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Hetty Douglas, Screw
Artwork by Hetty Douglas

The British painters unafraid to fuck with tradition

Hetty Douglas, Alfie Kungu and Joe Clarke subvert everything we think we know about painting. Ahead of their joint London show, the trio tell us what makes them tick

Hetty Douglas, Alfie Kungu, and Joe Clarke are three artists pushing the medium of painting not just forward but in all different directions. All in their early 20s, the trio will unveil new works at their joint exhibition, Screw, this Thursday at London’s Republic Gallery. While they tell us that the show’s title is open to interpretation, it’s the perfect word to describe the disruption currently occurring amongst the city’s creative scenes. An antidote to a system that seems set in place just to let us down, young people are screwing with and dismantling the structures set – and guarded – by previous generations. Whether that’s two-fingers up to art school, independently starting their own gallery spaces or magazines, or changing the expectations of something as age-old as painting.

As a group of artists equally unafraid to fuck with tradition by using a melting pot of methods, styles and influences for their work – from relationships that live and die in London nightclubs to a love/hate relationship with graffiti writing – Douglas, Kungu and Clarke redefine how we interact with the canvas... or whatever base it is they choose to run their brush across. Ahead of the show’s opening, we spoke to each of them to find out what makes them tick.


24-year-old, Nottingham-born, south London-based, Hetty Douglas, takes our preconceptions of what painting is and clashes it with modern romance musings such as, “Ur peng!” – which is scrawled across the canvas in black spray paint. Her words – now signature to her work – feel like they’ve been added in the heat of an emotional moment. No stranger to tapping into honesty and her own past experiences, she reveals, “I struggle to make work unless it’s coming from a personal experience/emotion that I’m feeling at that time of creating.” In Douglas's new work, painting becomes an outlet for recent reflection and she admits to confronting memories and experiences that her canvases haven’t yet seen.

What’s behind the name of the show, Screw?

Hetty Douglas: We wanted something playful that represents us; We all have an element of liveliness that connect our work – whether it be colours, the medium or process. I think (the word) ‘screw’ can also suggest thoughtful, abrupt and harsh connotation. And personally, I’m always ‘screwing’ so it’s relevant.

Why have you chosen to exhibit together rather than individually?

Hetty Douglas: I think our work is going to bounce off of each other really well, I’m excited to see our paintings mixed with digital work and sculpture, I think all of us have new work that’ll be seen for the first time at the show so we are all equally as excited as each other!

How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?

Hetty Douglas: Using predominantly acrylic, spray paint and oil on canvas/perspex my work explores the complexities of meaningful and superficial relationships and trust, what does this mean to us? The abstract work challenges why we use stereotypical uses of words/colour/mark making to represent certain themes.

How important is it to place personal experience, whether your own pleasure or pain, into your work? And that said, how easy or difficult is that?

Hetty Douglas: It’s so important, I struggle to make work unless it’s coming from a personal experience/emotion that I’m feeling at that time of creating. It can be hard if it’s coming from a place that you don’t necessarily want to explore or think about, which I tend to do in my day to day life. It is a weird mix/balance of emotions, I often leave feeling sad but happy with what I’ve made... if that makes any sense?

Can you tell us more about your choice of colours? Some of the newer paintings are seeing more blue and less pink.

Hetty Douglas: I think I’ll always use pink in my work but recently I’ve been trying to work with more clashing colours that are maybe harsher and more strict than softer pinks/pastels. I’m probably just a lot more moody recently (laughs).

Did you study art formally and how important do you think an art school education is?

Hetty Douglas: I studied illustration, which wasn’t enjoyable… I moved here to study when I was 18, straight from college, and I’ve always regretted not doing a foundation (like my mum told me to). If I had I’d of definitely studied a different BA to illustration. Art school educations are important for building confidence about your work I think? It’s hard me to comment on because sometimes I wish I’d of studied fine art but also I’m glad I didn’t, I’m happy with the work I’m making and the way it’s progressing so I don’t have many regrets.

Do you think this generation of painters, or even just artists, has any particular responsibilities?

Hetty Douglas: To be kind to each other and not talk shit on each other; to support and stimulate each other; to not be selfish; to be giving and open; and to invest more time into seeing work in person.


Soon-to-be 23-year-old, Alfie Kungu, (his birthday is tomorrow) who grew up in Yorkshire and is now based in Bristol, met Douglas through Instagram and Clarke at University – although he’ll tell you a more dramatic tale (below). Selected as one of the New Contemporaries 2016, his work is playful and energetic – combining ‘childlike’ figures with traditional methods as he toys with identity. He explains, “I deliberately don’t give my figures gender or race because I feel that my work relates to a range of people – especially people of my generation – but I do think identity is very important, and I feel like I’m able to express some sense of my own through my work.”

What's behind the name of the show, Screw?

Alfie Kungu: Because it’s fundamental to the display of our work, and we wanted something ambiguous.

How did you meet each other?

Alfie Kungu: I fell into a river and then Joe tried to save me but began to drown as well until Hetty arrived on a speedboat and plucked us both from the water.

Why have you chosen to exhibit together rather than individually?

Alfie Kungu: I decided to get involved because I’m interested in both Joe and Hetty's work. I think they are both exciting artists, so I’m looking forward to seeing how are styles will work. I feel that together we are able to communicate and represent a bracket of young British artists.

There's a lot of brand iconography in your work “Legs”. What does this mean to you, and what relationship do you think these brands have with your identity and the identities of others?

Alfie Kungu: Yeah, it's something that really inspires me; symbols, branding, and logos are something you see every day and through my work, I want to show my perspective of the things I see. And yeah – it also heavily ties into identity and subculture. I like painting things I see and enjoy from real life.

What drew you to focus on legs?

Alfie Kungu: I just found it a unique viewpoint to view a painting from. It's also down to how I initially intended to display them, I wanted to create standing paintings a “crowd” of my legs that you can walk amongst.

What is the relationship between the internet and your art? And why is exhibiting IRL so important to you as an artist?

Alfie Kungu: I think the internet is an invaluable platform for artists to connect and find work. However, I think it’s massively important for people to see my work in person because the feeling you get from seeing it in the physical is very different than online. There is a lot a painting has that you don’t notice when its just a flat digital image, and for me, texture is crucial to my work, so seeing in person is much better.


22-year-old, Kent-born, south London-based, Joe Clarke, mixes media to create work that feels multi-dimensional. Finding a middle ground between installation and fine art, he also subverts any first impressions that his work is street art, telling us below how far removed his work is from graffiti. While admittedly borrowing elements from his spray-can wielding contemporaries, instead Clarke turns this influence into something that he describes as “surreal”, featuring a mixture of technological references and design influences. A long-time admirer of both Douglas and Kungu’s work – albeit from an online perspective – he is also curating the show. He says, “It‘s important to display work in different environments with different artists,“ Clarke explains. “A diverse group can engage a wider audience.”

Why have you chosen to exhibit together, rather than individually?

Joe Clarke: A solo show will be coming in the near future but I wanted to exhibit collaboratively first. I really enjoy curating projects and shows, it's great to be working with two talented and enthused artists.   

Your work takes inspiration from graffiti, can you tell us how it feels to take a traditionally street art aesthetic into a gallery?

Joe Clarke: I don't find graffiti inspiring, it's very repetitive. I use material associated with graffiti and often paint walls, as I like working large scale and putting my art in public spaces. My studio practice informs wall work and vice-versa, but this new body of work is far detached from graffiti.  

Your Instagram shows that you experiment with lots of different media – light, graphics, walls etc. What is the most bizarre medium you have experimented with in the past?

Joe Clarke: Skin. The works of Donna Huanca really fascinated me, her project “Polystyrene Braces” (exhibited at Art in General in New York) particularly. I want to work with you Donna if you're reading this. 

Are there any everyday acts of creating that you believe translate as art?

Joe Clarke: A lot of everyday life can inform work in some way, places you go and people you see effect mood which ultimately impacts what I create.

Why are collaborative shows like this important to you, especially when your work is all so different?

Joe Clarke: I think at times you can achieve more when working collectively than you could in isolation. You can share ideas through collaboration, and it's good to support one another. Personally, I make things to exist in a gallery or a public space, outside the confines of the studio. It's important to display work in different environments with different artists, a diverse group can engage a wider audience.

Screw will open at the Republic Gallery in London on Thursday 15 December at 6pm 6pm on 15th December, it opens 16th – 20th from noon to 6pm