This month we have asked 'Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making' exhibiting artist Xavier White to be our Artist of the Month. Xavier's work 'Verrelic Spires' is currently on display at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester until 12 June 2016. After this, it will tour nationally. Below, Xavier answers some questions about his work and life as an artist.
When and how did your interest in art develop?
As a child I was always a maker, with Lego or cereal packets, building and painting models. Aeroplanes were my favourite, with wings to fly. I would hang them from my bedroom ceiling. I would also make diorama scenes with imagined narratives.
On a day off primary school through sickness, my Mum took me to a Stained Glass course, as she had no child-care. This was my first encounter with making with glass. I made a mosaic of a helmeted figure, a soldier I think, but it could also be read as a helmet wearing cyclist now.
Later while working at my Dad’s animation studio in the early 1980’s, I became friends with a man who went on to become my mentor and guru – let’s call him John. John greatly deepened my understanding and quality of making processes.
This brought me to the point prior to my head injury, it was my intention to go to art-college and get training in the arts, so that I could feel like an insider. But after my accident I had more essential things to learn; walking, talking, all of my life skills, which left me feeling truly outside.
I was introduced to art therapy in hospital, rebuilding my cognitive skills. This allowed my natural creativity to come through, helping me to return to my love of making. A short course in art history at Goldsmiths some years later was very influential, hence the frequent references to art history within my work. Since then I have persisted with learning and mastering my making skills with the subtle but disruptive long-term consequences of traumatic brain injury: poor concentration, coordination and fatigue (physically and mentally).
What influences your art?
The well-made object, education, neurology, environment, waste, energy, mass and substance, frustration, politics. New ways of seeing and cheating death!
I like to communicate my interests to others, explaining psychological and neurological processes from a scientific research perspective, but also a very personal experiential one. I aim to create beautiful works to enhance our experience of the world around us.
What process do you go through when you are creating a piece (starting with the initial idea)?
I enjoy finding unused spaces and imagining the possibilities of a positive use for them, whether that is a physical space or a re-imagining of materials, breathing renewed life into found objects. These physical building blocks inspire me to access my personal toolbox of resources that informs my practice, of historic scientific literature, art history, musical lyrics and personal perspectives.
I find collecting and selecting materials is an important part of the process.
The chanced upon object can inspire a different direction of thought, I enjoy the creative process of responding to the object and finding solutions as to how I work with it and what it will become.
Which artists, if any, have you drawn inspiration from?
I very much enjoy learning about art history, and the creative movements that reflect wider social developments. I am particularly inspired by Marcel Duchamp, Picasso, more generally by Futurism, Cubism, Pop Art, the Arts and Crafts movement. Scientific ideas and theories also inspire me.
Do you have a favourite piece? If so, which one and why?
Les Guerre des Verre, my chess table with recycled domestic glass items assembled into chess pieces is a favorite piece. The selection and editing of random found objects form the world into forms that carry the authority of the range of chess pieces, which form a game with an almost infinite number of alternatives.
Chess – the perfect illustration of cognitive brain function. The performance of one action, driven by many decisions and actions internally, is then reacted to and the process repeated. This is what fascinates me.
I am also very fond of Think About It… This piece represents the nuts and bolts of the electro-chemical process of thinking and neurology. It is made of glass, a major medium for me and a metaphor for cognition and the strength and fragility of the brain. This neurology / cognition in glass metaphor applies to my Verrelic Spires pieces too.
Where the glass pieces are the nerve body, the ambient light the charged ion reservoir and the bonding agent the neural transmitters at the synaptic cleft / join between the glass pieces.
What do you hope the viewer gets from your work?
To think about a subject or theme I have meditated on…the concepts, the making involved, bringing their own experiences to reading the work. I would like audiences to feel positive, enlightened, stimulated, educated, and uplifted by seeing my work.
What has been the highlight of your artistic career?
A highlight of my artistic career was my ‘Xavier White Full Circle’. It was the pivotal point in my career where my personal life joined my artistic life 30 years on from my accident and recovery. The XWFC exhibition was exhibited at the Maudsley Hospital’s ORTUS Learning Centre. It was at the Maudsley hospital my journey of recovery started, following a 10 day coma I was knocked into after receiving a near fatal head injury at the age of 18. As part of the exhibition I designed an installation for the ORTUS’s roof terrace, from where one can see the building where I re-learnt to walk and talk again.
This is one of my larger installations and, the manager and staff like it, so it remains there, and will always give me the tingle factor when I visit it. Indeed one of the Occupational Therapists that treated me visited the show, some 200 metres from where we first met all those years ago. There is a film of Xavier White’s Full Circle exhibition viewable on YouTube.
Over the two years since this ‘homecoming’ I have completed my South London and Maudsley (SLaM) trypich of exhibitions with Cohedia… Wish You Were Here Xx, at the Bethlem Gallery in 2015 and the Verrelic Magi Arrival at the Bethlem Chapel in 2016.
What does being a part of Radical Craft mean to you?
To be part of Radical Craft gives me the opportunity to have my work accessed in many prestigious galleries by the wider public who may not have the opportunity to see my work otherwise.
Being April’s Artist of the Month gives me the opportunity to touch base with my own voice and grounding as an artist – it is also my birthday in April.
Has being a part of Outside In been beneficial for you? If so, how?
Outside In has enabled my work to travel to broad audiences across the UK. It has also given me some professional experiences of working with larger gallery spaces, preparing my work for exhibition and testing safety implications of travelling fragile works of art around the country.
What is next for you as an artist?
I have recently begun an artist residency at London Southbank University.
My Human Campaign is the School of Health and Social Care’s first Artist in Residence scheme.
This gives me the opportunity to work within a supportive academic framework along side the nursing degree, exploring the potential for my work with neurological and emotional themes and how it can impact on the nursing profession.
The residency offers students and staff the chance to engage in creative learning, including creative activities such as inter-active workshops to explore and expand their understanding and ability to be resilient and compassionate as health and social care professionals, and it gives me the opportunity to develop my practice.