In the studio with William Grob, a visual artist whose work is based on a blend of memory and fantasy capturing scenes of events, that feels like a lost memory remembered. We met with William to tell us more about growing up in North Devon, their greatest influences, and unexpected sources of inspiration.
When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
I think I always saw myself as an artist, I grew up in a household surrounded by art and my mother is a sculpture. As cliche as it sounds I think it was my first language. I suffered from a severe speech disorder and was put into the autisic bracket. Normal communication was not how I entered this world. Instead I used images to communicate, landscapes and flowers were when I was happy and dark muddy pictures were when I was angry. All that I do today is a slightly more sophicscated verson of what I did as a little boy attempt to communicate a feeling.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?
I grew up in north devon at the top of Exmoor, where the hills roll into the sea. Growing up on a converted farm with nature in abundance and endless things to do. We were always outside playing and creating in one way or another which set its president in my process to this day still. Trying to understand people and trying to see beyond what our vision allows.
As I mentioned before my early years, with the speech disorder, were challanging but my fortune was my upbringing. I had a mother would could understand without words actions and movement were enough for her to understand me as my father too.
I think all our past responds to the work that we challenge ourselves with, the tentative years growing up, absorbing new surroundings, feels, moments. They all happen at a blink of an eye and it takes us our adult life to really understand how those few years shape us as characters and create our foundation which stays true through into death.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice artistic work?
I was obsessed with Van Gogh as a child, someone who painted landscape with the vivid colour of someone that could see beyond what the eye had shown. Which I related too, dedication that went far beyond a ‘healthy relationship’ which again I could empathise with. When I was 11 my dad took me to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam I remember walking round the pemerminte show coming to the end of his life ( the show is in chronological order) and meet the painting ‘Wheatfield with Crows’ I start to blush up and tears stream down and I look my left and my father with the same bloodshot eyes. That moment shaped my life, to be able to make someone cry from an image, without a political edge, just a metaphor of someones life. I thought that was pure power.
What’s the message of your work? Where do they come from?
I’ve always found this a hard question to answer, I don’t think its so binary. If you stripe the question down to the core then it would be to communicate a place or feeling that I want to share. I have always found words limiting, feelings in many cases can’t be explained with rational language sometimes we need the be placed in the middle of the scene to understand who we are. The narrative of the recent series ‘Lost Millennials’ is my comment on today’s society, at least the ones that cross my path. I look out trends and how we respond to them, within the paintings, people usually seem ‘ideal’ or ‘contemplative’ which can be read as lost or as I like to see it, weighting in the world around us to make a decision. With endless possibilities of where to go, what to do, slowing down life and making these hard choices seems rational. I look around and see everyone in a similar world, a world of indifference, all unique all with the same problems. I think it is important to depict that, in a way to express a moment in time.
Who & what are your greatest influences?
Pissarro, guaguin, Brancusi, van Gogh, Cézanne ,Delacroix, matisse, Picasso, David hockney oh and so many more.
An unexpected source of inspiration?
Social situations, random moments at a dinner or a party which all of sudden need to be recorded beyond my own memory.
What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?
I create because I personally need to understand a situation, be it the satire in a event or to try and decode a emotion that I felt. I think its impossible for the audience to not be on mind but they are not in the drivers seat. When the audience is too present within the paintings I feel I lose the essence of what I’m doing. Its finding the balance between self and audience which is the life long game.
What events in your life have mobilized change in your practice?
After university I quickly moved to NYC which was a huge change creatively, new subject matter which creates new styles. Then after my departure I moved to Berlin which again totally changed the direction of my practice. I’m constantly going to shows, new and old, and my favourite thing to do is work out how things are made. When I do no understand then I try to recreate which develops into new techniques of painting. I think painting is like a river, when you stand back and look from a far it’s a river. Some shades of blue and green, meanders and lines. But when you get close to the river you see that every moment has a cause and that nothing Is permanent, apart from the flow of the stream.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
I wish I knew. Phillip Guston talks about the ‘third arm’ which is the moment when you’re in a painting daze and you wake up from this conscious dream to realized you’ve finished. 7hours that feel more like a minute. This state is the ultimate which comes when everything aligns, sometimes early in a painting usually at the end.
Tell us the inspiration behind your works?
‘Delaying time’. I made this in September 2021 berlin, the time between good weather and bad, when a down pour could be imminent. Which as a metaphor fits into life pretty well. The scene was inspired by a lake trip to Müggelsee. With a crack of thunder, without the rain to follow, long stretched naked bodies all sitting upright now like a meerkat on guard, waiting for the inevitable to happen.
Something in the future you hope to explore?
Space within the paintings. To have the confidence to leave huge areas with flats and not feel the need to fill them with ‘subjects’