Multidisciplinary artist Rhys Coren is constantly switching between mediums, but whether he’s working in animation or writing, performance or painting, his work pulsates with an inescapable rhythm.
Since finishing a postgraduate diploma at the Royal Academy of Art, Rhys has displayed work at a solo exhibition at Parisian gallery galeriepcp, and tried his hand as a curator of group exhibition Cuts, Shapes, Breaks and Scrapes at Kingsland Road’s Seventeen Gallery as well as in projects Opening Times and bubblebyte.org.
For his current solo show at Seventeen Gallery Whistle Bump Super Strut, Rhys has been translating clouds straight out of The Simpsons and patterns so structured they reveal a mathematical precision. He paints onto wooden boards in enamel, acrylic and spray paint, a process which he tells us he’s been honing for eight years. With titles like Pop, times two, measure the beat. Dance the dance, dancing feet, Rhys’ wooden canvases carry a depth belied by their apparent simplicity.
We caught up with the London-based artist to find out more about the relationship between music and visual art in his work.
You work across animation, writing, performance and painted marquetry — tell us how each of the mediums play into one another. Do music and lyrics affect the making of each painting? Do you see visual art and language as innately different creative forms?
I think that each medium has something inherent in it that allows me to engage with rhythm in a slightly different way. The performances are musical performances, the animation uses frame rate and musical tempo as a structure, the paintings attempt to have a visual, formal rhythm, and the writing plays on phonetics and rhyme a lot.
Music affects my work a great deal. It can be the content of a work: memories I have of people or experiences heavily linked with particular tracks for example. Some works are inspired by lyrics, which I then expand through writing I do. But whatever it is, music almost always fuels the work, in that I listen to a lot of music — various forms of dance music from the last 50 years or so. A song or track from this period and genre can really cast a spell, causing involuntary responses in both my mind and body. A sort of bliss and joy. A desire to dance. I like the idea that by feeling that feeling as I make something, some of that will translate into the finished work.
As for seeing visual art and language as different forms. I’m not sure it is that simple. I think as visual forms as language, and I think of language as a visual form.
Why, for your first solo exhibition, have you chosen to work with paint on wooden board?
It’s a process I have been developing on and off for about eight years. A way of making that allows me to slow down and compartmentalise the picture-making process. I chop a drawing up into its individual graphic components, then work on each piece individually. I can hold it in my hand. Slowly texturing and colouring, before assembling all the pieces again. A friend and mentor of mine who worked as a fabricator saw me making animations in a similar fashion, and he encouraged me to try and make something physical with the same designs, and chopping up board and spay painting it that way.
It’s hard to explain, but as a way of making, it feels more in tune with how I think. Everything happens in stages. I feel I have more in common with a screen printer than someone who paints with a brush.
This is the medium that I’m most excited by showing at the moment, and have the most momentum with. It’s the medium I think in most of the time. Each one I finish inspires two more.
Across language and visual art, your work holds a very solid sense of structure. How do you go about composing each piece?
It’s not all that conscious a process. and I rely quite heavily on intuition. But breaking the making down into stages, compartmentalising, thinking about rhythm and rhyme, and combinations of texture and colour… are all things that are innate in who I am. I guess the last few years have been a process of unearthing what it is that makes me me. And structure is something I keep coming back to.
Can you tell us a bit about the text composing Titles? Is it written to exist in full as a poem? Do any poets in particular inspire your linguistic work?
I write a lot. From single words, to phrases, lists, shapes, individual letters, even essay-like text that acts as a sort of diary to developments in my work. The words can be my own, but more often than not start from something overheard or directly listened to as a lyric. The writings are kept chronologically, and in doing so interesting patterns occur through that chance. I guess I wanted to filter the writing into some other sort of structure to generate new patterns and coincidence. For this press release, putting the writings — in this case titles of work I have made in the last few years — into an ascending order based on length, it did just that. Not only are there patterns in potential meaning and syllabic and phonetic structure, the rhythm evolves as the writings become longer, each new line a little longer than the one above.
David Robilliard as both an artist and poet is someone I admire a lot. Bukowski’s Last Night of the Earth book has had a great affect too.
What music were you listening to while creating work for Whistle Bump Super Strut?
I listen to a lot of mixes. A lot of NTS shows. Namely, Bahamian Moor, Fervent Moon, Radio Jiro, John Arthur Zhal and Alexis Le Tan mixes. Noise in My Head. Test Pressing. Horse Meat Disco. I go off on Youtube’s ‘recommended next’ tangents for days. A mix I had on repeat was Slow and Synthy by J.A.Z., plus some old Larry Levan and David Mancuso mixes.
And finally, which artists do you look to for inspiration?
I have a pile of books on my studio desk that changes almost daily. Currently, it has several Mary Heilmann books, then Josef Albers, Elizabeth Murray, Hilma af Klint, Frank Stella, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Nathalie du Pasquier, Lillian F. Schwartz and Oskar Fischinger.