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Darren Neave, Wedgwoodfleshlight, 2020

Artist Spotlight: Darren Neave

A conversation with artist Darren Neave about their art practice.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your practice, how would you describe the work that you do?

I'm a visual artist working between Lincolnshire and London. I move between the capital and countryside to harness the extremes, oscillating between the hectic and the unhurried. I still freelance to fuel my everyday monetary needs and it also provides me the flexibility to visit galleries and exhibitions too.

I describe myself as a ‘sculptor of sorts’, I like to print and I make short films as well, they all feed into the sculptural process. I also consider ‘shopping’ (actively seeking for objects, products and materials) as part of my practice too, tracking down and hunting specific items I may need or be useful.


Darren Neave, Mirrorballbaguettes, 2020


Wedgwood pottery has become a recurrent object within your work. I wondered whether you could talk about this choice? What keeps bringing you back to Wedgwood specifically?

My parents collected plates and cruet sets; they were arranged and displayed all over the house like an inside-out ceramic exoskeleton. After they both died, I decided not to simply dispose of these items, very few had any value but there was a sort of connection with them.

In 2019 I had been to see the Magdalene Odundo ‘The Journey of Things’ show at the Hepworth Gallery, both myself and a friend were surprised by the theatrical juxtapositions of her ceramic vessels with other artists like Morandi, Epstein etc. There were some Lucie Rie pieces commissioned for Wedgwood too, which seemed to have stained my retinas. The next day I dug out a small vase that belonged to my mother, a little scuffed. I began to think - ‘What does this object do?’ What can I do to it, to make it better? Give it more purpose?’ Can I use this vase and other similar pieces as an arbitrary starting point? Does it need to be a vase? Thinking about Duchamp’s gesture with the Urinal and how it was re-displayed.

I also began researching Josiah Wedgwood, the founder potter, to find out more about the company and the history, a very interesting character. It feels as though a lot of homes had a Wedgwood piece, the tides of taste have changed and all of these items now fill junk shops and antique cabinets all over. I began hunting for more Wedgwood pieces to re-home them.


Darren Neave, Wedgwoodsymbiote 2-5, 2020


There’s often a lot of sexual suggestion with the objects you use to combine with this pottery. These range in levels of explicitness - from phallic everyday objects like baguettes through to urethral stretchers or cock rings. Could you talk a little more about these choices and your interest in the relationship between desire and objects?

The work does sail close to the wind. I understand the fine line and that quotidian objects can be ‘charged’, perhaps juxtaposed with another item or displayed in a particular way. Objects can be ‘embellished’, ‘enhanced’ or ‘aureated’.

I was chatting with an elderly artist friend about the pieces I make and he referred to Picasso’s Bull Head from 1942 made from the seat and handlebars of a bicycle. Picasso still wanted the ‘bicycle-ness’ to come through. The piece has a power to ‘hover’ between art/sculpture and everydayness; there is also the feeling of archaeology, the ‘discovering' involved. Does this piece function in two realms? could it still become a bicycle too? I love that tension. My work builds on this fusion, employing elements that would not normally come together. I also like to be responsible within my practice, re-using and recycling where possible. Linking materials, finishes, shapes, functions.

I do like to acknowledge the inane aspects of male-ness by creating digital libraries. One was based on a Patrick Heron print (my name for this - Heronporn) that appeared in lots of porn scenes, another called The Measure contains men, measuring their erections against everyday objects, cans of deodorant, beer bottles and more ridiculously - tubes of Pringles! This in turn led me to think about how to use/display the Pringles tube and its contents as a material, and how this became a metaphor, including the crisps inside.

I like the work of Will Martin who works with themes of absence, masculinity and colonial history with his knowledge of literature in his porcelain and ceramic works, his works make me think - what is contemporary male sexuality? Especially in the digital and social media age, via distracting dating sites like Grindr, Squirt, and constant visual feeds like Tumblr and Instagram etc, and the ‘flash’ exchange of pictures on Snapchat and Kik - male peacocking, showing off, the instant ‘visual’ fix.

The sex toys do have a similar existence to the Wedgwood pieces, very often they are shut away in cabinets and drawers. What ‘pleasures’ are afforded by each? The fusion of the two, a hybrid object. I have thought about approaching bespoke retailers with the concept of displaying the steel sex aids with these vases, to showcase them in a window/display vitrine or this type of arena. I also deal with it in asexual terms, removing the ‘knowledge of object function’ to perhaps create ‘meta-function?’ The vase may be able to ‘display’ the penile device in a very eloquent manner, this also ruptures the ‘decorative’ aspect of the vase, the steel/metal/silicone device - demystifies the explicitness of the device, perhaps? Even displaying the vase on its side, for me, is suggestive; it becomes passive and un-functional as a vase.


Darren Neave, Wedgwoodglansrings, 2020


Recently an image of the work Wedgwoodfleshlight was picked up and shared by a number of social media accounts that specialise in erotic and often fetishistic content. How did you feel about this? Did this new context and audience alter the status of the ‘artwork’ in any way?

I’m happy for the work to reach new audiences, Art and porn have always been linked together. We cannot always control where images of our work end up - of course it is great to be properly accredited. I like pieces to act as portals, as a way into art and to ask questions about what the object is. I did have lots of great comments about never viewing Grandma’s vase collection in the same way! Ive also been thinking about ‘online platforms’ and working more on an Onlyfans profile, there are crossovers.


Darren Neave, Wedgwoodfleshlight, 2020


Club culture is also referenced throughout your most recent work. Examples of this can be found in the titling of works such as Domestic Clubwear (Cheesed), the continual use of mirrored tiles, and your use of lighting in the Turntable Gallery project. I wondered if you could talk more about this?

Clubs, music spaces, alternative lifestyle venues etc. are disappearing, especially in London, even more so in lockdown. These spaces provided sanctuary for lots of different people, from lots of different cultures and lifestyles. There has been gentrification and urban developments, pushing business to closure or further afield. I would like to think that my work, and the surrounding space, could in some way become one of these spaces. I like the work of Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings where these sub-cultural spaces are documented and drawn from. In lockdown we have not had access to these spaces but perhaps, even an object can supply a link with these places. In some pieces I have very subtly disguised fragrances and scents in there too, to assist with mnemonic attachment.

Some of the pieces can be worn, as there are chains and clips - for accessorising - perhaps they could be utilised for pleasure too? I like the pavonine associations with the club scene.

My MA show at the University of Lincoln was based on a temporary night club, fenced off with Heras security panels, where entry had to be gained. It felt like a sanctuary away from the other students, a place where I could just be myself, with my work, a kind of interchangeable nest. In day light the club was a gallery, in the evening, with dim crepuscular light, with music, the space ‘transformed’. This point of stasis was important, the tension when things are indecipherable. It becomes exciting. This work led onto the vases being half mirror-tiled and becoming animated through the use of an electric turntable which assisted in revealing one side of the vases. It felt as though there could be a secret club hidden right under our noses, in our own homes, with gentle subversion. I often think about the George Michael video for ‘Outside’ where the public toilet is transformed into a disco at the flick of a switch - he was very publicly ‘outed’ in a toilet by a police officer. I like Will Hughes’ work which combines animated features with ‘club’ spaces. The humour and intervention are superb.

The Turntable Gallery became an online platform for viewing my artworks within my own home. With the help of an Artist Development Bursary from the Collection and Usher Gallery in Lincoln, which financially assisted with technical development, it utilised a live webcam and the ability for an audience to interact with the work, either by activating the turntable, a colourful light source, or eventually a fan to animate a piece too. Many shows in galleries within recent years have been overly engaging or immersive, which allows for social media interaction, but this should not always be the main reasons for exhibition. We do need solace too. With the Turntable Gallery I wanted to see how far I could push the participatory element, almost to the point of breakdown or absurdity. The original proposal for the bursary submission was to have an out of hours ‘Gallery-cam’ which would allow online visitors access to ‘closed’ gallery spaces - to add in light and some motion. This is still a work in progress. My partner assisted with the complex coding and adding in buttons, gallery details, editing etc - so a big thank you to Stuart!


Darren Neave and Stuart Shackleton, Turntable Gallery/Tipping Pointless (Chagrined?), 2020


Alongside working within the arts, you have also worked as a freelance creative retail consultant for companies such as M&S and Transport for London. Can you tell us a little more about this role and how it intersects with and influences your art practice?

Art doesn’t pay all the bills unfortunately, and I loved working within the public realms especially where art and historical knowledge permitted me to engage with visitors to galleries and museums. Visual Merchandising and Display has always felt like a subservient creative pursuit as it links with consumerism, which delights and disgusts me. These elements are enough for me to take energy and ideas from to make work and it informs my practice.

Museums need knowledgeable people not just to sell books and souvenirs, but they are important in the Museum-brand experience. The majority of visitors will go to the shop, the staff there are just as important as the pieces on display for providing a worthwhile experience (I worked at Tate Modern for a number of years so I am fully aware of close friends going through a difficult time).

I have also given talks about the values of art knowledge for retail spaces, how galleries and museums can provide a valuable source of inspiration too.

I have been involved in some great public awareness projects with Transport for London. Some at design fairs where engagement and celebration with their own intellectual property and public perception is always paramount.


Darren Neave, Domestic Clubwear (Cheesed), 2020


What artists at the moment do you admire?

Such a mixed bag, from - Florian Słotawa, Josephine Meckseper, Tom Burr, Prem Sahib (he makes fabulous installations), Haris Epaminonda, Holly Hendry, I gorge on seeing artworks. I do feel you need to be aware of your contemporaries. The Patrick Staff show at the Serpentine Gallery was provoking too. May I mention Grace Jones?

Music is important too - Sleaford Mods, In The Nursery, contemporary classic and trance, Zbigniew Preisner, Arvo Pärt, Jocelyn Pook and Laurie Anderson. Films and their soundtracks - Mark Jenkins a British filmmaker (Bait is incredible), Ben Wheatley also.


Darren Neave and Nadya Monfrinoli, Vasecar, 2020.


What do you have coming up?

In the next few months - a group show with the Collection/Usher Gallery as the final part of the Development Bursary Award. It is always great to show work in public spaces.

I am working on my MRes at the Royal College of Art, which is very intriguing and making me think harder about why I do what I do.

Things pop up when I least expect. I feel as though I need to spend a little time strengthening ideas, making connections; social media has been very good at that and enjoying making work. A good artist friend, Nadya Monfrinoli turned my car into an artwork with outlines of oversized Wedgwood vases last week. It’s good fun to collaborate and invigorate, art can be everywhere, in the unlikeliest of places. There’s also a project in a rural church too - in Tealby… check out social media for details. The Turntable Gallery is shaping up into new territories too.

I would like to say special thanks again to Stuart Shackleton, my partner, and to Joey Richardson, a colleague from my MA course who has been generous with time and support as well and a word for Andrew Bracey, a previous tutor… Cheers.

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