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In Conversation: Curious about the talented Mr Sayle – from kickboxing to fine art and making sense of the world in between

Words: Polly

Photos:  Graham Sayle

“The art world is such a self-satisfying echo chamber that I’m sceptical that it has any real bearing on the world.” Graham Sayle

You have a number of passions from singing and carpentry to kick boxing. How would you describe yourself?

I wouldn’t know how to describe myself any other way than a northerner who loves a hobby!

Humans naturally find safety in the ‘order’ of things and have a tendency, or need, to pigeon hole people. Have you encountered frustration in your life, either from yourself or others, because you couldn’t be defined as one thing? 

I’ve never found it too difficult if I’m honest, I think resigning yourself to one role in life is counterproductive and the idea that we need to focus on one job/passion is outmoded. We have access to so many different options now via the internet etc that it would be a shame if people didn’t explore a little more.

Did you have careers advice at school? What did they suggest?

When I was in school I wanted to be a plasterer because my uncle was one and it looked like a satisfying trade! It was only really going to Liverpool Community college to do my Art foundation course that I was introduced to the idea I could look further than my own microcosm, and the opportunities further afield were actually a viable option. I’m super lucky to have had such good tutors who didn’t see limits on any student’s potential.

Clearly talented, you gained a degree in fine art from Goldsmiths. How did uni culture suit you and influence the direction of your work? 

Uni was a great opportunity for me. I met a lot of people from different backgrounds to my own and learnt a hell of a lot. I learnt how to be critical about Art and definitely shaped the way I make work.  

Why the shift away from fine art?  

I wish I hadn’t had to shift away from making sculpture as that’s the thing that I enjoy most. Without some sort of financial support it’s very difficult to fund making work and live a healthy life in London. Hence the shift into making commercially viable objects such as my furniture.

You make jewellery from coins, how did this idea come about?  

That came about from working on the lathe and thinking to myself it might be cheaper to use coins as an alternative to brass. I inadvertently stumbled across an idea people seemed to like! Turns out I wasn’t the first to do it but it has led on to some other bits of jewellery and kept me financially buoyant at times.

Often creativity is born out of friction, reacting to or against status quo, family, policies etc. Have there been key events or moments that have directly impacted on your work.

The friction that informs my work is more of a societal/architectural one. Through riding BMX and doing graffiti as a kid I’ve always looked at cities like playgrounds. Cities themselves have become increasingly designed against human beings, becoming volatile places where people aren’t permitted to feel at ease. Designed against the most vulnerable and hostile towards those in need. It’s this shift in design and architecture that informs a lot of my practice, at the moment at least!

Do exhibitions satisfy this by giving voice to how you see the world?

The art world is such a self-satisfying echo chamber that I’m sceptical that it has any real bearing on the world. I definitely feel more satisfied showing work which is politically engaged and this year I’m aiming to do more interventional work outside of the gallery space.

How do you balance the need to earn a living from bread and butter work, with a creative drive that wants to explore new ideas? 

My day to day is spent teaching Design in a secondary school so I treat that as my primary bread and butter work. I’m really thankful to be able to balance that with my own practice. Not only do I benefit from the use of the workshop space, It also forces me to know what’s going on in Art, Design and what young people are doing. As a hyperactive child trapped In a grown-up body I’m constantly trying to stay busy and on point with the things that interest me. It’s mostly the lack of ‘clock time’ in the day that hinders me most.

Do you often feel compromised, torn between producing for money vs art for arts sake? Or, does commission work challenge you in a new way that yields a positive / unexpected outcome?

It’s a constant battle, like I was explaining earlier, London as a city is designed against creatives. We’re priced out of studio spaces and places to live. There are some really supportive spaces and groups, but on the whole artists need to subsidise their practice, as making work is not cheap. The exposure economy that brands exercise also lends itself to the privileged and you need to learn how to play that to your advantage. I like to take on work which forces me to push myself creatively or to learn new skills. The downside of that is when deadlines come into play and I’m still trying to work out how to make the thing!

Tell me about your tables and the process behind them. How did they come about, a happy accident through experimenting with materials, or inspired by another artist, texture, nature..?

The tables are constantly evolving but they were born out of some concrete sculpture I was working on. I was playing with pigment and making these kinda ‘concrete paintings’ which were really fun but ultimately a bit crap. I started to work out how to mimic precious rock with pigments. When a friend asked for a slab of it for a table top I thought why not make the whole table. I was never massively interested in furniture or interiors beforehand so it took me a while to find my aesthetic but it’s fun and constantly changing. I’m really into traditional self-supporting Japanese joinery, and making things with no glue. I love it when it’s coupled with the heaviness of the concrete and it’s delicate pigmentation.

We live in a culture that seems to be obsessed with celebrity and fame. What’s the dream for you?

The dream would be to have a life where I can flirt between everything! I haven’t got any big aspirational visions and do my best not to measure myself against others. I’d like to play some shows in Japan with my band and I’d at some point like to build my own house for my brother and myself.

As a multi-disciplined creative, this might not be an easy question to answer! If you weren’t doing what you are today, who or what would you have been?  

Like I said earlier if I hadn’t had such supportive tutors at Art Foundation level I might have been a plasterer!

What advice would you give to your rookie self? 

Nothing happens in the past and nothing happens in the future. Everything happens in the present so stop thinking yourself out of things before you do them.

Funniest life moment / or most embarrassing?

Working in a school I embarrass myself every day, there’s too many to choose from!





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