interview | ian davenport

In a generous move to provide support to the Arts, Swatch has become synonymous with creative innovation. With its Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, and now in its fourth year of partnership with Venice’s illustrious Biennale, Swatch champions the alliance between creative industries: backing both upandcoming artists and established art talents by providing a platform and support to artists the world over. This year, for the 57th edition of the Biennale, Swatch joined forces with an iconic British artist, Ian Davenport, for a two-fold project: on the one hand, the unmissable 14 metre long work, Giardini Colourfall, at the heart of the Venice park that plays hosts to a majority of the Biennale’s international pavilions. Davenport’s signature syringe colour-runs – over 1000 of them – come together in a pooling process on the floor of the pavilion, drawing spectators into a utterly captivating visual experience. On the other hand, quite literally – Ian Davenport created Wide Acres of Time, a limited-run watch as part of the Swatch Art Collection, a design which plays with the codes and distinctive colour-run practice of the artist. Schön! sits down with the artist to discuss his collaboration with Carlo Giordanetti, Creative Director at Swatch, and he gives us insight into his unparalleled understanding of colour and its haptic powers.

How has your experience of Venice been this year?

It’s such a colourful, splendid place. I came over with two assistants about two weeks ago to install the painting and they’ve never been to Venice. I think they both thought it’d be more like London: a bit of it would be really old and then the rest would be like a normal city. I showed them around a bit and they were totally overwhelmed. It’s amazing, really incredible. The night we arrived we went to St Mark’s Square and it had flooded, which was just extraordinary.

Your installation at this year’s Biennale, Giardini Colourfall, required five months of prep: how has the piece evolved? How did it come to be?

Carlo [Giordanetti] was actually at an opening of mine at Jelmoli in Zurich. He just asked me what other stuff I was working on. I told him I was working on a project in Venice – I’m still working on it, actually – trying to work on the outside of a public building, maybe a Palazzo or possibly a church. So we’d been looking at different options and he said ‘Oh, that’s a brilliant idea. Tell me more about it’.

Then I bumped into him at a museum in Milan where we started chatting again and he asked me how the project was going. I said ‘Honestly, we just keep hitting lots and lots of red tape’. He said ‘How would you feel about doing something for us?’ and I said ‘That’d be brilliant’.

And he said ‘I think you should just do something in a completely new way. Why don’t you start getting some new ideas together for a watch?’ So then I came to see him in December in Venice and I took some photographs, we looked at the Giardini space. We were kind of working out what I was going to do. The second I got off the plane, I ordered the metal straight away and from that day to pretty much this one, we’ve had a target to hit in terms of the timing. It’s been unbelievable.

So you’ve been developing the design for Swatch concurrently?

When I bumped into Carlo [Giordanetti] last March, I came back and I thought if we had to start designing watches as well as think about the painting. So, why don’t we just have a bit of fun? I’ve got this lovely art student who’s studying at Slate. She comes in half a day a week and she’s a big Swatch fan. I spoke to her about it and we started coming up with crazy ideas for watches.

So she came up with a few different ideas and none of them we really felt totally worked. I sort of realised that the watch needed to be much more about the face so I started thinking about how I might incorporate my work into the idea. That’s when I think it started to come together. Because I’m still doing liquid materials, which is a very sculptural approach to art making. My paintings are sort of in between sculpture and painting in a way. So this I felt was the right angle for me… When you do something like this you want to make sure that is reflective of your own work and that you feel comfortable with it, even if it looks quite nuts.

How did you come to start exploring colour?

For me, I was more interested in the process of materials to begin with in my career. Gradually, I’ve become more and more interested in colour. I think it’s such an intriguing thing; it’s so beautiful and so complicated. I think a lot of people talk about colour and there are a lot of books written about colour from a very scientific point of view that are quite dull, frankly.

Whereas I think colour is very seductive; to me, it’s a bit like food. Colour is also one way of making impact quite quickly, of drawing people in. We are biologically programmed to be seduced and drawn to colour. The billions years of evolution have made us like that and our eyes are fantastic; we’re such a successful species because we just fantastically pick out different modulations, tonalities and saturations of colour. I guess I’m no different, I am the product of that evolution and I’m drawn to it.

Do you think this design for Swatch will influence your process in the future?

Absolutely, yes. I’ve wanted to make some paintings along these lines but I have been so busy with lots of other projects. At the moment most of my paintings are made with lines of paint that have dripped down and then there’s either a section which is puddled or pooled at the bottom to create this dynamic between lines and something which is much more open. Whereas this is actually forcing your painting to a central place, into a central point. I just feel there’s something there that really excites me to explore so I’ll definitely [keep doing it].

Giardini Colourfall is on show at Venice Biennale until 26th November.
Ian Davenport’s Swatch Art piece Wide Acres of Time is available in Venice and from June 12th in select stores worldwide.

Interview / Patrick Clark
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