Celebrated artist and activist Hugo Farmer has been working within the creative industry for close to 14 years. However, it was only in the past four years that he started producing work under his own name. In anticipation of his upcoming exhibitions in Germany and Greece, and the unveiling of his latest sculpture at Glastonbury, we sat down with Farmer for a quick Q&A.
Art Report: Can you tell us about yourself and your creative background? You’re trained as a sound engineer – how did you become the artist that we’ve come to know today?
Hugo Farmer: It all stemmed from managing a bar in London called the Dragon Bar 18 years ago. Through that I met a lot of people. I found they kept on asking me questions, and I would always seem to have the the right answer/solution to their problem. I’m a problem solver. I was more a craftsman than an artist, and ultimately it went on from there. I started making things for people because I used to run festivals; it put me in a position where I could rent the space and put on an exhibition. I did that for 13-14 years, I only started making my own work four-five years ago—it’s a fairly recent thing. Nothing is ever planned with me; you get to a crossing and decide which way to go. What I find very frustrating with a lot of artists’ work is that it’s often the same. There’s nothing new, no obvious evolution; it doesn’t get better. They get to a stage which works and then repeat the same series as it’s a commercial success.
Can you avoid falling into that category in today’s art world? When you start out, is it necessary to have these unwritten rules of who you are as an artist and what you stand for?
HF: I don’t think you’re ever sure of who you are. The long and the short of it is that you need a bit of backing financially. You need it to enable you to get the space and then have the time to do it. Having a full time job whilst also creating work is very difficult — it’s almost impossible. There needs to be dedication.
Leading on from that there seems to be this new breed of artist where the digital revolution, such as Instagram and Twitter, allows one to play the role of both creator and promoter/dealer. What’s your take on this digital platform? Is the art dealer becoming a dying breed?
HF: It’s a tricky one. I’ve only just delved into Instagram on the advice of my agent. There has been international interest as a result of it. There’s also been inquiries in my sculptures, so it stands as a really great platform. With regards to the middle man, it’s a funny industry I’m only just starting to get involved in, and it already makes me slightly uneasy. But there is a need for the art dealer. They have incentive to push and promote your work. I still don’t know how this is going to work for me as I’m still new to the business.
Your work has very strong political/moral notes to it — do you feel it’s your role as an artist to highlight these political situations?
HF: As an individual your voice isn’t always heard. If you can make something that a lot of people like, then your voice gets heard. You would hope that as an artist you can serve as a voice for the people, but then it’s slightly ignorant. Everybody’s view is a valid view, whether I agree with it or not. It’s very difficult — I don’t want to make people think in a certain way. I want to encourage people to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions and to question things more than they do. We’re machines in a way. We all get sent to work, we all pay taxes and we’re all conditioned to think we have to buy a house and get a mortgage. Especially in competitive industries like the art industry because it can seem that there isn’t too much comradery. That mentality gets boring. I make work because I love making things. I really like creating, and if I succeed in making people think in a different way, looking beyond face value and question things, then that’s great. I was brought up in a place called Auroville in India, which is supposedly this utopian place where people from every race, religion, creed can go and be. When I went back, there was this hierarchy. So on paper its values are fantastic, but as soon as you make a group, there’s always going to be a leader of the group. It’s human nature. We’ve just hopefully evolved into creatures who are open to discussing issues instead of starting a punch up.
What is the most important first impression that your work should have on the viewer?
HF: Whether people know my background as an artist or not, my work can be understood and accessible to everyone. It is about either an individual or group of people who can look at the work and as a result form a clear voice. This year at Glastonbury, I’ll be showing my new question mark sculpture at the Shangri-La area in the center of the Hellfire arena. I’ve given the light surgeons my stop-frame animation of spinning question mark heads. The theme is truth and lies, which looks at the importance of freedom of press and truth. I could say I’m related to Gandhi, they could write it down and people would believe it. It’s mental. What do you believe and what don’t you believe? Are you questioning the right person?
Your use of bronze is intriguing. What is the importance of using such an ancient medium in such a contemporary way? Do you think it’s necessary to draw inspiration from old masters and make them relevant in today’s art world?
HF: It’s more from a practical point of view if I’m 100% honest. The medium that I use to start off the process is called jasmanite — it’s like plaster but it’s an acrylic. It doesn’t have a proven history. With your modern resins, they’re really nice to work with, you can sand them and carve them pretty easily but the longevity is dodgy. In fifty years time, they may start cracking. Bronze is long-lasting and will stand the test of time. Me, personally, if I was a dealer investing in art, I’d want something that isn’t going to deteriorate. I create my sculptures at the Wolf and Stone Foundry. It’s incredible there and really enjoyable to see your ideas become a reality in front of you.
What’s planned for the rest of 2016? Do you have any exhibitions or projects coming up that we should look out for?
HF: I have a show coming up in Berlin and Greece over the summer with RedD Pr and then hopefully New York in October and November.
All Images Courtesy By Hugo Farmer.
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