After graduating, Louis received a RSA New Contemporaries prize, along with the opportunity to showcase his work in their prestigious exhibition in Edinburgh. He was a founding member of the artist-run collective ALT-D, established last year to showcase the works (virtually) of arts graduates, in response to the decision to cancel graduating students’ in-person degree shows. Although Louis is undoubtedly a painter by nature, his work is really striking as it sits somewhere between painting and sculpture. We caught up with Louis to find out more about how the urban cityscape of Manchester directly influences his work, what he’s doing to stay creative in (yet another) lockdown, and his plans for the year ahead.
Your work sits at an interesting intersection of painting and sculpture, which is evident from the materiality of your pieces. Has living in Manchester and working within the urban landscape of the city enhanced the sculptural qualities within your work?
Manchester has a hugely diverse and rapidly advancing urban landscape. The expansion and physicality of construction and renewal is the driving force behind my current practice. During my bachelor’s degree, I found both painting and sculpture to be appropriate expressions of the themes I investigate, but presently I have a strong rapport with painting.
I am currently developing a catalogue of paintings that encompass layers of grids, and formal patterns against energetic spills of paint. I envision my paintings as potential prompts for sculptural installations; reminiscent of Sean Scully’s Boxes Full of Air (2015), or the mammoth works of Phyllida Barlow. To physically create a 3D space alongside large-scale paintings that would engulf a room and its viewers is an aspiration of mine, so hopefully these ambitions can be fully realised in future artworks.
You describe your work as being deeply rooted in the physical action of making. Can you tell us more about your process?
My process is like a tightrope walk between instinct and spontaneity, order and geometry. Sometimes these aesthetics can exist on the same canvas. These opposing visuals are what makes my work ambiguous because they are neither obviously finished nor unfinished. This is a direct response to the spaces I encounter; construction sites, road works and general detritus in the city.
Using decorating brushes and rollers means I can apply enormous quantities of paint on the canvas, to create explosions of colour. Pushing what an oil painting can be into different realms is exciting, and my approach to creating surfaces could not be realised in the same way using traditional hog-hair brushes. The action of rolling and slapping the paint on the canvas is very physical, and the way I move my body is fundamental to my practice. It becomes performative, which allows my emotions to bleed through; I am a painter and I love to paint.
Talk us through your studio set up – do you have any rituals or must-haves when you’re working?
I am a morning person, so this is the time where I am most productive. I try to start the day strong, and that seems to give me the momentum to continue to work. I usually work on multiple paintings simultaneously, as I can become frustrated to the point of obsession if I just focus on one work. Leaving a painting alone for a while and working on something else is essential for me, as each artwork informs one another, and then a discourse becomes clear. I love reworking or completely changing a whole painting.
Always having great snacks to hand is a must; there is nothing worse than a hangry artist. And do remember to keep a window open when using white sprits and oil paints, no matter how freezing the winter chills are!
Although we’re all confined to our homes at the moment thanks to yet another lockdown… is there anything that’s helping you to stay inspired creatively?
I must admit there are many days where I find it difficult to stay creative and inspired. When these feelings creep in, I like to take a big step back and remind myself that we are in the middle of a pandemic. You can feel deflated and that is completely acceptable.
My favourite way to boost creativity is producing fast, freestyle drawings or paintings using my non-dominant hand. Letting my hand subconsciously decide where to go and what to do is just really fun. One random wiggly mark might be the breakthrough I’ve needed.
Or revisiting my favourite artist’s work or a past exhibition, which brings me joy and happiness. Also, walking and getting outside for at least 45 minutes a day is an absolute must!
And finally, do you have any future projects lined up or is there something you’re working towards this year, in Manchester and beyond?
My biggest upcoming project is the next RSA New Contemporaries exhibition in Edinburgh. The exhibition was supposed to open this February, but unfortunately it has been postponed until 2022, due to the current lockdown. Rather than taking this disappointing news to heart, I will be using the next 12 months to really refine and develop my existing practice. I am super lucky to be a part of this exhibition with so many talented emerging artists, and I am sure it will be a very special event.