Similar in simplicity. Interview with Olly Fathers and Yukako Shibata

By Lavinia Rosen - Thursday, September 15, 2016
Similar in simplicity. Interview with Olly Fathers and Yukako Shibata

The London-based artists Olly Fathers and Yukako Shibata have both exhibited at The Other Art Fair at the Old Truman Brewery in London 2015, where artists can represent themselves independently from a gallery. That is where I saw their work for the first time. Now months later I’ve curated an exhibition with the title Traces of Minimalism at the heliumcowboy artspace in Hamburg and invited both of them to participate along Donghwa Lee, Swen Kählert, Alan Steele, and Tanja Soler Zang. What I didn’t know was that they had already met before. Out of 130 participating artists at The Other Art Fair they discovered each other’s work and casually said “We should do something together. Our work corresponds well with each other.”

Similar in simplicity. Interview with Olly Fathers and Yukako Shibata

The London-based artists Olly Fathers and Yukako Shibata have both exhibited at The Other Art Fair at the Old Truman Brewery in London 2015, where artists can represent themselves independently from a gallery. That is where I saw their work for the first time. Now months later I’ve curated an exhibition with the title Traces of Minimalism at the heliumcowboy artspace in Hamburg and invited both of them to participate along Donghwa Lee, Swen Kählert, Alan Steele, and Tanja Soler Zang. What I didn’t know was that they had already met before. Out of 130 participating artists at The Other Art Fair they discovered each other’s work and casually said “We should do something together. Our work corresponds well with each other.” Obviously the three of us, we had the same idea. After the opening of the Traces of Minimalism exhibition I took the opportunity to interview them together to get to know more about the similarities of their work and practice.

Artdependence Magazine: What do you like about each other’s work?

Olly Fathers: I guess it is the simplicity about Yukako’s work. Minimalist work has always been something that I’m attracted to and her pieces really caught my eye. Her pleasingly clean and simple forms are brought to life with the use of subtle ambient colour. Her attention to detail and well finished surfaces are something I draw a similar satisfaction from with my own work.   

Yukako Shibata: When I first saw Olly’s work it immediately intrigued me. Our works have much in common — for example, simplicity, geometric shapes, use of pure colours, the work being both painting and sculpture, and playful. I respond to simple, clean, minimal language and I saw all those elements in his work. At the same time, however, our work is opposite in other respects. My colour is partially hidden and receding, and forms blend to their surroundings, while Olly’s colours are physically present and exist almost as an object, and his forms project. I find it very intriguing.

Installation view of works by Olly Fathers and Yukako Shibata at heliumcowboy artspace © Jörg Heikhaus

Close up of artworks by Olly Fathers © Jörg Heikhaus

AD: Where do you drive your inspiration from? How do you find ideas?

Yukako: Everywhere and everything. Being an artist, our works are the result of everything we see and experience. My antenna is always on when I’m out and about doing anything.

My attention tends to go to certain things, a combination of the natural and the man-made. My work consists of several predominant elements, such as shape, colour, light and shadow, and atmosphere. So, I draw different information from different places. Some of my work’s forms may derive from architecture, especially because I’m taken by the simple geometry. I’m attuned to the order of things, whether landscape or cityscape. And, shapes and colours of the natural forms — that might be pebbles and shells on the beach, and fruit and flowers in shops. Colours tend to come from nature and are transient. It could be the sky, its reflection in water, oil spillage on water that creates a shimmering rainbow effect, or even a dream. And I often find the subliminal in the mundane. I like juxtaposition. I may find ideas from visually loud neon light in a city’s nightscape. The hint for my work is everywhere. You don’t have to go somewhere special to find it. I just have to look.

Olly: One of my main influences has been architecture, also our interaction with built up spaces. Having lived in London for 10 years and having visited several cities I constantly find it interesting the perception of a space and how our eyes use the lines of perspective to judge how far away things are.  Whenever in cities I am constantly gazing around taking in buildings and everyday movement which all leads to inspiration for my work. With that in mind - my paintings are like my own little city landscapes and the paint is moving around it in similar fashion to ourselves. I plan roughly where the paint will flow when laying the shapes down, however I like to think it has a life of its own and often goes ways, which I don’t normally expect. I create the basic foundations for the paint to make its way around and it does the rest, this is the element that keeps the work organic and fun to make. The paint comes to life and dictates its own way around in this little space I’ve created.

In regards to the visual aesthetic, I have always been inspired by things like design, furniture and objects that are well finished and clean. Also minimal artists such as Frank Stella, Fred Sandback & Donald Judd from the 60’s have always been a huge influence on me.

For my work to be at its best I want the base and forms that define where the paint flows to be as clean as possible. So the emphasis is purely on the interaction of the paint and the geometric obstacles in its way.  So it has been a constant push for me to refine the work to the point where I’m trying to eliminate any rough edges and make it as smooth and finished as possible. It’s been a good six years and I feel have just got my work to place I always wanted it to be.

'Breeze' sculptures by Yukako Shibata © Jörg Heikhaus

 Installation view of works by Yukako Shibata © Jörg Heikhaus

Artist Yukako Shibata in front of her work © Julia Schwendner

installation view 'Shadowfall' by Yukako Shibata ©Yukako Shibata

AD: I think what is interesting about your both works is the relationship between control and chance in your work process.

Olly: I might not like to admit it, but one could think that I’m a controlling person in some respects but my works are never really planed out. The way I lay out the blocks is quite spontaneous. I just have a box full of shapes and then can spend hours thinking of a layout of which I feel is appropriate. I don’t think of the paint at that stage at all. Then I start with a few drips, sit back and spend time staring at them, planning where the next ones should go to create areas of satisfying colour combinations and linear interaction. But this is never thought out before hand, it couldn’t be. The painting evolves drip by drip.

Yukako: I find that it’s almost boring if I control everything. My work may look very controlled, and in some respects that’s true, but I normally start with a vague idea and concept. I like to work intuitively and I need the freedom to explore and experiment.  A large part of my work is about process. I find that it’s almost a conversation with the object and its material. I work with many different materials depending on the project and according to the form and intentions. I always find that my materials have their own will or mind, and they control me as much as I control them. So even if I had an idea — to make a certain shape — there are times when the materials don’t let me do it. For example, I’m trying to carve a certain shape, and then it breaks at the crucial moment! Then I have to change my plan or I just listen to the material and see how it’s behaving, and let the object be how it wants to be. It's the same with my painting when handling colours.

Olly: Yeah that is similar to how I work. What looked initially like a problem actually becomes a nice problem. That is kind of the challenge in the work, but a welcomed challenge because that is what gives me the feeling that the painting has a life of its own.

Yukako: I’m certainly very controlling when it comes to surface. This is something I can’t negotiate. I’m very obsessed with, and I particularly love polishing, surfaces to make them smooth. That might come from my childhood experience. I grew up in a very snowy place (Hokkaido) where the city is covered in snow for 5-6 months of the year. As a child I spent hours and hours making snowmen and igloos and snow sculptures, and I made their surfaces really shiny until the snow became like polished marble. In my white world everything is covered in snow, and the purity and harmony it creates must influence me greatly at an unconscious level.

Artist Olly Fathers in front of his work © Julia Schwendner

Close up of Palm Lined Streets by Olly Fathers © Olly Fathers

London-based artists of the group show Traces of Minimalism Donghwa Lee, Olly Fathers and Yukako Shibata with the curator Lavinia Rosen  © Julia Schwendner

AD: Would you call yourself a minimalist?

Olly: I think my work is too busy in some cases to be purely minimal, but artists from that movement have been a huge influence on me, such as Fred Sandback, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra and many more. My perception of lines, shapes and angles have been hugely influenced by the stuff they were doing.

‘The interaction of colour’ by Josef Albers has always been a point of interest for me. His observations have been a factor in my choice of colours ever since I first picked up his book.    

Yukako: I wouldn’t say I’m a minimalist. I’m too conscious that the term Minimalism has an historical meaning. The big difference between the work from the 60s and my work is the hand-made quality. The 60’s Minimalists often celebrated the industrial materials that were newly available to them, and the artists designed their work but gave them to somebody else to produce. Often their works were machine-made and had a sort of perfection and precision. I personally love the actual making — I enjoy hands-on intensive labour. I’m also interested in making things imperfect. I appreciate things I would call perfectly imperfect. Nevertheless, I too had a huge influence from the Minimalist artists and I love their work. I’ve been particularly inspired by Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Robert Irwin. I find simple objects so beautiful. Less is more! Minimal and abstract expression give me so much more...

AD: What is your ultimate aim? What would you like to achieve with your art?

Olly: I want to make my work as big as possible.  The one I’m working on at the moment is bigger than any of my previous work at three meters wide and two meters high. If I could, I’d like to work on an even bigger scale, for example painting a piece on the side of a building. I’d like to make it so big that it goes over my capability to do it on my own, having people working and fabricating on it with me. I think my work could look really good on a bigger scale.

Yukako: I too want to go big! Really big. One of my favourite artists is James Turrell and that gives a good idea of my scale ambitions,  I suppose — to create a space into which people can enter. I’d like to create an interactive and perceptual space which would have a positive and uplifting experience for the viewer. My work is smaller than human at the moment. But when artwork starts to exceed human scale, the whole experience and relationship tends to go into reverse. I also like the idea of incorporating nature into art — or art goes back to nature rather — and to borrow natural light and landscape. Therefore I would like to do something outside — more public art perhaps.

Olly: I love seeing my work in a gallery but I feel it would work well in the public domain, opening it up to a wider audience. I’d hope the viewer would feel a sense of familiarity with the work, subconscious or not, as it based on the very environment they would be surrounded by.

Yukako: Yes, I can see both of our works going large-scale and public. I guess I would have to let go of my controlling nature a bit for that — learn how to work as a team!

Their work is on view until the 24th of September as part of the group exhibition ‘Traces of Minimalism’ curated by Lavinia Rosen at the heliumcowboy artspace, Bäckerbreitergang 75, 20355 Hamburg/Germany. For more information visit: http://heliumcowboy.squarespace.com/traces-of-minimalism/

Lavinia Rosen holds a BA in politics and public administration as well as an MA in art business and contemporary art from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York and London. After graduating in early 2016 she returned to her hometown Hamburg, Germany, where she runs a pop-up gallery KUNSTVOLL and works as a curator and art advisor in multiple disciplines of the art scene in Hamburg. She loves to travel around to visit exhibitions and meet artists all over Europe.

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Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995.  Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995. Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

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