In conversation with Bristol artist Daniel Gardiner.
Can you talk about your journey into or interest the arts? You say you are self-taught, and influenced by outsider art. Does this route into the arts leave you isolated as such, to have you found your ‘community’ as such?
I have always appreciated art, but wasn’t engaged with visiting galleries or museums. Growing up in Bristol there is a very vibrant street art scene and going into the city there was always something new to see on the walls. So I grew up seeing artists like Banksy on the walls of the city. This had a big impact on me as well as art around skating magazines and punk music. Later in life I discovered artists like Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kurt Schwitters, Cy Twombly and many others who all had an impact on my work.
But I didn’t engage with creating art till my late 20’s, this was after going through a difficult time where I had a very stressful job and lots of big life changes that led me to almost having a break down.
So I was off work and had a lot of time on my hands, I started to feel the need to make something but had no real idea what I wanted to do or how to do it. I started looking on the internet and came across people making art from recycled materials who were self taught. This lead me to start experimenting with discarded materials and I started making sculptures out off lots of different things which finally lead me to the robot sculptures I make today which in turn later lead to the collages and drawings.
As far as community is concerned I have found that there are people online that I have engaged with that are also self taught and come from an outsider perspective. But I do think the tag of outsider or self taught feels more widely accepted outside of the UK art scene particularly in the US and parts of Europe.
Do you use a sketchbook? I’m interested in what a sketchbook means to you and your work?
I do use a sketchbook. My sketchbook is used for expressing different ideas, thoughts and practice. I enjoy taking a sketchbook into town with me, sitting in a coffee shop and sketching, for me it feels like something luxurious to do with my time to indulge in. Some of the images I draw, I rip out and make it into finished pieces. Others are either rejected ideas or just thoughts, ideas, sometimes poems that are more about personal expression than something I want to explore again. My sketchbook feels very personal to me almost like a diary, not everything in it is for public viewing and I like that the art in it is just for me.
You use several mediums, from collage to more sculptural forms, do you see a difference in how you work in these?
The sculptures and the collages both start in the same place. I always start with the different material pieces which are always second hand or found objects. I pick these up from second hand shops, things people give me or found objects. I enjoy that each thing has had a previous life, these things normally inform the direction the work will take. I then move the different pieces around until I feel the work takes on a form I’m happy with. But the two different mediums change when it comes to the final assembly of the work. The sculptures require a lot more thought and planning to assemble them and feel regimented in that I have to always plan ahead of me and think through each step. But the collages are a lot more instinctive and for me freeing because I don’t have to plan every step and can express myself more.
I do see the two different forms as different projects with the sculptures being more about fun, escapism and the collages exploring more grounded real issues.
Your work focusses on the imaginary and in particular a recurring theme of a robotic face. What are you exploring thigh this? It also hints at being an ‘outsider’ – ‘the aren’t alrights’ for example.
I do find it interesting that you have seen the images as robots other people have seen them as monsters and other punks. This brings a bit of ambiguity to the work which I enjoy.
The faces for me are linked to the writing I include on each piece. I put words into their mouths so that they can communicate different ideas to the person viewing the work. I guess I have always seen myself as a bit of an outsider observing the world around me and trying to make sense of it in some way.
The characters are the same; they are observing and then reflecting back different ideas they observe in the world; be that politics, climate change, consumerism, mental health or any number of issues or slogans. I enjoy doing this in an abstract way that can appear messy and visually a bit confusing because the world can seem like that at times to me.
Can you talk about your process of working. How do you work, how often, is there a particular pattern?
I’m lucky that I can work from home so am able to work whenever I want to. I’m currently balancing work and looking after kids so my days usually start after dropping kids off at school, then stop when they get back. If I have the energy I work in the evenings. I tend to rotate between sculpture and collage depending on how I feel on a day. I will always try to work on one piece of work at a time from start to finish because I find my brain works best when it can be completely absorbed in one idea or medium.This can sometimes mean sculpture will take up more of my week than collage or vice versa.
I recently added in using my sketchbook more often so I can experiment a bit more and also speed collaging which is when I don’t think and just glue random pieces of paper down. I find this helps me to get started when collaging and get the creative juices flowing.
Do you find the process of creating work relaxing or therapeutic? I’ve become increasingly interested in the relationship of the sketchbook and the work to the artist.
I find creating work very therapeutic particularly drawing in my sketchbook or collaging. For me it feels akin to meditating it helps me to switch off from the world around me and be totally absorbed in what I’m doing. I think art has the capacity to let people get back in touch with themselves and just slow down and be absorbed in a single activity. Personally, it helps me to get my thoughts out of myself and on to paper so I don’t feel the need to carry them around with me all the time. Plus slowing down in a very busy world can be great for your mental health, I certainly know that it has helped me a lot.