(photo taken from Ocula.com)
This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with renowned artist Ashley Bickerton, who rose out of the famous 1980s East Village Art scene in New York. Now living in Bali, Ashley sits on a strong, expansive and eclectic body of work, and seems to live a rather peaceful life. I had the enormous pleasure of being able to speak to him one afternoon, though a 7-hour time difference meant it was 8am for me. I listened to the birds chirp in the background and the wind brush through the exotic trees. While I was trying to warm myself up on a cold October morning, I couldn’t have envied the tropical idyll, that he had the pleasure of calling home, any more.
While I interviewed him for this blog, we found ourselves talking about broad range of subjects, not limited to conspiracy theorists, recent Netflix viewings (Centred around the “Social Dilemma”), and the banality of evil, manifested in Mark Zuckerberg.
Prior to the interview, Ashley sent me a video of his most recent studio tour, made during the lockdown, which also contributes to this month’s post.
The post packs a lot of information, so I’ve split it into 4 sections as follows:
1. Preface: Discovery of Gray and “The Mysterious Ashley Bickerton” 2. Where worlds collide: Academia and Art
3. The Process of the Artist: Finding comfort
4. Surfing: The Sanctuary of the Sea
I’ve written it so each section can be read alone, but they follow a very loose linear structure.
This post is also a part of a much larger project, so there will be more to come.
Preface: Discovery of Gray and “The Mysterious Ashley Bickerton”
(Taken from Afropunk article on Gray)
This year I came across a band that has intrigued me like no other, Gray. Established at a party by artists Michael Holman and Jean Michel Basquiat, Gray is an experimental outfit. They deconstructed music; though it involved instruments, they weren’t central to the music. Instead they focused on the sounds and how they could be manipulated - how non-instrumental sounds could make music (One song revolves around the removal of masking tape from a drum snare, another around the single hit on a triangle). There are genres now dedicated to this kind of music, but in the 1980s, this was a genre of music far ahead of its time.
Basquiat died in 1988, but Gray lived on and continue to make music to this day, now a duet of Michael Holman and Nick Taylor; but their first album followed decades after their formation. “Shades Of…” is an 18-track album, released in 2010.
I was captured by their music, but I had their fourth track “The Mysterious Ashley Bickerton” on repeat for days, and I’ve still not grown sick of it almost half a year later. The song is an acid-lounge piece that backgrounds a transcontinental interview between a fictional French radio host, Louise Lazar, and eponymous Ashley Bickerton, who sits “on an island, somewhere in the Indian Ocean.” It ticked all the boxes for me, I had to learn more.
To learn more about the song, I was lucky enough to speak with Michael Holman himself, to talk about this song and ask how it came to be:
I remember being contacted by these two guys called the ambassadors. It would have been in the nineties; it was a project. It was music, political art, meaningful but not meaningful… the idea was to have a number of songs that were written, composed and recorded by well-known artists in collaboration with a well-known musician.
Holman mentioned some of the names involved in this project, including Boy George, Duggie Fields, and Brian Eno, who worked with visual artists such as Mark Quinn and Tracy Emin.
We had the great honour of this, Ashley Bickerton working with Gray doing “The Mysterious Ashley Bickerton”
Prior to this, Gray had been on an indefinite hiatus.
Gray had broken up when Jean left the band and became a painter. Then when he died in ’88, not soon after there was this Polish filmmaker that wanted to make a biopic about Jean. Then that didn’t really go anywhere. A few years after that Julian Schnabel wanted to pick that project up again and decided to make a film. I wrote the screenplay, and by ’96, a good 8 years later, we were shooting the film.
That film being the 1996 “Basquiat” that featured a legendary cast, including Jeffrey Wright, Gary Oldman and David Bowie.
So the remaining members of the band, Nick Taylor and Wayne Clifford got together with Jeffrey Wright, playing Basquiat, in a re-enactment of one of our Mudd Club gigs for the film. In the act of doing that, we were fiddling around on set and I was like “wow this still sounds really interesting.” I sort of twisted everyone’s arm to get back together again and make music - to be Gray again.
After their reunion, the band consisted of Michael Holman, Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford and Jeffrey Wright; but Wright soon left to pursue his career as an actor, and Clifford left not too long after that. It was after Clifford’s departure that they were contacted by the Ambassadors and created the song.
Holman explained Bickerton’s input was writing the interview questions and responding “yes” to the questions, something Holman believed was inspired by when Yoko Ono and John Lennon first met. Holman and Taylor worked on the music, a project that took 6 months and is, to date, the longest amount of time Gray have spent producing a song. The song was published in the Ambassador’s project “We Love You” in 1998, and was released in 2010 as the fourth track of “Shades Of…”
That story is important to tell this story: When I discovered the song, I was interested to learn about Ashley Bickerton and explored his artwork and his Instagram to find a man who was, amongst a plethora of adjectives, most certainly “mysterious.”
Yes, he was on an island, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, and that island was Bali. Not only that, he seemed to show two passions: one was creating mesmerising art that blended the mediums of sculpting, photography and painting, and his other was surfing. I soon got in contact with him and found myself talking to him on the phone.
We spoke early this October, and whilst he sat on the porch of his Bali home, overlooking what I imagined was some beautiful vista, I was sat in my living room, having just woken up, waiting for the heating to turn on; all the while asking him about Art and Life. It was soon apparent to me that the song I had been listening to for months had come to life for me.
Where Worlds Collide: Academia and Art
(Screen Capture from most recent studio tour, a part of the "Wall-Wall" series)
Living on various islands and tropics, not usually spending more than two years between each one, isn’t how the typical individual would recall their childhood memories. Upon hearing that, I judged Ashley Bickerton’s upbringing to certainly be atypical. His nomadic childhood to some of the world’s most beautiful settings was a result of his father’s academic ventures.
My dad was a linguist, studying creole and pidgin languages. Some would say he basically engendered the field of study... It was my father’s field research that led us all over the world, and we went to lots of places where they spoke English funny. We ended up speaking about 5 dialects of creole and pidgin - each one, in its thickest incarnation probably utterly incomprehensible to the next one. I mention that because it’s quite formative in my thinking of the world, my thinking about my place in the world and my understanding. My background is a bit of an outlier… My understanding of race is different to other Americans. Oftentimes I was the only white kid in my school.
Bickerton’s exposure to these different languages is most noticeable in his unique and remarkable accent, a blend of the various accents he says he “picked up along the way”.
Arriving in Hawaii at 13 (where the travelling would stop), Bickerton went to a school within a neighbourhood in Honolulu that was bequeathed to Hawaiian ancestry; finding comfort as an outsider and a “racial oddity” as a child, his integration with this community never proved to be an issue.
Unlike kids who came from the mainland and would automatically find their own, my brother and I immediately became friends with all the Hawaiian kids and started speaking thick thick pidgin. That was just what we knew growing up. It was kind of an anomaly because we still had pretty plummy English accents amongst us, but we’d speak thick Hawaiian pidgin with our friends.
Being interested in linguistics myself, we spoke about the effects of growing up with such a exposure to these creole and pidgin languages, equating it to a sort-of bilingualism (This was actually something his father had argued in his studies). From there, I was intrigued to learn if he’d ever noticed a relationship between his language acquisition and the creation of his artwork.
It’s always there. In the early days I did specifically word-pieces that came out of that. I did weird phonetic words like “guh” and “ugh”. There always there because of slippage of meaning, and I’ve been obsessed with how the plasticity of the form that carries the content and transforms the content - that is language. I’ve been fascinated by ideas that blue didn’t exist until it was named. We can’t see something until it’s named. Without language things aren’t given shape or form. Meaning is entirely fluid and reliant on the structures of language.
Language appeared to decorate his work as much as the colours themself. What interested me about this was his choice to move to New York in the 1980s. Moving to attend the Whitney Programme and work as an illustrator for Jack Goldstein, Bickerton had gone head-first into a world that was characterised by graffiti, artwork that centred around the coining of pseudonyms and the manipulation of the form of written language (You can read more on this in my post about graffiti artist Rammellzee). I asked Ashley for what he thought about this upon his move to New York.
It’s about identity, I’ve done a lot of work about that. The screaming shriek of self-realisation echoing through the fucking universe. To be real, to be realised and quantified. I had become obsessed with coral graffiti on the lava fields on the big island of Hawaii, unfortunately they removed it because they thought it was ugly, I thought it was fucking beautiful.
He explained how the prehistoric coral meeting with newly formed land, which people used to realise themselves upon this landscape, really struck a nerve with him. He expresses this in the piece “Graffiti Mountain.” He had seen his early word pieces as a meeting point between his father’s works and his understanding of the graffiti he’d seen.
This was also the time of Foucault. Ashley spoke of his obsession with the quote “one cannot separate the discourse from the style of the discourse” and it’s influence within his views of artwork such as graffiti, and how that ultimately shaped his artwork at the time.
Seeing someone writing their name “Rammellzee, Futura or whatever” and then the overstylization of it to say so-whatever. That sort of inspired me to make these three-syllable grunts. I saw them as the noises that came out of coitus and restrooms and biological guttural grunts made by the human body.Then I would render them in the most absurdly elaborate fonts, that I invented.
These pieces display the way in which Ashley Bickerton’s artwork allows worlds to collide. Academia and art (two worlds you might call dichotomous) are married together in pieces that are visually stylistic but demonstrate an anthropological depth in their meanings. Ashley was entirely aware of this.
Because of my dad being an Anthropological linguist and my mum being a psychologist, they probably play heavily into the work. There’s always an anthropological bent more-often. Sometimes it’s campy and ironic, sometimes it’s straight-up, sometimes taxonomical. But it’s always at play there.
Personally, I found no work to demonstrate that “anthropological bent” better than his “Tormented Self Portrait (Or Susie at Arles),” the second piece of his logo series, and one that saw a reprise at his recent “Ornamental Hysteria” series, showcased at Newport Street Gallery. I asked if this was a piece inspired by that graffiti, a logical step from the original word pieces. While he understood that link, his take was slightly different.
I’m also a surfer, at that time there weren’t any logos on boards, so when they started popping up and exploding it was eyebrow raising to watch that come in. I was fascinated by the invasion of these surfaces that were uninhabited by corporate identity. Then anything that was glamorous, athletic sporting glamorous was being colonised by corporate need to scream - like coral graffiti and subway graffiti and that need to scream. To self-realise and self-actuate and to be.
The idea of the logo series began from his interest in Frank Stella’s early black paintings, where the description of them was “form defines content and content defines form;” the shape determined the content, but the content was actually the shape – not too dissimilar to Foucault’s idea earlier. Ashley enjoyed the playback equation of this and wanted it to play into his work. He joked that “I always said artists get their best ideas by willfully misunderstanding other artists, this might be one of those instances.”
In the logo series, the space was dominated by various logos “as if the artwork had been a sort of sporting object.” While the object was populated with these logos, the form of the piece itself was built out of corporate materials, X-acto blades and Liquitex paints. “It became a Frank Stella equation.”
Works like those in the logo series prove it’s hard to ignore how much of his work in New York had been concerned with consumerism, it was an issue addressed by his contemporaries also (Jeff Koons is one example of this). When I watched the video-tour of his studio this year, he showcased his most recent “flotsam paintings” that detail the various plastics and products that populate the marks on the beach left by waves. Watching this as someone who has grown up with climate change as the omnipresent issue, and learning the harm of plastics within our ocean, I had wondered if this was a sort of critique of consumer culture. I couldn’t have been more wrong and found myself only more intrigued by the answer I got.
Though Ashley eats Vegan and drives an electric car, titling himself “a well-behaved greenie,” he rejects the idea that he would call himself an environmentalist.
An environmentalist always labours under the idea that they’re saving the planet. But they’re not saving the planet, the planet will easily survive us. We’re a blip. They’re saving the planets ability to save our species and the nature our species is able to exist in, that’s what they’re fighting for. I’m on the side of the planet, not the people I hate fucking people. We don’t deserve this planet we’re full of horrible republicans and gross people.
Instead, these pieces sing similar songs to the graffiti pieces and logo pieces: they are the scream of humankind, wanting to be realised and quantified. At the same time, they show a migration that Bickerton says places them within the “natural order.”
I see the gyres of plastic swirling in the pacific in my paintings as much of the natural order as the migrations of wildebeests in the Serengeti. I don’t make a distinction between the anthroposphere and biosphere. We’re all part of it… I take the side of the planet and when I do landscape, I do it out of a real love. It will eat us up and spit us out and just go on and whatever imprint we’ve left will be absorbed into the general fabric of what this is. We’re just one intervention that came along here and did this and that, and that’s man... These are not laments of the devastation we’re causing to our poor planet, far from it. I revel in it; I think as these things as swirling cosmologies of fragmented human narratives of yearning to be... I love these little shoes and broken toys and yearning to be in the world, now being long lost and reabsorbed into the natural cycle of things in these molecular vortexes and spat up again by waves in the vesicle shapes of waves along beaches of the world.
(One Flotsam painting, taken from studio tour)
Misanthropic? There’s an argument to be made for sure. But it’s poeticism and anthropological bent are undeniable. Though Bickerton’s pieces were always tied to anthropological studies, an echo of his parents’ academic pursuits, it would be naïve to assume this is the only meaning you can extract from them.
Often my work is a whole fucking universe, where we’re really trying to work stuff out through a piece. They’re not light, they’re really trying to work out and through things.
The Process of the artist: Finding Comfort
(Photo taken from "A World Within a World")
Any understanding of art tends to go towards the idea that it requires an ability to draw and paint, Ashley Bickerton grew up thinking the same thing. He spoke about prints of Max Ernst and Joan Miro that decorated his home as a child, and though he credited them as influential to his work, he admitted that as a child he never considered them “real art” because they couldn’t draw. It was interesting to hear that when looking at his pieces, which often far exceed a need to draw and paint well.
After graduating from high school in Hawaii, Bickerton said it was the next logical step to move to “the mainland.” He had his eyes set on the New Arts Centre because “they taught you how to draw really good,” but instead landed at CalArts in Santa Clarita, California, which he describes the best thing that ever happened to him.
Just the right faculty with amazing students coming through who went on to do things. It was a fast track conveyor belt right into the belly of the beast.
No doubt these experiences helped in the formation of Bickerton’s understanding of art in life, and how it went beyond the pencil and paintbrush.
After art school, a move across the country to the east coast, where he would attend the Whitney Programme and work as an illustrator for Jack Goldstein. Within two years of graduating, Bickerton had done shows at Artist’s Space and White Columns, two alternative spaces that were a part of a “standard path” for artists in New York. Having ticked every box, success came fast, something he accredited to his confidence and drive as a young artist. Looking back decades later, he jokingly reflected “I don’t know what happened.”
It was around this time the East Village scene had begun to explode, a scene that would platform many successful artists, including the likes of Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Jean Michel Basquiat and of course Ashley Bickerton himself. Ashley remembered it as an “odd scene” that was characterised by artists tribal and territorial attitudes.
We did a big interview for New York magazine, big round table discussion; both Koons and Halley were there. Basically, my description was it was like a warzone, there were lines drawn through it, very us and them. We were the cool conceptual artists on one side of the equation, and then there were these, what I thought were absurd and ridiculous intellectual lightweights who made fun cutesy crap like Haring and Basquiat and Scharf and all that. Of course, I don’t think that anymore, I think some of them are better than the people I was associated with. But back then we were young and tribal, and you were into your gangs and sides and warfare.
On reflection, he knew the tribalism was just a product of their youth, relating it, in an unusual but no-less pertinent way, to extremist organisations.
Basically it’s like Al-Qaeda: do they really believe that shit? No, Bin Laden was found with loads of porn in his Pakistan Layer. No it’s all about power. So that’s probably what we were about too: did we believe in that crap vs did they believe in that crap, no it was about “this is our team, and we wanted to take over and kick your ass.”
Bickerton’s tenure as an artist in New York ran for 12 years, and despite his love for the city and its formative role for him as an artist, it wasn’t without issue. Most notably, the climate didn’t always suit a man who had grown up adjusted to the warm and tropical climes of home. Winter was a distant concept growing up, and when winter arrived in New York, it greeted Bickerton with brutality.
Bickerton has spoken to this in his recent “Ocean Chunk” series pictured below, which reflected his longing to be back swimming in ocean, pieces he called “a contemporary form of idolatry, an attempt to give flesh to the unattainable.”
But brutality didn’t only describe the weather. He described to me a capricious market that could love you one minute, then leave you the next.
People laugh at every joke you make, and it’s just fawning and sycophancy and idiocy. Then the lights dim on your star, and it turns sour real fast.
Critics also caused irk, placing his works within the confines of the new definitions of “Neo-Geo,” alongside his peers Jeff Koons, Peter Halley and Meyer Vaisman.
I didn’t like being put in that group with “neo-geo.” All these articles start the same way “neo-geo in the 1980s with Jeff Koons and Peter Halley and Ashley Bickerton blah blah blah” it was always the same thing.
After 12 years, following a financial bust after the Gulf War and a market turning sour, Bickerton had decided “it’s my nature to bugger off,” and so he did.
There was no plan in sight, though he’d been offered a teaching job, he’d favoured the adventure of the unknown.
I don’t like nets below my tightrope Kind of like the throw into the void and see where I land.
I tried to live in Brazil but it was hopeless, that’s where I went first. Usually you’re chasing some flame, or some foreign force, and Brazil seemed like sexytown. But the surfs not good, I ended up on Bahia. It was useless I did one painting. Insects would land in your oil paint, you’d pluck them out, but give up after a while and just paint over them. So there’s basically a cemetery of insects buried in that painting I made there. Really the texture is all insect, it ain’t worth plucking them out.
Soon enough he found himself in Indonesia, landing in Bali. It was here he found more time (and fewer flies) to be able to play around and find what worked best for him. It was also a departure from fabricators, who he had grown to hate, meaning he held full autonomy over his work.
I decided to make my own paintings. Working for Goldstein I’ve always been good at drawing and making realist crap, and I decided maybe I should make my own work for a while… The thing is I needed the time and space to do that work because it’s all hand done. I’m not a very good person for doing long labour-intensive things for long periods of time – I did it for ten years – and then I was going to shoot myself in the head. You’re sat there for 16 hours a day six days a week, like trying to handwrite the bible with a ballpoint pen that doesn’t work... I just said this is not a way to live…
So I abandoned the fabrication because it wasn’t a way to live, I abandoned painting because it also wasn’t a way to live, and I spent a lot of time making my work agreeable to my biology and psychology so I could work for longer periods of time and stay engaged… how detailed should it be, how physically difficult should it be, how playful should it be, how many different processes should there be? So it’s not too exacting on the meticulous, there’s a level of play and fun.
As his process has developed through time, he understands he now sits on a strong body of work, but is unsure of what the future holds for him. He spoke about the interest garnered from young people in his work (Myself included), something he accredits to his decisions to take his art in its own direction, and as a result inability to fit to any sort of mould or shape.
The work is always kind of out there. It pushes. I can’t help that it’s just the way I’m wired, it’s just my comfort. I’m not comfortable unless something new is being made, or it doesn’t look like anything. Sometimes I make weird alien fucking shit and people just look at and don’t know what the fuck to do with – me too I have a whole basement full of crap that I don’t know what it is.
Ashley talked about how he often isn’t easy for the critics; “As soon as you draw a focus I’m gone somewhere else.” The “neo-geo” label is one example of this, another being the links made to 19th century French artist Paul Gauguin after his move to Bali, something he thought was ridiculous, and ultimately made pieces that parodied the idea.
That was pretty damn cartoony and cheap an effort on their part. I’m in Asia, it couldn’t be more different than the bucolic quest that Gauguin went out to search for, to find himself in some paradisiacal idyll surrounded by noble savages blah blah blah. Have I played on it? Sure, because of the clownery and the punditry. I can’t help it, it’s in my nature - if you want Gauguin I’ll give you Gauguin. So I came up with all these absurd blue man paintings as a big “fuck you.” Here we are on an island. It was a parody of white-dude - who’s blue – surrounded by nymphs. It’s like Vargas does Claude Leví-Strauss.
Though he understands this has never won him favour with critics and curators, he wondered whether, out of the lockdown, a spotlight may return on him. However he also appeared undecided as to whether he would enjoy that like he once did.
We’re artists we don’t do this for some onanistic, personal quest that’s done in solitude… We do want that audience and be part of that dialogue, but I’m not sure how much I want to be in. As soon as you’re hot you get asked to be in every documentary and every damn thing. That’s horrible too. I’ve seen it happen, I don’t want that. If I have another go-around under the Krieg lights, I’m going to be very fussy about what I do and don’t do. I don’t want to be jumping through hoops because they’re just vampires.
Ashley continues to make art, and is represented by galleries around the world, such as the Gajah Gallery in Singapore and the Cardi Gallery in Mayfair, London. Meanwhile, he seems content with a comfortable set-up, creating art whilst raising his 2-year old daughter.
The Sanctuary of the Surf World
(From Ashley's instagram)
When Ashley picked up his first board at 13, after a move to Hawaii, I’m not sure he was fully aware of how much surfing would take a hold on his life. He noted that surfing has since then always been central to him, and has infiltrated the artwork in “various roundabout ways,” however he would never find himself entertaining the idea of making “surf-art.”
That’s about as interesting to me as “Tennis Art” or “Skateboard Art.” It’s just not there… Surfing and the ocean keep repeating themselves in colour schemes or gestalt or some other psychological indicators. It’s always there, or at least it’s there a lot.
In fact, Bickerton spoke about how he has made many distinctions in his pieces about “Surf Culture” and the “Surf World.” He sent me an essay he wrote for Yard magazine about the relationship and interface of the Art world and Surf world, discussing how art has mirrored surfing and vice-versa. Within that essay were also the early formulation of ideas that led towards the logo-pieces discussed earlier. Ashley explained it to me.
In the 50s, when abstract expressionism was roaring to its height – the lone figure against the huge ground - it was also the pioneering big wave riders, riding Waimea bay. It was the lone heroic figure in the gigantic field, like Pollock. Then it kind of went to minimalism, it all changed. There was the “6 by 6 by 6 foot” steel cube by David Smith, there was Judd. It was relationship of the body to the object. Lopez standing limp in a pipeline tube, just utterly detached in a way from the roaring vortex he was in. By the time I came along, with the exploding professionalism in logos on every exotic sporting surface and every other surface, I tried to think, why doesn’t Judd have a Malboro logo on the side. Why doesn’t Richard Stern have a coca-cola in the bottom left hand corner?
He talked about the beauty in surfing, and it’s influence within his artwork; but also noted that the relationship between surfing and art hasn’t always been so glamorous for him.
Surfing has taken me to some fucking beautiful places, but as an artist it’s also sort of fucked me up royally too. There are certain sections of years of my life where I go “what the fuck was I doing with my life?”
“Oh, those were the years I was surfing, and trying to catch up, so I can get my surfing in.”
“But what were you actually doing? Indulging yourself splashing around on a plastic toy in the brine? Hope you’re proud.” [Speaking to himself, I should note]
He noted a conflicted dichotomy within it all. On the one hand, he saw beauty in the idea of these rebels who went against the grain to chase perfect waves; on the other, he noted a perspective of the pointlessness of it all, individuals playing with plastic toys. It was conflicted.
Art aside, Bickerton’s viewpoint as a surfer departs from the athleticism, instead the time within the sea is part of a much larger experience.
That interface of the literal, where the ocean meets the sea. All the elements of the sky, earth, water and wind come to create. There’s a deep involvement to understand and stay in flow. It gives you so much, you have to stay in line and follow them closely. And then there’s sitting out there staring at the void. There’s a deep, biding and emotional involvement with that emptiness, that horizon line. It’s matter and emptiness. Waiting and waiting, staring at that void that it’s going to produce something. What’s its holding is a pregnancy there… that will come to matter in a couple of minutes and will deliver its pulses. It was all those things. Into the rhythms, there’s the reef and the water. You live in depth through this.
All of it for fleeting moments that last seconds, where you every element in your body is devoted towards riding a tube and pulling it off. He told me that, for him, waves weren’t measured in feet but instead in denominations of satisfaction. There was a poeticism to his whole understanding.
What ruined that poeticism, however, was the crowds.
Solitude within the sea was often compromised by large crowds that would flock to Bali for their holidays, who would display a lack of etiquette and a disruption that would ruin the entire experience. Bickerton spoke about how he would find himself in situations where he would be looking out for waves, but around him would be people shouting to each other, speaking over him. It was a source of aggravation, to say the least, and he would sometimes find himself trying to shush those kinds of people. “I don’t go to your place and start yakking and prying around.”
Amongst those crowds, were the people who saw surfing for its affectations, something Bickerton also found issue with.
I can’t stand the “bro-bro world”. It gets down to “sick bro” and I’m just like “no I’m sorry.”
Ultimately, Ashley’s deep-rooted connections to the Surf world had led him to have a harmonious relationship with the unexplored world of the sea, something he related to me in a holiday in the Aegean.
We were in the Aegean a couple of years ago. My Turkish dealer let me take his catamaran out for a week’s sail. We would go swimming a lot. You find as a surfer you’re just drawn to the water. You’re fuelled from the water and climbing up rocks is not a big deal, because I do it all the time. And jumping off high rocks is no big deal because you’re into that.
But I’ll never forget, we were swimming and came to the edge of an underwater precipice, like abyss. My wife screamed, but I had the opposite it was calling me “come.” She was repelled by it, horrified by it, to me it was the opposite. That’s what I think, it’s not man against, it’s kind of a lover. A sensual blanket you can wrap and roll yourself in. It’s not against you, you use it. It’s an interaction, a love affair.
A love affair seemed to best describe it. He had lusted after it throughout most of his life. He talked earlier about escapes from New York to good surf spots loke Mexico that would last months, sometimes consuming a quarter of the year. Ultimately it had driven him to Bali. In a sense, it was the currents that took him around the world, and ultimately led him to where he sat at this very moment.
Ashley said calling it “spiritual” was “corny as fuck,” but it’s hard to find another word for it. The sea seems to be his church, he revels in the peace and the void of it all. When the right wave is delivered, everything becomes laser focused on pulling it off, body and mind. The sea is his sanctuary.
Researching and writing for this has been a big task. First off, I’d like to send big thanks to Ashley Bickerton and Michael Holman for responding to my interest, and taking the time out to do these interviews and help out with this project. Like I said in the beginning, this is a part of a larger project, and this is only the start.
You can explore Ashley’s artwork on these sites, and also find out about future exhibitions:
Gray is still a fully operative band, and you can find their music on various channels, linked is their Spotify page.
Gray have also released a 12” record for the most recent Record Store Day. Their first pressing sold out, and their second has recently become available. I’d strongly recommend getting a copy whilst they’re out there!
For those wanting to learn more about Gray, Michael Holman, and his relationship with Basquiat, he recently did an interview for BBC Radio 4. It’s an engaging and interesting listen.
A big thanks also to you, the reader. Whether you read the whole thing, or just one segment, I’m extremely grateful. These posts come out once a month and any support is greatly appreciated.
For anyone interested in learning more, here are some links to delve deeper into the subject: