Interview with Jon Pilkington

Jon Pilkington (b. 1990) is a British born artist currently living and working in Copenhagen, Denmark. Pilkington graduated with a masters degree in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2013.

Pilkington’s work explores abstraction through figuration, investigating the role of the motif and the relationship it holds to drawing in contemporary abstract painting. His seductive explorations of colour are informed by clarity and confidence through painterly application.

Of his work curator and writer George Vasey has written: ‘Pilkington puts art history on speed dial, riffing on various Modernist antecedents [he] belongs to a new generation of artists who have a more protean approach to the legacy of abstraction.’

DC - What made you want to become a painter?

JP - I realised early on in life that I wasn't going to make it as a professional footballer, I had to re evaluate.

DC - Which artists are you inspired by?

JP - Jockum Nordstrom, Francesco Clemente and Alfred Wallis. All for their awkward and self-aware qualities that they bring into their work. I like the underlying cynicism or seediness in their works, especially in the drawings of Jockum Nordstrom. They appear so gentle and pleasing, but yet are as disturbing in many ways. It's a fine line and straddled very well.

DC - You often discuss the use of motifs in your work, can you explain this a bit more?

JP - I play with recurring motifs until they become decorative or useless. The more you paint them, the worse they get in many ways. I like this contrived and considered feeling they start to have. I think it really plays with the synthetic surface of the works. The motifs are all born from very loose drawings. They could be an accident in the drawing, or something that I know straight away and I’m very conscious will work as a motif directly. It's this kind of ambiguity that interests me.

DC - Drawing seems to be a strong element within your practice. Can you explain this a bit more? How do you negotiate between drawing and painting?

JP - Yes, drawing is very important. I start with very loose drawings that often sit on the floor while I make a series of work. They are not completely realised and often don't make it out of the studio, they are simply a method for me to navigate my way through the paintings. The drawings are much more figurative than the paintings, and yet elements are translated into the paintings through collaging segments.

DC - The use of colour in your works seems an important part of your process as well. Can you explain how you choose the colours you choose, or why you choose them?

JP - I have always been drawn to things that are quite sickly. Things that shouldn't go together but somehow do. I tend to mix colours that are very beautiful but then pair them with an obnoxious array of others to allow them to play off one another. It’s nice to look closer at a finished painting and realise how beautiful it could have been.

DC - You have recently started curating exhibitions with other artists. How have you found that process?

JP - Writing to the artists that I really like and bringing them together has been a great process. It's nice to be able to do this alongside painting, and to have the distance sometimes. Recently, curating the show at Eighteen in Copenhagen was really fun. Living here in the city now and getting to bring in artists who have never shown in Denmark was really important to me as a starting point. The whole process from working with the gallery and the artists to seeing the final hang has inspired me to pursue other projects in the future.

DC - How have you found living and making art in Copenhagen compared to living and making art in London? Would you recommend to other artists that they should try living in different cities in Europe?

JP - The pace of life in Copenhagen is so different from London, which was a much needed change. I used to travel from Wimbledon to Peckham everyday, which through various modes of transport and a good walk took around 1hr 30 mins. In Copenhagen, I can really think about the works I am making without having to deal with stress from the commute. The process feels less anxious and more relaxed. The Studio in Copenhagen is in Sydhavn by the harbour, filled with beautiful light. Travelling there involves cycling through the city every morning, which is very pleasant and sets me up for the day (plus takes around 20 mins).

I would recommend other artists make the move and try another working place. I think it’s helpful for the mind and definitely has a positive impact on your work, even if the changes are subtle.

DC - If you could create a site-specific work anywhere in the world, where would you chose and why?

JP - Notting Hill. I lived there between 2012-2013 when studying at Chelsea School of Art. From the colours of the houses to the antiques market there is so much visual material to process. Historically Notting Hill hasn't always been so idyllic, which mirrors my process in the layered beauty and sickly aesthetic leading to much more beyond the pastel framework.

DC - How would you like your work to be received by others?

I don't think there is a pre-prescribed way for them to be received. It's always good to see works in person. Especially with the layered surfaces they are much more generous than when photographed. So much can be lost in a photograph that just cannot be translated digitally.