In January 2023 I started a conversations project during my residency at Applecart Arts. I sit down and have a conversation of approximately one hour with someone I am interested to have a conversation with. Whilst there might be particular things I am interested in, I don’t have questions planned in advance and what happens is organic. Whilst we talk, I paint. What I share here is the painted/drawn outcome of the conversation. Afterwards, I write up my reflections which come from the conversation. Then, they go into my gallery of conversations, which you have found yourself in here…
Steve Chapman / @stevexoh is an artist, writer and speaker. We’ve known each other for a few years, since I interviewed him for the consultancy RISE Beyond in 2019. Since then we’ve got to know each other lots more and have worked together, most recently during our residency on Ocracoke, a remote island off the coast of North Carolina (read/watch stuff about this here). On the summer solstice, we’ll be hosting a 12-hour pop-up radio station at Glen Dye in North East Scotland.
In all of the previous painting conversations up to this point, they had started naturally by asking how the other person was doing and what they’d been up to – as we hadn’t seen each other recently. People have often asked me how my time had been on Ocracoke as I recently got back. When Steve and I met for this conversation, we’d actually spent time together that day, including going to get tattoos from the same artist. We’d also been in Ocracoke together. So, it was weird suddenly having a specific type of conversation where we were doing a particular ‘thing’ – rather than just regular impromptu chat. I was also aware that he is interviewed fairly regularly and I felt self-conscious about asking the same old questions. Also, we have spent a lot of time together in conversation, I already know quite a bit about how Steve likes to work/make and I had a bit of a blank about something new I could ask.
Steve and I would chat with Gita (a mutual friend, and how we met) on Zoom from March 2020, every few weeks. It started as a conversation about uncertainty because I wanted to write something about it with them (you can look at it here) but continued just as three people enjoying talking to each other about how we were doing in the pandemic, the work we were getting up to and letting our thoughts and ideas snake around together.
I actually attribute a lot of me drawing more and sharing more, to these conversations. There was something incredibly freeing and encouraging about speaking to them both. I also liked learning about different ways Steve makes stuff (or doesn’t approach making stuff). Whilst I am cautious to say two people are similar to each other in case it suggests losing any of the wonderful nuances and weirdly wonderful originality of any one person, or offending someone, I have found that Steve and I can think in similar ways, which I think is a big part of why we’ve continued doing things together.
I find it a bit hard sometimes to admit how much some people have influenced me and the things I have done subsequently through knowing them or speaking to them. I think it can feel vulnerable to me to share that, like each person in my life should just influence me a little bit and it’s too risky for one person to have a lot of impact. Maybe part of it is the idea that it might not be reciprocal (though I don’t think should really matter either). Maybe a lot of it is tied to our culture’s obsession with individuality, despite our built-in need for connection. But if I can get over that for a moment, the impact from knowing Steve has been significant.
Back at Applecart…at some point, we commented on how we were finding the conversation, because we weren’t really talking. We realised we were both worrying about disappointing the other person. I can’t remember if admitting this really helped, but it was quite amusing.
Partway through the conversation, Grace (Applecart Head of Operations and my mentor during the residency – you can see our painting conversation here) came over to ask if Steve would like a tour and we both had a look around the building with her; in the theatre (with the original William Morris wallpaper), the impressive lighting set up, at what used to be the grander front entrance (not used much now as the doorways aren’t wide enough for wheelchair access), through the artist studios, the newly-renovated ex-librarians quarters, right up to the roof space and the clock tower where you can look at the inside of the clock face, if you crane your neck the right way and you don’t mind a bit of pigeon poo. Then we went all the way down to the cellar, where there is a lot of electrical stuff going on and a mystery room full of things. Grace had shown me around right at the beginning of my residency at Applecart, but it was great to see it again after spending so much time there.
I asked Steve what was important to him. This is a question I have asked people in nearly all of the conversations. I like asking it without giving more context/guidance and seeing what people come out with. He said he is stopping doing things that he is not interested in. And the important thing is freedom. He wants to do more work outside and using materials he finds, rather than using the same stuff over and over. He referred to a mutual artist friend of ours, Ben Wilson, who is known for painting amazing tiny paintings on pieces of chewing gum, on the street, but also works with enormous wooden sculptures, and many things in between.