Ten questions with Todd Atticus

We sat down with artist Todd Atticus for a five minute chat about life, art and whether what he does is passé.

1. Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?

If civilisation crumbled tomorrow, and all the crutches we reply on for survival and happiness – supermarkets, Wikipedia, nucelar-powered electricty, petting zoos, reruns of Friends – just stopped existing, I’d try and squeeze a third job description into that dychotemy: chronicler. 

I often think that the role of artist, and I do consider it a role rather than a vanity-project, is that of a domestic war artist. If we went back to hunting and gathering, I’d be busy making chalk drawings on the cave walls for future generations to lead guided-tours to see.

2. When did you first realise you wanted to be an artist?

I started painting at the age of 3, on an easel in the conservatory of my family’s 2-bed council house. Despite a full palette of poster paints at my disposal, the only one I ever chose was black. I filled reams of computer printout paper with black paint. I was very liberal with it. My mother had to keep buying more black. Once I ran out of paper I started on the walls. My parents’ reaction was my first revelation into the power of art.

3. What can you tell us about Don’t Stare So Romantically?

The phrase ‘don’t stare so romantically’ is on loan from Bertolt Brecht. During performances of his plays, he would arrange for signs to be held up reminding the audience to question what they were seeing. I use it as a slogan because it doesn’t so much as describe the work itself, but shows my support for his alienation tactics. 

The project is really a meeting place of art and advertising, both of which play with signs and symbols and rely on people’s desires to function. Neither art nor advertising paints a true picture, but they function as mirrors to the world: one reflects the people we are; the other the people we’d like to be. I’ll leave you to work out which one does which.

Of course, the glut of visual material I use has a delicious aesthetic appeal. That’s deliberate. The Don’t Stare pieces delicately tread a tightrope between criticism and celebration. Part of the point is that you don’t always know if I’m saying, “Look at the world! Isn’t it great!” or the very opposite. Sometimes I don’t know the answer to that myself.

4. Where’s home for you?

Currently it’s Madrid. I’ve moved around a lot in the last few years. Going to new places enriches my aesthetic. I become lazy if I stay in the same place for too long. That said, I’m wary of traveling as a pasttime because it feels disingenuous to visit somewhere briefly and feel like you understand it. 

Home is in our imagination anyway. Our houses, villages, cities and countries are just on loan to us. I think I’ve taken South West England out on permanent loan though. When I die, they’ll be a huge overdue fine for a few square miles of Dorset.

5. What’s your favourite artwork?

That’s an impossible question. Like asking what my favourite pizza is or my favourite Simpsons episode. Actually, no, that’s probably The Springfield Files from Season 8. Y’know, the one introduced by Leonard Nemoy and features Mulder and Scully. 

I do however have an answer for my most-influential artwork: Marsyas by Anish Kapoor. It was a huge installation in 2003 in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, a huge red sculpture that filled the space from one end to the other. It consisted of three steel rings joined together by a single span of specially-designed red PVC membrane and truly emobodied the term “monumental sculpture.”

I think the reason that this left such an impression of me was only partially to do with how imposing it was physically but also to the do with the fact that before the very moment I walked into the Tate Modern and looked into the hollow trumpet of the sculpture, I’d never set foot inside a contemporary art gallery. That experience was life changing.

6. Why do you still paint?

Why do I still breathe? Why do I still shop in bricks and mortar shops? Why do I still say “bless you” after someone sneezes? 

I actually have many good, and thoroughly convincing, answers to that question but I don’t feel like giving them today, sorry.

7. You’ve been known to sneak your own work into art galleries. Isn’t that a bit passé for 2018?

Maybe. Probably. What isn’t though? It’s no more or less passé than legitimately exhibiting work in an art gallery. Or even visiting one. The thing that has always interested me about galleries as spaces is that they’re essentially stages that have a unique set of associations and expected behviours attached to them. There’s nothing I enjoy more than subverting people’s expectations of those spaces.

And if smuggling work into galleries is old news, why does my heart rate go through the roof when I’m wearing a jacket concealing 100 fake pamphlets as I casually walk past the information desk?

8. Do you find it hard thinking of interview-style questions to ask yourself?

Yes, very.

9. What music’s playing in your studio at the moment?

My music taste reflects the same uneasy straddling of high- and low-art tendencies of my paintings. 

At uni I DJ’d a regular club night called ‘Auspears’. So named because it mixed genres and tastes. Austere classics – like Joy Division or The Smiths – were sandwiched unapologetically between Britney Spears, Ke$ha and the High School Musical 2 soundtrack. Needless to say, the night was nearly always a flop. It got cancelled pretty quickly.

10. If you could collaborate with any other artist (living or dead) who would it be?

I was born on the day that Warhol died so I always think of that as a missed opportunity.