I met Olly last year outside a mutual friends art opening. An artist himself he had recently moved to NY from ‘ole blighty to pursue his own American dream. As with most expats, that land on these shores, he was being swept away by the frenetic energy of NY and was living and loving life over here. I saw this first hand when I visited his studio a couple of times over the summer. He would excitedly jump from subject to subject, talking bout various projects he had under way, amazing people and collaborations he was getting involved with and ideas for future art pieces. His work is big, vibrant, colorful and totally dark side! For example there is the painting titled “Self portrait with gun in my mouth” ,that was screen printed onto used money bags and is a self portrait of himself looking kinda happy with a gun in his mouth, then there is a life size foosball game, titled, “Self portrait with my wife (as a foosball player)” where all the players on one side are a naked, very excited, Olli and on the other side they are his naked full breasted wife! There are also these giant colorful paintings of Disney character puppets lying dejectedly on the floor, discarded, their heydays over, beautiful and lonely. He definitely has a macabre sense of humor which radiates thru his work, which I think is awesome and by the sound of all the sales he is making, so too do a lot of other people. Looks to me like his dreams are already beginning to come true.
Who is Olly Clegg?!
Olly Clegg is a British artist married to Natasha Chambers and currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
It’s funny but I never really had any specific obsession to be anything when i was younger. I was drawn to music and became obsessed with freeze-framing “Jimi Hendrix” and “Guns and Roses” concerts on VHS. I thought maybe I would be a musician but I suppose I always had a talent for drawing. I think when I was very young I really just wanted to be a super-hero. I ran away from home when I was four and the only thing I packed was my superman outfit. I made to the end of the garden before my mother called me back for supper.
How did you get to be where you are?
I lived in London for 7 years after I graduated from Bristol university. My father, very sadly, passed away 5 years ago and I decided immediately to move down to the beautiful Cornish coastline for 3 years, dragging with me my now wife Natasha. After 3 years by the sea we decided a change was necessary and spent sometime in Berlin before crossing the Atlantic and discovering New York. We moved around the city a little before settling in Williamsburg where we both have studios and a wonderful apartment by the river and everything we need within a two block radius!
If you could go back in time and give your 16 year old self some advice what would it be?
My honest feeling in hindsight is that everything has seemed more or less necessary to lead me from one stage of my life to the other. I don’t think that I would have made the decision to start working as an artist without some of the experiences I had in the latter half of my twenties. My life was turned upside down and making art work became a channel for expression. My father always said to me to never regret what you have done but to only regret what you haven’t done, so I really suppose the advice would be to just go with the flow!
If the wardrobe in your bedroom would lead you to another world what would your Narnia look like?
Through the dusty fur coats and moth eaten jackets my Narnia would be a land balanced with both mountains and the sea. Natasha loves the mountains and I have a minor obsession with surfing and together we both love nature so as long as our friends were up for breaking away from the city that would be our ideal.
By day you are….By night you are….?
By day I’m an artist and by night I’m an artist but I have also been known to love eating/cooking. I am organizing a games triathlon at Cabinet Magazine on the 19th January. Competitors will play back gammon, chess and foosball in a tournament and I will cook shepherds pies.
What was one of your favorite past projects?
I recently built a 20ft high sign made from wood, put it on a raft and floated it into the middle lake in the middle of the Catskills. I then swam out and set the sculpture alight whilst we all sat on the banks of the lake and watched it burn. This was a lot of fun although I have to say I was a little concerned about becoming a human fireball so early on in my career.
What are you working on now and what do you dream of happening in the future?
Currently the focus is on my first artist monograph with graphic designer Domie Clausen and writer Dan Fox. Domie has been in the city for years and years and not only is the co-owner of Cafe Select in Soho but was also a producer for the “Scissor Sisters” as well as having his own record label ATOC (a touch of class). He is also the designer for Kito Saan (Urs Fischer’s in-house publishing). Dan Fox, co-editor of Frieze Magazine, has written a wonderful text. All of my energies have now gone into this book, both in the design but also in making new work that I felt necessary to be presented in this context. For the future i have a lot of dreams piling up the more time I spend in this city but amongst wanting to have a family with Natasha I also have a burgeoning passion for cinema and the art of film-making. This passion is definitely in its embryonic stages right now but that’s where I feel I’m going to end up (or wash up!)
What song do you love that you keep secret cause its too embarrassing to say publicly you like it?
Haha. Well tragically I love all musical and particularly Andrew Lloyd Webbers, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat”. I can sing the whole thing beginning to end! But I think its more embarrassing for other people…
Which version of “I hung my head” do you prefer Johnny Cash or Sting?
Are you a morning person or night person?
I love sleeping and frustratingly I always get up super early so I suppose that means I’m a morning person!
Any advice for peeps just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to do whatever you want, you only have yourself to answer to.
Is there a quote or mantra you live by?
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you (if you want to eat well).