We sit down with Jerwood Prize-winning artist Adam Dant to discuss his work, his wardrobe, and his strong opinions on moths.
When I left Art School I didn't have a studio so decided that I should make my art in a space where it would be encountered by the public. This did not mean, as it seems to now, painting a giant picture of a squirrel on the side of a stranger's house, or applying for a grant to 'seek out art's new publics.'
My art back then took the form of an A6, eight-page pamphlet which I made 100 copies of everyday for five years and handed to an unsuspecting public. It was called Donald Parsnips Daily Journal and it combined the methods of the fine artist with those of the early pamphleteers of the 18th Century to create and distribute art in the space where 'mediation' occurs, i.e. in the street, the cafe, the pub, on the bus etc, as opposed to in a gallery or a newsroom. I'd always made newspapers as a child so it could be said that by producing a newspaper as a work of art for five years I was continuing to venture down some kind of notional path.
I enjoy the thought and exercise of creating art with minimal means - in the case of my big drawings, it’s a single bottle of sepia ink and a brush. I think that in the face of a superfluity of imagery - moving and otherwise - it's still an interesting and not-insurmountable challenge to create something that might have intellectual content, art, visual interest, and which holds the viewer’s attention for as long as the average 3D blockbuster, with a pencil.
The materials and style of my drawings often refer to a non-specific era but also to a continuity of means, so quite often the drawings I make are supposed to sit neither in the past nor the present, whilst combining events and ideas from both. I often set the narrative of my drawings within recognisable public spaces which have been transformed by colliding interpretations of history.
I made a series of drawings concerning the 2008 credit crunch. The scenes depicted were set in familiar locations such as Canary Wharf and at The Royal Exchange and were constructed by taking the coverage of the ensuing crisis directly from the press and media and depicting the words and phrases used in their stories literally. The language used by the financial press during the credit crunch was all catastrophic, hyped up and testosterone-filled. Their violent verbiage translated naturally into a visual form that was more apocalyptic than measured. In addition, the location of the crisis in The City of London enabled me to refer to all sorts of precedents in a square mile that has been occupied almost continuously for 2000 years and which has been a constant source of inspiration for my artworks.
The Drake's factory on Garret St. was on my doorstep and since their move to Haberdasher Street even more so. Michael Hill at Drake's contacted me to design a logo for the Clifford St shop when it first opened. We thought that the logo I came up with was a masterpiece as it spelled out the Drake's name from a tie which also created the form of a duck (or Drake if you like). We didn't realise at the time that in some Asian cultures the duck is the symbol of a prostitute so the masterpiece has not been allowed to travel. Instead I proposed immortalising the tie making process in a panoramic drawing of the old Drake's factory where each stage of creating a handmade silk tie is depicted, shown from above. I drew portraits of all the Drake's tie makers. Some of them dressed up in their best clothes when I told them I'd be sketching in the factory. When one employee noticed that I was drawing her, she took off her glasses and couldn't see where she was sewing anymore. I think she may have had to unpick that particular tie. A print of this drawing acted as a backdrop in a display cabinet for various Drake's items.
More recently I made some designs for a series of pocket squares. Each was a map of a different part of London shown according to certain themes, famous writers, odd museums, nude statuary etc. I receive quite a lot of letters from chaps asking where they might find the 'Clubland' silk square. I can't even find one myself, it became a bit of a cultish collector’s item and the Holy Grail of pocket squares - or maybe more like the Turin Shroud of pocket squares.
I love all of God's wonderful creatures except for one: the clothes moth. Tineola bisselliea and all its bastard larvae, as far as I'm concerned, can fuck right off forever. The little shits come in through the letter box, hide in your pockets when you’re on the tube, crawl into the turn-ups of your best flannel slacks when you’re at the theatre, and for what? To eat a fifty pence piece-sized hole from the crotch of your best Harris tweed suit trousers for you to find the day before you take the flyer to Fort William, or to create a lattice of decaying fabric up the side of your topper ready for you to discover on the morning of the wedding.
The latest square I have designed for Drake's is timed to coincide with peak moth larvae time. It can be soaked in lavender oil if a message needs to be sent to the dusty fluttering golden shits in the wardrobe, or it can be used as a caution against other 'Enemies of The Gentleman's Wardrobe.' These include babies (sick), Texan barmaids (jocular tie snipping) and drippy olive oil bottles ('Ma Che Cazzo!’).
My etching technician at The Royal College of Art always told me that there's no reason why you can't edition a whole batch of prints and still remain spotless. So, it's quite often a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a suit that I wear to the studio. My daughter has been encouraging me to ditch the corduroy trousers in August - whatever next?! Cargo pants?! I can't draw whilst wearing shoes and socks so a pair of suede loafers are best during the day. I can't abide those nasty little socks though, they're like the foot's version of a clip-on bow tie. Edward Vlll and David Niven are still quite hard to top in the style stakes. I just went to Harvard and saw the Max Beckmann self-portrait wearing what the American's call a tuxedo - the artist presents a commanding figure in style and get-up, but it's the cigarette that makes it really.