The Double-Breasted Moleskin Work Coat with Artist Danny Rolph
If you had to dream up the perfect artist’s studio, it might look a bit like Danny Rolph’s. “The ceiling could be a bit higher, though,” says Rolph, flashing a smile as he moves past an antique table jammed with paint pots and brushes. Occupying a former coach house in Bermondsey, South East London, in and amongst the bougie coffee shops, bars and packs of cockapoos, you get a sense that more than one ambitious developer has admired its white-washed exterior, pound signs and visions of upwardly mobile 30-something couples smiling serenely on expensive sofas inside new flats running laps through their mind’s eye. "It's amazing how much it's changed since I moved in," says Danny," but that's London. It's supposed to change."
Full of books, records, rare Scandinavian furniture and other ephemera picked up along the artist’s travels and over the course of an interesting life, the exposed floorboards are flecked with paint in the signature colours of Danny’s art, neon-hued yellows, pinks and blues. Leaning against a wall, a collection of work is waiting to be sent to New York for his latest show at the city’s 532 gallery that will run from November 11th - December 23rd.
Wearing our moleskin work coat, a new double-breasted style of the signature five-pocket chore in hardy, studio-ready cotton moleskin with a corduroy collar, horn buttons and the right pocket for every brush, we photographed Danny inside his beautiful work space and discussed how an East End boy becomes an art world success story, studio style and sticking to his guns.
Drake's: How did you first discover art?
Danny Rolph: At about the age of 15, at my school by the Old Street roundabout, which was a rough school, but I had an inspirational art teacher. We had a chat one day about Mondrian. He showed me a book of his work and bought me some paint. I was going to study history, but suddenly art was everything. I went to Central Saint Martins because it was the nearest art college. None of my friends went to university really. They were postmen, or worked in the city. A few were gangsters, just general London society at the time. They couldn't believe I wanted to be an artist!
How would you describe your style?
The experience of making ends up as the style. Recognising that is critical to me. There are no plans. Every day I just try and work something out. It’s like a laboratory. It’s nothing more complicated than that, but nothing more simplistic. It’s tangible, these are things. I've always had a real interest in colour and drawing. I don’t like the term 'colourist', as it makes it sound secondary, like you’re colouring in. For me colour leads to form, rather than the other way round.
Sometimes people my age come in here, look at the paintings and say: "It’s like being back in the 80s!" And I suppose they're right. I love the Memphis movement and I do think we’re products of our time — if we’re being genuine. I’m from an urban space and the colours I use reference that.
What do you like to wear while painting?
Normally it’s a gilet, which is covered in paint and the zip doesn’t work so I have to lift it over my head! When it gets really cold, I’ve got these orange overalls that are actually Antarctic survey overalls. It's like painting in a duvet when I wear them.
Do you believe in an artist uniform?
Not really, it’s what feels comfortable, you don’t tend to dress up as an artist. Never trust one who is too well dressed! Who paints in a suit apart from Basquiat? I take my work seriously, but not myself. For me, art is everything. I'd rather be behind the work than in front of it, because that's what is left when you’re not around. The work has to explain itself. I don’t make any great claims for it, but I am interested in the melting pot of longer history and my own history and how it informs my painting.
But do you like wearing suits?
Oh I love it, but I never really get the opportunity. I’m on my bike all the time smothered in lycra, which is the most disgusting thing in the world! Any opportunity to wear a suit is great. When I’m in New York in a couple of weeks I’ll wear my dark green Games suit, the corduroy one. It’ll be a nice time of year for that. I just need to find the right shoes. What do you think I should get?
Dark brown suede could work. A Crosby boot?
Maybe I'll have a look for some of them before I go.
As someone born and raised in London, how do you feel about the way it is now compared to when you were a younger artist?
I love cities. I like the fact that they evolve and change and mutate. Areas are down in the dumps and then they’re the opposite. I have no nostalgia for the old East End. I’m very interested in the history, the way it used to be full of lacemakers in the 17th century. They move out and it becomes a Jewish area, then Bangladeshi and now it’s full of design students. That’s how metropolises work, they’re meeting points. People can come to a city from anywhere and make it their home. Just look at New York, completely bankrupt, then you had the ad men and rejuvenation of Manhattan. How the artists moved into Greenwich, then Chelsea, then back again. Things move around. I remember Brooklyn in '89 when I first went and it was run down and now look at it! They're a fascinating thing, cities. Saying that, I also love being in the desert. I love the Chihuahuan desert in West Texas and also New Mexico, I’ve spent quite a bit of time there. It’s beautiful. High altitude with scrub and rivers and canyons, nothing like the Sahara. A totally unique landscape. So cities and deserts!
Have you ever felt pressure to change your style of working, or follow any trends?
No, never. You see artists try and follow trends and it never works out. In design it makes sense, but in art it doesn’t. Sometimes it chimes and sometimes it doesn’t, but you have to carry on doing it. I know lots of artists who changed their way of thinking or doing and they end up making parodies to try and match the market. If you believe in the market, you’re going to fail. The market is there, absolutely, but the artists I like are initiating. They’re in front. Sometimes it just takes a while for people to see it and catch up.