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MAY 2021

Billy Bagilhole grew up in a household full of his father’s paintings and prints, from a young age drawing Indians, animals, religious figures imitating those images crated by his father upon the walls. They continue to be a fascination as his father passed away when he was 6 in the year of 2001. His experience is embellished as a time capsule of creativity for works ongoing. He often states that the reason he continued to persist within art was because of his father and this is why his empathy for mark-making, for creating is so strong.

Bagilhole predominantly works through the mediums of painting and filmmaking. Often covering canvases with salt and thick paint, he enjoys the technicality within painting, within colour and within the eye of the lens. Bagilhole frequently works through internal gestures and hints of nostalgic representations on abstracted life. Often colliding colour with imagery of sinisterness. He feels that painting becomes an expressionistic form of understanding and that by leaving the work as an open question, an unknown metaphor, meaning within painting or filmmaking, within art becomes infinite.

The attraction to painting Bagilhole states is the ability to create the unknown, the unimaginable and the uncanny, creating a sense of bewilderment. With sequencing themes such as the often seen fish bones, his occurring character "Edwin" or the bull, we can start to see a hint at relations between these often differentiated pieces of imagery. Bagilhole believes that we are inherently curious and that the pursuit of art offers an expression for this curious nature. Making art becomes a medium for wonder, something unsolvable a sensory koan that engages both artist and viewer. 

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I was born on the Lleyn Peninsula in the farthest reaches of North West Wales.  It is an ancient land of granite hills, salt marsh and boundless seas. My dad Robin Bagilhole was a London based artist who passed away in 2001 when I was six. The desire to follow in his footsteps is an ever present driving force that connects me with his memory and with my own creativity. Growing up I’ve always had a fascination with creating whether it be through music or art, it feels like a necessity rather than a choice. I felt at times quite alien being the son of an artist amongst friends whose fathers were farmers, builders, tradesmen, men with serious jobs whilst my dad’s energies were directed at creating paintings of tribesmen, vicars and bullfighters. 

As I grew older I felt a strong pull towards music and considered taking a music production course after my A-levels.  At the last minute I followed an impulse that would change the course of my artistic career. Having managed just a ‘C’ in my Art A levels I had little confidence and with some uncertainty I applied for the art foundation course at Coleg Menai in Bangor. It was known as a prestigious course and hard to get into, to my great surprise I was given an unconditional offer and I haven’t looked back since. I finished the foundation year winning the Peter Prendergast drawing prize and was listed in the top 10 students throughout the WJEC foundation courses across the UK. Then came the offer of a place at the Chelsea College of Arts where I graduated in 2017 in Fine art with a first class honours.

You stated that the images in your paintings “ constitute an expression of loss but also an expression of curiosity and mystery.” Where does that self- analysis derive from? 

From the age of six I had an unusually close relationship with death, a year before my father died, my grandfather had died and the year after my grandmother died. By the time I was sixteen I had also lost four dogs and various family pets. As grim as it may sound, it brought with it an understanding of what it means to experience and accept loss as part of life. Over the past few years I am noticing that the unbidden themes and emotions enlivened by my experiences find expression in my paintings. This comes in many forms ; sometimes even through depictions of sad looking fish or cockerels. I believe that my sense of curiosity and mystery derives from many layers of influence not least the landscape and energies of my homeland. Living in a house at the top of a hill you see vastness of sky, mountains and sea all around, the nearest neighbour is a few miles, you are at once isolated and connected. Feet rooted on the earth staring out at the fog shrouded fields you get an inescapable sense of curiosity for the the ephemeral quality of existence. In tandem I always had a curiosity for supernatural, mystic or odd stories. I always had a fascination with ghosts and the concept and phenomenon surrounding ghosts, how they can allegedly randomly appear, trapped energy in a moment in time or death, the possibility of this manifestation bewilders me. The first book I ever read was called “The Holy Ghostbuster” an autobiography of a local minister in North Wales and his accounts of working alongside mediums to free trapped spirits in places like the flat above the chippy in Blaenau Ffestiniog. These stories have embedded their way into my imagination and artistic vocabulary. These odd commodities have always fascinated me and North Wales is filled with them, they always seem to come back into the painting as reflections of mystery or loss. 

Many of your paintings have a similar colour palate. Is there any specific reason for those colour choices?

There are times when I make more conscious decisions to decide on a colour palette and I believe these come when things are feeling more chaotic, when the works start to distance from each other, the colour palette often to me can work like a rope to keep everything in order. When I reflect I see that there are periods where I predominantly paint in one colour, like between October and December I mainly only used blue, it was almost a subconscious decision, it was more of what I was feeling at the time. 

It’s almost an oddity to think about, as throughout my education in primary and  secondary school I was taught to paint like artists such as Kyffin Williams, imitating the colours of the Welsh landscape in an accurate fashion. Whilst, in contrast, at home hung the paintings made by my father which were colour bound and chaotic. I believe I’ve inherited my father’s high saturated palette and have harnessed it as my own, often covering a canvas in a bold colour and having one small figure appear somewhere, giving that same feel of insignificance you feel whilst standing and looking out at the Welsh landscape. To me it feels like a necessary action to put on a display of colours whilst making a painting Almost like a firework display, I want it to pop out and be striking and at the same time I want it to hold its own merit with some form of narrative.  

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?

I’m currently set up in a studio in Vauxhall, London. I’m running a brewery at the same time as being an artist and they’ve kindly let me use their new storage space as a studio space. It’s set up in a stone's throw away from the Thames and the Newport street gallery in an old office building underneath three abandoned railway arches so I feel as I’m right in the crux of London. I’m often hearing loud body trembling rumbles whilst I paint from the trains above, it makes you feel as if your painting in an underground bunker hidden away like a hob goblin. Just last week I found a pair of shoes and a can of scrumpy jacks on the floor, dog paw marks on one of the canvases so it looks like I may have some company some time soon. It causes for great suspense whilst painting! 

As for a routine I often will arrive in the studio and take about 50 minutes to just sit and look at a canvas or a work in progress and try and build up some kind of energy or action to bring to the canvas. I often think of it as some kind of leap of faith when I first dive into a painting, like its all or nothing, like a daredevil who’s just about to perform the craziest stunt, except the adrenaline rush is more fart-like than death defying in comparison. When I then eventually start painting hours can pass without realisation. I tend to let the my subconscious lead whilst I paint, figures, shapes and colours can appear from nowhere. I gain most understanding about myself and my work from analysis post painting!