Nick Veasey, the famed British contemporary artist known for his x-ray images, is being exhibited in the Middle East for the first time. Fact catches up with him to talk all things art.
Why/how did you decide to become a professional artist? Have you always had a keen interest in the arts?
I’ve always been interested in photography, and from that a wider love of the arts in general progressed naturally. I’m a visual person, so I think I can tell when a lot of love and skill goes into making something. Those are the criteria that flick a switch in my brain. I didn’t actually decide to become a professional artist. I am fairly uneducated and come from a family that taught me the value of hard work, but aesthetics were not a top priority. So I guess I suffer a little from the self-belief of being an artist – art can be elitist and pretentious, and I hate all that. That’s how I make my living though. I make art and it pays, so I guess I must be an artist now.
Your art revolves around the use of x-rays. Can you please explain how this came about and your creative process when creating these pieces?
I love all forms of photography, particularly analogue unique image-making, so when I saw an article in a newspaper on an American dentist called Albert Richards who x-rayed flowers during his lunch break, the pictures captivated me. As a result, I managed to persuade a TV show to commission me to make an x-ray for an on-screen joke about having x-ray vision. That was my first experience of what an x-ray can (and can’t) do.
My creative process is pretty strange, but so is it for quite a few artists. The analogy I use is looking at a jigsaw puzzle. I see the finished image on the box in my head and then go and find all the little pieces and very slowly, we put them all together and make the overall image. There are videos on the exact methods we use on my website that explain it better than I am here, but it is a sort of painting by numbers with film, using radiation, in a bunker and then hours on the computer stitching all the pieces together. That’s how we get the x-ray image. Then we decide how we are going to display the x-ray.
Your artwork allows us to journey into a world otherwise hidden and unseen. What is it about this theme that inspires you?
It’s a journey of discovery. I’m inspired, motivated, engaged, turned on mentally by peeling back the layers and showing my subjects from the inside out. X-ray tells the story of how an object was designed, whether by man or by nature. It strips away the surface and exposes the guts. I like guts.
BENEATH is exhibited online. How has the pandemic changed the way in which people view and experience art?
Technology has helped people survive the boredom and frustration of isolation during the pandemic. And technology has also helped us artists continue to share our art. I am in deep gratitude to the Galloire gallery in Dubai that have really grasped the possibilities of online exhibitions. What they have done with my work is just fantastic. It allows people to have the experience of seeing my work without actually having to physically attend the show. In many ways it is better than a physical exhibition.
The vibe I am getting from my audience is that their creative stimuli need more nectar when they are stuck in one place. So, bizarrely the pandemic has been a positive experience in some ways as people have been forced to embrace technology to get their culture.
BENEATH is a creative fusion between technology and art. Do you feel the virtual reality (VR) coupled with augmented reality enhances your pieces?
That’s a tough one. It certainly allows quality access to my work. I was a little worried that the tech would fail and it would be a little disappointing, but far from it. But no, the quality and detail are there and my works are nuanced and detailed. By enhances, I am thinking you mean improves? Honestly, I think nothing beats living with art, being with art, but I am old-school.
How has your style and methodology developed over time? How do you continue to find interest and inspiration while using the same medium?
My style hasn’t changed much really. I just keep x-raying away. There has been a natural improvement in the technical quality that pleases me, but the big challenge is to create work that engages with people. So I try to filter out the weak ideas.
My artistic heroes are artists that use the same medium throughout their careers. I’ve always admired Bridget Riley and she has been refining the same medium for a lot longer than I. She is also more talented than I am, which is something I can’t do much about. I just want to make a legacy of the best selection of x-rays ever made. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Call me a ‘One trick pony’. I am proud to do one trick well as opposed to being average at several tricks.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Many and varied. From the “Oh no, it reminds me of when my Aunt had cancer” to people being awestruck by my revelation of the internal structure hidden from our normal view. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some pretty big museum shows and I often hide in a corner looking at how people react to the work. You learn a lot from how long people look at a piece.
Who are your inspirations in the art world?
I’ve already mentioned the amazing Bridget Riley. I am also a fan-boy of Sugimoto. He’s my photography inspiration this week anyway. I admire artists and galleries. Good galleries with real integrity deserve credit and don’t often get it from us artists. Perrotin gallery is always really engaging and for the photography fans out there, my number one photography gallery is Fraenkel in San Francisco.
This collaboration with Galloire Contemporary Art Gallery marks your first exhibition in the Middle East. What was it about the region that encouraged you to exhibit here?
There’s a huge educated and cultured audience in the Middle East and I am very privileged to be able to introduce my work to them. I am thrilled to have a new audience see my x-rays. The other exciting element for me is working with Galloire. They are a brand new gallery with new ideas and energy. Galloire has a modern and innovative approach to how people engage with art. The virtual is as important as the physical experience. I have learnt a lot from Galloire, and they are going to make a significant contribution to the art community in the Middle East.