Folk x Goss Brothers
In this week’s journal, Folk founder Cathal McAteer talks with the artist brothers Nick and Phil Goss and the journalist Tamsin Blanchard about the inspiration behind their collaboration together, J.G.Ballard’s sci-fi novel The Drowned World. As part of the new collection, the brothers created drawings and abstract landscapes representing Ballard’s dystopian world where the earth is being submerged beneath floodwater because of a cataclysmic solar event. Pelicans and alligators have settled in the lagoons of London and the sun is burning hotter by the day. It’s a hot June afternoon as the three sit outside the Folk shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street to discuss art, clothes and global warming...
TB: How long has this project taken to complete?
Cathal McAteer: Longer than we imagined. It’s one of those things, because of the nature of the book, and the whole summer thing – actually it’s good we’re having such a hot spell because we missed it last summer. It was one of those things we were trying to make it happen and as you can see, it’s much more flamboyant that what we’d normally make. We sent it to the factory and the amount of screens we had to make actually took longer than anticipated, so we missed last summer. But the good thing about this is that it’s not a trend project, we could do this in five years time or three years ago and it would still have similar impact.
TB: The prints are quite complex.
CM: Yeah, just a lot of screens to make the different layers of colour. The prints have got real depth.
TB: How many pieces are there?
CM: 20 / 25 maybe
Phil Goss: In the book, there’s a natural disaster that has happened, you don’t know what it is but the icecaps are melted and London is in the future, flooded and the city is submerged. The climate has gone sort of tropical, like an African climate. You get these tropical birds come in and alligators start coming back in and attacking the characters. The sun is breaking up almost and the equator loses its spherical form. The characters are going a bit mad, and they keep seeing this big red sun and it’s reflection on the water. They slowly lose their identity and their dreams start to take over. They dream of these primeval alligators and dinosaurs coming back, and they slowly against their better judgement start to head south, where it’s hottest. It’s a bit of this apocalypse now story where the more mad they go, the further they go into the sun and swampland.
There are not many characters, only three or four and the main protagonist lives in the Ritz, but it’s sort of this sweaty place where the air conditioning is broken and only the top two floors stick out the water. He sort of sits in his hotel room and drinks and there’s lizards everywhere. It’s really moody and atmospheric. It’s the thing about when society loses its… like when there’s a natural disaster and everyone goes feral. They start worshipping nature again.
The author J.G. Ballard grew up in Shanghai and moved to London later on and had his kids, and I think the story is an amalgamation of his childhood memories.
When he was in Shanghai Japan invaded them in the Second World War. If you read about J.G. Ballard people always come back to this idea that this society you live in can just suddenly change. He was quite a wealthy expat in Shanghai and then the Japanese invaded and suddenly where he used to play was bombed and he was in a prisoner of war camp. He’s sort of done that a bit to London.
They’re quite universal ideas, they seem kind of prescient for today’s thing, even with global warming.
TB When did he write Drowned World?
NG: early sixties.
TB Pre-climate change.
NG: No one had even started talking about that. Now it seems so bang on. He was really into science, he was into science journals. But also, he only died quite recently but he was around when Hurricane Katrina and things happened. He wrote about how the rug can be pulled out from under your feet. That’s what a flood is basically, everything you know suddenly changes and you’re forced to move in big numbers.
It’s just so relevant today and people, now more that ever, latch onto his ideas because he built that story about a high rise that was the tower clock destroying itself...
CM: Well in the past month the things that have been going on, it’s unsettling for people. Just that proximity to London. It’s a whole bigger picture, real catastrophe. Our little safe world of London is being disrupted more than we have ever experienced. And he was a wartime guy, he had that reference and it’s fuelled his work.
TB: Has Drowned World been made into a film yet? It sounds so filmic.
PG: High Rise has. But imagine producing The Drowned World. Get the Ritz underwater!
NG: You’d have to be Werner Herzog, get him to do it. He’d have some ideas!
TB: So how did this come about? Who approached whom?
CM: Funnily enough I was in Nick’s gallery ages ago seeing one of his paintings and I thought they were just tremendous and I happened to play football with the guy who owns the gallery, this guy called Josh Lilley, and subsequently I showed a real interest in one of your paintings, I loved it. Josh had said, Nick likes your stuff too! It’d be so nice to meet him one day.
Anyway, I walked into the Soho shop and Nick had on the favourite jacket I’d ever made. It was a woman’s fabric turned inside out and it was a shawl collar, really not a commercial jacket.
NG: It’s a really beautiful jacket, yeah.
CM: The fabric is made in the same mill, which is near Cortina in the mountains near the Dolomites. It was a woman's fabric; we bought it for girls and decided not to use it. He had it on, and I said ‘that’s my favourite jacket!’ and it was quite fortuitous.
TB: It was meant to be! So were you thinking that you could do something together?
CM: No.I I always like to do interesting things, but you can’t do everything. We got chatting and it helped that we both liked each other and that was a good starting point. Then Nick was speaking about stuff that Phil was doing and that came together quite quickly.
NG: Around that time, Phil was doing a residency in Aldeburgh in a lighthouse in Suffolk.
PG: It’s like a lookout tower on the beach in Aldeburgh, sort of flat Suffolk coast, and then set into the beach there is this tower. There’s a big space in the bottom of the tower where you can do a residency. You have a show at the end.
NG: So I had gone to see that, and it had The Drowned World idea behind it. That was the concept. That idea was something that I was quite interested in too, and I thought that could lend itself to an interesting project. Phil and I both share this interest in all things flooded and watery, so we thought, why don’t we try and work together on this?
TB: How do you two work together?
PG: We haven’t worked together before, this is the first time.
NG: We’ve done lots of album covers. Phil would do the designs and kind of collaborate a bit on those kinds of things. We end up with different style images but I think the things that we’re interested in, for our lives as artists, has always been quite similar.
PG: Looking at stuff, which is around you, not trying to overcomplicate the themes of your work. The Drowned World is amazing, because even though it lets you into this crazy other world of really hyper intense imagery and atmosphere, it’s still set in London so it gives you an easy way to make work. I tried to illustrate one of his books before, which was set in Africa, where instead of everything being flooded, everything becomes crystallized. And it didn’t work at all, because it’s too visual already and it just became sort of a bit twee. Even though there’s not much London in it, you don’t see and recognisable buildings, it could be any city, but there is still a bit of grit in the story that helps you to not be too lost.
We both made bits of work and we handed it over to Cathal and his team and we had a few back and forths. I remember with the blue zigzag, that was originally just on the guys’ shirt. And then one of your team said, why don’t you expand that into a repeat pattern?
TB: The sun print is quite powerful, isn’t it? You really get the atmosphere.
NG: When you read the book you’ll see it’s one of the things that key. He’s beating on about the sun getting bigger and bigger and it had to be there.
PG: With the burning sea, the sea is on fire. It’s so hot and you get that bridge between the sun and life, it’s very hot. There’s loads of description of that reflection and a few of the prints are to do with how to present water. Both of us really like to invent ways to depict things and water is such a challenge to do. There are loads of watery prints.
TB: What is it with you and the water?
NG: I’m half Dutch, and Holland is three metres under sea level so Dutch people are all obsessed with flooding. I spent many a formative year finishing with a bamboo rod in the canals. We stayed at a little farm town near Rotterdam.
PG: it’s all reclaimed land around there, but it’s all just the dykes keeping the water away. I think on average it’s three metres under sea level.
NG: Yeah. We spent a lot of summers in Holland. I also think there’s something about water and floods...I think it’s about reflection and interior space, you’re looking into your own mind, really. That for me is what flooding and water does. It reflects things back up to you and it’s almost like a state of mind.
PG: it’s about making the familiar uncanny. So with water, instead of drawing it you’re drawing a reflection and it’s the image that you think you know, but it’s the ghost version or reflected version. It’s also quite a nice thing as just a graphic challenge. How do you draw water? There’s always movement, how do you make that into a print? It’s static, and to get it to repeat as well. I think that’s a nice sort of challenge.
TB: Also, it does have a pertinent message right now. It seems as though people do want to connect what’s going on in the world with what they’re wearing.
CM: Moreso now than ever. I feel confident doing this, it feels right
TB: Nick and Phil, what values do you share with Folk?
NG: I think one of the reasons Cathal and I got chatting in the gallery so much was that a lot of the way I make paintings is really material based. I tend to use lots of linens and fabrics and stain them. I’m really drawn to natural indigos – really Folk colours like bright yellows. It’s probably why I was drawn to the clothes in the first place.
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Words: Charlotte Brook
Photography: Liberto Fillo