LB: You live in the countryside now, but I remember even when you were living in the most urban of surroundings it was the natural world that dominated your work and this seems to be something that you have always carried within you.
JB: Yes it didn’t make any difference whether I was in the town, the country or suburbia I was always aware whether it was a full moon or whether it was winter, spring or summer: in a city I think you notice the change of the seasons even more: a tree covered in blossom really stands out. These things are very much in me and are what I am: the interest in nature and animals and how your emotions change with the seasons and the cycles of nature…
LB: Do you want your paintings to express these emotions?
JB: They are all expressive paintings but they come about in different ways. Sometimes I have a very clear vision of what I want them to look like and they get resolved very quickly, and at other times they can evolve almost directly out of me and my emotions and can really change a lot during the process. With the painting I’m working on at the moment [?add title?] the main image has completely changed, it has really thick layers of paint because there are layers and layers of other things that have been covered up underneath…
LB: In the early stages do you make preparatory drawings or are you always working directly with the paint?
JB: I have had times when I’ve planned quite carefully, but at the moment what I’m trying to do is work in a more direct way that comes more purely out of my emotions so I’ve purposely stopped doing too many sketches beforehand because I think you can lose something. I’ve found that sometimes the sketch in the book is almost better than the finished painting, so I’m trying to keep that raw immediate quality and not to plan too much.
LB: While paint is your predominant medium you’ve nonetheless said that you wouldn’t necessarily describe yourself as a painter per se, but rather an artist who works with paint
JB: I am very aware of colour and I love the texture especially of oil paint, which is the medium I use most of the time. I love the whole using of paint, the mixing and the application and the colour and everything about it, but I still think that I’ve got a very direct relationship with paint which is not so in-depth or academic. I tend to think of paint as a medium that I use to make art with, so I might paint on any object, whether body paint on a person, or painting on walls and furniture. Lately I’ve been painting televisions and DVD players and bits of old technology…
LB: It’s almost like a form of adornment: I don’t feel that decoration is a dirty word where you are concerned.
It’s more as if you take adornment a step further and think of it as a transformation. I like decorating rooms because I love the way you can paint a wall another colour and the whole room is transformed: to me it is almost magical and I never have got over the magic of covering something in paint and making it a different colour, or putting a pattern on it and then seeing the object or wall, or whatever it is, become transformed into something else…
LB: Did you study painting when you did your fine art degree at Portsmouth?
JB: You could move between all the different media and I ended up doing sculpture because the painting department was very stuck in abstract expressionism. It was the early 80’s and the time of the new figurative movement and at the time I was quite jealous of friends at colleges like St Martin’s who were allowed to do new figurative painting, but I wasn’t: if I did painting at Portsmouth it had to be abstract painting and I didn’t want to do that. In the sculpture department there were amazing visiting lecturers like Helen Chadwick and Richard Wilson and Anish Kapoor, people who are now really famous artists, so I moved down there because it seemed so much more lively. Also we had a brilliant teacher at Portsmouth called Darrell Vyner who was having psychotherapy when he was teaching us and he was the person who really influenced Grayson and me because he would do amateur psychoanalysis on us and he taught us how to look inside ourselves for ideas and that fascinated us. So that was the sort of thing I was interested in, addressing imaginative ideas coming from deep inside of me and he really encouraged that.
LB: Who are your other art heroes?
JB: One is Elizabeth Magill who had a show at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne about two years ago which I absolutely loved. They were all very tiny and intensely painted and I thought, I’m going to have a go at doing some small paintings. I like Peter Doig as well, and I’ve always liked Baselitz and his raw quality. Then my other main influences are aboriginal art, native American art and I really, really love pre-historic rock paintings, the forms of the animals have influenced me for as long as I can remember. Then there’s the more modern art that’s been influenced by those images, like Kandinsky, and those abstract paintings with bits of cave paintings in them, I can’t remember not ever having those paintings in my life. My Dad was a painter and very into Kandinsky and Chagall and Expressionist artists and I’ve always really, really liked them and found them very important.
LB: For many years you made performances as a member of the Neo-Naturists and I feel that this performative ritualistic spirit continues to animate your paintings, whether in the totemic poses of the figures, their patterned and decorated bodies and almost theatrical mise en scene, or the way in which the paint is applied with repetitive patternings and scratchings- through.
JB: Looking back thirty years later at some of my figure paintings with patterned bodies and especially those I made at the time of the Neo naturists, there are crossovers. But when I made them I didn’t really think that there was a connection between painting on a body and painting pictures of bodies, because in the paintings the patterns represent what’s going on inside the bodies in both a physical and an emotional way, with the heart and the bones and patterns suggesting bodily organs but which are expressive at the same time of emotional things. So although its superficial pattern on a surface, it represents something quite deep and emotional that is on the inside of a body and not on a surface.
LB: You’ve also made films as well as performances and there always seems to have been something active and participatory about your practice.
JB: For me it has always been about the making of art and that’s why it is not enough for me to be purely a painter. Although the show at The Black Shed is just of paintings, the exhibitions I’m planning for the future are more like installations with different threads and other elements apart from just the paintings on the wall.
LB: The paintings at The Black Shed have all been done over the last 18 months, do you feel your work has changed in any way?
JB: I feel I’ve just ended a phase: the paintings at Black Shed have been very much to do with the last two years of my life. I think my paintings taking longer and longer to do and I want to do more of the work that evolves straight out of my emotions because they are more interesting to me. I’ve been working on MDF board a lot lately because its more resilient and you can build up more layers of paint and you can also scratch right back through the paint and almost carve into the surface with a knife. I love the way with oil paint that even if the paint’s dried you can still get a knife and cut into it and cut right through to the board which you couldn’t do with canvas. I like the way with oil paint you can go back two or three weeks later and get some white spirit and something still happens when you rub it, even if its partially dry you can push through the first skin of paint it opens it up.
LB: Overall they seem to be more thickly painted.
JB: In this recent set of work I have discovered very new ways of using paint which feels quite fresh to me. I’m using the paint in very many layers so the paintings take a very long time to do, because its oil paint and you have to wait for each layer to dry. One painting [title?] that I’m still working on now, I’ve been working on since January and its changed so much, you can see the different layers coming through and it’s very new for me to use the paint so thickly: some of it I use it absolutely raw out of the tube and often I use my hands to put the paint on. I think there’s a bit of a fight in me between the two parts of my personality: one is the very much putting the paint straight on with my hands straight out of the tube and letting something just evolve out of it and the other is having a very clear vision that I want to reproduce and being much tighter and doing it almost like a drawing to get the image very clear. It’s almost like I have these two conflicting things in me when I’m painting.
LB: Do you see the subjects of the paintings as self portraits?
JB: A lot of who I am comes out in them, so in a way they are self portraits, but they are not actual portraits of myself.
LB: How do you want viewers to respond to your work?
JB: I want them to be accessible. Obviously there are many art influences and the paintings wouldn’t be the way that they are if it wasn’t for Kandinsky, Elizabeth Magill, Bridget Riley, cave paintings, Pop art – it’s all in there, because you can’t see those things and not let them influence you. But I do want people to look at them and get something of their own out of them. I like people to have their own ideas of what they are and I don’t like to give specific meanings and explanations. I like the idea that anyone can look at the paintings and hopefully get something from them: you don’t have to have enormous amount of art history to understand.