spotlight

Collective identity, pop culture and found art by British artist Nick Gentry

British artist Nick Gentry is inspired by the impact of internet culture. Drawing on recycled technological relics as the grounds for his portraits, he creates a conversation between digital and analogue processes. We talk to him about his experiments with obsolete data formats and how he combines them into figurative forms.

Nick gentry at work in his studio

Q: Have you always been creative since childhood, or did you discover your talent later?

A: Art has always been my way of expressing myself. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing pictures of faces and characters. I feel really thankful that art has consistently been there throughout my life.

Q: Where did you grow up - and has this had a bearing on your work?

A: I grew up in St Albans, which is a historic city with Roman ruins and lots of old buildings including the oldest pub in England.

I think that growing up in that place instilled in me a sense of history. Traces of past existence are all around us and it has inspired much of my work.

Q: Did you go to art college?

A: I went to Liverpool Art School for my Degree and Central St Martins in London to study for my Masters. I’m very grateful for the quality and variety of teaching and I learned a great deal from all my tutors and fellow students.

Just being in that environment amongst likeminded people was the key element for me. It is all part of nurturing a curious outlook, which allows the outside world to permeate into the artworks.

Preliminary sketches by Nick Gentry

Q: Have you ever done any other jobs before you became a full-time artist?

A: I worked for a short while in a factory, making Perspex retail displays with my dad and brother. I’ve also worked in a supermarket stacking shelves. These experiences helped me to appreciate that I had a choice of future and it made me even more determined to become an artist.

Q: ‘If I wasn’t an artist I'd be...’

A: I have a guitar and piano at home and I like to play around with those. I love music and it would be nice to become more skilled in that area.

Q: Describe a working day...

A: Around 8 am I will make myself some green tea and head into the studio. I try to make time to meditate and do some yoga if I can. I get the radio on or some music and just get into it. When I am deeply focused the sense of time passing is diminished.

Q: When is your most productive time of day?

A: Those first few hours of the day before lunch are the most precious creative time for me. All admin gets done much later on.

Q: Where do you work – studio or home? Do you have a room with a view?

A: My studio is at the end of the garden. I have big sliding doors and I love the calmness of the view outside. The sounds of birds, fresh air and leaves blowing in the wind helps to calm everything down.

Nick Gentry at work in his studio
Nick Gentry at work in his studio

Q: Do you have music on or work in silence?

A: When the need arises I can close the door and put music on. Music stimulates emotions, so creating the right atmosphere helps me to get into the mood for work.

Being in an isolated building helps me feel focused where I know I won’t be affecting others if I want to listen to loud music.

Q: Do you have a favourite painting outfit?

A: I have an old fleece thing that I’ve kept in the studio for about 10 years, but generally I like to change what I am wearing each time. I’m pretty careful but, eventually, everything gets a bit of paint on it.

Q: What materials do you use?

A: I like to use obsolete technology in my work. It’s an open process and I invite people to send me their old materials to embed within the works. I’ve been fortunate enough connect with so many people around the world. It’s inspiring that all these people want to be involved.

Nick Gentry’s mood board of inspiration
Nick Gentry’s art creates a conversation between digital and analogue processes

Q: Is there any tool or piece of equipment you couldn’t do without?

A: I’m not precious about particular objects or equipment. If something is not available I’m always happy to adapt and find a new way. Tea, biscuits and chocolate are pretty much essential though!

Q: What are the main themes to your work?

A: I’m fascinated by the feeling of time passing. Of course we increasingly record so much of our lives today, but I try to capture the feeling of it.

Technology is changing the way we live and we seem to be struggling to blend that into our natural world. The environment is important to me and I hope that by reusing materials I can inspire others to think creatively about waste.

Q: Do you have a current/past favourite piece of your work?

A: I’ve made pieces that give me satisfaction for different reasons. However as an artist looking to continually develop my work, it is important for me to not fixate too much on anything that I have done in the past.

It’s useful to look back and reflect at times, but really those artworks are just markers in time.

A preliminary sketch by Nick Gentry

Q: What other artists inspire you?

A: Francis Bacon is someone that had a brutal start in life. That’s clearly reflected in his work and I admire his courage of expression regarding that. He took something that was dark and negative and channelled it into works of raw vitality.

Of course, Leonardo Da Vinci has always been an inspiration to me in so many ways. I have studied his compositions more than anything else and will always be captivated by his work.

Q: Are there any contemporary artists who you follow?

A: Olafur Eliasson, Marina Abramovic, Agustina Woodgate, Christopher Noulton, Matthew Stone, David Shrigley.

Q: What art do you hang on your walls at home?

A: We have a lot of original artworks on the wall by my wife, Sinem. She works prolifically as a book illustrator and cover designer. Her artworks bring a lot of joy and colour to our home. We also have no shortage of bedtime stories for our son Frank, too.

Q:What was the last art exhibition you went to see?

Olafur Eliasson 'In Real Life' at the Tate Modern. I’ve really missed going to see art exhibitions over the past year and I find that online shows still have some way to go in replicating the real thing.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? 

A: It doesn’t feel as straightforward to think ahead as it used to. I hope that the world finds peace and we can really start to respect nature more.

Personally, with my art I’d like to reflect whatever changes will come our way. It’s certainly an interesting and exciting time to be an artist in a world of such change and inspiration.

Q: Any there key ambitions or goals you have on your to-do list?

A: I am planning to have a solo exhibition at Opera Gallery in London later this year. Aside from that, I would like to show more works in public settings.

Q: What have been your highlights - i.e. the projects you've been involved in or achievements you're proud of?

A: I have enjoyed working with WWF on projects that raise awareness about protecting wild animals and conserving nature. I hope to do more of those types of collaborations in the future.

Q: What do you feel are the main challenges in being an artist now? 

A: The main challenge is to keep abreast of the increasing pace of change in the world. The flow of media and data is increasing all the time, but of course there is only so much information a human being can absorb.

Traditionally artists have had much more time to experience moments and create responses to current affairs. There are so many more images in the world, which makes it harder to create something that will cut through and capture peoples attention for longer than a few seconds.

Nick Gentry at work in his studio

Q: How would you describe the life of an artist in less than 5 words?

A: Look out and look in.

Q: What advice would you give to younger artists just starting out?

A: Live in the moment. Explore the edges. If you are curious about life then simply living teaches you everything you need.

Be patient and create a positive situation that allows you to make a long-term commitment to your art.

Q: And finally, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

A: At a young age, my mother would make sure that I was free in my mind to be whatever I wanted to be. This allowed me to trust myself and be independent in my thoughts and actions.

It is not a specific quote, but her timely words and support were among the most valuable things that I have ever been given. 

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