Broadway Spotlight: Artist of the Month
Felix Clifton is as 23-year-old freelance artist and aspiring tattoo artist. After studying Fine Art at Leeds University for three years, Felix is currently embarking on a personal and retrospective exploration of his changing relationship with patriarchal masculinity through his artwork.
Tell us about your artistic journey so far
I discovered my love for painting at Sixth-Form. At university, my main aim was to become the best painter that I could possibly be. Although I loved the connections and relationships that university allowed me to create, I had a really disappointing time with the course and lack of guidance. My experience on my course led me to become really demotivated. After working to please other people, I didn’t know how to make art for myself. I didn’t paint for two years after I graduated. There was actually a moment where I sat down to paint, got all my equipment out and physically wasn’t able to do it. Now, looking back at that, it was all so silly. Eventually, I quit my job as a chef and decided to pursue a career as a full-time artist.
What was the moment that made you want to start painting again?
There was one specific moment that actually changed everything for me. My jujitsu coach, who is also a decorator, was painting our stairs. He took notice of one of my paintings that hangs in our hallway: a portrait of my close friend, Kobbie. He was shocked to learn that the painting was one of mine and thought that it was amazing. In my head, the painting had so many imperfections. But, in this moment, I looked at my work from a different perspective and was reminded of how much I actually really loved the piece. In the same conversation, he commissioned me to do a family portrait for him. After not painting for two years, I focused all my energy into this commission. The moment I put paint to canvas was such a great feeling. Although I don’t want to require validation to feel good about my work, my coach’s opinion reminded me that I was a lot better than I thought I was at the time. It sparked an instant reconnection to the thing that I loved.
What do you look for in a subject?
My work has always surrounded an interest in the face. I’ve always loved building personal relationships, chatting to friends and learning about people. You can learn a lot about someone from painting their face because you’re thinking about them in an analytical way. It’s the same when you’re doing a self-portrait. More recently though, I’m branching out into landscapes. The fuel for my work at the moment is, how do I combine an interesting portrait and landscape?
Tell us a bit about your creative process
My art has always had an element of procrastination. Even though painting is my favourite thing to do, I’m quite an active person and you have to be very zen and focused when you sit down to paint. That’s probably my biggest struggle with art. I can really get in the zone and paint for hours. Or, I might paint for a few minutes and be unable to keep focus. But, whether I like it or not, this is part of my creative process. I procrastinate so much because I’m on the boundary of actually doing something. I’m getting better at fighting my procrastination recently. I think that’s because I’m painting what I want to paint instead of solely doing commission work. The excitement of what I’m painting and where it’s going fuels my motivation to do it. Now I’ve started to paint more of what I like, my work has begun to symbolise more and become deeper in meaning.
What are some of your artistic influences?
Music is a massive interest for me. I love listening to different albums when I’m painting. Right now, I’m loving listening to psychedelic and progressive rock because it’s calming and sends me into the zone. In terms of artists, I’ve not got many that I look up to and that actually gives me a sense of imposter syndrome sometimes. But, I do really love Will Rochfort. He’s heavily inspired by the 50s’ and 60s’, movies and pop culture. His work is really thought-provoking and he just paints the way that I want to be able to paint. He inspires me because it seems like he’s completely perfected his own way of painting and creates exactly what he intends to.
What are some of the ideas and concepts behind the work that you’ll be displaying at the gallery?
My recent series of paintings explore patriarchal masculinity and my ever-changing and evolving relationship with it. I feel like I’ve never really struggled with my self-image or the pressure of living up to the societal expectations of what it means to be a ‘man.’ But when looking back at some of the problems that I’ve had, I’ve realised that patriarchal masculinity has actually played more of a part in my life than I ever realised. I had this idea of painting different versions of a shark attack and featuring myself within the scene. For example, in one painting I’m watching myself get eaten by a shark. To me, a shark is tenacious, powerful and strong and representative of this toxic concept of ‘manhood.’ As the figure in the painting watches itself get eaten, they remain cool, calm and collected. It’s basically representative of watching my own downfall. The construct of masculinity is eating me up and I’m losing myself without realising. But, this isn’t definitive of my entire relationship with my own masculinity. That’s why I’m doing a few paintings of my changing relationship with the shark. Of course, the audience aren’t going to know that the figure in the paintings is me and that doesn’t matter. It’s up to the viewer to decide their interpretation. But, that’s just my thought process behind it.
What would you like your audience to take away from your work?
For me, I’m not creating art to get a response from anyone. I’m creating art because I love to do it and I like the idea of leaving my mark on the world in the form of something that means something to me. I do love hearing people’s opinions – when they are nice! I’m working on getting better at receiving criticism. But, I’d like people to be curious about my work. I’d love people to have their own interpretation. If they could create their own narrative for my art…that would make me happy. I take most value in the fact that no one is ever going to be able to paint what comes from your own mind.
What are your future ambitions for your career as an artist?
I’m happy with my art now but I know that there are a lot of imperfections. My relationship with my work is changing so much. I want my work to be humorous and tackle emotional and deep ideas in a funny and colourful way. I want to master the art of portraiture and to fully capture a portrait in my own way. In terms of my career, I want to have a simultaneous career as an artist and tattoo artist. It would be my absolute dream if that’s what I could make my wage from: tattooing and painting. This would make me happy and content with my life.
Felix’s work will be displayed in The Broadway Gallery from 18 October - 18 November.