After years of being an MC in the UK hip-hop scene, painter Bill Daggs decided to pursue his lifelong love of creating visual art. So, at 33, Bill enrolled on a BA fine art course. He tells us: “I had always been making art to some degree; drawing, painting, making music, painting on walls. For a couple of years I got involved with the street art scene, but it’s an ego fest and also a life of constant excess, so I dipped out of that when I began my third year in uni.”
With a mother who, as a teacher, instilled in him a love of writing and literature, and a father who worked as a mixing engineer at Island Records in the 70s and was a member of The Specials, Bill’s creative pursuits span multiple disciplines. As he says: “I’m a musicker, a poet, a sculptor, a painter, but I’m not really amazing at any of it, so I try to bang it all together and see what happens.”
Because Bill’s degree work mostly dealt with the three-dimensional world of sculpture, his attitude to painting is refreshingly instinctive – not confined by the stipulations of learnt techniques, styles or compositional methods. He is even grateful for his lack of instruction in his chosen creative field, because, as he says, “it was something I felt I could totally lose myself in and not have to follow any rules.” When he took up painting, it was with a naivety that allowed him to fully grasp his singular mode of making: “I was ready to forget everything at this point and start from scratch, so I did, and in 2018 I had my first solo painting exhibition.”
With touches of the outsider art aesthetic, Bill’s paintings depict figures with impressionistically drawn faces, in scenes populated by decorative patterning, animals, and whisky and wine glasses. His works revolve, he states, around “social observation”, specifically of urban life and young people. He describes his paintings from an almost anthropological viewpoint, saying: “There is a focus on community and relationships, human ritual and interaction. My work looks at the notion of identity – or lack thereof – that surrounds, in particular, young men in today’s society.”
There is an intriguingly unfinished look to many of the paintings, where Bill leaves elements as bare outlines, or as half-completed forms. With regard to his way of working, he tells us: “I never draw out a painting before starting or approach it with an idea in mind of what the final outcome will be.They progress organically. There can be several different paintings before I’m happy with the final piece, and this is a really important part of the process because it gives the work its own sense of history. The traces of the past compositions are often left exposed, giving importance to the stories that were there beforehand.” As such, the tendency of realist painting to mimic the shading and curvature of objects is, in Bill’s art, eschewed in favour of emphasising the flatness of his medium – its representational and suggestive qualities rather than its capacity to mimic life. These gaps leave space for interpretation, space for Bill to convey the feeling and concept behind the work.
For Bill, painting from photographs is too restricting, as the preexisting images “decide the outcome before it’s begun”. Instead, he paints from memory and from his imagination, drawing on mythical references, literature, politics, events, the news, music, museum artefacts, friends, or even just people he encounters briefly in his daily life. With a nod to his interdisciplinary interests, Bill also incorporates text into many of his paintings – against the advice of an “older fella” who told him during his studies that “words have no place in a painting”. As a writer of poetry himself, Bill finds that “words hold a power that a painting cannot. They can be instructive, definitive and final. Most of the time I write backwards in a painting to try to remove that power, so the viewer can find their own meaning before being influenced by the words. By writing backwards the letters become more like marks than informative symbols.”
About to embark on his MA, Bill is keeping his practice open and experimental. He is, as he says, “trying to pull all these bits and pieces together to see where they all belong and if they can coexist”. He says he never wants to stop experimenting within his practise: “When it feels stagnant, I’ll try something else.”