by Victoria Rivers
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An awake and lively mind, a creative mind, that seeks to generate ideas and reflections beyond the aesthetics of the work. An artist committed, and wild with his search.

Today we meet artist, Ant Hamlyn, (1993 Northampton, UK), who lives and works in London. His work presents us with an aesthetic statement, that fluctuates between thematic and materiality, a body of work that is currently “pollinating” galleries, salons and fairs around the world. His career is taking off, and his mind is already in the next galaxy.

Sculptural paintings, relics and installations. Let’s get to know this intriguing universe, that has only just begun to expand. 🚀

What’s your creative process like? What sparks an idea?

It’s usually something very benal that kicks an idea off, and it mostly always happens when I’m not looking for an idea. It can be the most insignificant thing that will trigger a thought. Also I get ideas from materials and material properties, finding the right material can spark such a metaphor or a feeling that I have to run with it. I will start with an idea and it might be a very very early little seed of a thing. I then get really excited and get carried away and I’ll work aggressively on that idea until I determine whether it’s a good idea in my eyes or not.

I’m very impulsive with getting things done, I don’t tend to think about it too much at first, then I finesse the essence of it as the work develops. If after some time of grappling with an idea it doesn’t fit. I’ll put it aside and work on a different one. Sometimes I get anxious when working in the sketchbook, my mind runs too fast sometimes and I find myself planning works years in advance. So recently I work less in the sketchbooks as I find it easier to work on things in a more organic way and use the sketch book for development as opposed to idea generation. My ideas will tend to be scribbled on my phone notes or on a receipt or on my hand.

I don’t like labels, but for me your work has performative character. I like the idea of naming your work as performative creations, putting poisonous plants between melamine glass. What is your thought on that?

I think I agree with you, I got this book about 10 years ago, ‘ Hiding the Elephant’, by Jim Steynmeyer. Its a history of 19th century stagecraft magic. It blew my mind. I’ve read it about 7 times.. I also studied drama and theatre studies before I went to University to study art, and went to LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), when I was younger. The stage, illusion, language, timing and performance have always lured me in. I think everything I’ve ever made is in a way a performance, I’ve always wanted my work to ‘animate’ in one way or another, because to be honest; it excites me. If I can get excited by the works I make, I find this creates an energy for the viewer as well. It’s like trying to choreograph a visual performance in a way, like theatre. The compositions are so meticulously created to take the eyes and mind on a journey through kinetic works that physically move, or works that play with scale or frozen movement.

Works that breathe, that have a life of their own, there is something intrinsic in all of them, something vital in spite of their material.

I think it’s to do with the passing of time, I think we are all aware of it. I certainly am. I’m constantly reminded of this movement of mortality, it was a major reason I decided to start making inflatable work. Like humans inflatables require a constant fuel to exist, they are vessels for not only air, but space and energy. My larger kinetic installations that move play with this idea, they replicate natural movement of blooming flowers or breathing life into a bouncy castle. For me they speak about fragility head on. It’s another reason why I choose to replicate botanicals. The tactile act of hand stitching, stuffing and squashing can either be seen as preservation or destruction. Similarly to nostalgia, on one side remembering a fond place or memory, on the other. Longing for a time that can never be replaced. I like the idea that my works have this melancholy twist.

Some of us believe that with hard work and perseverance, projects, people, the future and maybe success will come. Is that something you live by, and have in the back of your mind, in regards to your work?

I do believe that hard work is the key to any ‘success’ (whatever this means), and I do not believe there is an easy or simple way about it. Every opportunity that I have had, I am extremely grateful for and do not take for granted, similarly to the relationships I have built, both professionally and personally. Each project I have worked on I have poured everything into. If the outside world sees my work, It needs to be something I am proud of, so nothing will leave the studio unless I am at peace with it. Opportunities can come from literally anywhere, from major projects to people you meet down the pub so always having an awareness of this is a big element for me.

I believe everything worthwhile is worth the work and nurturing. I love my work, and I love working, scheming, dreaming and people (mostly). My work ethic is something that I am very proud of, and believe that it is a major factor in all opportunities that I have had so far. I get up really early everyday and try to work a strict 15 hours a day (obviously with days off). This isn’t nessacary what everybody should do, but for me I like the routine. Because I feel that this way I have been able to create habits, hone my craft daily and always feel ready when an opportunity arises. I also believe that you should aim to get very good at one thing. So I’m trying to do that, get blinkered, focused on my work and let everything else fall into place.

What is success for you?

Doing something everyday that I’ve decided to do and being my own manager. This did not come easily and I’ve had many jobs previously, so I am very humbled and grateful to be able to make art full time and I’ll never get complacent or take anything for granted.

One of the most common conversations I have, refers to the creative artist as a self-created 360° artist, who is funny, skilled, social and influential. A lot of work for one person.

If you decide that you want to do it, you’re in. In every sense of the word. I wasn’t taught this, I’ve learned this. All of this ‘other stuff’ should be seen as just as important; social media, interpersonal skills, learning about money. It has to operate as a collective ‘whole’ and I think you set yourself up to fail if you don’t understand this. But don’t put too much pressure on it, you’ve got to enjoy it and i think it comes easier if you’re enjoying it as it’s more genuine.

Do you think that the artist apart from creating his art, should think about strategy as well?

I used to think that if I just did loads of work then everything would come, but I have definitely developed a strategy over the years. It’s something I think that comes from a bit of experience and a few failures, for example as I’ve gotten more in tune with the way I work to deadlines, manage budgets, realise projects and self critique myself. It becomes easier to work out a strategy.

I would say that learning to dedicate my efforts to a body of work, and plan how this specific body of work is to be released and disseminated, rather than making random sporadic ideas, has been the most impactful element of my development over the years. I’ve also learned to seperate myself from my work sometimes, in order to give myself accurate critiques and reflection and to really think about what it is I am doing and not just churn out works without a direction or specific focus.

How do you manage it? Do you work on the idea, and plan the production? Does Ant have a team behind him?

I work on all aspects of the sewn works myself in the studio, I work on the design, planning and production. Each piece is a real labour of love. I hand draw, cut, stitch, stuff and squash each work from start to finish. I then have the wooden and acrylic parts externally produced CNC routed and laser cut. Then I assemble and stitch all the pieces in the studio. With the larger kinetic inflatable works such as BLOOM, CACTUS and SUNFLOWER CHANDELIER, I design the pieces and work with fabricators at all stages to bring it into reality and work with assistants for installation.

Due to the time taken to produce each piece, all aspects of the works require precise project management. Especially when I’m making multiple works for a solo show or a large public piece where I’ll work with interior designers, architects, builders and electricians. I’ve learned all this on the job. I think throwing myself into projects and working it all out as I go along has been an amazing learning experience. Yes, stressful…But when I think of some of the amazing projects I wouldn’t have done if I had not just gone head first into it, asked questions, and sometimes fumbled into realisation, it’s worth the stress.

The reality is that contemporaneity goes through cyclical trends. The interesting thing is when that trend is created by an artist and not the response to failures in the matrix; of the consumer society; I firmly believe that thoughts, art and everything that elevates the soul, makes its way despite any circumstance, what do you think?

I think whatever happens in life, people need art. Whether they realise it or not. People need music, theatre, visual art, writing, television, design. I think the pandemic was a perfect example of this, when we were unable to elevate the soul through social interaction, people turned to making, listening to music, live streaming theatre, learning instruments. Art cleanses the soul because it doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it too. It can be meditative, something that taps into the subconscious for no other reason than to remove us from the world for a little while.

We are so oversaturated with things, that when something “catches you at the first glance” it leaves a mark. Have you experienced anything lately, that has made you curious and wanting to know more?

My fiance and I have just got a puppy, a miniature dachshund called Pickle. She is a perfect, beautiful menace, so this is an amazing experience. I’m learning so much all the time about being a dog dad.

Right now your work is shown at the fair in Art Busan, Korea! With two Spanish galleries `Yusto Giner ́ and `Tuesday to Friday ́, then in Dubai with the `Volery gallery ́ and London with `Moosey ́! How are you living this moment? In terms of internationalization and projects?

It’s so exciting! They are all incredible people and galleries, and I’m so grateful for them and the projects I have the privilege to be working on. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, so when I see my works being shown and respected on an international scale it’s the best feeling there is.

And hey! Something super exciting, (a lot for me), is your next show in October, in Madrid! at Yusto Giner gallery! What is the concept of the exhibition? Do you have a scoop you can share with us, about that show?

Yes! I can’t wait for Madrid in October. The show’s working title is ‘Love, Death & Velvet’ and it will likely feature around 15 works of botanicals and fruits that speak of both love and death simultaneously. Hand stitched, stuffed and squashed. I suffered a family loss last year and have been fascinated at how flowers are given in both celebration and in grief. They are ever present in pretty much all aspects of human life. From birth to death their symbolism is rich with both historical and whimsical context.

Without giving too much away, the show will also have a focus on mythology and the symbolism behind the botanicals like strawberries and fly traps for example and the relation with aphrodite and venus, both goddesses of love whose stories are that of death. There will be some large spherical pieces, a newly developed sunflower work and a release of new miniatures. The introduction of the velvet as a material is also very exciting within this new show, velvet is traditionally used to symbolise items of extreme luxury and worth, often seen behind protective vitrines like the crown jewels or antique furniture for example, these items are protected for their intrinsic, nostalgic and historical value. By working with this material alongside high gloss coated fabric I am keen to further explore this context of nostalgia and protection against play and loss. Similarly to the context of the flowerpress, that at once destroy and preserve at the same time, the works are both a celebration and a critique.

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