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Frank Rannou - 'Claire'

We Are All Prostitutes

Guy Denning on his collaboration with Frank E. Rannou and why sexual politics, temptation and exploitation influence their work

An Englishman and a Frenchman walk into a bar, and suddenly we are all prostitutes. The first man, a Bristol-born, controversial self-taught urban painter and well-known figure on the UK art scene, has been touring Europe and the US with shows focusing on as different subjects as 9/11, the martyrdom of Joan of Arc and, more recently, a trilogy based on Dante’s Divine Comedy (the last part of which, ‘Paradiso’, will be divinely gracing London this autumn). The second, kept close under the media’s eye and well established in his native land, already snatched commissions to paint the French Rugby and Football teams.

I was invited to show some large drawings and do a street-piece with the Crimes of Mind team in Brest last year. At the opening of the exhibition Frank’s work was the first thing I noticed in the gallery. We've stayed in touch since, drinking, smoking and talking Franglais art-bollocks

These men are Guy Denning and Frank E. Rannou, and ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ is the final consensus of their meeting, and the new exhibition opening on the 27th of January at Signal, coming together with expressive, furious brushstrokes and faces drenched in raw emotion, all spiced up by Rannou’s sensual interpretations of sadness and Denning’s feral political and social undertone. While the focus can be on exploitation, temptation and our own compromised integrity, when we speak to Denning about his work, opinions and motivations we discover why the message, that's entirely up to YOU. 

Dazed Digital: The title of the expo is a song from The Pop Group, right? Why did you decide to use it, and what does the band mean to you?
Guy Denning: With the current economic situation in mind it seemed particularly appropriate. It’s like we’ve been shipped back thirty years to the onset of the Thatcher years. All the crap we struggled against politically then and since seems to be back with a stinking vengeance. This song came out of that time and it seemed appropriate to dust it down and remind myself of it.

I love that Bristol has its own particular musical heritage that the city has never been particularly noted for in the same way as perhaps Liverpool or Manchester. Bristol doesn't seem to spend time trumpeting its cultural success - it just seems to get on with making it. When you track back musical relationships from modern groups though, you’ll frequently bump into a reference to Mark Stewart or The Pop Group. Personally I discovered them through the On-U Sound System. I agreed with their sentiment and the music was fresh and made you move.

DD: Do you agree that, as the song goes, “everyone has a price”? Are we all really prostitutes, are we “hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites”?
Guy Denning:
 I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has never had to make a compromise in their life to get by. And generally, whether we like it or not, it’s only the compromises that enable most people to achieve their personal aspirations. It might not be a financial price but somewhere along the line you have to make a bargain you’d prefer not to.

DD: How did the two of you meet?
Guy Denning:
 I was invited to show some large drawings and do a street-piece with the Crimes of Mind team in Brest last year. At the opening of the exhibition Frank’s work was the first thing I noticed in the gallery. We've stayed in touch since, drinking, smoking and talking Franglais art-bollocks.

DD: You have different artistic approaches, and diverse political and intellectual views – why did you decide to work together, and how did the process go? Was it a match made in hell or heaven?
Guy Denning:
 There’s integrity in Frank and his approach to painting; there’s no art dogma. The friendship started through me encouraging him that he didn't have to go down avenues that other people were advising him. I’m not a guru or anything – I’m just agreeing with what he already wants to do and hopefully encouraging it. I like to talk art-turkey with artists that don’t do what I do. It’s more rewarding working with people that have a different outlook. I might learn something.

DD: What’s your take on sexuality, exploitation and temptation? Why did you decide on the theme of sexual politics, integrity and desire?
Guy Denning:
 Sexual politics have always been an underlying thread in my work. I haven’t just decided on that subject for this set of work. Every painting and drawing is a self-portrait. Art is thinking out loud and the viewer gets to see it. I might try and subdue the potential excesses of my thoughts sometimes – there’s a compromise for you... made for the benefit of the sensibilities of an audience.

I can’t escape sexual politics, temptation and exploitation. Can you? Who has suffered in the chain of supply that feed your choice of what you consume? Who do you look at and desire but stay respectfully silent about while your head simultaneously constructs the bizarrest fantasy? Are you tempted? Who do you watch?

DD: What’s the story behind the expo, and what are you trying to transmit through it?
Guy Denning:
 There’s no single message. An audience is too diverse and intelligent to thwack around the head with some kind of didactic, one-size-fits-all, agitprop ‘message’. They’ll pull what they want from the pieces that strike them individually. If I can move someone emotionally I consider it success of sorts.

DD: The faces in the works seem like they are trying to fight something. Do you share the same fight? Are they real faces or imagined ones, are you exorcising someone's demons, or your own?
Guy Denning:
 Some of my faces are real people – but most of them are modified to a point where the emotion in the work is approaching a place I’m at while working with it. So in that sense they’re all emotional self-portraits. The work is all very personal so I’m very grateful that people want to take this self-indulgent stuff on board and put it in their homes.

DD: What does the future hold for you?
Guy Denning:
 More and stronger work I hope. Despite the tobacco, wine, coffee, lack of exercise and other shabby lifestyle choices I’d like to think I’ve got a few more years in me yet. 

Guy Denning & Frank E. Rannou: "We Are All Prostitutes", 26th January to 18th February at Signal Gallery, 32 Paul Street, London EC2A 4LB