“I didn’t do art GCSE or A-level. I was at college thinking about what I wanted to do,
and graffiti was the only thing that I wanted to do with my life,” shrugs Will Tuck —
acclaimed young artist preparing for his first solo exhibition, “My parents told me I was crazy.”
Will Tuck has translated his skills as a graffiti artist into those of an accomplished painter, using the paintings of the Old Masters as starting points.
“I draw on quite a traditional Western aesthetic, images which work in dialogue with art history,” he says, “I like to use the same image, or basically the same image, given a different meaning.”
Tuck’s work features doe-eyed lads-mag babes, cheap plastic toys and 2D cartoons, all painstakingly realised using an airbrush. “I like a lot of contemporary folk art — people who customise cars, paint fairground rides — they tend to be quite technically skilled but frowned upon by society,” he explains, “Also airbrushed women, 1950s pin-ups, you see all these anatomical inaccuracies in things like that. I like both high and low art, the kind of commercial graphical art, 2D cartoons, fashion photography — the airbrush really lends itself to that seamless, creepy, unnaturally perfect aesthetic. It’s a kitsch, bright aesthetic.”
As one of the “New London School” of artists — a group of around 50 young artists including Jennifer Allen, John Stark and Stella Vine — Tuck is part of an emerging new wave of talented contemporary artists, members of which use their own highly developed skills to examine and engage with the human condition.
“I suppose one of my main preoccupations is imagery as a free-flowing thing, how images can be manipulated and their meanings can change.”
Using the processes and techniques of commercialism, Tuck’s paintings try to make sense of the present and our relationship with the past in a world that spins faster and consumes quicker. Is popular culture the new “opium for the masses”?
“I’ve never met someone who took pop culture as seriously as people can take religion,” uck ventures, “I think that — to misquote Sartre — there is no culture now: high and low culture have become a kind of indistinguishable mash.”
Tuck manages to marry his use of historical context and up to the minute equipment perfectly. “I’ve recently started using Photoshop to construct compositions, and I’ve expanded my repertoire of images. One of them has a background that is completely computer generated,” he explains, “but I think that there is still something homemade about what I do — an airbrush is very hands-on and laboured.”
Indeed it is — one of Tuck’s 200cm x 170cm canvases can take months to complete. Once finished they have a polished, photo-like quality — women with pneumatic, shiny breasts recline in come-hither poses while Christmas-tree angels hover precariously and serious, gruff-looking action heroes position their moveable limbs awkwardly.
Tuck’s paintings speak to us about the world we live in — sex and celebrity, hyper femininity and neutered masculinity. He toys with the idea of being a modern master in a world given over to cheap thrills and fast consumption. He manipulates and teases his subjects, content and the language of paint.
The exhibition at Carter & Gallagher will be Tuck’s first solo show. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in quite a few group shows since I graduated from the Royal Academy two years ago, and I’m excited to see how the work is received. I’m taking a new direction — the ideas are similar but it’s visually quite different from what I‘ve done before.”
Tuck was recently involved in The Future Can Wait, the biggest ever museum-scale privately curated exhibition for new artists. All the work on display was for sale, but rather than the traditional set-up of an art fair, pieces were displayed in the spacious Atlantis Gallery, London.
Since graduating from the Royal Academy Schools in 2005, Tuck has been in numerous group exhibitions including the prestigious BP Portrait Award exhibition and Artistic Vandals II, which featured former graffiti artists who had gone on to become Fine Art MAs.
Now Tuck has found success as a painter, does he ever don a hoodie and make a public nuisance of himself with a spray-can anymore? “Well, I got an ASBO for it a couple of years ago…” Tuck laughs, “So I haven’t done since then.”
Next on Tuck’s to-do list is to take his work to America. “I’ve been talking with a gallery based in Paris — who are opening a space in Miami — about the possibility of a solo show early next year.”
Tuck’s paintings are slick in their making and quick to the eye, and there is no doubt that they can stand alone in a solo show. With his expert brushwork and eye for an iconic image, this is surely only the start of something fantastic.
Will Tuck’s work was at Carter & Gallagher, 22 Upper Grosvenor Street, London W1K 7PE, in 2007.