“I have no control over them!”: Tristan Pigott on painting inanimate objects with agency

Catching up with the artist, we discuss the power of inanimate objects in the digital age and his move towards a more allegorical style.

24 March 2022

When navigating through Tristan Pigott’s body of work, it’s impossible not to gawk. As you peer closer at his painting New Shoe Grin, admiring the expertly articulated, hyperreal texture of polished snakeskin or the crisp crinkles of tissue paper that surrounds the new pair of shoes, your reverie is interrupted by something unexpected. A tiny smiling face gazes back at you from the toe of the shoe.

You’ll then notice these little visages popping up in a lot of Tristan’s still life paintings. “Sometimes they just seem to appear and I have no control over them!”, says the artist. With their high attention to detail and little moments of light-heartedness, there’s a lot to entertain the viewer in Tristan’s paintings. But it’s not just intriguing textures and silly faces that characterise the artist’s work. In fact, each painting is imbued with a complex thread of allegorical meanings and references.

A theme which particularly interests him is the “sense of disembodiment brought about by technology”. In our digital era, with the increasing innovations of AI, Tristan notices how inanimate objects seem to be developing a consciousness of their own. So in his still life paintings, he gives this agency or the “ability to decide” to rather less technically sophisticated objects – a saw, a pair of shoes, a leaf of lettuce. In New Shoe Grin, the aim was to create “a space between the viewer and shoes, where the shoes have their own life force, and reject any ownership”.


Tristan Pigott: She wore a Yellow Ribbon (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2021)

We last caught up with Tristan’s work after he launched his solo exhibition Juicy Bits at the Cob Gallery. Looking back to the exhibition, Tristan notes how his paintings depended much more on humour in those days. Now he’s interested in exploring more “elastic” meanings through allegory. In fact, after Juicy Bits the artist admits feeling a bit “frustrated” with his practice. So, on a whim, he decided to take a masters in sculpture at the Royal College of Art.

Studying sculpture got him fascinated by how “paintings operate in space” and now he’s a great lover of putting on exhibitions. He cites his show at the Alice Black Gallery as a particular favourite. The exhibition took place in “an unusual, overpowering space”, he tells us. The building started life as a bakery. Then in the 1920s it became a nightclub before finally ending up as offices. In keeping with the changing historical functions of the space, Tristan put on a show which weaved “different art historical references with moments from popular culture and the internet”.

One of the paintings in the exhibition depicts a cowboy boot being squashed between iron bars. In protest, the leather boot emits a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke. The piece is a perfect example of how Tristan incorporates allegorical meaning into paintings that at first appear as a simple still life. Naming the painting She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, after a John Wayne cowboy Western film, the cloud of smoke refers to the nuclear testing site near where the film was shot in Utah. The painting also has darker undertones, Tristan tells us, as “John Wayne allegedly died as a result of exposure to the radioactive material”.

If you're interested in seeing Tristan’s work for yourself, he’ll be exhibiting at the Cylinder Gallery in Seoul in September and has another solo show coming up at the Alice Black Gallery later this year.


Tristan Pigott: Saint Jerome's Saw (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2021)


Tristan Pigott: Oh Boy, Here We Go (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2021)


Tristan Pigott: Swallowing Caterpillars (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2019)


Tristan Pigott: Buyer's Remorse (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2019)


Tristan Pigott: Warmed by the fire (Sable in the Snow) (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2021)


Tristan Pigott: We Lay Waiting Detail, (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2020)


Tristan Pigott: We Lay Waiting (the Sword of Judith and Holofernes) (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2020)


Tristan Pigott: Too Dazzling For Your Slippery Gaze (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2019)

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Tristan Pigott: New Shoe Grin (Copyright © Tristan Pigott, 2021)

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About the Author

Elfie Thomas

Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.

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