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The Art Five, Issue 22, with Artist, Olly Fathers



OF: It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while and having the opportunity to create and show an artwork in such a great venue and prize it felt like the perfect time.


All artworks in the show were inspired by a piece of music from concords archive and my proposal was selected for the song “Pure Imagination” from the Willy Wonka film. I wanted to create a piece that referenced the factory and had elements that defied gravity and played with your perceptions of the space. The aim was to see viewers wandering around the work in bemusement as to what was going on and how it was working. To achieve this, it needed to be life sized, plus I wanted to push myself to make a sculpture on this scale.


Making this work has also been an opportunity to bring a lot of my 2D wall-based works to life. I often make artworks that aim to create depth using overlapping shapes and shadows. When I’m making these compositions, I’m often imagining them in 3D, so having the possibility to make one as a sculpture has been a really fun and important undertaking.


Working on this scale brought along new challenges; I had the design for the artwork planned out quite early, but it's working out how to make the idea come to life that is the difficulty. There are a few components in the sculpture, particularly the floating shape with copper ball, that were keeping me awake at night - trying to think how I could make them physically work.


There’s a great quote from the song - “There is no life I know, to compare with pure imagination, living there you’ll be free, if you truly wish to be” making this sculpture epitomised that for me. Being an artist is an amazing job and if we don't push ourselves to bigger and more ambitious visions then your imagination isn't progressing, you can get stuck in the repetitive and mundane, so making pieces like this sculpture is important to keep my imagination flowing and to achieve satisfaction as an artist.

Olly Fathers, 'Pure Imagination', 2021, Concord Art Prize shortlist
Olly Fathers, 'Pure Imagination', 2021, Concord Art Prize shortlist


OF: I’ve always loved making things and particularly working with wood. Marquetry is something I've been intrigued by for a long time, and it started because of a desire to learn a new skill and woodwork technique. To begin with was just buying packs of veneer offcuts from eBay and experimenting with them without really knowing what I was doing. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and advice online, as well as hours of YouTube videos. Trying to understand more about the techniques people use and putting these methods to the test with persistent trial and error. There’s so much to learn it’s been brilliant discovering the beauty of marquetry and I like that I’m putting a contemporary twist on what’s generally seen as quite a dated craft.


Technique wise I’m using combination of traditional marquetry techniques, often using what’s called the window cutting technique alongside more industrial methods which would be more akin to people making bespoke furniture or units. There are not many people using veneers in the way I am on this scale so a lot of what I’m doing is ad hoc and self-taught. It’s this which is making these pieces so much fun and gives so much scope to explore more.



OF: When I was at Wimbledon I never really worked much as a traditional painter, even then I spent a lot of time in the wood workshop building relief surfaces to paint on or wall-based sculptures. The average veneer is 0.6mm but I still have to cut each component to a specific shape and size and build the composition with the different elements. I think it’s this process which feels much more like i’m building an artwork, rather than painting it, which brings me much greater satisfaction. I consider myself an artist but also a maker, so this is the perfect medium for me.


I find the range of wood veneers fascinating; the different grains and textures make for beautiful contrasts between parts of my works. I’m enjoying using the different colours that naturally occur with the variety of wood species, whilst sometimes using dyed veneers to have a greater level of contrast. It’s been really interesting deciding on colours for pieces because traditionally you might choose a particular blue, green or pink and have those colours easily accessible via a paint tube, whereas now I’m thinking of colours as species of wood and veneer leaves. It’s meant that planning a work takes on a different process and the colours come together based on the actual physical tone of these woods, which gives a great sense of tactility to choosing my palette.

Wood veneer samples.


OF: Some are more instinctive; I make little studies using offcuts and just make them as I go along. This organic way of working is really pleasing but wouldn’t work when making larger pieces. I need to ensure I have enough veneers for the work. Also, some compositions can take a long time to decide so I need to draw out several versions until I feel pleased with the balance and happy to make it into a large-scale veneered work.


Images of works in veneer by contemporary artist Olly Fathers
Left, various small studies of veneer combinations and compositions. Each 12.3 x 9.7cm. Right, Olly Fathers in his studio.


I was recently commissioned to make works for Soho House in Tel Aviv, for this series of 4 works I took inspiration from the Bauhaus inspired architecture in the amazing city. These pieces reference a variety of elements from the buildings, such as the curved walkways on each floor of building, circular windows, and the colours.


All my work is inspired by such a broad range of influences though, whether that be consciously or subconsciously. Particularly with the rise of things like Instagram, you see so much visual stimulus all the time, it’s hard to narrow down individual influences. I don't often research or look for inspiration directly for individual works unless there’s a necessity to do so. I’ll sometimes realise a reference in there afterwards, but I just organically sketch or play with materials until compositions and ideas develop.


Left, architecture in Tel Aviv. Right, Olly Fathers, TV4, 2020, wooden veneers, 73 x 48 cm

Thank you to Olly Fathers for participating in The Art Five, Issue 22.


About Olly Fathers

Olly Fathers (b. 1987) is an artist based in Brixton, London. He studied BA Hons Fine Art (Painting) at Wimbledon College of Art, 2007 - 2010. Fathers' work explores the relationship between abstract shapes, materials, and forms, creating well-finished, often playful pieces that invite the viewer to take a closer look to understand the balance and precision involved. The artist takes great satisfaction in the making process and this often influences the outcome of his work. With a keen interest in woodwork, both as a skill and its use in art and design, Fathers has developed a desire to use wood in his practice and creates pieces using a range of different types and species. Works take inspiration from architecture, design, and culture including early computer technology and graphics. These pieces use intricately cut wood veneers brought together using self taught marquetry techniques.

ollyfathers.com


All images and video courtesy of the Artist.


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