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Interview: Artist William Martin unveils Liam of Soho

Image: Photograph of William Martin at work in his Bussey Building studio, Peckham, London.

Will Martin is a ceramicist born in Cape Town who now lives and works in London. His work explores themes of absence, masculinity, and colonial history. Will apprenticed to master potter John Bauer whilst studying Social Sciences, Anthropology, Art History, and English at the University of Cape Town. From 2014-2015 he was a resident artist at the Florence Trust. Run-Riot caught up with Will to discuss matters of sexual and geographic identity, fragile masculinity and objects of desire around his exhibition at The Smallest Gallery in Soho.

Eli Goldstone: Hi Will, you are currently preparing for your solo show. Could you tell us about the work you’ll be exhibiting?
Will Martin:
Sure thing! I'm so excited to be exhibiting on Dean Street with The Smallest Gallery in Soho. We're using my ceramic and textile pieces to create a domestic environment that can be voyeuristically seen from the street. We used the listed Georgian Window as a starting point and decorated the room with Adam's Style swags made from chains, and period furniture. The room feels lived in, and is suggestive of the person who lives there. The character and title of the display ‘Liam’ evolved out of this milieu. We know he's in his 50s, has been living in Soho for 30 years, collects art, books and ceramics, and is being evicted in two months time by the council.

I can't thank the curators Philip Levine and Andreia Costa enough for working with me over the past 6 months to develop this site specific installation. The gallery manager Moira Rizopoulos has been great facilitating the exhibition and The Garage Soho have been so kind letting us install in their window. We also have been lucky to receive in-kind item support from local area brands Cubitts, Frame, Set and Match, Blacks Club, and Paragon Service Point, that gives a local feel of community engagement, as well as light support from Santa & Cole and Gallery Velorose, where I had my solo show OBJECT / IMAGE last summer.

Image: Photograph of installation, ‘Liam’ by William Martin at The Smallest Gallery in Soho

Eli: You were born and raised in post-apartheid South Africa. How did this affect your identity as a boy, and later as an artist?
The thing to keep in mind is that homosexuality only stopped being illegal in 1994 when Apartheid ended. And that the Constitution that followed explicitly protect the rights of people no matter their sexuality, gender or colour. So I came of age in the new South Africa, but was born in the old. All my teachers, elders and boyfriends had been subject to the Apartheid State and conscription, but there was also this vibrancy and optimism about what SA could become. My education was deeply Post-Colonial as you can imagine, as was the art being produced and exhibited. There was a focus on the underlying economic forces behind exploitation both locally and internationally, and it's here that I base my understanding of power relations. Follow the money. Everything has to be paid for, even if you're not paying for it.

Image: Photograph of William Martin, with ceramic chain.

Eli: There is a recurring motif of chains and in a larger sense of struggle within the material presence of your work. Can you talk a little about that?
I started making porcelain chains as a way of talking specifically about the fragility of South African masculinity. Porcelain is very hard, but very brittle, and doesn't deal well with shock. Growing up I always experienced a cognitive dissonance between my surroundings and my interior world. Perhaps that's another reading of the contradictory way I use my materials. And then there's the BDSM component that chains inevitably invoke; see Žižek bellow.

Eli: How does gender identity inform your craft?
I identify as a cisgender man, using him/his as my pronouns. I've always used art as a way of coming to terms with my sexuality, and a part of that is poking fun at the hyper masculine, internalised homophobia of gay culture. I fall prey to it myself sometimes, not so secretly wishing to be a lumberjock crossfitter at least once a day. My decision to work in craft materials and processes came in my teenage years as a way of lashing out at the expectations of my all-boys-school-sport-fanaticism. I basically started making pottery 'cause I didn't want to play rugby.

Eli: You work in the Bussey Building in Peckham. How long have you been based in South London and how would you describe your relationship with the place?
I've been based in Peckham for almost three years now. I'm very lucky to share a studio with Feix and Merlin Architects in the Bussey Building and live on the same road as my second studio at The Kiln Rooms. I love the area, and I've never eaten as well anywhere else in London. A wrap from Salas is a must. Peckham Rye reminds me of being on Long Street in Cape Town so it's home away from home. I get all my sewing supplies from the tailors on the Rye, and every other material or component from Khan's. In the winter I planted clay seed bombs all over Peckham and it's made me feel even closer to the area watching them bloom.

Image: Photograph of installation, ‘Liam’ by William Martin at The Smallest Gallery in Soho

Eli: I believe that you studied literature - are there books or writers who have particularly influenced your practice over the years?
Yes, I received an M.Litt from the University of Glasgow through a joint program with Christie's Education. 'The Plague of Fantasies' by Slavoj Žižek was a defining book for both me and my thesis, giving me an entrance point to Lacan's writings on loss. From my University of Cape Town days I'd say J M Coetzee's 'Disgrace' was a kick in the gut that I'll never forget. His acetic writing taught me the importance of editing. But it was probably 'Dinotopia' by James Gurney that showed me as a kid that you could make whole worlds through story telling.

Eli: Finally, tell us about an object that is particularly important to you.
I would say an object that's on my mind right now is a gold earring that my Dad posted over from SA recently. He received it during the Single Handed Round the World BOC yatch race when he traversed the Cape Horn of South America. As a naval officer he wasn't allowed to have piercings, so he never wore it. I think I may create a performance for it in the near future.


William Martin: 'Liam'
Now until 17 June 2018
The Smallest Gallery in Soho
62 Dean Street, London W1D 4QF