In a bright studio in Bethnal Green, Michael Landy RA is preparing for a retrospective. Red and white slogans and signs adorn the walls, painted onto torn pieces of paper. At the far end of the studio, nestled on a tartan rug on a sofa, is Landy’s sleepy Staffordshire bull terrier, May.
Born in Hackney, Michael Landy trained at Loughborough College of Art (1981-3) and Goldsmiths College, London (1985-8). In his final year he contributed to Freeze, the exhibition arranged by Damien Hirst in a London Docklands warehouse which brought together 16 young artists and established the Young British Artists of the 1990s. In 1999, Landy’s work was included in Sensation at the RA: an exhibition of the YBAs from the Saatchi Collection.
Landy has used monumental installations/performances to explore political and social issues, such as the nature of consumerism, the commodification of art and the value placed on human beings in the corporate world. In recent years, his work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the National Gallery, London (2013), and as part of Art on the Underground (2012).
We chatted to the artist about what he has been up to lately, what he thinks of being an Academician, and what advice he’d give an aspiring artist.
What are you working on at the moment?
In January this year, I started tearing pieces from big bits of paper and drawing on them in red and white. It’s a collection of signs, slogans and warning signs, with references to austerity Britain and also to my earlier work, such as Warning Signs (1993), Scrapheap Services (1995) and Closing Down Sale (1992). Red and white is my favourite colour scheme; for each slogan I use a base of oils and scratch into it to create the image. There are lots of symbols and signs reappearing here that I’ve used in previous drawings. When I was younger I couldn’t really reference my own works, but I’ve got to the point where I can do that now, and have a bit of fun with it, too.
This is all for an exhibition of drawings I have coming up at Sabine Knust in Munich, in May. It’s called Breaking News, referencing past works but dealing with current issues as well. I have a tendency to destroy things so I don’t tend to keep many earlier works, which becomes a bit of a problem when you want to have an exhibition.
There are signs in German, too, referencing German politics. I’m not making a particular comment, but I want it to feel current. There isn’t really a plan; I don’t really want to know what I’m doing. I’m just immersed in imagery at the moment, in the throes of creating, and working out what suits the project.