Interview with David Shillinglaw for ‘Dream Machine’ | Exhibition on view May 7 – May 28, 2022

Thinkspace is pleased to present David Shillinglaw’s ‘Dream Machine‘ showing in our Viewing Room. The exhibition features a series of works on canvas, paper and ceramics that present the human head as a vessel full of dreams — a flesh machine in constant flux.

David Shillinglaw is a UK-based artist, best known for his works exploring human nature, success and failure, and the language people use to describe their experiences. David’s practice shifts between the street and studio using a variety of materials and mediums, creating work that ranges from drawings and collages to large-scale murals and installations.

 In anticipation of “Dream Machine,” our interview with David Shillinglaw dives into his creative process,  the areas outside the studio he aspires to excel within, and rumination on our human experience.

Can you share a little bit about your upbringing and where you are currently based?

I grew up in a north London suburb, a place called Barnet at the very end of the train line. I now live in Margate on the east coast, also the very end of the train line. I live with and share a studio with my partner who is also an artist (@lilymixe), and we have a daughter who is three years old this year.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

This show, titled ‘Dream Machine’, focuses on the human head as a container of facts, fiction, and fantasies. The mind is a deeply mysterious, ever-changing space, and I am trying to explore this space with drawing, painting, collage and ceramics. 

Most of my work is self-referential. All of the portraits are of me to some degree, but they are also you, or whoever. The age, gender, race, or background of the subject are all deliberately ambiguous and are an attempt to describe both the personal and the universal. I feel like we are all so different, and yet we are all so similar.

Drawing, painting, and sculpting the human form, especially the head, is always relevant and never boring to me. I construct forms like Frankenstein building his monster, stitching fragments and grafting pieces together until the portrait wakes up and has a life of its own. I draw inspiration from the many faces I see; people with scars, make-up, masks, gold teeth, tattoos and cosmetic surgery. I am trying to draw a line between the internal and external, the feelings and the expressions. I would say all my work is about describing space, whether it be a landscape, portrait or abstract collage, I am trying to navigate and draw maps of spaces.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

Each work is a challenge and helps me grow. I try to never repeat the same move and I am always looking for new ways to reinvent the process. In this show specifically, there are eight canvases and eight ceramic busts, and both sets of work were a challenge. I want them to stand alone but also sit well together, like a family or tribe. The challenge is to make them succeed as individual pieces but also as part of a whole. I am looking for connections and contradictions. I think I succeeded, there isn’t one piece that looks out of place for me. 

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do/ be an expert at?

I am learning French (my partner is French) and I feel like I am very slowly downloading a language. I’d quite like to just wake up and know French. But I also appreciate the lengthy learning process. Like going to the gym in my mind, little by little I am growing new pathways in my brain. I also really envy people who can play musical instruments—I’d love to play the piano—so my chosen super power would be either speaking any language or playing any instrument. I think both would be very useful.

What qualities do you admire in another person you wish came easier to you? What do you believe to be a truth about our human experience?

I strive to be better at listening and learning. I talk too much, too fast and too loudly. The qualities I admire are empathy and patience. I am very impatient and hyperactive. I struggle with this, and my own challenge is to slow down and listen more.

A truth about our human experience? Whether we realize it or not, we are learning constantly, about ourselves and each other, and maybe we learn more from differences than similarities. We should celebrate differences, and cherish the opportunity to learn and grow.

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

I like to be fully caffeinated. I like to tidy my space before I make a mess. Music is like fuel in the engine, and there are definitely some songs that can get me on the creative dance floor. 

Photo of David Shillinglaw in studio by Joanna Dudderidge

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days?

Every day is different, it all depends on what deadlines my partner and I have looming. I work a lot better at night. There’s something about the daytime that feels like it’s easier to do admin and organizing. The nighttime is when I feel free to play and explore ideas. There are fewer distractions at night, so I can relax and find my flow more easily. 

What is your favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?

I take great pleasure in working in my sketchbook, with no endpoint or expectation. I find freedom and playfulness in a sketchbook which is difficult to recreate on a canvas or mural. I enjoy being mid-flow, having started, and no end in sight. The greatest pleasure for me is discovering something, a moment in a picture, a color combination, a certain mark or line, an abstraction, an accident. I want to be surprised. I want to see something I haven’t seen before. 

There is also a strange feeling of finishing a piece. In some ways, it’s the end of the journey, and there is a simultaneous satisfaction and sadness. I often think the end of one piece is the beginning of the next.

Who would be on the guest list if you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive? What would be on the menu? What would be the ice breaker question?

Guest List: Oliver Sacks, Bill Hicks, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Carl Jung, Blindboy Boatclub

It’s a tricky question because you want a variety of personalities, but you don’t want any arguments at dinner. I think this is a group of people who inspire me and who would also enjoy each other’s company and conversation.

The menu would be a constant flow of tapas and rich snacks from around the world. We would drink cold beer, red wine and smoke hashish. We would eat outside in a place warm enough to eat and drink outside until the small hours. 

Ice breaker question? I’d ask each of them to list their five dinner guests and what would be on their menu. 

Photo of David Shillinglaw mural by Joanna Dudderidge

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 or 2021 for you?

Staying sane while the world seemed to lose its mind. Being away from family and friends. Learning how to be a parent. I think I’m lucky that as an artist it’s very normal to work in solitude for six months. The various lockdowns were difficult because of the lack of socializing, but it was no different for me professionally, in fact, I may have even got more work done. 

What big projects do you have coming up that you’d like to share more about?

I have a show currently in Portugal, the result of a month-long residency. ‘Cosmos’ is at Eritage Gallery in Lisbon, and is on until the end of May 2022. 
I am just beginning some new works after this recent trip to Portugal, and I’m excited to make a fresh body of work and see where it leads me. 

Photo of David Shillinglaw by Joanna Dudderidge

May 7, 2022 – May 28, 2022

DAVID SHILLINGLAW – Dream Machine (Viewing Room)

Opening Reception with the Artist(s):
Saturday, May 7, 2022
6:00 – 10:00 pm

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