Rhys Coren's work revolves around interrelated British subcultures. Created over the last 18 months, this body of work specifically explores the areas where British football social culture and dance music culture overlap. We interview him about his practice.
View a presentation of Rhys Coren's animations, audio and painted works here.
Although your work is often composed of few elements (simple chord progressions, minimal colour palettes), it is able, succinctly and efficiently, to generate a very specific reading or feeling from the viewer. This may be an association to rave or football subculture, or a reminder of late 80's / early 90's England. How important is this concise method of delivery for you? It appears to be quite sophisticated, is it something you have honed over time?
The method of delivery is crucial. Whilst the ideas and interests fuelling my work have been more or less the same for the last five or six years, my work has certainly gone through quite a lengthy process of refining how to deliver it. Funnily enough, I think I learnt more about that through watching stand-up comedy than seeing art. I remember reading something Glenn O'Brien wrote when I was just out of art school, where he likened the structure of how an artist delivers an artwork to how a comedian delivers a joke. It really blew my mind. There's the build up, timing, rhythm, tone and punchline. Actually, my good friend and artist Jack Newling uses Bill Murray as an analogy to describe 'the economy of means' in both our work. We even did a show called The Man Who Knew Too Little at Seventeen Gallery, London, because of the way Bill delivers a lot from very little, like the gesture of a slightly raised eyebrow. It's superb.
Your work evokes a very specific time and place. What is your personal relationship with nostalgia?
I want to use things from the world. Not found or ready-made objects, but by referencing real-life experiences and using these as the foundations to create something new. But this often evokes a nostalgic response, and I worry about using nostalgia as a device in art. It's very powerful, but learning to navigate in and around it is essential in helping me develop a connection with the visual language of the subcultures I examine, even when they are slightly distorted. The test is to tap into a sense of familiarity and recognition, but in a way that isn't too specific and sentimental about events and memories. I'd rather hint and allude to these things in way that might be closer to a sense of Déjà vu. Before I learned to refine my delivery, my work was really culturally specific without being generous. I imagine it was quite alienating, like Rodney Dangerfield meets Stewart Lee in a series of observational-one-liners.
Looking at late 80's and early 90's football and rave subcultures – there is a boisterous, provocative energy that they both share. This bolshy attitude is mirrored in the visuals which you appropriate in your work. What other characteristics do you think brought them together?
I suppose all the British subcultures I can think of off the top of my head, like Mods, Rockers, Punks, Skinheads, Casuals, Ravers, Skaters, Rude Boys, are all groups of mostly working-class lads bonded together by common interests. Each subculture may define those who are part of it, come with a different dress-code, ethic and genre of music, but it is still just a group of lads. Lads are quite 'bolshy' and 'boisterous', especially when in large groups, and some of that gets reflected in my work. I am not claiming to be identifying some new lineage between these subcultures either, you just have to watch Mark Leckey's Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, one of my all time favourite art works, where Disco and Northern Soul evolves into Rave via some shots of Football Casuals. No, it's more that I want to highlight some of the tiny details and compare areas where subcultures are intertwined.
I think most people are familiar with fanzines as a product of punk and anarchist movements, but you brought our attention to 'The End' and 'Boys own Zine' – Football and Rave zines. Can you tell us more about these publications?
Whilst I had heard about Liverpool-based The End through John Peel's radio and TV shows, it wasn't until Paul Pieroni from Space Gallery showed me his collection of London suburb-based Boy's Own zines, that a direct, linear relationship between Football Casual Culture and Rave became first apparent. They had articles about football, drinking, casual fashion and hooliganism alongside articles about music. At first they only featured Northern Soul and Disco, but this evolved into Acid House as they progressed through the 80s. The Boy's Own guys, like Terry Farley and Andrew Weatherall, then started Djing at the first few raves in London, before starting Junior Boy's Own record label famed for signing Underworld and Chemical Brothers.
Your work spans multiple mediums which are then displayed together. The work is very demanding of the viewers attention as it requires engagement with a lot of different elements at once. What are your reasons for this delivery?
Demanding? Is it? Oh, dear. The whole point is that the works punctuate each other when put together, rather than detract or demand. I guess, like this, with so many works from one body of work displayed in one browser, it can be a bit demanding. But I have worked hard to create a similar rhythm in the painted works, animations and sound, and I take a lot of time making sure that any work shown together has the right balance. Again, that comes back to understanding the delivery.
You use both analogue and digital processes in your work, can you explain this a little more?
Yes. Using popular designs from British football kits, training kits and clothing worn by fans in the late 80s and early 90s – the brightest era of acid house music and rave culture – I have generated a series of painted and animated works. The initial stages in creating the finished work is the same. An image has to be appropriated, therefore digitised. It then has to be manipulated in Photoshop and Illustrator. Often I print sections out, work on them with pen and then re-scan. The aim is to divide the works up into their specific graphic components, treating each shape individually. When I am left with a vector drawing, I can then cut these patterns into wood, and paint each section individually before gluing it all back together, like a big jigsaw puzzle. The animations, which I make using Photoshop and Final Cut, undergo a similar process, only I make lots of little animations that all get 'glued' back together. Labouring over the image's individual parts mean that, when placed back together again in either an animation or painted work, the overall image picks up a range of new textures. It's often subtle, but enough to distort or mutate the image.
The sound works are often popular rave piano solos, isolated and re-recorded at half the speed. They retain a euphoric element, but in a clunky, amateurish way. Alternatively, they are new compositions that can be performed live using just a few of the diminished chords. They are the rave equivalent of those three chords that 70s punk bands would use. Once you know them, you just only need to change the order to create a new composition.
Is this analogue to digital process simply necessary in order to obtain your desired aesthetic, or is it also important conceptually?
I mostly practised sculpture at art school. I worked with wood and paint as I knew no other way to articulate my ideas, despite being quite nerdy and tech-savvy in my normal day-to-day life. After a few years, I realised I could incorporate the digital media skills I had learnt into my art practice. I think it was more of a personal thing than any aesthetic desire. I just like tinkering away on long, laborious processes for hours on end, be it painting tiny bits of wood, working on 100 layer animations or sifting through compositions of hundreds of piano chords. Am I a nerd? I think so.
Are you planning to continue exploring these ideas in future projects?
Well, I have been working on this specific body of work for about 18 months now, but it has led me off on several tangents that could go on to form the basis for whole new bodies of work. I have become really interested in Postmodernist design, especially where that has been appropriated into popular culture. The set of many Children's TV Shows during my childhood looked like Memphis Meccas, for example. I have also been slowly acquiring information about various professional sports industries that are dictated by livery sponsorship. It's interesting for me to think that Formula One, for example, looked so handsome in the late-70s until the mid-90s because cars were painted like the products made by the brands who sponsored the cars. Essentially, the colour of the car was decided by a PR company trying to make a product stand out on a shelf. I think that the cars retain some of this quality. They grabbed your attention. The mighty era of Prost, Mansell and Senna was a sea of beautiful primary colours.