Born in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, Nigel Grimmer has completed his Masters in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 1998. Since graduating, Grimmer has exhibited throughout the UK and has shown work in Germany, France and Switzerland. Grimmer has curated a number of exhibitions in London and his work is regularly published in a variety of journals.
His Roadkill Family Album is an ongoing art project that begun in 2000, exploring the relationship between public and personal imagery and its influence on the production of identity. On staged events, each photograph depicts a member of Grimmer’s family wearing the mask of an animal. Lying by the side of a road, they appear to be dead, which conjures up feelings of abandonment and sorrow. For more check out the interview below and visit his website www.nigelgrimmer.com.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I was once described in a magazine as a ‘performative, plastic pop-star’…
Whom do you look up to?
There are many artists whose work I’m inspired by, and whose practice has influenced the path of my own. Early inspirations were Jo Spence and Rosy Martin who collaborated on Photo Therapy, the restaging of family snapshots in order to see family dynamics from a different perspective, to allow the scars of family battles to heal. I was very interested in this restaging and the performative elements of their practice.
General Idea, the Canadian art collective, are probably my favorite artists; again I liked the sense of performance within their work, and the personal becoming political. I was inspired by the way they saw their art as an ‘image virus’ to be spread throughout culture, whether in the form of a poster, fashion show, stamp or magazine.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres is also a personal favorite, one of the only artists who created minimalist work that was emotional, political and personal. He managed to transform everyday objects into profound heartfelt statements.
I also look up to my parents, they have no background or real interest in art, but they know it’s my passion and I’m not likely to do anything else, so have modeled or helped photograph me for more of my projects than anyone else. And I’ve made them do some ridiculous things…
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your way of thinking?
My art teacher at Sixth Form College, Heather Allen, was the first person I met who identified me as an artist. She was also the first person to treat me as an adult and not a child. I remember the pleasure she got from introducing us to new artists and taking us to exhibitions; I think she inspired me to become both an artist and later an educator. She gave up teaching to study a Masters in Fine Art, the same year that I did mine. She lives in Berlin now and is still making fabulous work.
A big early influence on my practice was the discovery that I was no longer recorded in our family photography album; if my experiences weren’t being recorded there then they weren’t being recorded at all. I initially thought that it was up to me to document my existence and begun looking at the language of domestic portraiture. Later I felt I was set free, that I was a floating cypher that could be used to comment on any situation and begun examining representations in popular culture, trying to find myself mirrored there.
How did your art career start? What made you want to become an artist?
It’s hard to say when your art career starts…
Does it start when you begin art college? When you graduate from art college? When you exhibit your first work? When you have your first solo show? When you can support yourself from art-related endeavors?
Does an art career start when you can’t imagine doing anything else apart from making art?
I’ve always had a passion for making things, and even at school they would be strange things, like a set of stitched soft sculptures of the classical gods, but I didn’t think of it as art, or know what an artist was. I went to art college only because my best friend got me an application form. I studied a Bachelors and Masters in Fine Art, and supported myself by working in galleries. It was years later I felt comfortable calling myself an artist, when I’d begun to be called an artist by other people.
I don’t agree with the trend of many art educators telling their students that they are all artists, or that everyone is an artist; there has to be some kind of journey. Being described as an art student shouldn’t be seen as derogatory, without ongoing study anyone’s practice becomes stale.
What was your favorite project and why?
I guess historically my favorite project is Roadkill Family Album. That was the first project after graduating from Central Saint Martins that I felt was truly mine. It was more intuitive, less contrived, than some of my earlier work in which my ideas were still developing. Many of my key motifs can be seen in that series such as the lone model with their identity obscured from the viewer… It was the first of my album projects, which can be seen as typologies of my friends and family. I produced images for that series for fifteen years. Some of the later models in the series are the children of the original models! The last photo in the series was of one of my students at the Venice Biennale, I’m not sure if that was the end of the series though, a particular person or mask might kickstart it again.
The project started from a desire to highlight the constructed nature of snapshot photography, to emphasise the acting, the posing, and the stepping out of reality. I wanted to give the model a series of nonsensical commands that would then be repeated to each consecutive model. I wanted to see how long it would take for this practice to become a standard amongst my peer group, for someone to ask to appear in the series.
Although the images are in some ways ridiculous they still perform the function of standard snapshots in acting as a memory aid of an event for the model and photographer. In later projects I experimented with giving the model a series of commands that were appropriated from elsewhere rather than random directions.
Of my current projects Art Drag Album is probably my favorite, I’ve enjoyed modeling for one of my projects, being in front of the camera for a change. I think it’s my first financially successful self-portrait project, probably because people don’t realise it’s me!!
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your career as an artist?
As an artist I think you either have the time to make art or the money to make art; the challenge is having both at the same time.
Given that maintaining an art practice is a huge challenge in itself. It’s sad that in the current climate of the art world that the artist is often bottom of the heap, below gallery owners, curators and collectors, many of whom have forgotten that without artists their role would be meaningless.
Also in the creative industries you’ll have bosses that give you a break, bosses that break you, artists who want to collaborate and share technique, artists who see you as a threat and never share their contacts, dealers who passionately champion you and dealers who just see you as a commodity to exploit. It’s important to surround yourself with people who support you and let the others go.
Do you have a favorite quote that describes what you truly believe in? What`s your personal motto?
A quote that would tie together my favorite artists would be “the personal is political” I think that could easily be applied to General Idea, Jo Spence or Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
I think my friends would say my personal motto is “It’s not bitchy if it’s true…” or “I’m not competitive, but…”
How do you define creativity?
A need to express yourself or your ideas to others through the physical production of something.
If you had one advice for someone seeking to live a creative life, what would you tell him?
Make what you want to make, and not what you think people want to see or what’s currently fashionable.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at 21?
Well I guess I know fifteen years of winning lottery numbers that my younger self might appreciate. I think next I’d stress the importance of networking; I hate networking and aggressive networkers, but if I’d been practicing since I was 21 I might be an expert by now, a networking guru!
Is there anything for which you would be ready to give up your passion for art?
I’m imagining myself in a huge house, with an amazing partner and kids, living somewhere warm and exotic. Now I’m imagining someone telling me that I can’t make any art; that I can’t show the kids how to make art, that we can’t collect the art of others for the walls of the house or visit galleries. I can only see that as a dystopian vision… So the answer is no!