by Jodie Shepherd


Art & Culture February 12, 2018

In a sense, life as an artist began from the point of conception. Given that Oliver Malin is the son of a portrait painter, this is fair to say. You might remember late last year when I introduced you to the work of Oliver Malin through his ‘Takeaway Dreams’ exhibition. His work brings together a host of characters in recurrent, everyday situations. In this new interview we spoke about the reluctance to utilise empty spaces across London, the interest behind the human condition, and everything in between.

“By default, I have inherited some of that ‘artist’ way of perceiving the world”, Oliver Malin began, thinking about the artistic nature of his family. “That is if one can say that all ‘artists’ see differently to everyone else”. He didn’t want to become too investigative, but in terms of sensitivity to society and culture around you, his epiphany moment came when he was briefly living in Los Angeles after university. He completed a conventional degree in business with Film Studies, and his experience in the music industry was short lived after three weeks. “I took ill to the bosses wife describing how the system worked like a totem pole and I was at the bottom. I knew I was at the bottom. But there is no need to spell it out and make someone feel worthless! So I packed my stuff, stole my weight in stationary, and fucked off”.

By virtue of not having internship employment structure, Oliver Malin had all the time in the world. But no idea how to really fill it. “Perhaps I became lonely”, he continued, “or saw loneliness and desolation in a very concrete way for the first time. I had no choice but to ride the bus to work because I didn’t drive. It resulted in my first series of drawings and photographs though, and in essence molded my working method. I suppose, truly, I am conscious of the three binding purposes of art. To enterain, to inform and to educate”.

As an artist, it’s important to understand your purpose. If Malin is going to channel some of the ten thousand house his mother undertook in order to reach her level of competence, then he has to continue the tradition of honestly creating images.  It’s important for the images to record peoples energies, and take an empathetic approach to vulnerability and the ultimate quest for immortality. “She is a commissioned painter by profession”, Malin said of his mother. “People want portraits when they are on their uppers. Perhaps that’s why I like to paint people as they are. Unknowingly captured. Going through the dramatic and mundane of everyday life. I feel like I get more insight into people from capturing them without their knowledge. It’s not posed, or considered”.

Oliver Malin treats his work as a storyboard, but this is more of a happy accident. “If we are really splitting hairs here, a storyboard is a static way of describing everything visually a viewer will see on screen, sequentially”, he said. “Whereas with my work, when presented in its entirety, or certainly in multiples, then thematic similarities between images arise. Whether in subject matter, expression, or general atmosphere. In essence, what I am trying to share, consciously or unconsciously, is that I think the subjects are important on some level. They are worth recording and focussing in upon. What the viewers do with the image is really up to them.

The original impetus to use ‘found objects’ within his work partly came in LA. “I amassed a lot of bus maps. I wanted to form the connection between the people I drew and the general vicinity where I saw them. Namely, aluminium on the other hand came through linking someone I saw repeatedly in the real world and a facet of what he left behind in the spot I always saw him”. It was at this point he wanted to tell me the, quick, story… “I once had a proper job in Kingston-Upon-Thames and a man used to sit on a bench drinking. Every day just outside Wilkinsons he amassed this pile of cans. Specifically a polish beer. Eventually the dots connected on my long cycle home, that I should draw him on a can. This was the start of the series on crushed aluminum cans”. 

In the past, Oliver Malin has spoken about the idea of disposability. His continued infatuation with disposable, otherwise discarded, objects suits his style of investigative portraiture. It’s a style that is interested in ephemerality. By recording the work in the way Malin does, it freezes the present moment forever. The person and found object become one of the same era, and this helps to contextualise and ground the image in the real world. “The illusion offered by a usual white canvas is destroyed”, he said. “The fourth wall is always broken and referenced. But at the same time, for me, it can enhance the impact of a particular image. Aesthetically it scares off most art dealers. Which probably isn’t a bad thing. It’s good to have a quick way to separate the wheat from the chaff”.

Aesthetically, it also makes people uncertain. Most people expect ‘art’ to be on a canvas and presented in a clean, safe manner. “It probably is a little confusing”, Malin admits. “Given the ‘canvas’ in my case, for a number of works, revolves around an item with a defined purpose before it goes in the bin. For example a pizza box. However using it as I do gives it an infinite lease of life. Especially as an image has been ascribed onto it. And it’s clear that it looks like a fair amount of time and care went into creating it”. Undeniably it’s an aesthetic choice that comes with challenges. “But as far as I can tell, art is about ideas and bringing them into fruition. Not just the craft and technique. So I am taking strides to present ideas considering everything I have at my disposal to relay a message”.

“My interest in the human condition isn’t in a dramatic way”, he continued. “It’s not in the whole cycle of life, birth/death kind of way. It’s more in the drama and, often, personal conflicts of the every day. I suppose I am most interested in the range of emotions we all go through. Contemplating existence through the prism of the individual and their experience. I’d like to think how I portray people is in an empathetic manner. With no one being fetishised or exploited, but all treated as an equal. Capable of existing, feeling and thinking for themselves. This is probably why I despite how iconography has polluted pop and street-art in a seemly irreversible way”. 

In the mind of Oliver Malin, the nature of expressive portraiture is one of great ability. It presents questions without definite answers. The very nature of the medium and approach means everything always balances on personal subjectivity; “This is why subjects in paintings appear to the viewer as they do. It will always be unique to that mind and set of eyes”.

We went on to speak about the apparent lack of gallery space in London. But more so the lack of this for independent, somewhat fledgling artists. For Malin, it’s a problem. “Every time I go past an empty shop I think to myself why isn’t being filled with colour, life, creativity or simply people coming together? My recent exhibition in a kebab shop, if anything, might encourage others to take alternative approaches to getting work seen and not needing to be reliant on finding a traditional gallery space. Which most of the time will come at a premium. Anything to reduce costs for an independent artist, whilst finding ways to create a wider engagement is a good thing for both artists and attendants”. 

Well as I found out through my latest investigation into the possibilities of utilising empty space, Landlords only want longer-term tenants. And whilst councils do offer rates mitigation (reduction) if an arts/charity project is on site, there is still too much red tape surrounding this process. Perhaps it’s not enough of an incentive for landlords to save a few quid, it’s just not worth the hassle”. 

Outwardly, however, as a society we do seem to have a keen focus on the arts and improving areas with it. But many are still struggling with the exposure they want and need. Areas are improved by art, especially colour. This much is undeniable. “To paraphrase Bukowski, who once remarked when walking into a Hollywood restaurant full of people trying to impress each other, ‘There are just too many flies around the same shit'”, Malin said. “There are just too many people trying to do the same thing”.

Instagram though, is apparently the best thing to have happened to artists. “Instagram allows artists to present there work visually, unified and exhaustively, in the strongest way they can. Like everything in life, it has it’s confines and limitations. In a way, it forces everyone to be more critical and appraise what message they want to send out to the world. That is surely only a good thing”.

“Coming up with ideas can happen in the most random of ways”, Malin said when I asked him how he got into the right headspace to work. “I think the main thing is to write things down when they crop up, so they can be recorded and gestated upon. Everything needs a gestation period, otherwise, it’s detrimental. Yet when you have the idea, it’s about the graft and application and not dwelling. Just get on with the physical making, you can be ‘creative’ when you take a break but you need to actually make your ideas take form otherwise they are nothing more than daydreams”. 

Oliver Malin continued to tell me he’d like more hours in the day and not feel the need to sleep as much. Who wouldn’t though, honestly? But I am human”, he said. “The less sleep you get will bite you in the behind eventually with dementia, just look at Maggie Thatcher. So it’s good to try and get 8 hours”. 2018 is the year he aims to continue creating. “I aim to continue to make little, silly films too, the odd music video and keep up with my demands of starting a podcast. If I may, I want to briefly plug, “Rats of London”  which is a long-form interview series where I talk to curious guests from all walks of life, Poets, Undertakers, Neurosurgeons. You can listen here!”

We parted on some wise words from a friend of his; musician and all-round entertainer Robbie Humphries from Bare Hunter. “Nothing too profound”, he said. “But I asked him for advice about about giving up, and how not to. To which he said you’ve just got to ‘keep on, keeping on'”. Righto then. 

“On a side note”, he added, “be careful whose advice you take. Especially from family members who might not have your creative soul at heart and approach things from a more conservative stand-point. I’ve been through patches of uncertainty myself, I think that’s the nature of creative beings, but try to keep in mind at those times, if you don’t make decisions, someone will try and make them for you, which is never good!” 


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