TSOTA x TRS Studio Visit: Toby Worsfold

TSOTA x TRS Studio Visits is a collaboration between The State of the Arts and The Royal Standard. TRS is a an artist-led gallery, studio and social workspace in Liverpool, working with over 40 artists. Every month we will be presenting interviews and studio visits with artists working in the space and chatting to them about their process, tools and the meaning of art-making. This month, we talked to Toby Worsfold.

Photo: Daniel O’Dempsey

So to start with, could you tell me a bit about your work? 

I guess my USP (Unique Selling Point) is my personal perspective. I was born in 1973 so I well remember pre-digital times and was young enough when the digital age came about to embrace it fully. I’ve heard my generation referred to as transitionals, which sits comfortably with me. I was raised in and around church but now have no religion. I was a very effeminate kid but soon learned to act straight. I developed type 1 narcolepsy which often positions me between waking and sleep states. I often feel that the only place I belong is between one and other, whatever they may be. I am always on the fence, between subject and otherness. I once resented this but with age have come to appreciate the enhanced objectiveness and increased field of view this perspective affords me.

What kind of themes do you focus on?

I instinctively search for equilibrium between opposing states, Subject and Other. In my painting I flip between expressing my bewilderment at the complexity of modern life through abstract compositions and offering up balms against it through figurative images in the pre-modernist style of the Victorian painters whose work I draw enormous comfort from. I couldn’t continue to paint one way without exercising the other.

I am also fascinated by futility and often find myself embracing ways of working that are difficult and costly in terms of time. I went through a phase of carving solid ingots of aluminium which I picked from the fires of arsonists on wasteland. I spent 100+ hours creating a book through which I painted a single meandering line from its front cover to its back, without any figurative reference or word to support its reason to be. I enjoy pointless endeavours. I think about infinity a great deal and this manifests in an interest in mathematics and metaphysics which inform some of the work I produce.

Photo: Daniel O’Dempsey

For my final degree piece I painted a 160′ x 40′ geometry derived from Fibonacci and Lucas sequences on the grounds of the John Lennon building using a pitch line painter. I’ve painted Islamic geometry on the wall of a local cafe too. I create a lot of digital animations, mostly composites of kaleidoscopes, and in collaboration with my friend Peter we’ve projected imagery around town, guerilla-fashion using the battery of his mobility scooter. All in the dead of night with minimal audience but quite the spectacle to those few that passed by. This appeals to me much more than the focussed scrutiny of gallery spaces.

Photo: Daniel O’Dempsey

I guess I think of art as a verb, never a noun, which probably accounts for my seldom feeling the need to complete a piece, or at least perceive it as finished. I have one painting that I’ve been working on, on and off for two decades. I think it will only be finished when I myself am. I never think of work as a commodity and am never precious with it. A lot of my work gets stolen because I don’t really care for it once it’s done. I’m flattered that someone wanted it and don’t resent them taking it. What would upset me is to have brought something into the world that was unappreciated and without a place.

I believe art should possess an intrinsic quality that assures its continued existence, else it should be immediately recyclable. I’ve also made puppets, felted toys, made silver jewelry, modelled clay figurines. I’m best known around Liverpool as a poet and my work has been performed by school children as part of a holocaust remembrance service in Chester Cathedral. I like that I cannot be pigeon holed, it pleases me greatly even if it means I’ll never be commercial.

Do you have any rituals in the studio? For example: do you do anything before you start painting to put you in the right mindset, or do you have an order that you do things in, do you spend a lot of time looking at the work?

I have to have music to work. Blues or dance. I spend a lot of time just dancing while standing back to view. I also talk to myself incessantly, running through workflows, instructing and/or chastising. I find it helpful to dissociate.

Photo: Daniel O’Dempsey

What’s the one tool in the studio that you can’t live without?

As for the tool I can’t live without? It’s probably a program actually, I use Blender all the time, for video editing, 3D modelling and animation, video compositing. It has been a godsend really.