Our Chief Article Writer Daisy Leigh-Phippard met with alumnus Steve Moberly to discuss life after AUB and his upcoming exhibition as part of BEAF in the BUMF Gallery.
When I ask Steve about his artistic style, he tells me about his ‘argumentative streak’. A playful devil’s advocate, he’s ‘always putting across the other point of view in every situation – and suddenly you’re surrounded by an awful lot of other people that have the same standpoint, and you’re still trying to make that piece that really stands out’. Graduating from Fine Art at AUB in 2014, Steve is a painter who sat down with me the other week for a chat about art, self-criticism and even how he bribes his kids to watch art-house documentaries with sweets.
Steve has exhibited all across the UK, including Portsmouth’s Aspex and an upcoming showcase in London. ‘I think, compared to how I could elicit responses with drawings, I felt much more in control of other people’s emotions,’ he says, leaning back into the sofa. ‘The first thing that sparked off an interested was a sort of history of being quite – to over-exaggerate – socially awkward’. I, empathising, confirm how art can often cross that barrier. Showing people things, however layered or hidden, in art can sometimes provoke more understanding than speaking can. ‘Language is a limiter, isn’t it?’ he bounces back. ‘Like, between where a bush becomes a tree is just a delineator – a cut-off for our purposes, but actually in other ways you can sit with those overlaps and not block off those categories in quite the same way and just experience them as such’.
Moving onto his paintings, he tells me about the ways he likes to play around with point of view. His characters may be ‘made up 99% of the time’, they’ve still got the masks of everyday humans that we all carry around. One person might look at his work and see one relationship, another could see completely differently, and that’s the fun of it. Being able to play about professionally with that is a different experience to exhibiting as a student, he points out. ‘Having your work in its infancy displayed as it goes along so people can comment on it… I think one of the nicest things about post-graduation is the fact that you can present your work and say ‘this is it’. There’s no dialogue about ‘maybe you could change the green’.’
‘Take ownership of your own work. Sometimes, it’s a psychological battle and a social exchange.’
Often talking to students, particularly painters, he stresses how ‘everyone thinks they’ve got a piece of you in that creative environment. It’s quite easy to hijack other people’s ideas, in a way of someone wanting to make a piece and you saying ‘well, what if you did this?’ And as soon as you’ve got that in your head, you’re either doing that or not doing that. It can be hard to negotiate’. Of course, it’s an invaluable tool while you’re learning, and something that artistic education – well, all education – is built on. But when I was talking to Steve, his point struck me in a way I rarely get to see in the ever-present stress-haze: it can be hard to hear that people don’t understand your work, whether they say it outright or it’s obvious from their comments.
Being a somewhat rebellious soul, Steve sometimes gets rid of the bits everyone likes in his paintings, just to see what would happen. ‘Take ownership of your own work. Sometimes, it’s a psychological battle and a social exchange.’ You liked this bit? Okay, well look again without it. Now what are you thinking?”
Steve asks me about my course a couple of times, interested in my ideas going into my final project for 3rd year. I’m touched by his interest, but it’s the generosity of advice that really gets me. ‘Really, out of a panel of five judges, you want one person to be absolutely ecstatic, and the other four to hate it. Then you’ve probably got something a bit more interesting than three judges put it through or don’t’. It’s a valid point; as much as we want to reach a large number of people with our creations, affecting someone in an intimate way is perhaps more meaningful.
‘I had a few successful marks where I was cleaning my brush on the thing I was painting, and that ended up just staying there,’ he tells me, shaking his head. ‘Sometimes I could see something in a painting and think ‘I know that’s wrong, I’ve got to change that. But I’m quite excited about that bit over there, so I’ll carry on with that’. And then, not just because some colour balance has brought that back, but it just starts to create its own existence by the longevity of it. By being left alone and not being on my mind by saying ‘it’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong. That’s got to go,’ and just going over it. For some reason, it’s got a second chance’.
‘Once you park your emotions elsewhere, I think you can sort of transcend that’ – the constant plague of doubt in the back of your head. It’s something all students can relate to whether they’re in the midst of thinking back on it not-so-nostalgically. As we talked more we both agreed that, actually, being restricted creatively can have an upside. ‘I’ve started telling myself that I’m making paintings that are explorations. It doesn’t matter if I build up layers of paint. Generally speaking, I can go over whatever colours I build up, I can sand them down. But actually, it does result in that lack of jeopardy. If I go too much into that area of thinking each mark won’t have that jeopardy in it, and that attention, because I know I can go back and change it’.
‘I used to say that I got ten seconds of thinking ‘yeah, something is happening there’. Now I think it’s more realistically about two/one-and-a-half seconds. But that’s it. That’s enough. I’ve realised now that’s all I’m chasing. I spent all my time until relatively recently chasing something more. A bigger reward, a higher payback for what I’ve made. But no, that’s it and that’s enough’.
Steve was born in Keynsham near Bristol but is now Bournemouth-based. ‘I’m always quite proud to say Bournemouth,’ he tells me. ‘The Western-centric idea of contemporary art is being dismantled in a good way. I sort of think that Bournemouth can ride on that wave’. Steve will be exhibiting in the BUMF Gallery during the Bournemouth Emerging Arts Festival.
Words by Daisy Leigh-Phippard, Photographs by Ewa Ferdynus