I discovered Alistair Woods’ work by way of his collaborative studio initiative, Depot, in Manchester. Check out this great interview, and make sure to hit the links after for more of his work!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name’s Alistair Woods, I’m 26 and a painter based in Manchester, UK. I moved to Manchester a few years ago to start up my studio ‘Depot Art Studios’ with some friends I met at University in Leeds.
Your paintings are primarily minimal abstract works; can you tell me about your practice? What is your primary medium, and what do you like most about it?
I used to build compositions out of found materials, mainly using old wood and metal, instead now I focus on representing found compositions using a number of mediums.
I now focus mainly on painting, producing minimal abstract works using a combination of materials and a variety of different types of paint creating separate dialogues about process and equality. I like using materials that might normally get overlooked as a material for making art. My recent work has featured enamel pin badges and security tags pinned directly through the canvas. I’ve also used bus windows and emergency hammer panels in previous paintings.
As well as referencing found compositions as the primary basis of the paintings I also reference interests outside of art, such as politics, British sitcoms and underground subcultures. Within the work there is an attempt to try and see the beauty in what’s overlooked by many in the environment we find ourselves in. For example, poorly executed advertising that usually incorporates some element of appropriation or the remnants of some tape of the back of a telephone box.
The aim is to represent this in a painterly form, in an attempt to aesthetically draw the viewer in. I hope to make the work relatable to an audience who perhaps isn’t interested in art, as the work draws inspiration directly from everyday life. I am unaware of any other medium that would allow you to do this in quite the same way. It’s such a versatile medium that offers you so many more options then others.
Your statement mentions that your compositions often reference sources such as politics, British sitcoms, and subcultures… can you elaborate on that?
My paintings are first and foremost based on everyday observations and found compositions, everyday observations are highly influenced by social circumstances. Obviously social circumstances are impacted by the politics of the region. It would be interesting to see how my artistic output could be affected if I was to make work somewhere different to what I experience on a daily basis where I am currently based.
The titles of my work often make some form of reference to the initial influence for the composition or a detail in the work but through referencing other interests. For example; the title for the ‘On The Buses’ painting is an obvious reference to the TV programme whilst pointing out the found window came from a bus. The ‘That Telephone Thing’ series, is a group of paintings based on the back of telephone boxes that’s named after a Chas and Dave song and perhaps a little more subtle is ‘Wholesale Supplier’ a reference to the ‘occupation’ of Private Joe Walker, the spiv character from Dads Army, who dealt in black market goods, when the painting itself had a bootlegged Lacoste badge and security tag fixed to it.
A number of my paintings include badges linked to hooligan groups which goes back to what I mentioned before about something that has been crudely executed that usually incorporates some element of appropriation, in this case the British Rail double arrow logo. There are plenty of obvious and subtle references to graffiti within the work. These are just a couple of examples of the underground subcultures that often appear in the work.
Do you do any sort of research or preparation for your works?
I tend to start with a number of studies, photographs and sketches mainly all of found compositions, but I’ll often have a number, a name or a turn of phrase in mind when I approach the canvas too. I usually start of by writing the number or the initials to the name on the canvas in spray paint, I think it’s good to not be too precious with the surface I’m working on and makes it a lot less daunting to start painting the composition, it also acts in a similar way to when graffiti is painted over, which if done badly enough can be one of the most beautiful things you can see in everyday life, this routine is also a bit of a nod to that. I use the studies as a starting off point but I’ll often take elements from various studies and bring them all together.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that help to get you into, or keep you in, a creative mode?
I often work on a couple of paintings at the same time, it allows me to focus on one if the other’s too wet or if I hit a bit of a stumbling block with it. I find putting a painting to the side for a bit to work on another often helps me get over any issues I’m struggling with on the other.
Also music is more often then not being played in the studio although depending on who’s in at the same time the radio option often raises the debate of what we listen to and it usually gets settled by a phone or IPod getting plugged in, which is usually the best option anyway. I’ve also recently got into listening to podcasts when I’m in on my own. Tea or coffee also helps me get though any moments when I’m struggling or reflecting on what I’ve been working on, I hate just sitting about not doing anything, I need to do something even if what I am doing is just having a cuppa.
You are a co-founder of Depot Art Studios in Manchester; can you tell me more about that?
Depot is a Manchester based studio that was started by Rowan Eastwood, Jack Ginno, Sam Potter and myself, all four of us were on the same course at Leeds Met with Sam being in the year above.
Rowan, Jack and myself spoke about the idea of sharing a studio space together when we left university, I moved back home to West Sussex, Jack and Rowan moved to the northwest where they were based prior to university. I got a phone call one evening telling me a space had been found and I was being asked if I still wanted in, which of course I did. The space that had been found was a run down unit on an industrial estate in Ardwick not too far from Manchester’s city centre. We spent a lot of time and effort doing what we could to transform this space into what would be a relatively comfortable place to work in. This has all been done on a budget too due to it being completely self funded, one of the reasons I’m currently working 2 jobs.
A little later on Sam was looking to move to Manchester just when we had some space open up in the studio, so he quickly got involved too. It was really this moment that we became Depot Art Studios and it feels like everything has gone from strength to strength since then.
What is your own studio like?
It’s just outside of the city centre in Manchester on an industrial estate so the surrounding area isn’t too polished which often works out quite well for inspiration for some of my work. We’ve got it set up with an open plan and it has big glass skylights so there’s plenty of natural light which is great, although the slight downside to this is the greenhouse effect in the hot summers (however rare they are in Manchester) and it can mean it gets very cold in the winter.
It wouldn’t work in our space anyway but I’m not a huge fan of how many studios are all boxed off and having it open plan offers us the space to move about but also means we’re able to chat and have a laugh throughout the day if there’s others in at the same time. It also has allowed us in the past to clear the space out and use it to exhibit work.
We also have another smaller area that we use as a workshop when building stretchers for example, which is quite useful, as we don’t have to worry about that effecting whatever’s being worked on at the time. We’re quite lucky that we’re based just a few minutes away from a building merchant, which comes in handy when we need timber or paint.
Is there any advice you’ve received over the years that you have taken to heart? Any that you’re glad you ignored?
Nothing of note that really stands out to be honest. A tutor at university once raised the idea of going a little bit more minimal with some of my work, which may of had a part to play with how my work developed from what it was at the time to what it is now. I’m probably completely overlooking something really profound that was once said to me but I can’t think of anything in particular.
What is the most challenging, daunting, or frustrating aspect of pursuing art?
General cost of materials and studio rent can be a bit of a strain at times but never usually gets too bad. I’d say being dyslexic can be a bit difficult when it comes to trying to talk about and explain your work, sometimes it’s really hard to try and convey exactly what I’m working towards.
The main issue for me is simply the uncertainty of the studio. It’s probably something that all artists or at least artist led spaces have in common in the sense that you never know when you might get notified that the buildings going to be developed into a car park or flats or something else. It’s something I try my best not to focus on, as I don’t want it to cause a distraction from my practice.
What do you appreciate or value the most about being an artist?
I’ve only very recently felt comfortable referring to myself as an artist so I’ve probably got a little way to go to fully tell you what I value the most about being one but I would say I do appreciate the way it forces you to see the world. It’s virtually impossible for me to walk down the street, ride a bus or train or even just sit down in a café or bar without just looking around taking in aspects that could be valuable when in the studio. Being able to see the world in a way when the overlooked becomes almost sort after is quite fulfilling, though I would say this is probably no different to the way a skateboarder might look for a spot to skate or a graffiti writer looking for a spot to paint.
What are you working on currently?
I’m working on about 3 or 4 paintings at the moment as well as a small sculpture piece, so I’m looking forward to seeing where they go. The work I’ve been making recently is the happiest I’ve ever been with my art so I’m feeling good about what I’m producing right now.
I’ve got a couple of exhibitions lined up this year which I’m looking forward to, one of which involves all the members of Depot. I’m also in the process of sending out some proposals for some exhibition ideas I’ve had to a couple of art spaces across the country, it would be great if they could happen this year.
I’m also working with Bruce Davies of Basement Arts Project in Leeds on a project involving Basement Arts Project and Depot, where were planning on bringing some Leeds based artists to Manchester and sending some Manchester based artists over to Leeds. We’re hoping to get to this years Sluice as part of this project too, especially as that was a key highlight of the year last year, it would be great to be a part of that again.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just thanks for asking me to be involved with this and thanks for the interest in my work to start with.