GLASS, GOLD & SHAPING THE MOULD: IN CONVERSATION W/ ALEX MAY HUGHES

Gold Fanatic, Simpsons Enthusiast, Lager connoisseur, battle cruiser peruser, Ealing Native, Sign painter and me old friend Alex May Hughes’ been puttin’ in the graft with her distinct style of Gold based artwork for a hot minute. From her humble beginnings pumpin’ out premium products from her bedroom to being a fully fledged and full time certified sign maker. Commanding widespread accolades for her synonymous style and chracteristic creative direction.

Alex has taken a desire to do what she loves into a respectable career with out compromise. Affordable sentimental commissions for a lovers gift to their significant other to independent and large scale art exhibitions in the corporate sphere. Her work transcends the world of artistic commerce, while vehemently retaining it’s artistic integrity. So much so that I decided it was about I caught up with her to chew the fat about her early life, entry the Art world, the transition into to her full time career, her attitude towards and interests in the broader realms of Art – and the culture that surrounds it – and a general otherwise deeper insight into who she is and what informs the work she does.

Here’s what we discussed when I span down to her studio in West London:

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T: When you consider that most young people pursue creative endeavors of this kind are in east or south. Why did you decided to stay in West – more specifically your native borough of Ealing?

A: Yeah. Well, I did my degree at LCC and I lived in South London; which was really fun, and good, and cheap. Close to school, close to everything which I enjoyed. And then the guy I was going out with at the time went and lived in North – just off of Green Lanes – Which was wicked; amazing Turkish food which was absolutely bangin. You wake up in the morning and it smells like the most incredible Lamb and think “yeah I’d eat that for breakfast” *laughs*. So I lived up there for a bit and that was good, but it didn’t pan out so I moved back home….

ealing-broadway

A: …I thought oh my life’s a mess what am I doing… But, what it did mean I could do was not have to worry about rent, I didn’t have to go and get a shitty job that I didn’t want to do. So, I just started painting signs and I could go just do that non-stop for like 16 hours a day working out of my bedroom.

T: So this all started in your bedroom…

A: In my small bedroom; which I’m still in now,… *laughs*. I use quite a lot of chemicals and stuff like that, and thought ‘ah yeah this is fine…’ and then after a year and half I started to lose my mind a bit. *laughs* Those chemicals give you a really bad headache and I never stop working..

T: So you were feeling the effects *laughs*

A: Eventually yeah! *laughs*. Then I started to turn down work because I ;literally didn’t have the space to make it, and it occur to me that maybe I could work in a studio or something like that. But I didn’t think I’d have enough money for that, and didn’t really have a grasp of what it might cost. In West London it’s prominently residential – people wanna live here. Where as in East, South or even North there’s more artist communities. But I typed it into Google and in North Acton there’s some artist studios but they’re about 8 or 9 hundred pounds a month. But they were in beautiful community building with parquet floors, but I thought ‘I dont’ need that… I’m gunna ruin that!’

T: But that would’ve the quote unquote “artist community” that you were looking for…

A: Yeah they had screen printing facilities and all this other stuff, and in theory that would be great… but who are the people that are there that can afford to pay £800 rent and £800 on there studio… Like how do you a make living off that?! And then this place came up which is with a place called ACAVA and they have places all over London – and now outside of London because they recognise that empty buildings in London aren’t really a thing anymore. They basically just wanna make it really affordable for people to do this as they job.

T: So, that’s there mission?

A: Yeah it was setup by this guy Duncan Smith in the 70s – he’s a proper old man artist.. Long white pony tail…

T: Is he balding??? *laughs*

A: Errgh… *laughs* He always this grey baker boy hat…

T: So yeah probably balding then… Sorry I’m just trying to put an image to the name init… *laughs*

A: Yeah he’s proper artisty. But yeah, in the 70s there all these empty buildings in London I think they just thought ‘Let’s just start putting artists in them’. Anyway, this building came up and I thought I’d check it out, and I literally walked in thought ‘100% yes!’. A big room with big bright windows..

T: And a durable floor.. *laughs*

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A: Yeah a floor I don’t have to care about, a short bus ride away from where I live. And now I’ve been here 2 and half years. Fingers crossed it doesn’t get shutdown, or taken away from me, or nobody burns it down…

T: For insurance purpose.. Duncan get’s a bit fuckin’ desperate *laughs*

A: Nah more people are careless. Health and Safety in Perivale industrial estate is not a priority. I’ve guys park where they shouldn’t and I guy with a forklift will come and pick their car…

T: Rah, they’re ruthless round here! But that basically explains why you stayed in West. Cheap and close to home.

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-The lawless streets of the Perival Industrial Estate. Mind ya motors folks…

T: So let’s roll it back… Where you into Art, or typography or Comic Books as I kid. Obviously deeply into the Simpsons.

A: Heavily into Simpsons. From the get go always…

alex simpsons 2

simpsons-gold-paintings.jpg

homer-simpson-dumpsville-painting

-Two-Two Simpsons Selections from Alex’s archive

T: Did you have the books. There’s on in particular that I had but I can’t remember what is was now…

A: Bart Simpsons guide to life?

T: Yeah!!!

Bart-Simpsons-Guide-to-Life-A-Wee-Handbookbart_simpsons_guide_to_life_1502595699_1c99db9ebarts

A: Yeah that was the shit that I loved which was cool.

T: Cartoons in general or were you just a fanatic about the Simpsons?? Biker Mice from mars fan??

A: Nah Cartoons in general. And Yeah, really into Biker Mice From Mars. Really into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… I had an older brother and a younger Sister so it was all spanning all the time. SO had to watch what everybody wants to watch…

Simpsons_cast

turtkes

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-Classics. If you don’t, I beg you get to know at your earliest convenience, still…

T: Were you drawing stuff.. Where you that kinda kid?

A: Yeah I think so, always drawing stuff and in school that was my favourite thing to do.

T: Where you good at drawing coz I always have this discussion about Art and School and whether you bothered doing in year 10 and 11 when you chose your subjects was pretty much determined by how well you could draw. It’s pretty narrow. I’m not sure if that’s changed…

A: I guess so. But there’s lots of people who were like ‘Argh I can’t draw…’ But there’s different types of drawing and Artistic drawing is different to just being communicative…

T: But don’t you think that in school what more like...

A: Tracing shit…

T: Yeah there was no abstract Art in year 8 and 9…

A: No, well… maybe unintentionally *laughs*. But yeah I think I had good teachers and I enjoyed it so i put an effort in and kinda snowballs.

T: Do you consider what you do as “Art”? Coz you do Typography for the most part…

A: It’s a weird place to be. I mean when people ask me what my Job is I don’t go ‘ Oh I’m an Artist’… Who the fuck does that?! *laughs*.

T: Wanka’s! *laughs*

A: *laughs* I just say go ‘I’m a signpainter’ because ultimately in it’s truest form it’s just a trade – you’re just providing a service for people. But I also do a lot of private stuff. So it’s weird. It serves a different purpose to lots of different people… I really don’t know because even within Sign Painting I do such a narrow bit of it. I mean I only really work on glass and with Gold Leaf and that’s just a really small aspect of it….

alex-may-hughes-up-to-something-sign

-One of many gold leaf signs from the earlier end of Alex’s the archive…

T: Staying on the topic of Art.. Are you actually into “Art”? Firstly like, contemporary Art – do you go to exhibitions and genuinely go to see the art? And if so what type? Coz, I mean it could be photography, Fine Art or whatever…

A: Yeah absolutely.. I went the national Gallery to see the Ed Ruscha exhibition coz his paintings are amazing and I’d never seen them in real life. I really like doing that a lot… And if I really wanna see the Art I won’t go on the opening night coz I’ll just get really pissed, talk to all my mates and not look at anything *laughs*.

T: So you do genuinely care about Art…

A: Yeah but I can’t stand the really protentiousy things that I don’t understand. I’m quite a literal person. I mean signs have got words on them, so you can read them and understand what it is.

T: Yeah there’s a lot of pretentious shit out there; particularly Photography exhibitions…

A: Sometimes I just don’t get it. I try to understand it, but if there’s no context with it so you can’t even try to work it I just get bored and go ‘I just don’t care what that is’… which is probably appalling. But sometimes someone will explain what it is and i’ll go ‘Ahh, that’s fuckin’ sick’. So, maybe I just need to spend time doing it, but also there is some really pretentious shit out there that I don’t care for much.

T: Who are you really rating though?

A: I mean the Ed Ruscha that I went to yesterday and his attitude towards it is kind of like the tradesperson thing. He doesn’t believe in prentencious shit or any of that stuff, and anybody that calls their artwork “peices” can just get the fuck out! *laughs*

T: *laughs* He’s anti!

A: Well he just does these massive paintings that have a historical and social context. And they’re usually just landscapes or an image with text on them. So they’re kind of literal, but abstract in their meaning.

ed ruscha work

ARTISTS WHO MAKE

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– Two-two artwork by man like ‘Ed Rucsha’

T: So like to being able to see it and take something away from immediately. Rather have someone give you an epilogue...

A: Kind of yeah. Maybe that’s just the terrible ‘Instagram Scrolling Syndrome’ where if you don’t get it you just keep scrolling…

T: Yeah, but I suppose some people like that. Like being able to peel back the layers, or the aspect of talking about it. So rather than the piece itself they primarily like the discussion… Like, those socialite art types…

A: Oh noooo *laughs*

T: Let them live obviously.. But that’s not you…

A: I just want people to come to my exhibitions and just like the way it looks. I mean sometimes I’ll have an idea or there’s a place where the words came from and if you wanna read into that that’s cool and you’ll get something from it hopefully. But also you just wanna look at the picture and go ‘That’s a nice picture, I like the way that looks’; I’m not gunna make you work hard for it *laughs*

T: Rolling on. Where did your obession with gold come from? Did the #GOLDPATROL predate the Gold Leaf work? Were you always you just deeply into gold??

A: *laughs* I was always really into it. But that’s not a new thing that’s like an Egyptian (hertiage) all spanning the history of the planet thing. It’s just deeply within you.. this finite resource which is just so attractive for so many reasons. So, I was always really into it and also when I was younger it was kinda fashionable – or maybe it kinda always been fashionable. I can’t make the call on that…

T: It comes in and out of Fashion…

A: Maybe it does, but the crassness kinda appealed to me when I was younger. I think it kinda had a renaissance for being cool or whatever. But the Gold Patrol, was before I had Instagram. So I was using Facebook as a fuckin’ blog, finding these random pictures on the internet and sharing them…

T: So you are deeeply into gold. This goes beyond the norm…

A: *laughs* I mean kind of. I got non-stop spam on insta of people sending me stuff. The people on instagram no! That and car number plates… You gotta be careful what put out there on the internet because people are non-stop sending me stuff.

T: *laughs* Well they must send you some stuff you like..

A: Yeah sometimes I get stuff and I’m like ‘yeah thanks’ and post it up *laughs*

T: So, back to your craft. What’s your favourite commission? I was reading some prior interviews and there was one the came up. But we’ll see if that matches to your favourite to date..

A: Was the drunk fish?

T: Yeah, is that still the one?

drunkfish-213x300.png-The Infamous and aforementioned Drunken Fish..

A: It was a really fun one… and it was a drunk fish. *laughs*

T: What was the reasoning behind that? The fish did look really drunk…

A: *laughs* Well it was for pub called ‘The Anchor Tap’ which is owned by ‘The Dark Star Bewery’ who also own my favourite pub in London ‘The wenlock’ in Old Street…

A:…Anyway, it’s on the way to Brighton and it had a sea theme, so they got another guy to do a big anchor and some other signs and stuff. Then Adrian the guy who was doing the design for it sent me that image of the fish and I was like ‘fuck that’s so sick,’ So it made a lot of sense it was really cool… Also, that was when I was still working in my bedroom and that was the biggest thing I’d made in there; I nearly didn’t take on the job, but I made it happen. I was like sleeping like half underneath it *laughs*. It was hard that one. But when I made it was yeah, now I need to go get a fuckin’ studio so I make something this big all the time…

T: So it came at a pivotal moment in your career…

A: Kind of, I mean coz it was so big I made more money. So I thought maybe this can be my job. It helped me to take it more seriously I suppose. But I finished a sign for an exhibition with 30 other sign painters from around the world and it’s based off a catalogue of a sign painting exhibition in the Victiorian times in London and this Meredith in American who’s a sign painting historian. She has a catalogue of what all the signs were of. So she put them into a spreadsheet and said all of you can pick one sign and you get to make whatever you want and I chose one that said ‘All The World and His Wife’. All of where really fuckin’ cool. Mad puns and really filthy shit.. So, I just finished making that and I’m really pleased with it.

T: I see what you mean about making stuff that looks good but has a theme that’s easy to digest. It ticks all the boxes. So if you had your own exhibition…

A: Yeah, I’d put that in it. I mean every two years I try do an exhibition and I’ve got a list on my phone; so if I see a cool word, or think of something cool or a song title, or whatever it might be… And after 2 years I got this fuckin’ long list that I haven’t made. So I just think shit, If I put on an exhibition I can just make stuff that’s on that list.

T: So when’s the next exhibition?

A: I mean I’m due one coz my last exhbition was like 2 years ago now. But i have to not take on commisions for a couple of months which I find very difficult; saying no to people. Some people it means a lot to them. When they’re like ‘My girlfriends loved your work for years’ and they wanna get them a present. How can I say no? I’m so grateful it’s my job…

T: So this exhibitions gunna be a while then…

A: We’ll see. I feel like if I had a month of just solid work I could do it this year…

You can check the full unedited and in depth 45 min audio podcast version available to down HERE and listen below:

POSTED BY: @TIMI.WATSONROSE

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