We talked to artist, Peter Haugh about the unusual path which lead to him becoming an artist, the influence The John Ruskin Prize has had on his career and his plans for the future. Peter gives us fascinating insight into the personal nature of his work; a place where happiness and sadness, light and dark, sickness and health all colide.
When did you start creating art, and what inspires you to continue?
It was not until my early twenties that I started making art. I hated the subject at school, a hatred that was very much to do with my fear of failing and a firm belief that I had no imagination. Through a series of chances I started going to evening classes at Brixton Adult Education Institute in the late 70s. There I was fortunate to have an inspiring teacher who taught us that drawing was about learning to see. My early demons have never left, but I have learned how to understand and cope with them better. Making art for me now is far more about enjoying the process and this inspires me to continue.
How did you find out about The John Ruskin Prize?
It was quite by chance, my wife spotted an advert in a free local arts magazine and suggested that what I was working on at the time fitted the subject for the prize.
How do you feel about not winning?
What inspired you to choose this subject and how did your ideas develop into the work in the show. What medium did you use, and why?
A couple of years after my father died I started making small drawings and watercolours to try and help me get over what was a great loss. I stopped and started, thinking at times that it was making me worse. In time the art took over, the emotions became less about the loss and more about the sheer joy that can come from making marks. Dad had degenerated through dementia over a number of years and the commode and the Kylie®* bed pad (an absorbent blue or pink mattress protector) became symbols of his illness. It always amused me to see Dad and ‘Kylie’ on the bed. I developed images around these two symbols.
I had been making landscape based woodcuts at the time and started to develop the drawings and watercolours related to dad’s death into images for prints. I wanted to make a bigger statement but only have a small relief press. This led to printing the image in sections, a decision which brought new opportunities to exploit the wood grain, to help the drawing and in applying the ink to give tonal ranges. Books from the library helped me work out the perspective.
Can you talk about the key themes behind this work? What experiences do you seek to offer the viewer?
I tried to make the work in the show ambiguous, not for its own sake but to reinforce the juxtaposition of health and illness. It is impossible in the minds of most of the young to believe that they might become incontinent yet it is a reality for some of all ages and particularly the elderly. A ‘single room with en-suite’ could be a hotel room planned for a holiday or a room in a care home.
This juxtaposition of happiness and sadness, light and dark, good and bad, life and death has always fascinated me. I do not consciously seek this in my work but I believe it has always been there.
How has this opportunity impacted your work and outlook as an artist and how do you see your work developing in the future. What’s next for 2016?
When I told a friend I was making art on the theme of incontinence he laughed, imagining the dinner party discussions about such an art purchase sitting proudly on the wall. It was likely to be difficult finding a buyer. There was, however, one person who might be interested and that was the manufacturer of the Kylie® bed pad. I wrote to the company and explained what I was doing and the owner by chance was a lover of art and intrigued to think of his product inspiring artworks. We arranged to meet, and in July I took the woodcut and other related works to their factory in Nottingham. I made a mock up in their boardroom of how the various tools, printing inks and woodcut blocks looked in my studio with preparatory drawings, papers and bits of the print and talked to the team about the background to the work and how it was made. I am delighted that now the woodcut hangs in the company boardroom.
The whole experience of being involved with the Ruskin Prize has given me encouragement for what I am doing. I am working on another large woodcut exploring the issue of incontinence further but within a care home setting.
Where can people find out more?
Look at www.peterhaugh.com
Would you encourage others to enter the Prize? If so, why?
The Prize is a really personal and professionally run show from the point of view of the artist. The organising team is very accessible, down to earth, fun to work with and very keen to promote artists and their work. I very much felt part of something that was worthwhile. It was great that the show ran in two locations and was very well curated. I have had the opportunity to talk to artists working in quite different ways, made new friends and contacts and most of all had great fun.
Yes, have a go.
* Kylie® is a registered trademark of Capatex Ltd