Current exhibition: 17 sculptures with the lush backdrop of the Botanic Gardens in Singapore as part of Sotheby’s first selling exhibition of outdoor sculptures in Asia.
You have created 12 pieces especially for this exhibition. What inspired you?
I’d been to Singapore many times, so I know the garden quite well, and in fact I already had one sculpture here. When we first started working on this project more than a year ago, I had a walk around the garden and I especially liked the setting of the eco-lake, even though it’s not always full of water.
Are you often interested in using reflections?
Yes, the issue of reflection appears in a lot of my indoor pieces, first with the shadows on the floor. I create reflections for the pieces that I make in aluminum: I paint them black on one side making them look like a drawing, but I leave the other side with its natural grey-silver color and it almost looks like a water reflection, even though it’s on the floor.
There are a lot of butterflies in these new pieces, is that a motif you’ve used before?
I first used butterflies 20 years ago. I was asked by Peter Gabriel, after we worked on a project, whether I could do something for his bedroom. He had a fire place and I thought about doing a fireguard with butterflies and people in the middle. I made two sets, one with details on the wings, and one without. In the end I chose the one without because I thought the details would disappear when he had the fire on. But since then I hadn’t really use the butterflies until two years ago when I was asked to do a private commission. This time I’ve come to this theme in a much freer way, because the butterflies are not attached to a wall.
These men-butterflies are obviously a metaphor …
Yes, like a lot of my other works that have to do with nature, I’m not interested in merely copying nature; it would be bound to fail when you put it in a park. It would be quite challenging to have a flower sculpture in a park if it doesn’t have an added value to it.
For me, the butterfly is a metaphor for freedom and flying. I’ve always been interested in flying. When I was a kid I even broke my legs jumping with an umbrella from a balcony. But for me executing the image and the shape is not the goal; the goal is the idea behind and what you want to do, expanding the space of your work.
These butterflies images are part of the broader metaphorical images of natural species that I have been using over the years. The animals, plants and insects are being used as metaphors for attitudes and behaviors through "humanizing" the nature.
Most of your works are very two dimensional, almost like drawings in space, and are often meant to be viewed from one side only. But here you have a 3-D butterfly sculpture that can be explored from all sides.
This is the first time I did something three-dimensional like this since I was a student doing metal sculptures at St Martins. My works flattened gradually over the years. Coming back to it in this way is almost like a revelation, going back to my roots. It’s really inspired me and expanded the scope of my work. I’m going to come back to it.
What else are you working on now?
I’m still fascinated by the theme of front and back, which I used in Blackfield. The next project is a huge three-meter circle with 2,000 miniature butterflies painted one by one by quite a few people helping me in the studio. It will be hanging indoors in a dark room under UV. From one side you’ll see the butterflies, but from the other side, insects, cockroaches, beetles, all with one color. It will be shown first in Los Angeles at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, in January. The idea here is the perception of beauty. If you look at butterflies, we completely ignore the insect part without the wings, we only look at the wings. If I was painting the insects in butterfly colors you would relate to them completely differently.
What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
The Fuse box
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
Same place as before, coming from the last piece.
What's your favorite place to see art?
An artist’s studio.
What's the last show that you saw?
Damien Hirst at Tate Modern.
What did you think?
Good show but too many dots paintings — that spoiled it — out of proportion to such an interesting body of work.
What's the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
A while ago at the Hayward gallery in London, I saw a little boy getting his finger stuck in a hole at the rear of a Picasso goat sculpture. Big crowd around him, all trying to help with useless advice. All of this happened under a huge sign that said "Please do not touch the sculpture!"
Read the full interview on ARTINFO