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The Johnny West Series and the Art of Collecting

My practice operates within the context of material culture and memory, both personal and collective, this involves collecting, and encompasses painting, sculpture and video.

Nostalgia, an affection for the past, motivates the work. Cultural representation in the form of Hollywood movies and TV have, since childhood, created a fantasy world, that I once thought was reality. I hold on to this world as a visual language, articulating my concerns about existence through objects that have agency, telling their own story to the owner or observer.

The Johnny West Series of paintings began through rediscovering my childhood toys of Christmas 1965, a connection to the past occurred, a kind of mental time-travel, making me realise the power of objects as a means of thinking with. It was 2011 when I began collecting Marx figures (1965 -1980), perhaps because of the recent loss of a parent. I met collectors online, many things desirable and rare came up for sale and buying for the purposes of art began. 

The realisation that we children and adults were fed untruths due to colonialism and imperialism, – which condemned Native Americans as ‘savages’, to cover up invasion – opened up avenues of thought regarding freedom and equality. Hollywood had created that horror too and we all believed it. 


The paintings are structured within a flexible grid system, proportion being based on camera image proportion, where intuitive cropping takes place during photography. Figures are bold, elevations derive from technical drawings and my experience within graphic design in fashion photography.


The Johnny West toy box is an exploration of scale from childhood to adulthood. The child holding the toy box in 1965 is filled with wonder as it seemed large, larger than it would to the adult parent. However, when the child doubles in size over time the box halves in size. It is this concept that prompted me to increase the size of box to a gigantic scale.


Much of my video is inspired by Andy Warhol, especially, ”Empire State Building” 1964, as well as David Bowie in the “Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), with those multiple TV screens unravelling earth. Other influences include Sergio Leone’s mood, composition and atmospheric sound, and Georges Miele, director of “The Trip to the Moon” (1902), inventor of dissolves, double exposures.

Another influence is the documentary “Black Mirror: A Journey with Mat Collishaw” (2018), which shows the artist using objects of the past, the zoetrope and old master paintings in particular. He thinks about humanity, life, death, reality and violence, connecting with those who once lived, this resonates greatly with me in my own work as he attempts to bring the past it to life.