Open Studio: Building Paintings with Andrew Bick
It can take Andrew Bick a very long time to finish a painting. First of all, there’s the paint itself. The artist has developed his own particular formula: oil paint and a cold wax mixture, consisting of beeswax pellets dissolved in turpentine and varnish. Applied to canvas, it can take - literally - months to dry. Then there’s the artist’s belief that, as long as you have a painting in your possession, it’s never really finished. “A system, an idea, that something is un-completable,” he says. “At certain points you stop, because you’re showing in an exhibition.” Bick hovers a finger over a canvas in the late morning light of his studio. “The ultimate stop is only when it’s owned. If it remains with me, even if it’s been exhibited, sometimes the distance of 10 years allows you to make subtle adjustments.”
On a bright autumn morning, the kind where the sun sticks low and saps the colour from the bare trees and pale houses, we find Bick in his studio, a large ground floor space in a quiet corner of south east London, full of neatly arranged books, tools, bits of piping, brooms, house paint brushes and a black hi-fi system. A vintage gold watch glints inside a case by the window. Bick is wearing a white apron stained Pollock with flecks of bright orange and yellow, a Drake’s shirt, a vintage Omega and clean brown suede brogues with a flash of purple sock… also Drake’s. A patterned scarf is tied high around his neck.
Regarded for his highly intelligent and searching conceptual works, Bick’s practice draws on architecture, colour theory, mathematics and various schools of art: Constructionism, Systems and Modernism. Looking at a Bick painting can feel like solving a tricky puzzle, or trying to unlock a door with a numerical code. He often works from a grid system, one painting lays the groundwork for the next. It can appear abstract, in a geometrical sort of way, but each brushstroke has been meticulously planned — as resolutely mapped out as a Singapore skyscraper.
“There’s a logic and a system that is always there with my work,” says Bick, “but it’s also about having a sense of humour and subverting where I see fit.” His colour palette, too, is closely considered. There’s a particular orange that regularly appears in a Bick painting that is strangely compelling in person. A soft sort of neon that holds your eye. “There’s always been a sensibility, where orange, blues and greens appear regularly,” he says. “Complimentary clashing colours. Offsetting colours is important, as the use of colour in these places is always to be disruptive. I want to shift the way you look at them.”
Bick also teaches at Kingston University and is a Reader in Fine Art at University of Gloucestershire, as well as a highly respected curator. He’s created civic works, architecture and harbours a dream of collaborating on a giant public tapestry, working with artisans in another country like Le Corbusier did in Chandigarh. His broad skillset makes him a patient and articulate conversationalist and writer. He pauses explaining theory. “Do you want some green tea? It’s the proper stuff.”
Our conversation turns to clothes. Bick is a stylish artist. Does he believe in the artist’s uniform, the tatty glamour of a Basquiat or Bacon; the signature items of a Warhol or Hockney?
“Everything that you’re doing, however sober it is, even if it’s all black, is a uniform of some sort,” he says, intermittently sipping tea from a Korean ceramic mug “Whatever we wear is role-play and you can’t escape from that. The idea that you might play with it and enjoy it, should not be barred, otherwise you can end up being terribly inhibited. You don’t have to be normal or sensible.”
And how would he describe the concept of Constructionism? I ask. A school that has majorly influenced his output, having studied under Anthony Hill and, in his research, championing Gillian Wise. Both are masters of the form. He's also curated exhibitions and has written extensively on the movement. “It’s work where a mathematical element, an idea of measurement, connects with using materials to alter our perception of space,” he replies. I think I understand.
“Reputations are often made by talk rather than work,” says Bick, who has - over several decades - happily forged his own path in the infamously fickle world of modern art. “Subjectivity is everywhere and is unmanageable. As an artist you can have a hit in your 30s and end up in your 50s without any royalties. Nobody gives a fuck what you did then. You can be in some incredible collections and people can still forget you. Someone like Anthony Hill and Gillian Wise were geniuses, but they were under-known and then ignored. That’s just the way it is.”
“It’s all unfinished business, and that’s why I’m still mean and keen.”