Richie Culver is the Hull voiced artist whose first formal piece ‘Have You Ever Really Loved Anyone?’ was hung in the Tate Modern last year, shooting him to fame.
Perhaps it’s the unassuming, instinctive nature of his work that has won Culver such quick acclaim. Working from the heart and stripping his personal experiences for material, he has achieved a fresh and honest style that seems to strike a chord with his audience. His last solo exhibit ‘Too Dark One Light’ was a sensation at Dalston’s LN-CC, with its textured display of ouija boards, collages, mixed media installations and paintings with snagging captions. Much of the tattooed and troubled artist’s work betrays frustrated attempts at communication with past lovers or friends, to haunting effect. But there is ultimately a real sense of catharsis. Having battled with his own addictions and demons, Culver has evidently found a platform on which to get his message across. And there is no doubt he still has a lot more to say.
When i-D online first tried to pin him down, Culver was in his boxer shorts, with someone on the couch and a brain not awake yet. But this time he was ready…
You had no formal art training, but have you always been into art? To be honest I thought I was going to be a professional footballer at school and threw all my eggs into that basket. I was as big as kids two years older and kind of cocky, but then I had an appalling game against Bradford City with the manager of the firsts there, and had to reassess. I left school with nothing to do, so went to work in a caravan park in Hull for years. Art was laughed at there.
So how did you fall into it? I was living in New York, basically bumming around, and found a massive stack of New York Posts dating back to the 1930s in a crack-house on the Lower Eastside. I grabbed the bottom lot and there was a piece on Jesse Owens from 1936 about the Olympics, which I cut out. Putting the words ‘have you ever really loved someone?’ to it was one of the most subconscious things I’ve ever done, possibly a result of harbouring heartbreak from lovers and friends who have died. But I framed it, took it to the Tate Modern and it was hung in the group show.
Matching words to images has become a bit of a trademark… Yes – this was the basis for my first show. I went into my mum’s attic, went through old photos, and turned them into suicide notes. I was a bit depressed at the time. The pieces were to the bone and dark, but they sold.
Your work is very autobiographical; what particular events have had an impact? My ex. That story is very much out there. I painted ‘I loved you’ above her bedroom window in 2000 when I was in a really dark space… She is a successful musician in America now so whether she remembers or not is hard to say. But nine years down the line I wrote ‘I loved you’ on a white canvas in my studio in the same colour and when I stood back it disappeared, so I added ‘but you couldn’t see it’ beneath it and that became a big motif.
You talk about your work being definitively British – what do you mean by that? I only see things from a British point of view, it’s all I know. People ask why I only shoot my photographs in black and white, but it’s how I see things, real and gritty like a Smiths song or a Cure song. It may come across as dark and bland, but London can be like that at times.
What’s in the pipeline? I’m doing an Olympics piece of work next year based around the Jesse thing, and have got some exciting collaborations coming up, more street stuff and a solo show in Berlin later this year, hosted by Berlin artist Jaybo Monk. There’s also a photography show with Bret Walker at the Whisper Gallery coming up in November – he gave me my first camera so it’s nice how that’s worked out and come full circle.
Inspirations? Miles Davis, Chuck Baker, Mad Lib (music producer), Roy Shaw (bare knuckles fighter), Bruce Lee, Hull City football club (it’s been a bad start to the season, but it’s still early).
What are your interests outside the frame? I do like to party, but it’s been my downfall in the past, so I’m aware of that. I’m out all the time, but I don’t really drink or take drugs anymore - I’m the boring dude.
Richie Culver alongside Brett Walker and Russell Young exhibit at The Whisper Gallery, opening tonight 6pm.
Text: Connie Allfrey