Well known in Bristol for his subversive, often tongue-in-cheek paintings, sculptures, and public commissions, Tapper (aka Ben J. Pollock), is one of the city’s most exciting emerging artists. Having recently accepted a prestigious post-graduate placement at Wimbledon College of Arts in London, we were keen to catch up with Tapper to find out more about him, his career so far, and the driving forces behind his work.
How would you describe your work?
Some colours. Some black and whites. Some objects for looking at.
I consider myself a surrealist.
At least the ideas are surreal. The execution of my work is generally not of that specific genre. The art usually consists of me trying to be clever, or figurative, and playing on reality, hopefully with both humour and depth. I’m shy but my work is often the opposite: Big; bright; pop; weird – often involving the subversion of popular themes. Most of my work is acrylic painting on board, but I regularly move into sculpture and play with the space between the two, as well as the occasional street-work, normally a paste-up or something similar.
Having studied Geology at university, how did you come to be an artist? And how does your scientific background inform/support your work?
Well, the need for expression was always there: I like practical gags; I like music making; I like talking nonsense about crazy ideas. Or designing something to make and then making it. My scientific studies were a manifestation of my interest in how things work, and the techniques involved in the manipulation of the physical world. The human condition of illogicality and emotion are what moves me to actually produce the work from these precepts.
Well that’s some introspection over and done with, in a very scientific manner!
The step to define myself as an artist and exhibit work was forced upon me 12 years ago when a friend of mine made me make some paintings in a particular style and hold an exhibition with him. I have a dry sense of humour. The technique of execution was simple and fixed allowing the viewer to read the subject or the message/play on words primarily, and allowing us to have ideas fast and produce them quickly. This in itself was the concept behind our first few shows. He unfortunately is unable to ‘make’ anymore, having become quadriplegic through Motor Neurone Disease, though I still often run ideas by him or look to him for encouragement.
You’ve created art in a range of mediums, from sculpture and painting to graffiti. What’s the most enjoyable aspect of your work?
Having the ideas is the fun bit. The production of the work is often tiring, boring, a nuisance, an expectation. Or simply a disappointment – probably similar for many artists, but the artists who love the ‘process’ are the ones I most envy.
Recognition from others is one of my driving forces so when art that is public is admired I find that hard to beat. The kick obtained from doing something illegal in the middle of the night is almost unbearable in my approaching middle-age, but possibly the most satisfying upon completion. Sculpture I think is naturally my strongest discipline, not a regular mode of work though for me as it’s easier to store, transport and display 2D work.
Looking back at artworks that I made in different frames of mind, or different stages in life is also enjoyable.
What’s the story behind the name Tapper?
Tapper is a pseudonym generally reserved for when I want work to be incognito. It came about during the execution of a work that involved sticking a painting of a tap with a stream of oil emanating from it to an M32 flyover support and then taking a photo from a car in the stationary line of traffic that overlooks said pillar. It was my first piece of graffiti and thus of relevance when figuring a name for working under a pseudonym.
Self-imposed, I liked it as it sums up the interface between the idea and the execution: One taps into a resource to extract information, one uses what one has, one has a mild fixation with actual taps and needs to sort it out.
Much of your artwork has a comic edge to it. How important is humour to what you do?
Everything in life can be viewed deeply, introspectively, analytically. Humour is a brilliant subversive tool for highlighting the serious side of existence whilst claiming not to, and acts as a coping mechanism in most things that I do. It appears in my work usually as a secondary effect—a quirk, as opposed to practical joking—providing an alternative layer to its comprehension. It is very important.
What has been the biggest inspiration to your work?
The work and/or ethics of the artists that got me into art: Mr Patrick Joyce; Banksy; Roger Hargreaves; Joseph Beuys. The good effects of cannabis, such as the belief that an idea is amazing, and the insight into other artists’ work that it affords.
Do you have any favourite pieces to date?
My favourites are never other peoples’ favourites, which is funny because reaction from people to my art is important to me. A painted cardboard sculpture called Brainy, exhibited in the Oxford Natural History museum, and the 2D portrait of the same person, Patrick the Humorist, have impressed me most.
The tryptich of works Blackspot, New Erection and Filthy exhibited on the St. Werburghs Community Arts billboard in Bristol because they were the most fun.
The self portrait, Le Coté Obscure, because it’s raw.
The tranquility and abstraction of Dartmoor, amongst the first handful of paintings I produced, holds a very special place.
And L’Escargot is one of the finest in my recent collection.
What are your artistic plans for the future?
Move to a new studio.
Attend the MA Painting course at Wimbledon College.
Give up plastering because I’m making more money painting.
Get more confident and come over all pretentious.
Produce a masterpiece that a rich art collector likes.
Maybe do some land art that you can see from the sun…
Don’t grow up, a bit like Picasso, but not like Picasso.
Use the paint medium to a greater degree, combining more techniques than I do at present to produce original compositions whilst still retaining the will to continue.
Get into installation.
Colour someone’s teeth in.
I may consider smells in the future, but I’m a smoker so that’s for a rainy day.
The smells shall be smelt, not looked at.
Those interested in Tapper’s work will enjoy the video he made for us (below) explaining the concept behind one of his most recent works, L’Escargot.
Explanations of the other artworks featured in this interview can be viewed here.
About the Artist
Tapper’s work is semi-conceptual, tongue-in-cheek, pop surrealist painting. Most works are acrylic on sculpted board and wall mounted. His scientific education and practical background have lent themselves to the more engineered finish of his objects/paintings, transending 2-D / 3-D thresholds.
To find out more about Tapper and view more of his work, visit his online portfolio.