Interview: Karl Russell Vickers

First, a few basic questions – Who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?

I am Karl Russell Vickers, 32, the current city is Leeds, originally from Blackpool, UK. I am a museum worker, installing exhibitions and looking after a collection of artworks in Wakefield. I hold a studio at the community-run serf in Leeds which I helped to set up with some peers a few years ago; before that, I established an artist-led gallery called Mexico project space with some pals in 2011.

Can you describe your relationship/fascination with paper as a working material? What do you like most about it?

It is endless as a material and so widely available, to everyone. Books that have lived their lives and end up in mine, the layers, the stacks and piles, the way we all organize and archive papers and pages in various ways. The collection of important letters and bills you have in your home…

For the main body of my creative output, I work from one large overwhelming mass of paper material. Every so often I arrange this into two batches impulsively, a ‘yes’ stack and a ‘no’ pile. The ‘no’ pile is stashed away until later, but the ‘yes’ stack is divided yet again – I pick out my faves and make a collage. As the years go on I’ve become more organized, consistent. Things order themselves without me realizing – the stack of mountains or the pictures of thumbnails, pairs, nuclear explosions, oil wells, colors, flowers, scraps, numbered sequences and so on.

What’s your favorite work? And why? What makes it stand out?

I lean towards the brighter and bolder abstract works I have produced, but the most recent and rewarding work which stands out for me is the series ‘Publicly-Funded Minerals’ (2018-19). I was able to show it in its entire body of 48 collages as part of a fringe exhibition for a sculpture festival. I think the idea was simple and worked alongside the viewer to create something imaginary, while at the same time planning for something potentially real. The exhibition was nicely reviewed and was able to pick out many things about my practice and the series which I didn’t think were evident, so that’s good!

And then what are your favorite source materials? How do you find them? Do you spend a lot of time while looking for them?

Charity shops, car boot sales, second-hand bookstores. Anything from glossy fashion magazines to 1960’s engineering weeklies. I spent years searching for the best book sections in the kind of places that were only open two days a week at certain hours of the day. It’s worth looking for, and continuing this search while my tastes are constantly changing. Right now I have enough material for a long time, but the thrill of the find is necessary every so often.

What art supplies do you use? Scissors or a blade? Glue or tapes? What are your tools?

I remember switching from scissors to scalpel blade early on. I have one standard pair of scissors which I also use to cut my hair. Glue sticks work best for me, liquid glue scares the hell out of me. Before 2018 most of my collage work was made on A4 card, 2019 onwards I started working on A3 card.

What’s the best part of the collaging process?

The sequence of steps from start to finish can be muddled, At times I might be scanning some completed work while simultaneously prepping for a new series, or halfway through an arrangement of something else. (This is where the piles and stacks come in handy as I work mostly at home with limited space). The best part of the collaging process for me is when I am able to extend a piece into sculpture. A lot of my recent works bring collage and sculpture together, which is the kind of work I tend to show in exhibitions. Using display mechanisms directly relating to the collage aspect at the core such as in, ‘Can we bring that Doggo up on the main screen?’ (2019) which is a life-size nuclear-style computer terminal built from wood and vinyl, using collage elements in place of display/video screens, buttons, and dials. In ‘We thought of tools and where to use them’ (2017) I arranged a large number of small scale tool cut-outs, presented in a fabricated toolbox which also mimicked the British Museum style green felt display cases.

And then, what’s the hardest part?

Staying focused, being consistent and keeping up with my own self-imposed standards.

“I can’t imagine stopping or finishing, like a game that cannot be completed. I’m stuck in Jumanji.”

What does your art and collaging mean to you?

After 9+ years, I have never thought about what it means to me – I can’t imagine stopping or finishing, like a game that cannot be completed. I’m stuck in Jumanji. The information is endless and infinite swirling data but showing a little group of brain pics I collected is the best immediate release/output of the process. I had been collecting pairs of images for over 3 years which resulted in ‘The day the flesh shapes, the flesh the day shapes’ (2015-18), a large display of images in a timeline format. The pairs were either identical or my own humorous matching connections (see Brain + potato gratin). Someone described it as an ‘Encyclopaedia Galactica’.

How important is the meaning you believe a piece of art has to you? Do you want your viewers to understand or know why you made your art?

My dad asked me recently about the meaning behind my collage artwork, I gladly told him that if he likes the look of it then what else matters?

If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?

(As in the relationship between the parts or elements of a complex whole and it’s an arrangement.)

Karl Russel Vickers around the internet

Instagram: @karl_russell_vickers