London-based sculptor Gary Webb graduated from Goldsmiths in 1997, instantly achieving the rare combination of sell out success and critical recognitions. He is an equal blend of confidence and playfulness, nonsense and genius, flirtation and curiosity- personally traits that seamlessly manifest in his work- revealed through its slick presentation and backed up with definable references to art history and popular culture like. We asked Cedar Lewisohn to visit Webb’s mad professor’s laboratory of a studio on the eve of his solo sow at Bloomberg SPACE. Here’s what went down.
This is your first big show in the UK since the Chisenhale, [Deep Heat T Reg Laguna, 2004] right?
Yeah, it’s the first big show in the UK in quite a while. I just did a big solo show in Boston last year and I’m really into doing stuff all over the place, but you pull it out a bit more when it’s in your home town.
It’s nice to do the Bloomberg show, though; it’s non-commercial but not a public space; it’s kind of in between, isn’t it? Tell me about the show; what’s the idea?
Basically, I wanted the whole space to come together. Something that did crop up is that the window [at Bloomberg SPACE], which has always been a window for ten years, is now a wall. So I felt, as a sculptor, I’ve been even more boxed into a painting room. You think of spaces all through your life and there was always something nice about the way that you look out onto the street and ways you could feature that [with your work]– plus people [walking past] could see the show through the window. So we had this wall and that had to come into it.
We’ve got two large mirrored palm trees, which are almost like the second thing I made at Goldsmiths when I was 19 years old. ere is a big aluminium sub- frame for glass to gently rest on – this super fragile, 6mm thin water-jet cut glass. Just dealing with it is very fragile, unknown.
Then the wall painting came from this [shows YouTube video of people outside making a space-scape painting with spray paint]. It was literally, something I saw, as I always do, when I’m pot lucking on YouTube – stumbling across something I’d seen in my life a lot anyway.
So the show is disco/Club Tropicana themed?
Slightly. Then, we’ve got 12mm glass boxes that are coloured – mirrored on the inside and outside. They’re open on the top and then, inside, [there are] these tools [which] drop constantly.
How does that work?
Basically, these blocks are fixed onto the sanders, it’s all clicked in, they both come on and go boom, bang, boom, bang. Then we have the jigsaws that are doing their own thing.
It sounds fun.
Really great fun; it’s powerful and a bit scary, like, is the glass going to break? In the popcorn-style box there are two sanders that come on, on the t-box we have a jigsaw which is locked in and dancing in there… this one’s slightly Egyptian, pyramidy.
There was a worry at the beginning that I was going to present them just as tools, but that felt a bit Robot Wars, and a bit shitty, but they turned out [like this] with the colour and the banging… and… I love it. It’s just nuts. It sounds like you’re in Buddhist land, you’re up there in the hills, boom, boom, boom…
Is that one or four separate pieces?
There are actually three boxes, Geneva is going into the middle with these boxes dotted around it going on, then you get the reflections of the palm trees.
You’ve got the boxes, the palm trees, the painted wall and then Geneva; it’s like three separate bodies of work.
With the coming over and the reflection of the tree inside it, I don’t know what it’s going to be.
So come on then, extrapolate slightly more; I want to know the meaning of these things. What does the palm tree symbolise to you? Holidays?
I’ll tell you what it is, it’s the end and the beginning of that place where all you can do is write your name, when you are learning to draw and learning to think, when you’re absolutely as dumb as a pancake (like me), or when you’re nine years old and you write your name and dream of objects and go palm tree. I don’t know why you do it but everyone instinctively does it; I did it and I just kept it going. It’s like a work buddy.
I’m with you. The palm tree is a universal symbol of dumb early language. The wall painting is a happy Venezuelan/global graffiti image…
I love the way that you always see them on streets; you get a group of kids and all you hear is “Woah, look at that; oh my God!”
I can see X-7, 2014 (wall painting) is quite site-specific.
There was something quite nice about blowing five grand on a wall painting that you were going to paint out in white afterwards. We could have done a big print – a stretched photograph – but I thought it was too slick; I needed that slightly crummy look.
It’s very spacey;when you imagine your show do you see it as a story, a narrative?
Yes, Geneva is leading the way into the space and there’s something where you have the reality of life…
This [Geneva] looks like a female bust with an alien head, with amazing granite and pink carved resin.
That’s about six months’ labour and it’s not even that big – just polishing all the details inside; there’s no machine that can do it. You push it to the point where a machine can’t do it. That’s what’s enjoyable.
Is that a female figure?
Obviously, there’s going to be all these bankers walking through – the Bloomberg crew, the Wolf of Wall Street guys. Do you think about the audience?
No, never, only the art world audience… [Maybe] I do a little bit.
What are Mr and Mrs Bloggs going to think?
I think they’ll walk in and go “wow, I’ve never seen this shit before”, and they’ll remember it. is will stay in their brain for a while, and that’s what you want, that sticky glueness that rattles around your brain. There’s airiness to it; the tools will make you feel a bit vulnerable in there.
The tools relate to the making and the construction of it right?
These are the actual tools we’ve always used to make all the work.
Do you think it’s referential to other artists, historically? I can see a bit of Donald Judd in there…
It’s definitely just that little bit better than Warhol. I don’t know why… Obviously, you’re just trying to push it as far as you can and bring in this mad pleasure. You can just sit and watch these tools banging around for hours.
Have they got titles?
Not really. The show is called X7 City. at’s an X7 scooter out there – I like the way the X7 helps me make the work. It’s like putting a fucking opera together in three months, and the only way you could possibly do it was by dashing around on the X7, so that came up. The bike was a contributor to the speed of the work being made… because we needed to go to the leather shop and the bolt shop… here and there.
It looks joyous, quite optimistic.
I like the idea of the tools just being a major component in all art: a drill, a jigsaw and a sander that makes anything and everything – the dumbness of them banging around with each other, not using them the correct way in the space, with the painting…
This kind of abstract sculpture has grown in popularity. The last time I interviewed you the subject was The New Generation sculptors (Generation Games (Graham Little, Gary Webb, Steve Bunn), Art Review, May. 2001); now abstract sculpture, and variations of it, has become massive. Patti Ellis calls it plank’n’ floss – leaning a plank of wood against a wall and putting a bit of floss on it. You’re work has a relationship to that.
And of course, everyone making that kind of sculpture has seen my work…
So you are aware you’ve had an influence on a generation of sculptors?
When we did that article there was no one else doing it; me, Eva [Rothschild], Jim [Lambie]… there were a few people about. Even on the global market, there was a little crowd in LA – ten people doing it well, a few people in New York. Even in Germany at that time everyone was still into painting, so yeah, there’s been a massive transformation.
You’ve always been quite happy to call your work ‘decorative’, but people are very serious about that description now.
All that is, really, is me seeing it as the production of an idea. You go, “yes, I want to make these kind of popcorn- shape boxes in glass” – you’ve got to polish it, cut it, twist it, mitre it, UV-bond it… so the process of manufacturing is set out anyway.
You’re reminding people?
Reminding people… I pulled a few of the old classics out of the bag… There you go.
It’s good that you’re confident.
You’ve got to be. Honestly, I’ve just never seen it, how did I think of it. I was just driving one day and had to pull over when I saw the concept. There were bits of the past that had been pulled back in, but the neutral-ness of it where… the wave where the brain is able to equalise everything into a very clear image of what you’re setting out to do. Then you don’t have to worry about the work, just the detail of the production.
Do you mean all you have to worry about is the production rather than the meaning of it?
You have the idea, the vision – the way the work is all sticking together in the picture… You can see something really exciting that you want to physically produce. Really, you’re then dealing with the time involved in making the work.
Do you like the idea that it’s going to be quite mysterious?
I think it might be quite sofa-y, X-factor, home-cuddly… I don’t reckon it will be scary or bleak and depressing.
I’m not saying that mysterious equates to scary, bleak and depressing. People always search for meaning in art. I’m sure Bloomberg are going to be writing some sort of explanation credits… and I’d like to read those.
I’m thinking of institutions and museums, they love their explanatory texts. They like a simple couple of lines like ‘this work is about global poverty’. It will be interesting to see the texts for this show.
This work is about our city, all the people that I know and have seen around for donkey’s years; this is for all my friends, my buddies, to come and see and we have a good night out. It’s just a really nice thing for people to come and see and go “Yeah!”
Well, I think that would be a great wall text. So you think it’s almost about being amazed and bewildered?
There’s something nice about sitting in a car, it’s pissing with rain, and looking out to sea… and the cars at the end of the dock, that thing there [X-7, 2014 (wall painting)] is where you want to stabilise and somewhere in there are these tools banging away – they come on infrequently and it’s slightly mesmerising. I can also imagine that when we all leave Earth and we’re all on spaceships looking back down on the planet we’ll see these gongs and tools from the old days.
The boxes and Geneva look futuristic but also retro, a bit like sculpture from the past, a warped thing you might find in a fucked-up museum…
Geneva is much nicer in person, you really feel the resin. When you look at resin from the ’70s there was only a limited number of colours around – there was no way they could bond the resin like this; so there’s change and the acrylic [was being used at the point where] they’re learning to make it, big industrial sheets of turquoise or something.
It’s harder being a sculptor than a painter these days; they’re slightly outsider-ish, right? Painting is a lot easier, commercially, and videos and net art are trendy…
Yeah, thank God I don’t paint.
It’s interesting looking at your studio; it’s like a boys’ toys, mechanic’s yard, but when the work goes out into the world, it’s so different. You’d imagine your studio would be a slick office – lovely carpet,big phone – with you on it – ordering stuff , but this is really hands-on, I’m very surprised. You wouldn’t guess that from the work.
It’s always been hands-on. I think you can tell the work is handmade.
You can when you look at it close-up, but it does have that decadent side. It doesn’t matter when you’re looking at the work whether it’s handmade or manufactured elsewhere.
What I like about it is it feels like an equal gamble between the viewer and me. I don’t feel like I’m on top of it, this is new for me and that’s nice, having that mutual feeling. You’re both in it together. I think that’s what is exciting about it.
-GARY WEBB: X7 CITY AT BLOOMBERG SPACE RUNS UNTIL 13 MARCH, 2014