Aitken’s paintings utilise the material nature of his tools: impasto strokes make his viewers aware of the dimensions of his brush and reveal the artist’s hand in glorious colour combination. They are desperately beautiful. I first met Marcus at Saatchi’s The Other Art Fair and his was the first piece of art I ever bought (thanks to Own Art), so I couldn’t wait to grill him about his practice. Marcus’ gentle/joyful manner shines through as we discuss music, being your own salesperson, and Paul McCarthy (“not the Beatle”).
Q: First thing’s first, introduce yourself! What do you make, how do you work?
My name is Marcus Aitken and I create gestural abstract paintings influenced by process and music. I don’t paint in the traditional way, I have always painted with my surfaces flat on the ground, whether its canvas or wood. I have always felt a lot more connected with what I am doing by painting this way, its second nature to me now and I don’t think I could do it any other way now.
Q: What would you say your artistic background is? How long have you been working?
I have always had a strong desire to have a creative project on the go whether it be building mad go-carts from scraps found in a nearby building site when I was young boy, playing music (I currently play drums in a band called Fabricators), or creating a large body of paintings. Painting has been something that has always been concurrent in my practice. When I graduated from my degree at UAL in 2012 I was creating these mixed-media sculptures inspired by the Hollywood plastic surgery scene – I was really obsessed with how people were altering the human form.
This then led to me starting my Jewellery company Sacrum. I quickly discovered a few things from this – I loved the creating part of the process but I didn’t like fast-moving fashion industry I was competing with. From this, I realised what my strengths were and that I wanted to focus all of my energy into pure creativity. Painting was something that I had always been doing in the background but now I am approaching it with a lot more focus and drive.
Q: What are the biggest themes in your work?
Music has always played a big part in my paintings and often I name my works after the tracks that I was listening to on repeat at the time of making them. However, my work is influenced by EVERYTHING! I think for many artists, especially nowadays with a bank of references constantly in the palm of your hand its hard not to be influenced by multiple themes. My work has never been about a specific theme, for me it’s very much about the exploration of materials, surfaces, patterns and colour. It’s a never ending experiment, which I don’t want the answer to.
Q: What is your favourite piece you’ve created?
Pfff, that’s like asking me which of my brothers do I prefer. I will say this, I create many pieces that never see the light of day because they just haven’t worked out or I’ve simply overworked them. Everything that I post on my Instagram or website are works that I feel are successful in one way or another.
Q: Who are your biggest inspirations?
I’ve always loved Paul McCarthy’s work (the artist not the Beatle). He really pushes the boundaries in his practice and tests the art world by mocking it. I think his work is full of life, humour and is never ever boring. People always think this is a very odd inspiration for me to list as my work is nothing like his but what I take is inspiration from is his sheer confidence in his work.
Like many artists, I have waves and knocks in my own confidence to show off my work. Whenever I have a low point in my work or second guess what I’m doing, ill usually go check out a gallery or ill watch McCarthy’s 1995 piece The painter.
Q:How do you strike the balance between being an artist and being your own salesperson?
It’s been quite a natural balance for me to be honest. When I was a young boy, I used to spend my summer holidays painting pop art portraits of my friends and then selling them to their parents. Looking back on it, it was genius really – how could these parents turn down this little aspiring artist who had created something bespoke for them!?
After graduating from my arts degree at UAL, like many arts graduates, I did every job under the sun – worked in a frozen yogurt shop, various clothes shops, laborer on a building site, art technician, guestlist doorman – you name it! After a while, I managed to land a job as an Art Consultant and then went on to manage an art gallery. These two positions gave me a really good insight into how to sell art, from both sides. At one point I was actually selling my own work under a pseudonym (Max Perry).
It was great as I would show clients Max Perry’s work and get honest, direct feedback on it, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do, as most people will just tell you your work looks great as they don’t want to offend. By putting myself in this unique position, it really allowed me to analyse my work from several different viewpoints and ultimately improve my practice.
Q: Social Media as a tool for artists – pro or anti?
Pro- initially I was reluctant about even starting an Instagram account, mostly because I just didn’t get what it was about. Since starting to take it more seriously, I’ve seen a real increase in my following and interest. I’ve sold work through it and have connected with a lot of great contacts including many opportunities – including this interview 🙂
Q: What are you angry about right now?
This is probably the part where I’m supposed to say something about politics…honestly I’m so lost with the current political situation that I’ve kind of switched off with it. What reaaallllly grinds my gears is bad manners. What an oldies answer right!? Call me old fashioned, but being a nice person is free of charge, yet everyday (especially in London), I encounter people just being dicks. Why? Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if everyone was just nice to each other?
Q: Where can we next see your work?
Currently, I am exhibiting in Glasgow at Art Pistol Gallery, London at The Pilgrm Hotel and Portugal at Fresco Gallery. The best way to keep up with what I’m doing is to follow me on Instagram @marcus.aitken.art
All Rights Reserved © Copyright Marcus Aitken 2019
Verity Babbs is a History of Art graduate from the University of Oxford, art writer, and comedian. Her written work focuses on London’s contemporary art scene.