Teaching Is an Art in Itself; Life Hannah Davies Speaks to Artist Mike Collier on Andy Warhol, Arts Bureaucracy and Getting Back to What He Does Best

The Journal (Newcastle, England), August 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

Teaching Is an Art in Itself; Life Hannah Davies Speaks to Artist Mike Collier on Andy Warhol, Arts Bureaucracy and Getting Back to What He Does Best


Byline: Hannah Davies

WALKING though dark corridors, streaked with unusual objects, a one-man tent, table football, discarded pieces of canvas and tools The Waygood studios on Shields Road, Byker, are how you'd imagine proper artists studios should be. A haphazard mixture of creativity and decay (the warehouse will be demolished shortly and the studios relocated).

But on arriving at Mike Collier's studio you are suddenly plunged into light and order. The whole studio is covered in trestle tables with thousands of soft pastels of every colour and size organised into neat little boxes according to shade.

Beautiful ordered pastel works are arranged on the walls, and a board of clippings and test drawings, an insight into his working methods.

Mike, 53, is the latest of the gallery's artists to display their work on the Harker Herald billboard. The studio's own poster space communicating their artists work to the thousands of commuters passing from North Tyneside into the centre of town.

"My work has a sense of place," Mike smiles, "my works are based on walks I've taken and about trying to communicate that experience."

This weekend Mike's piece, Birds of the Coquet Valley, will be displayed. Despite his Liverpool birthplace he has been based in the region for nearly 30 years and much of his work is inspired by experiences in the region. Mike, who is married to Liz, 52, gained a passion for art at school. He remembers: "I originally wanted to do architecture so, I did maths and physics A-levels as well, but I was rubbish at them and soon realised it was just the art I wanted to do."

Although his parents, both teachers, weren't discouraging they weren't hugely artistic themselves.

"My dad called himself a philistine," Mike laughs "but he could play the piano brilliantly by ear and we used to go to the Playhouse in Liverpool with my mother."

Mike went on to do an art foundation course in Liverpool before deciding to head to the capital to pursue a degree at the prestigious Goldsmith's University.

"I wanted to go there because I heard it was the best place to go. As simple as that really," he explains.

Mike was in fine company. Among his contemporaries was Anthony Gormley, creator of The Angel of the North and despite his chosen medium, painting, Mike became heavily involved with the postmodernist art scene flourishing at the time.

He was president of the New Contemporaries and was in charge of running the art school's annual exhibition. "The exhibition was then run by students for students," he recalls. "It wasn't an easy job and there was plenty of diva behaviour, people complaining about where their work was placed, that kind of thing."

What the job did was place Mike right in the middle of some of the most exciting art developments taking place in the world at the time. "That era was when post-modernism all kicked off really," he explains.

"Experimentation with different media, especially such as film and performance was really being investigated and extended. Things had developed from the 60s when people like (pop artist) David Hockney had been in Young Contemporaries."

Mike was passionate about these new art forms he expanded the exhibition for the first time to include, performance and video.

"It was quite difficult in a way as I was still working in painting, a more traditional medium. In fact there was quite a distaste about painting in some quarters but a lot of it is being revisited now."

Following university, and with bills to pay, Mike set about trying to get a job in an art gallery. He wandered into London's Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) gallery, to be told they didn't have a definite position but they needed a fortnight's work done. When he went to get paid he was asked if he could stay on a little longer. After around six months Mike ended up as the gallery manager. …

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