ABSINTHE §1 Interview – Ralph Hunter-Menzies
February 2019

Originally published in the ABSINTHE §1 Catalogue, published by Kronos x Elam Publishing, produced to accompany ABSINTHE §1, curated by Billy Fraser, Charlie Mills and James Capper, 23/02/2019-11/05/2019, Spit and Sawdust Pub, Elephant and Castle.

Hector Campbell : You’ve spoken before about the idea of ‘creation vs. destruction’ within your work, as well as influences such as graffiti removal and Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’. Could you expand more on that idea and it’s influences? 

Ralph Hunter-Menzies : Ideas of the ephemeral have always interested me. There is something to be explored within painting around ideas of authorship too and that is the beauty with the Robert Rauschenberg work. It’s fulfilling both import interests I have within my practice. Can eraser (destruction) be creative? This sentiment is present across any urban landscape and I began to notice surfaces across  London that echoed a similar relationship between mark making (creation?) and removal (destruction?). I started taking photographs of graffiti removals that primarily manifested themselves as blocks of colours - usually different to the main surface - and power washed marks. The thing that makes me still reference these moments within my paintings is it encapsulates what it means to live in a city. Everything is so planned and regimented within these spaces that I guess these little moments that break you out of the expected, are to be cherished. The accidental, the non-planned within a cityscape is a revealing barometer of how we shape and are shaped by our cities. Essentially - formalism aside - this is what my practice focuses on.

H.C : The ‘hand of the artist’ is often left evident in your works through the exploration of mark-making and the painting process. In the digital age of highly polished super-flat artworks, why is this exposure of authorship important to you?

R.H-M : The questioning of authorship within the digital age is important and within my paintings I endeavour to make it difficult for the viewer to always be sure whether it is my mark or a printed mark or a mark left by a substance. The relationship between deliberate and ‘accidental’ marks is very interesting to me. Complete mark making autonomy can never be fully realised and the history of marks - how they came to exist - is as important to me as the final mark.

H.C : The marriage of both surface and image has become a signature characteristic of your paintings, and creating on your own hand-sewn canvases an integral part of your practice. When did this fascination with surface begin, and how has it developed within your work?

R.H-M : I was painting for a period of time in a conventional sense, on a pre-stretched canvas and it left me feeling unsatisfied with the process. You make marks on canvas and never really question the actual structure you are painting on. I guess it came from this and also a practical and formalistic approach to composing a painting. The way I now make works is an incredibly enjoyable process and the physicality of the primary processes (spray painting, using acetone, power washing, acid washing and using oil sticks) is offset against the slower more pre-meditated secondary process of cutting up and sewing these surfaces together into compositions. My works are now expanding and exploring the relationship between surface and form through the inclusion of printed surfaces.

H.C : You’ve had some experience of organising and curating exhibitions, including last years ‘The Unlimited Dream Company’ at Hannah Barry Gallery as well as an upcoming group exhibition at The Dot Project. How have these curatorial projects informed your own artistic practice?

R.H-M : I think it informs my works in many ways, some that I am aware of and probably far more that I have yet to recognise. Primarily, exposure to as many different art forms and ways of working and thinking has expanded my horizon exponentially. Also, by meeting other artists at similar stages in their careers and becoming close friends with them and having discussions/looking critically at each others practices means you begin to lose the solitary  perspective to the whole journey of being an artist and begin to witness other artists success in a collective manor.

H.C : Last year you collaborated with Amba Sayal-Bennett to install artwork on a billboard in London, with another billboard project planned for Nottingham this year. What interested you about creating these billboard artworks, and how do you approach a unique project like that?

R.H-M : Amba and I’s approach to the billboards was fairly similar. We wanted to create a work that looked like there had already been an intervention, like a tag or random gesture. It strikes at the heart of what was of interest for Amba and I, an idea that there isn’t ever a static surface within a city and to question the artists creative and mark making autonomy.

H.C : Having previously featured in the one night only Absinthe 2018 exhibition, what are you excited about for Absinthe 2019? Can you give us an insight into the works you’re producing for it?

R.H-M : I will be making a painting that will hang within the recess of the pub’s ceiling. This is expanding on ideas I am having within paintings as situational objects - almost like a fragment of another space, urban or otherwise. I will be using some of the techniques I have been exploring within my work already as well as experimenting with dyes, masking off areas and removal of vinyl. I aim for the works to present fragmented areas in a whole, focussing on isolated marks.