Interview: Post-Punk Legend & Bunnyman Will Sergeant Presents “My Own Worst Enemy”

A number of years back, Art Brut released a song whose catchy chorus went, “Modern Art. Makes Me. Want to ROCK OUT.” As a guy who religiously visits the Duchamps room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art whenever I go back East, this sentiment is not lost on me.

Later this week, like Eddie Argos and myself, you too can rock out to Modern Art by a legendary rocker, as starting May 18th (through June 16th, 2012) Will Sergeant, from the Liverpool post-punk band Echo & the Bunnymen, will be showing his artwork for the first time ever in the U.S. at the Substrate Gallery in LA.

In a show that blurs the line between art and music cheekily titled, “My Own Worst Enemy,” Mr. Sergeant will be exhibiting his work here in Los Angeles directly from the Penny Lane Gallery in Liverpool.

In addition to the current and previous exhibition, he also participated in Mr. Brainwash‘s L.A. Art Show in 2011.

His work has been receiving a lot of praise from this venture into another side of the art world and his pieces are in collections from Australia to the States to Brazil to all over the UK and beyond. More photos of Will’s work can be seen here.

I recently contacted Mr. Sergeant to ask him a few questions about the show and his entry into the realm of visual art, and his responses were graceful and sincere. Enjoy…and see you at the Gallery.

1. Has painting long since been a passion of yours or has this been a recent exploration?

I have always dabbled with some form of art just for the joy of it. Mainly in the sound realm, but painting and drawing have always been something I have done and I will always want to do. I like to make things, but most things I have made over the years have just ended up in the trash.

I started taking the whole process a lot more seriously around 2002 when I was a visiting fellow at Liverpool art school. It was a way to ease my mind of the stress of being in the same band for 30 years.

2. Either way, can you recall what may have sparked your muse?

I have no idea why I bought my first proper canvas. It may have been self preservation but I’m not sure.

3. What does the medium offer you expression-wise that you couldn’t potentially express in a song?

The thing I like is the relationship between Freedom and Restriction. This is reflected in some of the art and also in the techniques I use. I like the freedom of expression of just getting paint on the canvas and seeing where it may lead, almost in an automatic writing kind of way. But as the painting develops, I lead it more and my subconscious mind is taken over by my conscious mind. This way I have my thoughts and ideas at the front of the picture and the original traces that have helped the piece on its journey as impressions in the background, adding depth to the work. This process is very similar to music. The first ideas come from improvisation and then it becomes more structured, so it’s all kind of the same really.

4. Your work interestingly blurs the line between different styles, with echoes of works by Rothko, Sigmar Polke, and Warhol but also aspects of street art…how would you “categorize” your work? Or are we potentially post-category and in new territory?

I don’t categorize myself.

I have come a long way in the short time that I have been taking the art side of my life more seriously. I have lots of ideas all the time so if something appears in my mind, I don’t think “wait a minute… I don’t do that”. I just do it and see if I like the results or not. I think everything is open to exploration.
I love screen printing and the magic of the instant imagery that you can achieve. I am not a very patient person, I like to see fast results.

I am obviously influenced by lots of things, not just art or artists. I like the artists you mention but I don’t obsess over them. I just try and keep it as natural as I can. I find the twentieth century a really interesting period in art. Things were changing fast. The abstract expressionists, the New York School and the Colour Field painters, the minimalists and the Soviet Russian painters Kazimir Malevich, Lissitzky and Rodchenko – those boys I like a lot.

This sort of Art is still held in derision with some people to this day. I find that very funny. I love the fact that people can get so upset by art. Never a week goes by in England without some artist getting ripped to bits in the media. If it upsets the squares, this makes me happy.

5. You’ve collaborated with street artist Mr. Brainwash. What’s your take on street art? Has its commodification “legitimized” it? Do you feel it should be considered “legit” or remain ubiquitous and anonymous?

I don’t really have an opinion on the legitimization of street art. It’s here, so some is good. Some of the comments on the world it makes are pretty valid. Other stuff like tagging, etc., not sure I get it. Your name is up on the walls of the city a million times…and?

Mr. Brainwash, he was kind enough to open his doors and let other artists show at his venue. Not many artists would let in rivals from all over the world. I think this says a lot about Mr. Brainwash and his heart and the genuine feeling he has for the art and artist in everyone.

6. How did that collaboration (w. MBW) come about and is it something you’d want to do again? If so, who would you want to work with, a “Dream Collaboration” (past or present)?

I’m not sure you could call it a collaboration. The Brainwash open house policy was brought to my attention by a friend in L.A., so with their help I grabbed the opportunity. I thought it was an amazing, surreal event with all the L.A. Street art filling his warehouse with some of my things on the walls, especially the screen print of my Dad on the last day of WW2. That made me smile.

I’m not really looking to collaborate with anyone but I would have liked to have been involved with the dada movement back in the very early twentieth century. I would have loved to have been at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. The dada movement and its ideas are still causing controversy today. People should realize they opened up the whole world of art. Without them, art would be pretty dull today. They were the original punks.

7. How have Echo & the Bunnymen fans responded to your work and “My Own Worst Enemy”?

The response from Bunnymen fans has been amazing. I have had nothing but good vibes. Lots of fans turned up in Liverpool at my first exhibition at Penny Lane Gallery. We had a great time.

8. Do you listen to music while you’re in the studio? What do you listen to when you work?

I do listen to music. I had my iTunes on random today and it came up with some gems including Van der graaf Generator Killer, Erik Satie. Gnossienne no 3 followed by Mouldy Old Dough by ‘Lieutenant Pigeon.’ I see this as a dada experiment by my Macbook Pro.

9. Is there anything you’d want people to know about this show that perhaps hasn’t been covered in the press?

All I say is maybe come and have a look. On the busy opening night it may be a bit crazy to take the art in fully, so please come back to have a proper look on a quiet day. And I hope you enjoy it.

My Own Worst Enemy” is showing at the Substrate Gallery, beginning May 18th through the 16th of June.