In preparation for his upcoming exhibition at Nelly Duff, ‘xEnso’, Xenz sat down with Nelly Duff to discuss all things aviary, circular, and bird-feeding!
ND: Could you talk about the evolution of your style of work over the years? You have such a recognisable manner, were you doing similar natural/landscape works when you began painting?
X: It started with tagging as a teenager in the late 80s early 90s. Just writing my tag on everything. I wrote sense. I started painting with a crew which was basically a couple of mates and I was the guy who did the concept or the backgrounds. The scenic bit that made all the graffiti pieces sit together in one picture. These were often sky scenes or landscapes. It was Over the cold winter months when I would work on canvas or produce more drawings than murals. Eventually, the details that I enjoy painting in these murals made their way into my canvases.
ND: This is your first show at Nelly Duff, what do you think it is about exhibiting at Nelly Duff that works well with your pieces?
X: I love the location. It’s proper East London. Really quaint. I love how you fit all the work in to the beautiful Georgian building. One added advantage is the gallery being located on Columbia road where the flower market every Sunday brings people to the area who didn’t expect to be going home with a piece of art as well as some flowers.
ND: You’ve titled the show ‘xEnso’, could you talk a little about the meaning of the show and what you are trying to achieve with the new works?
X: Well. The title combines my name with my concept. Enso is a zen practice of painting a circle usually in black ink in one or two brush actions I kind of took this and broke the rules a bit. Hence adding the letter x, mainly because I used to write xenzo.
I chose to work on circular surfaces for a large section of this show because I wanted to enhance this feeling of discovery. Like when you see a bird for the first time and don’t know what it’s called. But nevertheless, you feel enchanted. The circle tells a story of how everything is dependent on something else to continue its existence. The circle of life. I like how this series has a very Victorian exploration feel to it. Like these are paintings from a mission to find a lost world.
ND: The idea of creating circular works seems to really fit well with the natural/landscape themes in your artworks, have you done many circular pieces before?
X: I made one print which experimented with the idea that it had no top or bottom and called it going round in circles.
ND: Although the majority of the pieces for this show are original artworks, there are two prints being released as well. As a painter, what is it you like about creating printed editions of your artwork at Nelly Duff?
X: Well I spent 7 years doing applied arts and textile design so I trained myself in all different print processes. I love making editions in traditional processes like etching wood block or silk screen. The little mistakes are what make it. There’s a real human element to the finished prints. It’s a dying art in the digital age. They are like unique pieces in themselves. I like that fans of my work can own a pice that fits their budget and also now we can make superb quality prints of some of my paintings this also give more access to my work and helps support the production of more originals.
ND: Most of the creatures in your paintings are either tropical birds or butterflies, is there a reason you lean more towards them as preffered subjects?
X: Mostly it’s about fantasy and capturing something ethereal. I try to visit tropical places jungles mountains and environments that are as far away from my normal existence in a concrete jungle as possible. I believe inspiration should be experienced. Not just a picture on a screen. This is why I paint mostly from memory.
I was in Jamaica and I visited a bird sanctuary run by some rastas. There were so many different birds it was truly amazing but something happened here that would change my work forever. As I sat holding a small bottle of nectar I heard this whistling sound and a lot of commotion amongst the other birds… That was the sound of “the doctor bird” the national symbol of Jamaica. It’s a hummingbird that grows these long tail feathers which I imagine make that whistling sound! this bird literally had to fight its way through all these other birds that wanted to attack it. It landed on my finger and began to feed from the bottle. It was mesmerising like I’d been visited by an angel. A magic moment.
ND: We know there are a few, but if you had to, what would be one work you would keep for yourself from ‘xEnso’?
X: Turquoise dreams.
‘xEnso’ will be on show from 2nd-8th November at Nelly Duff, with a private view from 6pm-8.30pm Thursday 1st November – all welcome!