This week Brighton Journal spoke to local artist, Joshua Uvieghara. Based in the Phoenix studio space, Joshua finds that Brighton’s eclecticism and artistic dynamism informs his painting. His artwork often explores identity, memory, philosophy and the nocturnal. We discussed the influence Joshua’s mother had on his work, as well as the way art has become his own visual language.
What are you doing today?
Today I am pottering around in my studio.
Describe where you do most of your creative work.
I do most of my creative work in my studio, though I’ve always got the antennae up. There’s a number of other places that act as satellite places to my studio, where it all comes together. This could be the desk or shed at home. I also like to disappear into the downs near Stanmer Park, where I live, and take materials with me. The combination of urban and rural landscape and the marshland near the Thames Estuary where I grew up also resonates with delta-like motifs I deal with in my work.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
During my MA show I worked with a combination of found objects (like car bonnets), objects charged with meaning (maybe poetic objects), paintings and fabricated neon. I think the use of neon in my practice has had an influence on my use of colour in painting. Putting this show together marked a shift from assemblage (a 3D kind of collage) or formalism, to a staging of a total experience: putting fragments together that amount to more than the sum of their parts but somehow retain their own individual autonomy (a kind of Wagnerian idea).
What made you decide to become an artist?
My mother was a student of Paul Delvaux in Brussels in the 1950s, she was also an art teacher before going in to Nursing. Growing up I was drawn to by my mother’s paintings and copies of Van Gough and Marc Chagall among others. I’ve always been a deep thinker, and painting and drawing is a visual language that seems to accommodate this. I was encouraged, but not pushed into this, by my mother. It’s the sort of thing that you take for granted growing up, but studying philosophy and aesthetics at university was one of the main experiences that really cemented art as a calling. Making art became a way of seeing the world and dealing with the questions that I have relating to it.
What are you currently working on?
I tend to work on a number of paintings at a time and traverse between them. A few years ago I started working on some very large 8ft x 10ft paintings and I’d work on these unstretched, only stretching them on frames if they were selected for a show. All the rest of the smaller canvases I’m working on are unstretched and these tend to get stuck onto other canvases, kind of like collage. Layers of drawing, photography and collage form a point of departure in what the paintings are based on. Sometimes I find new source material for a painting while I’m working on it – I find that both bad and good planning have their advantages. I like what the Danish painter Per Kirkeby articulated about this kind of approach: that you never know when the content or structure governs the emergence of a painting.
What are the key themes in your work?
I find it easier to put in pairs: the filmic and place, presence and meaning, loss and hope, identity and otherness, memory and truth.
What would you like people to notice about your work?
Something like the thingness of the work is important. Thingness is articulated by the philosopher Heiddeger. It’s like something you can point to and see but not name. Art has a way of pointing at the thing in an exquisite way when it works. It’s a poetic idea really and it’s about the ineffable too. I’m a poetic soul and I want to enliven the poetic in people. There’s nothing more satisfying than when someone describes to me what they experience in looking at my work that resonates with what I experienced in making it. I’ve heard that you should be able to see how a mind passed through the world in a good artwork.
Another way of looking at it can be taken from what the themes of identity and memory mean to me in terms of, say, heritage. My father was from the Delta of Nigeria. He told me about what he recalled growing up there and I formed my own mental image of this. These images began to emerge in my paintings as a kind of memory, until in recent years I actually visited Nigeria for the first time. This experience of memory and identity is what I’d like people to notice.
What attracts you to the medium you work in?
Painting has a language that resonates well with my way of thinking. Kierkegaard talks about language as a world and when you look language it’s like being at a border looking at a world that you know and a world that you don’t. If you skirt this border enough occasionally it yields something about this world. This illuminates a significant attraction to painting for me and how I experience working with paint. I like that there’s both a directness and slow burning aspect to painting. Painting has the resilience to take on new meaning in the intellectual climates in which it is found.
What equipment could you not do without?
My hands and in the absence of hands, some sort of prosthetic equivalent.
Who or what inspires you?
The everyday, travel, walking, my mother (in case you hadn’t noticed), philosophy, the numinous, literature, plasma science, nocturnal phenomena, film or the cinematic, the night sky and bodies of water.
How is your work affected by living in this area?
There’s always been interesting artist-led activity that I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in directly or indirectly. I had my first solo show in the Grey Area Gallery. It’s not going anymore, but since then there’s been all sorts of projects that I can link back to being involved with that place. More recently I did a show during the festival with a group that has come to be known as “Soft Power”, and I recently visited a project space called “Niagara Falls” that reminds me of Grey Area. There’s always something going on in and around Brighton’s main festivals and events that relate to art. I think this kind of activity is vital to the scene in Brighton. My studio is in the Phoenix, so a similar dynamic can obviously be found here.
What’s your favourite thing to do locally?
I like taking my canoe out from the beach near the lighthouse in Shoreham and see if I can catch any mackerel with my drop-down fishing line.
What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?
I like the Michael Werner Gallery in London. It’s between that and a good art festival like the ones that take palace in Brighton, you can cover a whole gamut of art experience.
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?
Tintoretto. I think because of the energy in his paintings and boldness of composition. I think the relationship between painting and architecture was much closer in his time, I still think it is significant today.
What’s your favourite colour?
Something like the evening sky when night is falling. Ultramarine blue I think (Also known as Yves Klein Blue).