Naive John (born Ian Wylie) is a British artist based in Liverpool. His work shows attention to detail with subjects that combine elements from popular culture alongside the mythic and mundane. His last and most famous painting The Chav-ant Garde was commissioned by the influential collector David Roberts for his Art Foundation in London. A large-scale group portrait of the artist’s dysfunctional family, it uses the Teletubbies as stand-ins for the artist’s family members.
Art Feast caught up with Naive John to talk about philosophy, inspiration and pseudonyms
You work under the pseudonym Naive John. Where does the name come from?
Adopting a name that is so obviously a construct was a conscious attempt to engage with the Absurd and simultaneously brand myself as an authentic fake. Naive John inevitably leads a much more interesting life than Ian Wylie does because he has a more interesting name.
Can you tell me about the new work you are making, the philosophy and inspiration behind it?
‘We live in the times when things are not what they are but what they appear to be’, to quote Jean Baudrillard. Consequently I am using technology to explore the meaning in the spaces between realities. As a result the new work consists of simulations of things that never existed. Quite literally the unbelievably real.
Better than the Real Thing, for example, is inspired by Baudrillard’s essay about simulacra and shows an ‘engineered to be fake’ icon; the cartoon emblem as consciousness altering totem.
Due to its digital nature this simulacrum is easily mapped into itself by ‘reflecting’ the entire image onto its own eyes; the visual surface and signifiers have been put to the service of endless self-referentiality.
This reality-by-proxy notion is further enhanced through the deployment of the image’s own file – as raw ASCII code – to wallpaper a virtual environment for the simulacrum to occupy spatially. Art will eat itself… until it gets sick.
Your new work is completely dependent on computer technology. Can you give us some insights as to your working process?
I use cutting edge Wacom pen technology in combination with a Cintiq monitor and draw directly on the monitor screen onto – and into – a virtual 3-d space. The resultant images are simultaneously painting and sculpture.
Afterwards the image is embedded within acrylic vinyl and cut to shape resulting in an analogue artifact, which also exhibits both sculptural and painting qualities. This technology has allowed me to escape from the confines of the rectangular/square format inherent in canvas stretchers. I’m very excited about the possibilities.
Does this mean you have lost interest in paint as a medium?
No, painting has it’s own unique qualities which I still find compelling. I would argue that at this point in history the analogue is still ultimately more mysterious, sensual and satisfying than the digital. This may change when emergent smart technologies evolve sufficiently to give us new materials that are, for example, environmentally reactive.
Which artists do you admire?
You were invited to talk at the University of London about your painting The Other. It was exhibited there as the visual focal point for a series of seminars about bullying in the work place. Do you think there is a certain type of bullying in the art world?
Does peer pressure count? It’s human nature to wish to conform, being ‘The Other’ is dangerous. Making artwork which is ‘Other’ can result in your being marginalised and shut out from funding. Ask any painter. On the other hand the fear of being perceived as ‘Other‘ can lead to work being produced which is undistinguished, lacking in integrity. Mediocrity is often a byproduct of conformity, it’s tell tale signs lie in the generic and formulaic. The best artists set trends, they don’t follow them.
You suffer with dysthymia (A chronic type of depression in which a person’s moods are regularly low) has this affected your work in anyway?
Self-motivation and drive are prerequisites to achieving success in any field. In art they are crucial. Dysthymia kills ambition and obliterates self-esteem. After spending more time than I care to think about in outpatient departments and hospital corridors I was eventually diagnosed and treated. The medicine allowed me to put things into perspective and plan for a future I had previously thought unattainable.
As a result I was able to enter university with a strong work ethic, no longer hindered by chaotic and unwanted thoughts. A newfound desire to succeed in hand, I studied and read intensely, winning a scholarship in the process. Things just got better and better for me as I rode a wave of positive reinforcement. I felt confident enough to show my work for the first time and after that things quickly took on a momentum of their own accord.
What do you think of Liverpool as a place for creatives to Live and work?
The clichéd response is to say that Liverpool provides me with a warm friendly environment that affords access to world-class art collections in the form of The Walker and The Tate. That’s certainly true but I can see why an artist would find it hard to resist the temptation to move to London. There is a commercial network of collectors that just isn’t available here.
I’ve been very fortunate and possibly have the best of both worlds. I create work in Liverpool away from the distractions – attending openings and art world politics mainly – and it’s easy to travel down to London for the business side of things.
Does the London centric view of the art world worry you?
Personally I’m not too concerned about the art world being ‘London centric’. Confidence is an emergent property that comes from having a good C.V. consequently I have some advantage because my work’s already been placed in good collections so some doors are already opened. I should add that for the most part I’ve chosen not to go through those doors because my website generates enough work to keep me gainfully employed. The fact that I don’t pay 40% commission is an added incentive.
What advice would you give to arts graduates based in Live
Gain some life experience. As circumstances would have it, early work experience in sales has unwittingly provided me with the ability to sell myself as well as the work I produce.
Passion is contagious. If you don’t get excited by what you’re producing chances are other people probably won’t get excited by it either.
Love what you do. This will see you through the lean times of which there will be many.
Work hard. It’s a very competitive world out there and laziness is not an option.
Be tenacious. The secret of success is to still be holding on when everyone else has let go.
Make work that engages people. This is much harder than it sounds.
What do you have planned for the future?
Thank you for Talking to Art Feast!
All images are provided courtesy of Naive John. Further information about his work can be found on his website.
Naive John will have his first solo exhibition at The Gallery Liverpool 9 -12 December