Eeenterview with Neil Rothstein
By Luis Rivas
Neil Rothstein is 34 (but doesn’t look a day over 33), and lives and works in Manchester, England. He studied fine art at Bath Spa University over ten years ago. From his little in-house studio, he produces his artwork, paintings and writing.
Neil has said, “In my artwork I have tried to always evolve and experiment with styles and methods. I think it’s very important to be chameleonic with artwork and to react to different emotional circumstances in a host of ways. I alternate my painting and writing, both of them giving me a certain cathartic relief in specific ways.”
With writing Neil finds it to be a more immediate form of artwork, a distinct and quickly forming, almost absolutely instinctive process, the words forming are removed from him in some dark recess of the mind, where they wait to be unlocked. With his paintings, it tends to be more considered and time consuming but nonetheless important.
Neil has exhibited mainly in the north west of England, Liverpool, and St Helens mainly; and he has sold a good percentage of his artwork. He is also a regularly-published poet and artist on Gloom Cupboard.
Mister Neil Rothstein, as a resident of Manchester, England, is it viewed as a crime not to go for Manchester United?
Hello Mr Rivas. Well, living in Manchester is a strange place. Where I live 90 percent of people support Man.United, and if you don’t follow them it is frowned upon; I’m regarded as bit of a heathen because I support Liverpool, which is an unpardonable sin in Manchester.
As an artist that uses various mediums, what are your thoughts on this multi-level approach? Does it ever take away from one medium? Or does it offer a holistic help for all your artistic endeavors?
I think the use of different mediums stems from an internal ennui–for want of a better word– that I suffer from. I love to be creative and produce a lot of work in short periods, but I seem to get a little edgy or impatient with whatever I’m doing, and so many times I just try and switch from one medium, i.e., oil paints, to household gloss paint or abandon painting altogether. One of my favourite artists has always been David Bomberg. He was a painter in the 1930’s, and he always tried to push himself after a set of work into an entirely separate state of thinking, to abandon and even throw away work with the aim of taking something from his last pieces and mould them into something very different. I think for me this frequent change of styles, strengthens my relationship with other mediums. I appreciate the way they work with each other–it frees you technically and conceptually. It doesn’t always work but you learn from each mistake and it’s an approach more artists would benefit from, I think. I know a lot of artists who will only use one medium, out of fear of change or lack of curiosity and it leads to a very stoic but ultimately repetitive and dull body of work.
For me, as a writer, illustrator and photographer, my strength and, consequently, my passion lie in the written word. Drawing and photography is supplemental but a lower priority. Do you find yourself ever having to compare mediums? Like, if you are struck with an idea, is it a “painting” idea versus a “story” idea?
I think sometimes I will have an idea and have that exact dilemma. I suppose I would consider myself first as a visual artist, and so that often is my first consideration, but again this can switch around. For most of this year I have consciously written a lot more than I have painted, and any idea has been first written about. And if it isn’t really working, I have got my sketchbook out and started to draw something in response. I wanted to really give my writing a good chance to flourish this year after a lot of years of solely painting or drawing. I wanted to reinvent myself somewhat.
You’ve said that both writing and painting creates a cathartic experience. However, writing has a much more instant gratification as oppose to painting. Additionally, I would say, painting appears to be more indelible, more permanent. Maybe it’s because you don’t necessarily have the same instant Internet culture around paintings, you suppose?
I think the Internet has a lot to do with it; creating a painting is a much more laborious process and recently I just haven’t had the patience to do it, to go into my studio, to buy the canvass, clean the brushes, sort the paint out, get the lighting right etc. Whereas writing has become a far more immediate outlet to my thoughts and creativity, as to painting being more indelible, to a certain degree yes, it can be. If I create a painting I’m happy with it. It seems to have more impact on people than if I do an equally good piece of writing, but I believe that has something to do with antiquated attitudes of a lot of peoples ideas of what art actually is. I think writing is still treated as a whim or a hobby in some respects rather then a piece of art in itself and therefore struggles to fight its way to be seen or heard by as many people, or to be treated and regarded the same.
Which method generates the darker stuff, painting or writing? I’m into the dark stuff, in case you haven’t realized it.
I think at one point a few years back, I would have said the painting. I did a series of quite visceral paintings which I was happy with and still am, but they couldn’t quite get across what I wanted to say, and at other times it all comes out as pastiche, a poor modern version of Hieronymus Bosch!, too literal and too much. But since I have fully indulged myself in writing this year it has become apparent that all the dark themes and chaotic sequences that writhe through my mind are much more suited to writing. There seems to be less restraint in my writing, which in one way is good, that I can fully disentangle the web of thoughts. On the other hand I am able to sieve the ideas more carefully in painting, and sometimes produce something a little more refined and less jagged.
I remember dabbling in painting and drawing on a larger scale. The idea of selling my work freaked me the hell out. I couldn’t comprehend it. Why would I want to just sell something that I labored over for days (sometimes weeks!)? Is it an exercise of artistic maturity to separate yourself from your finished artwork, or is it purely economic survival?
I know that feeling well. You struggle for days, weeks, months even, sifting through the means and the ways to get the image right, then the layers of colour and the tiny nuances and your done, exhausted mentally and physically, and sometimes its hard to part with something like that, but again it comes back to not being too precious with your art work. One of the hardest things to do is exhibit your work, because you are literally showing people your true naked, unmasked self, and you know deep down some people are going to love it, but some, maybe the majority are not going to get it, or simply just dislike it, and as artists we are a pretty egotistical bunch, so one great reaction outweighs all the negative comments, or vice versa, and selling the work is just a logical step, it does take a certain professional detachment to sell and let it go, and also most of us, me especially, am quite financially poor. So the money is always a welcome reward. (I’m a terrible socialist Luis!)
Your writing, through your alter ego, Strange Writings from the Netherworlds, is a stream-of-consciousness approach, melting in experimental, non-traditional literary methods with heavy, disjointed poetics. Who are you influenced by? And what is the purpose of having an alter ego?
I think the purpose of setting up this alter ego was from a little anxiety of putting my writing out in the Internetosphere. I had a lot of writing and was going to just put it on my own page but in line with the themes I had wrote about I wanted something a little removed from me, a shield, an alternate persona, and now when I write it helps me slip into voids I write about. The main and direct influences on my writing I think, are J.G Ballard, Bret Easton Ellis, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I think within them I have found a way of writing which is expressive and visceral, they all have demonstrated an imagination of unlimited possibility in the use of words, and sentences, and structure which I have been so enthralled and really showed me an approach to writing that has really influenced me.
An excerpt from “Long Live the Idiot” by Strange Writings from the Netherworlds:
“…so I just screamed louder until my throat bled and I clawed at the ground, I had to place both my hands over my eyes and saturate myself in the dark palms, falling to the floor I wept at the feet of three enormous Ravens who serenely watched me, I started to plead with them, but to my surprise when I opened my eyes the multitude of screaming nightmares had gone, and so had the Ravens.”
In reading this, i remember back to my high school drug-haze days taking speed and smoking pot behind school building with some buddies and looking up to a tree covered with ravens. Immediately after seeing us, they flew away in a black squawking mass. I remember feeling petrified. You do a good job of describing the disturbing and difficult.
In your poem, “No More,” there is a blatant political theme, critical of social apathy but also of modern democracy. What motivated you to write it? I like political poems, that are done well, and this one was.
I remember writing this at the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and being a little sickened by the adulation for the Chinese organisation and the wonderful things that they had done to make it all happen as our erstwhile media and government kept saying at the time, and as I was sat there it angered me to think of all the artists and free thinkers and the ‘dissidents’ and liberal reformers and anyone who basically spoke out against the ruling party being incarcerated and never being heard of again. I was furious at the toadying and creeping of western governments at their grateful thanks to the Chinese government for such wonderful hospitality with tiny, miniscule caveats in there speech’s referring to human rights. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, and this poem was a by product of it.
By Neil Rothstein
there will be no more revolutions
in this house of iniquitous fortune,
life is too comfortable to revolt
we are numbed out ,
with the white glare and dead stare
of our ever present watching eye
as long as it placates-translates-satiates
there will be no more revolutions
all anger is channeled-either
false crises-or internal putrification
in the most fundamental way, the democracy
we live in ,
is an unholy and desperate lie
no big victories anymore-
only tiny personal campaigns-no balletic sloganeering-
worthless reliance on orgiastic self-hatred,
every minor and terrible violence
that occurs inside us becomes magnified
there will be no more revolutions
i am cathedral
Well, Neil, we’ve come to the end. Any last rants, manifestos and/or confessions of love that you’d want our readers to know about. Now is your time.
I think I should just say something on the recent riots here in England. I live nearby to where some of the worst rioting was happening and whereas the current right wing government are content to blame it on the criminal classes solely, without really trying to understand what the fuck really happened, or why. My opinion is that the young people who rioted are reacting to years of neglect by the state, without a voice, (especially here in the north) without recognition, without any clarity of what they are supposed to do with they’re lives apart from become wage slaves or live off state benefits, they mostly come from homes where the parents aren’t much older than them, and who themselves have been failed by successive myopic governments. It’s cyclical. And will continue to be, with the dark nights coming upon us I suspect they will come out to play once again in the dark alleys with their weapons of choice.