The 26-year-old artist has autism and loves animals – everything from foxes in his street to more exotic creatures at London Zoo. He lives with his mum in north Clerkenwell.
How long have you lived in EC1?
About six years. I love it here. I live with my Mum at the moment. I have cognitive problems and OCD. She supports me and assists me with my art. Our flat is old – Georgian, I think – with large windows and a lovely view of trees. I feel very lucky to live in such an amazing location.
What are your favourite local haunts?
I go to the Vue cinema in Islington a few times a week with friends. I also like Ed’s Easy Diner at the Angel and the Cinnamon Tree in Exmouth Market. Everybody at my regular haunts knows me. People are generally very kind and supportive. My mum’s an artist and has had a studio in Mount Pleasant for 30 years – I’ve been hanging out there all my life.
What do you do on a typical day?
I get up, watch some movies, usually eat some junk food or get a kebab, do some drawing, go to the cinema with a friend and then go to Ed’s Diner for a milkshake.
How did you get into art?
After leaving school at 16, I went to the City and Islington College to learn life skills. While I was there, I was encouraged to work on art projects. I decided that art school in a conventional sense was probably not going to work for me. Instead, I’ve taken some classes in drawing and printmaking, at the City Lit in Covent Garden.
In what media do you work?
I mainly produce etchings, linocuts and monoprints. Once, when I felt I couldn’t touch paper one day, I tried digital embroidery [where a machine scans a drawing and then replicates it using different sewn textures]. It was really successful. I’ve also made models, experimenting with resins, moulds, sewing, found objects and dolls’ houses. This began after I had art therapy that involved playing with a dolls’ house. My model Norman is a doll in a wheelchair – I worked on it for about a year.
Animals are a recurring theme in your work. What’s behind that inspiration?
My love of animals has been a major part of my life. I’ve been drawing and taking photographs of them since I was four. I have always had problems relating to humans. They can be unpredictable and unreliable. Animals have helped me to manage my feelings of isolation. There are foxes in Clerkenwell and there’s one that used to sit on our doorstep. I made a silk screen of it. But most of my inspiration has come from visits to London Zoo. My favourite animal is the anteater. Anteaters remind me of myself as they look like they come from another planet – that’s how I feel. In 2012, I was lucky enough to be allowed in the cage with them at the zoo, as I held a small exhibition of my etchings there.
What else influences you?
Faces and expressions. They say people on the Autism Spectrum find it difficult to read people’s faces. I think, in my case, it’s more about being preoccupied with trying to work out which animal the person reminds me of. This can be very distracting. The chatter in my head can be quite visually interesting. Sometimes it’s animals and humans talking to each other. It helps me to see the character in things and to bring that out in my work.
How and where do you work?
I work at home at a bureau in the living room. I like to look out of the window. It’s the only place I can work. Sometimes when I am thinking about drawing something, I hope it goes to plan. Anything could go wrong. My mum could be wearing the wrong jumper or the day of the week could begin with the wrong letter…
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m putting together a show of the art I did on a recent research trip I went on with my mum to Barbados. And I’m hoping to make a film, as I’ve now received some funding for one. I love film and have wanted to make one for a long time. It’s going to be a cross between Star Trek and George A Romero’s Day of the Dead.
Do you exhibit your art?
Yes, I’ve exhibited at various places in London over the years. A highlight for me was having my self-portrait chosen for inclusion in a Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ show. It was chosen from more than 1,000 entries. Most recently, I had a piece (an etching of a lobster) in the Wildlife Artist of the Year 2016 exhibition at the Mall Galleries on The Mall. It’s an open-submission show run every year by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. This is the third time I’ve been nominated for the prize.