maybe now has become institutionalized, and perhaps I am repeating them but hopefully in an original way. I feel that is for others to decide.

On your website it says you focus more on what is around you and less on society, why is that? Do you find society’s influence to be a negative thing? However there are some obvious responses to society in your work, which sometimes appear violent. What is your opinion on society?

As I mentioned previously, I am a bit of an anarchist and a rebel, and I believe punk rock was the most important movement in the last century to shake society and make it re-evaluate itself.

Punk still influences me in attitude, musically and artistically, which is reflected in the immediacy and do-it-yourself ethic of my work. I focus in on my inner thoughts as well as taking in the world around me visually for stimulation and ideas. So in that respect society has an influence through television, film, radio, internet as well as advertising and consumerism, some of which I am for but most advertising and consumerism I am against and find it to be a massively negative thing, not society itself per se.

You appear to have added colourfully to one of your ‘Unfair’ pieces in the collection – is this a particular response to something? Does it target a social matter or is it a personal emotion?

My “Unfair” piece is a picture of a target that I have colourfully embellished because I love the variation of applying colour.

It represents the unjust feeling around the world at the moment, and especially in this country, without being overtly political.

So it is a mixture of personal emotion, the target is subliminal in that it represents a faceless individual, (but I love the wordplay and imagery of targets and you will see them repeated as an icon throughout my work) but that it represents the malevolent carnival of the misuse of power which turns to absolute corruption and in that respect affects the individual as a social matter.

What in particular interests you about faces, skeletons, and the human body in general? They appear to feature regularly in your work.

What interests and fascinates me about faces, skeletons and the human body is the fact that we are all human beings with a face, a skeleton and a physical body! There is the idea of our own mortality, that we have a soul, (or possibly not in some cases!) life after death, although we leave a skeleton behind, having no further use for it.

And our faces are many faceted,with different expressions and sides to character,the face becoming an image which becomes iconic or eternal, we express our emotions facially as well as verbally.

What is a soul and what does it look like? We live our lives externally physically and internally with our introspective thoughts.These are things that I think about constantly.

Essentially whether rich or poor, whatever denomination of human being, we are all the same underneath the skin. I love the imagery of skeletons and skulls,and the idea that we are all walking talking skeletons!!!

The circus is a recurring theme, what is the significance of the circus for you?

The pageantry and imagery of the circus is appealing to me, especially circus posters: clowns, tigers, freaks, the gypsy carnival alternative lifestyle, plus the costumes, colours and the funfair attraction sideshow all excites my imagination.

What is your opinion on a society that focuses so much on ‘winning’? Do you feel it is ever possible to ‘win’?

I am constantly struggling to survive and live and succeed and win, to make great exciting art with wit and beauty. Life can be looked at as a competition, to get ahead, to compete in the rat race. Is succeeding the same thing as winning in the end? But to win you must first be in the competition and always trying to do your best and beat the rest in the eternal contest!

23.07.12 – 04.08.12
Monday to Sunday 11:00 – 6:00
Entrance free

Contact info@thestrandgallery.co.uk to request an exhibition catalogue


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