Austin Honour explores the eclectic range of influences and techniques that shape his artwork. Honour confronts contemporary issues like fake news and image manipulation while offering room for viewer interpretation, aided by titles that hint at his mindset. Elements like scale and the use of black and white serve to question the importance and authenticity of the subjects he portrays.
Kelly Foster – Could you run me through the themes you’re focusing on in your work?
Austin Honour – I’ve always been interested in found imagery, which usually serves as a starting point for most of my paintings. Over the years, my interest in various images ebbs and flows. Lately, I’ve been revisiting old images that feel relevant to what I’m doing now.
KF – I like that you’re sticking with this kind of monotone black and white aesthetic. When you’re creating sculptural elements, do they correspond with a particular painting, or are they considered separate?
AH – I feel like they’re a bit separate. There are only a few pieces that really go well with the paintings. For example, the stilted lamp looks great with another painting that has a similar kind of frame. But generally, I think it comes down to my love for design and the need to have a functional yet aesthetically pleasing studio space.
KF – It seems like you organise your work around specific series.
AH – That’s just how it has evolved. I often find myself deeply interested in a topic—like space, cosmonauts, or UFOs—and then the imagery around that subject becomes fascinating to me. Over time, my interests may shift, leading to a different set of images and themes in my work.
I haven’t painted much in the last couple of years, so the work I’m doing now feels very new. I’ve returned to the imagery I was collecting initially, but with a larger database now. The images that stand out to me have changed. It’s more about the feeling an image gives me; it might or might not work as a painting, but I won’t know until I actually paint it.
KF – I like the cyclical approach you’re taking by revisiting your own archive and undergoing a new selection process. It’s very meta in a way.
AH – Absolutely, that’s why I’m so interested in creating an archive. I’m aiming to establish a sort of narrative through everything I’ve done.
KF – As you mentioned your interest in UFOs, what’s your perspective on that now? It’s become quite topical recently, and it seems like certain themes and images in history keep recycling.
AH – It’s fascinating how people are largely unphased by it. If the government is telling the truth about having had contact for years, you’d think there would be mass hysteria. But it seems that people are more concerned with immediate needs like rent and food. Perhaps the idea of extraterrestrial life has been so ingrained in our culture that the news doesn’t shock anyone anymore.
KF – Your work feels particularly relevant to contemporary discussions around truth, fake news, and image manipulation. How do you approach these topics in your art?
AH – That sense of questioning what’s real has definitely moved from the fringes to mainstream discussion. With technologies like deep fake, and this new insurgence of AI, trust is even more compromised. You can basically fabricate anything, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate what’s real from what’s not.
KF – Exactly. And given the long history of misinformation, it’s hard for people to take government claims at face value anymore.
AH – Absolutely, people have many other immediate concerns.
KF – Your paintings seem to touch upon these ideas. Do they present a neutral viewpoint, or are you trying to communicate specific opinions?
AH – It’s a mix. Sometimes an image strikes me as visually appealing, while at other times, the concept behind the image intrigues me. Painting inherently lends authority to an image, elevating its status. Whether the subject matter is intense or mundane, the act of painting imbues it with meaning.
KF – Your body of work also appears to shift between representative and abstract styles.
AH – Yes, I’ve been intentionally selecting more abstract subjects. The recent works are perhaps more conceptual and subversive. I strive to maintain a balance—enough subtlety to allow viewers room for their own interpretations, but also sufficient content to convey a message.
KF – So, how do you go about that?
AH – The titles have always provided a clue about my mindset at the time. For example, with pieces like “Owl” and “Wheel,” I’m not aiming for an overly clever title. However, there are times, such as with “The Influence,” which serves as a sort of self-portrait for me. It features the cover of a book on Luc Tuymans, who has been a significant influence. I appreciate that title because it encapsulates not just my personal influence but also the broader topic of how people influence each other nowadays, particularly through social media.
For instance, the painting ‘Mother’ which has the TikTok play arrow and ‘Dada’ which shows a computer menu bar at the top, gives the sense that what you’re looking at is a picture of a picture of something. I didn’t just want to recreate Duchamp’s chess player painting; I wanted to show that it’s a screenshot to highlight my own lens, the lens of contemporary technology.
It adds another layer, separating the viewer from the original source. That could be through a screen, a phone, or whatever. It’s more nuanced than just a screenshot from a film. Including elements like the play button adds another layer to what I’m trying to convey.
KF – I admire how you touch upon art history while also incorporating your own process of appropriating images. You’re not just saving an image as a JPEG; you’re emphasising that it’s a screenshot or a video.
There’s this fascinating blend of high-tech, generated images and your almost rebellious act of painting them in oil on canvas, in black and white, rejecting the use of colour. It’s like you’re creating monuments out of these fleeting digital images.
AH – I agree. The rejection of colour was somewhat serendipitous, but it allows me to focus on the image itself. I primarily use a thin black colour on a lot of visible canvas, which, as you pointed out, is in stark contrast to the polished, flawless images we’re constantly bombarded with. I’m trying to create a grittier, newspaper-like representation of these subjects.
KF – So you’re sort of going back to a more analog way of viewing things, but with digital or modern images. How do you decide the scale of your paintings?
AH – The scale often comes quite spontaneously, often dictated by what materials I have available. I project a few potential images onto the canvas to see what feels right. I enjoy the tension between a small image that conveys a lot and a larger, more vapid one. So it’s a conscious decision but also quite spontaneous.
KF – That’s intriguing because the scale makes you question the importance of the subject. What else I was wondering is, you mentioned in your statement that you often focus on the “banal” or “vacant.” What draws you to these themes?
AH – Yes, I suppose so. I like imagery where not much is happening, but at the same time, something is happening. It’s contradictory, I know, but still relevant to some of my paintings.
I enjoy giving my paintings room to breathe and having a lot of space. I am drawn to images that say a lot but also nothing at the same time. It allows people to add their own interpretation.
KF – I appreciate how much importance you place not only on the image itself but also on how you curate your studio and sculptures to enhance the mood. Do you also focus on how the paintings interact with each other in a given space?
AH – Definitely, when it’s possible. Some spaces don’t allow for that kind of arrangement. I often work on multiple paintings at a time, so I have that conversation with myself about how they relate to each other.
KF – It also feels relevant to photography, especially when creating a photo book. The sequencing can create different meanings based on what came before or after. Do you ever take your own photos, or are they always sourced?
AH – I do take photos, but rarely paint from them. More often, I record sounds and field recordings. I also make music which sometimes complements my paintings.
KF – What is your music like?
AH – It’s pretty ambient and droning. In my last exhibition, I included some of my music to create a fuller experience, incorporating the space with the paintings and an auditory element.
KF – I love how everything fits together, creating a world of your own. So you manipulate recordings, both visual and auditory?
AH – Yes, I do a lot of sample manipulation. In a sense, what I do with my paintings, I also do with music.
KF – I’m curious, where does this fascination with recording, images, and sound come from? Was there a moment when you decided this was your path, or were you always naturally drawn to it?
AH – I’ve always been naturally drawn to it. Even when I had a basic flip phone in school, I was taking pictures and making videos. I’ve always been interested in the idea of archiving, having folders of random images and screenshots.
KF – What’s your thought process when it comes to new works? It seemed like you reached a point of exhaustion with the UFO series. Do you keep boxes open to explore these ideas further? Or is the process more intuitive?
AH – The process is largely intuitive. However, seeing the UFO paintings in black and white in the book I am putting together has inspired me to revisit those images. Especially given current events, I feel the subject of UFOs might be more relevant than before. I sometimes find myself fixated on a particular theme, and then I lose interest and shift focus. It’s always felt like my work is somewhat fragmented because I’ve been interested in various things, like painting, tattooing, furniture, and music so it’s been interesting seeing it come together.