Up until a week ago I was totally unaware of Alastair Levy’s work. Having graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2008 with an MA in photography, Alastair’s work isn’t necessarily what you’d expect from a photographer (for all the right reasons). We had to find out more…
Can you tell us a bit more about your background?
In terms of my background and how it might inform what I’m doing now there are perhaps a few experiences that have contributed to my present outlook (outside of my educational history). I was an obsessive drawer growing up, and until about the age of 18 was consumed by the idea of creating things that were as accurate a representation of reality as I could achieve. I think this had something to do with a desire for order.
After my foundation I took a year out and spent several months teaching English in a Tibetan buddhist monastery in India. Whilst I am by no means a buddhist, or religious at all, there are definitely aspects of my personality that feel in some way aligned with aspects of that faith; quiet, contemplative.
There are also one or two jobs that I have done which have probably influenced my interests in the everyday. I worked as a facilitator to a man with cerebral palsy for 18 months and that definitely has had an impact on how I view things. Driving a van, painting and decorating are two others.
And what about your formal education?
Perhaps the most significant thing, doing a BA and MA in Photography. I think that the way that photography is taught and has been subsumed into the fine art context over the last 15/20 years is quite strange in a way. In the 60s and 70s you had artists using photography in a very functional way to convey various conceptual ideas. Then in the late 80s and since there has been this kind of fascination with surface and image quality; and also the coherence of structure – a series of images held together by a very rigorous visual code. There is this kind of glossiness with a lot of what falls into the ‘fine art photography’ bracket which I think is quite boring. I also had this sense throughout my years at college that as a discipline photography relies far more heavily on theory than other media, using it almost as a crutch. But always referencing the same five writers. I began to think that surely there could be other influences that could be important in making work, things outside of thoery/photography/fine art altogether. So I think the desire to put some humour back into the work and perhaps try to be a bit more intuitive was a reaction against what I saw as a particularly dry approach to making. And also I realised that the idea was more important than the medium. A thought process would not necessarily lead you to a photograph.
How would you describe your work.
I would describe my work as a quiet subversion of the everyday. I think a lot of it has to do with creating some kind of order (like the Untitled (Bic) piece. A lot of the pieces are simply the result/realisation of a quite instantaneous thought process. Most of the ideas I have seem incredibly obvious once I’ve thought of them but can take quite a long time to come about. I often have particular objects lying around in my studio for months and months before it becomes clear how to make use of them.
Having studied photography but not producing solely photographic work, where do you draw inspiration and reference?
The artists that I am inspired by include Martin Creed, Ceal Floyer, Hreinn Fridfinnson, Donald Judd, and David Batchelor. I think the one thing that links all of these artists is a clarity of vision and execution. There is no excess, everything is reduced to the most essential information/form.
What are you working on at the moment and what can we expect in the near future?
I made a book yesterday using an online publishing website called ‘blurb’. Its a collection of about 20 images from my digital camera mostly of various experiments I’ve carried out in my sudio/flat. I’m not sure that it’s a piece exactly but I think it will help me to clarify something about my processes and take a step forward with the work. The other most recent piece I’ve made is called Uncrumpled (nod to rauschenberg). I bought one of Martin Creed’s Work no. 88 (crumpled ball of A4 paper) which is an unlimited edition you can buy for £150. I just uncrumpled it and ironed it flat and put it in a frame. It’s a kind of contemporary enactment of Rauschenberg’s homage to de Kooning in his Erased de Kooning Drawing.