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“I am a UK visual artist, writer and performer living and working in Lisbon, Portugal since 2009. My practise involves an increasingly wide array of media: founded on painting and drawing, it has expanded to include photography, installation, video, sound and writing as an artistic process, and orbits reflections on gender, identity, relationships (societal and personal) and the individual’s place in the collective. As a homosexual male, our common history and activisms have also informed to a great extent my practice, as I seek to preserve, explore and re-evaluate the numerous marginal legacies that make up a complex and diverse community. As an artist I am self-taught. Finding ways to portray human emotion and empathy in my work, through echoes of individuals and community, is something that will only become more frequent, while reflecting my fascination for the processes of memory and its preservation.”
Where are you from, where are you based and can you tell us a little about both?
I grew up on the outskirts of Brighton, which was probably about as nice as it got in England in the 70s and 80s. I wasn’t a tough kid necessarily, but I came out mostly unscathed. I’m not nostalgic about my childhood, I was a spotty, skinny little runt. Coming out was probably more traumatic than I remember, it was the 80s and Aids was genuinely terrifying, but I felt I had no choice in the matter, and queer lives in Brighton were more visible than in most places. In 1989 I decided to leave Britain altogether, heartily sick of Thatcher and the Tories. I wanted to end up in Madrid and live an Almodovar melodrama, but my parents had gone to Portugal a couple of years previously, and Lisbon then seemed very mysterious. So that was that. I came back there in 2009 after 6 years in New York, and am still in Lisbon now. To be honest I’m itching to move on again.
What draws you to Athens?
I came here as a young boy in 1982 with my parents, who somehow scraped together the pennies to have a two-week holiday somewhere nice and warm once a year. I then returned in 2018 and was a little rattled by the “down and dirty” aspect of the city. I’ve lived in Johannesburg, and NYC as I said, I don’t scare easy. But clearly that sowed the mental seed to give it another go, and now I really appreciate the work-in-progress, no-BS feel of the town. I’m so over the boutiqueification of city life and Athens seems to have rolled with the punches without losing its soul.The drug problem is heartbreaking to see, especially here in Metaxourgeio, but I can’t help but respond to the chaotic energy of the city streets, as a human being and an artist. Also the community activism going on.
What are you working on in the City?
I came here with this slightly wonky concept of reimagining possible gaytopias in the “cradle of Western civilisation”. Amazingly, the idea hasn’t gone away, but it’s become a little more scrappy. I invited a long-time NYC friend, Jack Shamblin, a performer who has increasingly embraced a genderfluid, anarchy-fueled lifestyle in and beyond his artistic practice. We ended up going to Delphi, photographing like mad and eventually making this art video reincarnating the Oracle as this 21st-century trans-being. He sissyfied me one night and we recorded that…Then being in Metaxourgeio, one is confronted by human drama on a daily basis. If I’ve had my camera with me, I’ve documented it.
Tell us your about your other creative practices?
I came late to photography, and kick myself for not having picked up a camera sooner. I think the immediacy of the art form intimidated me a little. I’m self-taught as an artist, which probably explains why my practice is all over the place. Years ago I wrote a queer pulp tranny gangster novel set in Liverpool called Charlene’s Angels, which got picked up by this lovely, sadly-defunct publisher called Codex, where I was rubbing shoulders with Kathy Acker, Richard Hell, Stuart Home… Not too shabby. I thought I might be a writer, but I ended up incorporating writing into my artistic practice – it often works well with the photography for exploring quirky narratives.
Your work deals a lot with identity, can you tell us what draws you to this as a topic?
I don’t think mainstream, heteronormative society is aware how important identity, and representation, is for queers of all stripes, for minorities, for the invisible among us. Or cares, for that matter. Scratch beneath the surface of the art scene and before long you’ll find a prudish hypocrite. Portugal is a conservative society, it’s only recently that it has begun to open its mind an inch to other kinds of representation. Respected art tastemakers not long ago would say to me, as if it was the most natural thing in the world: “why are you wasting your time doing that gay shit?” The other day, I was talking to a female performer here in Athens, Eva Koliopantou, pretty fearless in her exploration of the body, and she says she gets the same attitude all the time. Also, my art practice helps me understand better things that blow my mind, like gender issues.
And candid photography, empty spaces and new people?
Art for me is not an intellectual pose – though I can intellectualise what I do, I write for a pretty rigorous art publication called Umbigo (https://umbigomagazine.com/en/) where I’m the curator of the LGBTQI+ section… My identity, and my life experiences are inextricably linked to what I want to create. On the one hand, photographers like Nan Goldin, Mark Morrisroe were formative influences. I’m also heavily indebted to queer history, the sex positivity of our communities in my youth that went horribly wrong. The first person I knew to die of Aids, passed away in 1989, I was barely out the closet when this happened. Which I guess ties into my fascination for empty spaces, absence. When I walked the New York streets during my time there, depending on my mood it could be excruciating, the swell of lost lives seeping through the cracks in the pavement under my feet. I visited the Aids ward of St. Vincent’s Hospital. It’s now luxury condos. I would photograph in those bougie apartments in a heartbeat. Please someone make it happen.
Having lived in multiple countries, tell us about some of the cities you love and loathe, and experiences you had in them.
I like big cities, these safe, dangerous spaces. But money has neutered so many of them. Manhattan, London… ironically plague once again has fucked with that, boarded up rows of boutiques, emptied streets that were already towering prisons of privilege. On another of my parents’ jaunts, to Cairo and Egypt in 1980 – my dad was a milkman, my mother an Avon lady, for fuck’s sake – they got us invited to dinner at some family home in a slum neighbourhood. Four generations of family were there, from the grand-patriarch to new-born babies. French, English, Arabic was being spoken round the table laid with all this sumptuous foods I didn’t know. I was 10. If I’m honest, it’s never been better than that.
Describe your work/style in 3 words;
I’m a technical klutz, so I would say: compositional, elegiac, sex-positive.
What can we expect from you next?
I’d really like to build my Athens relationships, start doing physical shows here. I had a solo show in Lisbon in the Autumn so I’m a little in-between projects. The art video – Therapythia – is not quite ready yet, but I’ve started sending it to festivals with submission deadlines looming. Fingers crossed. Otherwise, back to Lisbon for now, where I’ve been contracted to appear in a theatre work called Self Portrait in July, so we start rehearsing and workshopping that from April onwards. Also I’m curating the exhibition for a social project called Migrant Diaries, creating an archive of migrant experiences in Portugal. That’s for September I think. And every three months, a new Umbigo magazine comes out – the upcoming one is a curatorial project involving Greek, or Greek-based queer artists – Postcards from the Edge.
Where can we find you online?
I’ve my general site www.colinginks.net, and another one where I put my drawing amuse-bouches, https://colinginks9.wixsite.com/dirtylittledrawings.
I’m pretty cheeky on Instagram
Oh, I’ve a Redbubble!