Sally Lai: Today we were talking about the idea of getting known for a signature style or type of work, before I met you I knew people that thought you had one and they used to talk about your dot paintings. Did you have this feeling towards this work? And how did you move away from doing them?

Andrew Bracey: The dot work rose out of the abstract paintings I primarily made at Art College. Over time they changed from traditional paintings into the expanded field, using found objects to paint on such as pistachio nut-shells instead of canvas, working with syringes instead of brushes or using laser cut vinyl as an alternative to paint. Dots allowed me to articulate the notion of a unit as part of a greater whole.  After several years of working this way I became restricted by the self referential nature of abstract work and felt there were many other things that interested me which were excluded by the dot ‘signature’ I realised I was in danger of possessing. I do believe there are parallels between the early dot work and what I am now creating, using many individual units to make a collected mass. However, beginning with Clout I started to produce pieces of work that opened up other avenues of discussion through the use of the mass of images that surround us in today's culture.

SL: And how do you decide and select those images? Are they the things you remember when you come to paint? Or is it a chain, a kind of word association that  takes you from one image to the next? I guess what I am asking is how random or sequential it is as a process?
AB: The images are drawn from the mass that surround us and are taken from contexts such as the internet, newspapers, advertisements, holiday snaps and junk-mail. There is a filtering process, in that I select each image; however I try to be objective and select images on the basis that they are sufficiently different to others I have already selected to paint. On reflection I create a false idea of the random. In pieces like Clout, Various titles and Frames I want to give the viewer freedom to make their own selections and form their own narratives or 'mini-shows'. I aim to cover everyone's tastes by being as far reaching as I can be with my selections; however it is still me that is making the choices of what and what not to paint. 

SL: I remember one thing you said when you went to The Real Thing show at Tate Liverpool, there was one piece by Qiu Zhijie about the Tibetan railway, where he re-walked the journey of a person who measured the territory for the British survey map. You said you didn’t really know why he did the performance, because it didn’t really add to the story of the original person that walked across Tibet. So what does the process of you painting add to the things you are depicting?

AB: This is a difficult question, there is no clear answer. The act of painting changes the images for one thing, from it being something recorded by the lens, the machine to something made by the hand, something that is unique/un-repeatable. With Frames, for instance if they were just the screen-grabs then they remain something that is somewhat uninteresting to me outside of the context of the film’s narrative. There is something in painting that, to me, makes the images more engaging. There is also something within photography and cinema now, where the hand-produced feel is being replaced by digital to make flawless photographs and films, which can also become dull by being flawless. Baudrillard talks of how historical films like Barry Lyndon are simulations that are too perfect, that by trying to become absolutely real they become boring. I hope that good painting is never too much of a perfect simulation of the real, that there is something other that helps to make it interesting.

SL: You said earlier that having seen the firstsite show I have seen most of your recent work, but then you mentioned the work outside conventional gallery spaces. Can you say more about some of these?

AB: Magpie was commissioned for a billboard in Liverpool. I really liked the paradox of this site, it is on the edge of dereliction and glass and steel regeneration, as well as being almost hidden from view behind this large fence and on the other side of an abandoned car-park. Even though I was told that 250,000 people walk past it every month, I wouldn’t expect many of them to notice it. Magpie responded to this and used various discarded objects picked up from the site which were then painted 100 times smaller than the billboard on canvas before being blown up to become the poster.

SL: Okay, so what is the significance of painting it 100 times smaller and then blowing it up?

AB: The 100 times is not significant, but what attracted me to the project was the possibility to see something big as a counter to my work which is often miniature. I also liked using items, like condom packets and food packaging which are more usually seen on the advertising billboard. By depicting them as they were found there was something of making the unseen (the small or overlooked) highly visible, especially against this lurid yellow background. I guess the major thing that attracts me to alternatives to the gallery is being able to respond a site directly and produce something which only makes sense or makes the most sense there, as opposed to the gallery work which could be lifted from one gallery to another without major changes.

SL: Are you saying that you think of a white cube gallery as that, literally a white neutral cube? One of the places you chose to show in was Victoria Baths. It wasn’t the main part of the building though was it?

AB: That’s right; it was in the basement, there are these amazing dark corridors with countless overhead pipes. Whilst doing a site visit I had an uneasy yet exhilarating feeling, akin to watching a horror movie or entering a dark cave. It felt natural for me to add to this mood and install bats into the building, roosting as if they have been breeding undisturbed whilst the building was shut to the crowds before its Restoration win. The idea is that these bats have now been taken from the Victoria Baths and added to the zoo. I wanted Freianlage to expand and grow as it moved from venue to venue, for it to have new pieces for each venue. This could be likened to zoos getting a new exotic animal to draw in new or repeat crowds. I’ve also been making some animations recently.

SL: Didn’t you tell me about this...weren’t you going to have the pile of drawings that were made to make the animation, alongside the animation itself?

AB: Yeah that happened with one of the animations, where Spinner Dolphins performing tricks on post it notes. I showed it at Porch Gallery, which was a temporal exhibiting space in the porch of two artists. Within the gallery/porch there were hundreds of drawings on post-it notes of Dolphins, stuck onto available vertical surfaces. Inside the house, on the night of private view only, the animation, hidden in a fireplace, was projected onto a blank post-it note that became the screen. The working drawings shifted to become the exhibited piece and the animation was relegated from centre-stage. As an aside there is also a nice ‘early-cinema’ quality that occurs as a by-product of processes, for instance ink splashes become simulacra of the built up dirt and scratches.

SL: Let’s talk about the speed of making a work like Clout? Do you do each one quickly to try and override consciousness so that the next image isn’t planned out and is just what comes to mind as you finish the last?

AB: I call on banks of images I have collected over the years, from cutting out of magazines, newspapers and so on. I go through these and try and find ones that are different to others I have already painted to create a vast range of different ‘types’ of image. So for instance I have tonnes of images culled from travel brochures, but I only selected one or two to use in Various Titles or else I would have ended up with hundreds of paintings of hotels with pools. The selection process is about picking the right example from the many choices available. And if there are a few paintings which appear similar in type then I will often spread them out in the display to ‘make it appear’ random!

SL: So it’s not random, but it appears random?

AB: Yes. I suppose the film works are slightly different because although there is still the principle of painting random images across the series, like in Clout and Various Titles, with Frames they have all been selected from a pre-determined source. So each painting’s image has been selected by pulling one frame out of a couple of hundred thousand other possible frames from each movie I watch.

SL: But a film is basically a chain of images isn’t it, so when do you stop it? Is the stopping random or......?

AB: No, to start the films I am painting from are from a number of different lists such as all the films to have won the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar, so that side of things is not random. I am also watching every film on these lists and looking for non-moments; the incidental bits that do not sum up the film, non-iconic moments from iconic films.

SL: So it is not the shot that everyone would know and recognise from the film?

AB: In many ways it is the antithesis of walking past the equivalent of Athena and seeing the paint-by-numbers canvas of the Robert De Niro pointing his gun in Taxi Driver or Audrey Hepburn and her diamonds from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I try and find the opposite type of image, the cup on a table or some clouds. These scenes are often incidental, though they may be important to the viewing of a film. The plane is a classic example of this; it is there to tell the viewer that the story has moved from one city to another, but as an isolated image it is just an image of a plane. I am to raise the significance of something that within the film is passed over, by changing its context and presenting it as a painting. I also respond to an ongoing nature within the project, the Frames series started as being from one list of 100 films, which then branched out into several lists and the original 100 is now becoming 250.

SL: So there is a compulsive thing going on here? Something about bringing it to an end, or not?

AB: I think that is something that quite often happens; there could be a logical place to stop...

SL: And you go beyond that...

AB: Yes, not in a freakish way though! It is like the difference between having a CD collection of 10 or of 500, for better or worse I would always be the person with the larger collection.

SL: Can you say how you see this accumulation exists in your work? And whether it is deliberate process/ method? 

AB: As a person I am naturally a hoarder, my studio has all sorts of junk overflowing from cupboards and shelves that I cannot bring myself to part with; they might be of use someday. Something I have consciously done since schooldays is to keep images from newspapers, magazines, flyers etc. A selection of these has always been put up on-mass on my studio wall to create a manic ‘mood-board’ of inspiration.

SL: So you spot these images from wherever and they get added to the wall, but there appear to be groupings, for example you have animals.

AB: Yes, that naturally happens when you add images at the same time. I use the space available, so the picture of Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando started as an A3 full figure pose, then over time images were overlaid and it ends up becoming a close up of their faces. I am also interested in what happens when you put diverse things together within collections; how does an image of a key-hole relate to a pre 9/11 skyline and what narratives (or not) can emerge from these pairings. This is something that emerged from the images on my wall to pieces like Various Titles, but also stands in for wider connections in society’s infatuation with the image. There is also something of what James Surowiecki has coined, the Wisdom of the Crowd;  the accumulation of a diverse amount of things, be they people or images, which makes something more informed or wise by having a varied accumulation of knowledge/subject from a group than by a singular expert.

SL: I had no idea you were a hoarder! I saw a programme about extreme hoarders once and I was amazed that when asked about why they were keeping or collecting the things they hoarded, they had a reason for it - however, strange and separated from reality it seemed to us the viewer, in their minds there was a very clear reason. Do you collect things with a purpose in mind? How purposeful and deliberate is it? For example when you made the works for Freianlage were the zoo scenes created with random things that you had acquired or was there a setting out to get certain objects?
AB: The objects I used in the zoo work came from a variety of sources and methods, with some becoming anecdotes in their own right. Some pieces like Migrate were formed from pieces of junk I found on the streets and footpaths and beaches whilst out walking, which not owning a car I do a lot of. It strikes me that many of these discarded things are beautiful when they acquire the worn look of the street. I also like paradox of selecting the ones I choose to have significance enough to paint on and leaving the myriad other potentials that clutter the streets. With other pieces like Checkout or Feed I saw potential in things I had about me in the studio, for instance kitchen scales showed the ability to transform into a penguin pool. I would not say I was an extreme hoarder, however I do have a lot of stuff I probably will never use or look at again, but which I cannot bring myself to throw away.

SL: Another way the accidental occurs in your work is discovering them within the installation. I remember in particular the painted doorstop, Where?  in the firstsite show and thinking to myself how many other things might I have missed? This way of presenting and hiding the work is also something that will happen in the Wolverhampton installation. Can you say more about the reasons for it? and what you think might be the audience’s reaction to it?

AB: A lot of the reasoning behind the presentation comes from a mixture of giving a sense of surprise or discovery to the viewer in stumbling upon the pieces of work, but also a sense of a 'reward' for those who take time to really look.  With Freianlage I was conscious of the fact that you do not see every animal enclosure on a visit to the zoo and wanted to replicate this in the gallery; as well as trying to incorporate a way of trying to re-structure the traditional clockwise stroll around the gallery from the door and back out again. At Wolverhampton I am anticipating that some people will go around the galleries to see the collection and will glimpse these odd painted objects strewn about and wonder what they are, while with others there will be the reverse effect, walking past all the wonderful paintings on the wall in order to hunt out the next animal. By hiding some pieces away I hope to encourage people to search them out and spend this ‘seeking’ time reflecting upon the work, rather than having it explained by the handy text panel. I also like the fact that many people will miss things and that each person may therefore have a different experience of the show.

SL: But I suppose by some people seeing it and others missing it, then it creates something else about the work, an anecdote , that very few people know about it and it has its own currency, not through directly experiencing it, but through hearing about it third-hand .

AB: Yes I guess, it’s not really a conscious reason for why I do it, ideally I would want everyone to stumble across the work and see it first hand, it is just that I am not prepared to point and guide people to exactly where and what they should be looking at. Missing things is something that is true of a lot of my work and is a major reason for using a mass of individual paintings within the greater whole, so each person will come away remembering a few individual pieces, significant to them, rather than attempting to remember all of them. I recall when Clout was in the John Moores someone said to me that they liked the piece, but what was the reason for only painting company logos? They had only chosen to see company logos in between the depictions of album covers, smiley faces, graffiti and so on.

SL:  In everyday life because there is such a bombardment of images that whilst we see them all, we need to filter them.

AB: Absolutely, it is like flicking past one hundred television channels before you find the one that interests you.