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Tristan Pigott BIG SOFTIE
"Big Softie"Courtesy Tristan Pigott

The artist taking the piss out of our self obsession

English artist Tristan Pigott shares his distaste for social narcissism through a series of abstract works that bring oil painting into the 21st century

Tristan Pigott is a trailblazer in the art of social narcissism and has gained a reputation for fierce commentary about self-documentation and distortion online. His body of work disturbs the tradition of choreographed oil painting portraiture by critiquing our own egotism and use of selfies and social media. By juxtaposing real life painting with surrealism, Pigott’s style denotes a satirical jibe at the narcissism of youth culture. Admittedly steering clear of selfie culture, and not ‘rating’ those who partake in it, Pigott isn’t afraid of voicing his dismay with millennial egocentrism. The awkwardness of the subjects in his work contradicts the filtered photographs we see so frequently, and this raw depiction of humanity is a welcome addition amongst a stack of rose-tinted images. The abstract composition of Pigott’s paintings, alongside detailed brushwork, looks to challenge the tradition and evolution of oil painting. Rather than follow the cultural zeitgeist, this artist lives by his own rules and brings a dated style of painting into the 21st century.

After graduating from Camberwell College of Arts back in 2012, Pigott has since gained many strings to his bow. His painting “The Cynic” was selected for the 2015 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and later he participated in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition for his still life drawing “Save the Cacti”. He will now head to Frieze New York festival in May with a group of young creatives and showcase some of his latest innovations. As part of the MTArt exhibition, Hyperion, Pigott will use a 3D printer to bring another dimension to his already highly esteemed catalogue. Made up of 15 pieces, he will track the movements of a fly, a banana, and its shadow as a comment on the business of art culture and fairs today. The artist maintains events such as Frieze itself are simply supermarkets for the rich, therefore, in true Pigott style, he will directly challenge the commodification of art through his own work. Here, we speak to the artist about narcissism and portraiture, youth culture, and what to expect at his upcoming New York show.

What would you characterise your artistic style as? What is your creative process?

Tristan Pigott: The artists I like are the ones you can’t pin down in terms of style, Ryan Gander being a good example. Unfortunately, I’ve looked at a lot of classical painters so my ‘style’ is fairly tight.

Trying to forget my style. I’ve spent three months on one painting before – which isn’t a great way to get ideas out. Lately I’ve been doing little things in mediums I’m not too familiar with, so they end up being a quick way of getting ideas out.

A lot of your paintings focus on the surrealism of everyday life. Why have you chosen to do this?

Tristan Pigott: I want my paintings to mock the importance we place on image and constructed personalities. I’m also interested in the cyclical nature of everyday life. Everyday actions such as eating and drinking mirror similarly habitual traits like arrogance and anxiety.

Playing with ego and narcissism in reference to portraiture gives them a satirical undertone.

“Everyday actions such as eating and drinking mirror similarly habitual traits like arrogance and anxiety” – Tristan Pigott

Tristan Pigott: I’m not a selfie-partaker, and don’t really rate people who are, but whatever gets you out of bed in the morning!

You mention the importance of performance and action in your work. What is the role of the sitter, and the looker?

Tristan Pigott: Action tends to provoke an interpretation, as opposed to objectification, of the subject within their surroundings. Neither has a role beyond whether the viewer is willing to partake in looking.

Why do use oil painting and still life? And how do you bring it into the 21st century?

Tristan Pigott: I want my work to question the relevance of painting. This objective is explored in “Museum Quality Piece of Shit” – a painting depicting a Nokia 3310 surrounded by flies that is replicated with a real Nokia and live flies placed next to it. The piece comments on our innate habit to collect items, even those that have little or no functionality, whilst a consumerist culture encourages the throwing away of technology despite its usefulness.

What is the relationship between digital art and more traditional art processes for you?

Tristan Pigott: Digital art can tell the same old narratives in new ways. But what I find interesting about it is how aspects of authorship can be blurred on the Internet. For something like 3D printing, questions of what part of the process is most valuable occur. Such as is the memory stick with the files of CAD drawings more important than the finished article?

Tell me about your upcoming project in New York during Frieze. What have you got planned?

Tristan Pigott: I’m showing a few works in the MTArt show Hyperion one being a triptych of paintings using a 3D printer called Dead Bananas. Each painting shows gestural brush marks suggesting the visual form of a fly, a banana and its shadow. Made up of 15 pieces, it can act as a jigsaw; it’s a comment on painting today and the art market. Art fairs like Frieze being a good example. They’re supermarkets for the super-rich where the commodification of art has transformed them into toys. You’ll be able to play with my toys though. I’ve also made a maraca out of a banana with a fly painted on it that can never be shaken off.

As part of a collective, how do you navigate collaborating with other creatives?

Tristan Pigott: I’m super excited to be going to New York with these other artists (such as Walter & Zoniel and Scarlett Bowman), it’s a good way of being kept on your toes – everyone’s always doing such different strong work.

In terms of collaborations, I haven’t actually done any yet, I’m always happy to do some scribbles on anyone’s work…

See more from Pigott here. MTArt will present Hyperion during Frieze New York 2016, 6 – 10 May