The Wylde Interview: Adam Neate




Popular British art of the past 20 years has not favoured the tradition of painting. The use of 3-D objects, installation, sculpture or even dissection, where you might walk around, or through, the (shark’s) body of the work, has been the pervading fashion. Adam Neate’s canvases have similar concerns. They are not painted to be viewed head-on, but one must move around them and take them in from every angle. The facial expression literally changes as one moves in front of a self-portrait utilising holograms or a mouth is thrown into shade in an anguished scream.

Neate is self-taught. This is important because it gives him an open mind in relation to striving for a new approach. Unencumbered by traditional ways of working, he embraces technology, unorthodox materials and change. In 10 years the rough, monochromatic, cubist-inspired, early cardboard works he would leave on the street for people to find have metamorphosed into slick, shiny objects of desire glowing from the gallery wall.

I spoke to Neate after a long and obviously quite gruelling signing. Totally out of his comfort zone, face to face with fans proffering posters and books for his signature, he shakes hands and chats politely but is clearly beside himself with relief when it is over. Shy and intense, he’s most at home in his studio and clearly couldn’t be less interested in becoming a “celebrity artist.” Despite his “I’d rather my paintings be seen than my face” outlook, he’s refreshingly open, though he keeps one eye on the exit. When I tell him I’m finished, by the time I’ve put my glasses back in their case, he’s gone!

Can you remember what the first piece of art was that you felt a response to?
At the age of five or six, I had a children’s book by Graham Oakley called The Church Mice. I had seen plenty of other picture storybooks, but this one had an illustration style that just pulled me into the artist’s world and imagination. It fascinated me how such detail and expression were created. I wanted to know how the picture was created, what mediums and techniques they must have used.


Which artists working today would you ally yourself with? Or would you ally yourself more with artists from the past?
I can definitely empathise with some of the artists in the past. You can look at each artist’s full career in a book and once you see all the artist’s life’s work as a whole, you can look through their journey and appreciate what they strived to create over time. I don’t have a favourite artist as such, more like a desert island of dead artists. I’m quite fond of Naum Gabo, Picasso and Hockney.

I noticed in your recent Dimensional Editions show the recurrence of the “wine drinker” self-portrait. I’m being flippant, but I’m going to ask, given the technical complexities of your work, would it be possible to paint while under the influence of alcohol?
Not really. If you use power tools and have an accident, eg using a power drill while not concentrating, your hair gets caught up in the motor. The drill will come up to smack you in the face and smack the drunk out of you.

Would you rather be drunk or sober?
I have a love/hate relationship with alcohol!

Although your subject matter is traditional – the self- portrait, the still life, the domestic interior – it feels when looking at your work that there is a lot of conflict and pain being expressed. The flat colour red often confines the shaking, screaming figure. Can you tell me more about what you are expressing?
For me the shaking/screaming figure has become a common theme of personal expression. I very much believe an artist should be responsible for capturing the present feeling of now in a society or culture. The shaking, screaming head represents the sheer frustration, anger, confusion and chaos that modern- day life leaves me feeling in relation to the world; the uncontrollable chaos we strive to find order within.


In layman’s colour therapy, we see blue as represent-ing inner calm, restfulness and even wisdom. There is an occasional blue self--portrait amidst the vivid, screaming reds. In what kind of ratio, day to day, would you say you experience calm as opposed to the “mean reds” (to quote Audrey Hepburn)?
I am mostly quite a calm person. I try to channel whatever anger I have into a painting. To quote John Lydon: “Anger is an energy.”

"Rise" by PiL! That record is epic! Do you listen to music a lot when you work? I go through phases. Sometimes it’s nice to work in silence and sometimes the right music can kick you into action or take your mind to a certain place.

Have you ever destroyed a piece of work in anger?
Many times. It’s a weird feeling, like a crime of expression. You destroy the image in an uncontrollable rage and then regret it after realising what you have done.

I’ve heard you say in interviews that you are interested in expression within light. Which is a very filmic statement. It was only a matter of time before you moved into expression through film, which you have done this August in your looping film Self Portrait Wine Drinker. Are you going to explore film as a medium more in the future?
The whole filming and creating process was quite fun and different to do. There’s something so instantly gratifying about capturing a movement or expression and being able to watch it on play back straight away. Capturing emotions on film and utilising them within a painting definitely adds a new feeling to my work.

You have coined your own ‘ism’ as an artist: Dimensionalism. Often, artists group themselves into movements, giving gravitas to a particular style partly through strength in numbers. Do you feel part of a movement?
Unfortunately, I feel quite alone with my new work and the direction it is taking. But in some ways it’s nice to be in this situation. I think the new art movements will form on a global scale due to the internet. An idea or aesthetic will be born and shared amongst thousands of people online as opposed to in a bohemian café somewhere.

The family unit often appears in your work, as does your wife. Your paintings of her, the curves, circular breasts and simplified features makes me think of Picasso’s paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter: calm, serene, idealised beauty. Is she your ultimate muse?
When you share your life with someone, that person becomes an important factor in your day-to-day life. The need to capture that person in a painting becomes a natural desire.

I’m interested to know, given the technical difficulties of your work, how many tries it takes to get to the glossy, shiny conclusion. For example, Perspex
is notoriously tricky to work with, yet you use it to make an expressive brush stroke. How hard has it been to get to that point?

Blood, sweat and tears, and minor burns, all from hot plastic!

HISTORY: Adam Neate’s exhibition of portraits from 2007 to 2013 is at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, London, from 16 November to 14 December 2013