ART.ZIP: It’s always tricky with art because you can’t plan everything and you discover things as you go along so it is difficult to oversee a team of people.
BJ: Yes, but they are mainly doing pretty mechanical things. I am the only one who paints and the trouble is, I give them more to do than I can cope with on any given day because I am planning things for a week, two weeks, three weeks or sometimes months ahead. Occasionally I have got through to two o’clock in the afternoon and I have been answering so many questions about future projects that I have to say, I am not going to talk to anybody else about anything else – I’ve not done any painting. I’ve been talking about future paintings but we can’t live for the future, we have to live for now and get on with now. So the idea of having a shared studio or sharing with assistants, is another interesting one. I couldn’t have done it a few years ago but I can do it now, I can switch off. I certainly had to when I was working in a museum in Liverpool in 2008 – we had ten thousand people a week coming and watching me work. I worked for two years here in the studio on a cityscape of Liverpool and then went to Liverpool and finished it in public.
So a studio is a very peculiar set of spaces. It’s a chapel, it’s a workshop, it’s a second home, it’s the place where the war cabinet decides on the next battle.
ART.ZIP: Base camp.
BJ: Yes, it’s base camp. It’s also where I get exercise because we play table tennis at lunch time. The studio is such an important part of my life but I have kept this building very, very simple. Downstairs is an absolute disgrace and it’s just about under control up here. Also I have two boys, who, when I took this place over twenty years or so ago, were just about leaving home, so I’ve got surf boards, old bicycles, their sketchbooks, portfolios, bits of furniture.
ART.ZIP: Do you ever think about living in your studio and combining your studio with your home?
BJ: I’m thinking about it because I have this wonderful studio at home. It’s not quite big enough – unless I go back to having a one-painting studio, which is a very attractive idea – the idea that I just work on one painting with nothing else around except the drawings and the colours relating to that painting and when that painting is finished it either goes out or it goes to a dealer or it goes into store and then I work on the next painting. Having said that, though, I have really enjoyed having all of these paintings going on at the same time – these two are not quite finished, these two are finished, this one is just starting – so I can jump around.
In the eighties I was going out and taking castings from old walls and stones and pavements. They were totally random and I never knew how I was going to use any of them. A lot of them just fell apart, but I learned a lot. That was me just using my studio as just a dirty room – I mean, you couldn’t do it at home.
A lot of people have said over the years that my studios looked like a laboratory or a dentist’s surgery because the last studio before this one, every evening – it had a white floor – I used to wash my way out. The trouble was when I got to the doors I would realize, I’ve left my shoes on the other side of the room – so I used to have to sit outside until the floor dried or if I was in a rush I would have to walk across and wash my way out again! I wanted it to be a fresh start everyday. It was sort of the monk’s cell. That is the other thing, it is a place of meditation, the studio. It’s meditation in action.
Now the question was about what I would call the studio – but I can’t just call it home or second home because it it is also the monk’s cell, it is a place for exercise, it’s a place of laughter, it’s a place of silence – although we also listen to a lot of audio books and I listen to music. It is just a very, very big part of my life. Last week I had an interview about my childhood and I came from a very dysfunctional family. There was a lot of violence and my father was a very wild and eccentric man, my mother was fairly wild as well, and they said to me, but you’re so calm. I replied that, if I hadn’t had a studio, if I hadn’t had art, I probably would have been wild like my father and my mother. I’d have killed myself – drink, drugs, violence – great passions. But my passion is my art. It is also the vehicle for containing and allowing my passion to develop. And it’s a positive passion, it is not a destructive passion. I am a maker, not a breaker.