Mat Collishaw: An artist in full flight

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

With shows at the V&A and his new gallery, one-time YBA Mat Collishaw has finally come of age

Mat Collishaw's art melds antique curiosities with glossy modern methods. Computer-generated wisps condense into faces of female hysteria. Powered-up carousels throw cherubs into high-tech spins of rebellion.

This surface smoothing-off is the opposite, you could say, of Collishaw's person. The former Young British Artist dresses in an overcoat, wears his hair long, needs to shave twice a day, has a voice which deals every cigarette he's ever smoked back into the air. Beneath this hard-worn image, however, he is well-mannered, hates the small-talk that oils the wheels of art-world commerce, has a long-term artist girlfriend, Polly Morgan, known for her taxidermy, who advises him on what colours to use. It all sounds very domesticated.

Compare that to how he began his career. As one of the YBAs, he studied at Goldsmiths along with Damien Hirst and later dated Tracey Emin. His contribution to Charles Saatchi's 1997 Sensation exhibition was a tiled version of a photograph showing a gaping, bloody wound in someone's skull (called Bullet Hole, it was actually a medical photograph showing an ice-pick wound). It paved the way for subsequent work dealing with controversial subject matter: mischievous Victorian fairies, pornography, the Crucifixion, even reinterpretations of images from the Beslan school siege in 2004. His recent show, Creation Condemned, at his new gallery, Blain Southern, was advertised with a burning orchid; themes explored included "torture using traditional techniques". Pole-dancers were combined with altarpieces. Roving scanners, like those found in photocopiers, trawled behind images of 17th-century sculptures.

For the festive period, one of Collishaw's huge spinning carousels, or zoetropes, is hanging in the V&A's uppermost cupola. Lit by a series of LEDs, a group of moths in different poses are affixed to a spinning device, frozen static as if mid-flight. The artist designed the moths using software, which are then modelled automatically. When the carousel spins, and lights flash with a specific synchronicity, the resulting heady whirl captivates and unnerves, somewhere between traditional animation and a fractured nightmare.

"I wanted to relate it to the museum in the Victorian period," says Collishaw, nursing a coffee. "I wanted to use modern technology, which is what I do, and I wanted to draw something from the past. Since the brief was to represent the museum as a beacon of knowledge, the moths are attracted to the light. It's total madness."

Collishaw, now 44, was brought up as a Christadelphian, a sect of Christianity that prohibits television and the education of women. His mother studied for an Open University degree in secret. His father was a factory worker. He says that the morality of his upbringing constantly feeds into his work. "I believe in the aspiration towards God," he says. "I don't know whether I believe in it, but there's definitely an aspiration towards something more than is concrete and then a strong moral agenda. Sometimes I have moral dilemmas walking around, and I like to explore them in my work."

Take Collishaw's 2009 show Hysteria, at North London's Freud Museum. He says he is less attracted to Freud as a person than to the era's explosion of scientific experimentation; of superstition colliding with empiricism, of the rising importance of psychoanalysis without the research to back it up.

The exhibition's title, Hysteria, refers to a print hanging above Freud's couch of the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, showing his students a woman having a hysterical fit. Charcot treated her using hypnotism. Collishaw's work explores the discomfort and ambiguity of such treatments.

"I do think Freud was an interesting figure," he says. "But the only thing I see is the damage and confusion which he managed to create. I see people who elevated him to a god-like status who are deluding themselves and messing up other people."

Collishaw says he once took his now-grown-up son, Alex, to a child psychologist "who insisted there was something wrong with him", though there wasn't. He now harbours something of a grudge against quacks. "I am interested in the dark, early exploitation of the early psychologists, certainly with regard to their views on women," he adds. "They did all these bizarre experiments; patients were subjected to bizarre drugs, many of them died as alcoholics. It was all documented and photographed."

Collishaw still goes drinking with his friends from art college, including the immensely successful Hirst. "Our thing was we were always going to do it ourselves," he says. "We were not bothered about what people thought. These days artists feel the need to toady and suck up to people, whereas with us it was all about holding up as a group, which since then, has been pretty solid. It's given us a trajectory."

Earlier this year Harry Blain and Graham Southern, founders of the London gallery Haunch of Venison, which was controversially taken over by Christie's in 2007, left the art world agog when they departed to set up a new operation, Blain Southern. Blain, apparently, felt it was "no longer tenable" to work at Haunch of Venison, and decided to leave, taking a few choice artists with him. Collishaw was one of them – and provided their opening salvo with an exhibition in Frieze week. "Everything I've asked for in professional terms he [Blain] has let me have," says Collishaw. "Things have been selling really well, and I get on with the guy. He's always the one putting the bottle of vodka on the table at two o'clock in the morning in Venice, or wherever. He's always acted like a total gentleman."

Of leaving Haunch of Venison, Collishaw says, "It's like going through a divorce. But I don't get involved with the politics. As far as I am concerned I'm just at my studio making the work."

Next he'll be focusing on a computer-generated rendering of a watercolour of some weeds that came to him during a recent stay in hospital. He says he's been using so many different techniques for so long, that it can be hard to "unravel the knot".

What this means for those looking at his art is a feeling of being unnerved, without ever quite knowing why. In that sense, like the man himself, it happily defied easy explanation.

'Magic Lantern' is on display in the V&A Cupola, from dusk, and the museum's John Madejski Garden, between 10am and 5.45pm (www.vam.ac.uk) until 27 March

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee