Stone Roses' John Squire: I've given up music for art

  • @matildbattersby

Former Stone Roses guitarist John Squire talks to The Independent Online about why he exchanged his guitar for a paintbrush ahead of an exhibition of his artwork, alongside that of Sanchita Islam, at Bristol's The Square Gallery next week:

Talk us through the exhibition:

The work is an attempt to capture an optical effect called a negative after image. This happens when the photo-receptors in your eye get confused, either by a brightly lit shape or something that you’ve looked at too long. And that image moves with your gaze when you look at something else.

What's your technique:

I used oils for the paintings which have colour, but the ones which look dry and biscuity are just canvas which I’ve scorched. It all came about as a result of a show I did in Oldham last summer which included a lot of sculptural work based around consumer packaging. I became obsessed with the little punch-out slots in cardboard packages, which are used to hang items on chrome rails in shops. Know what I mean?

Um...sort of.

They look like a lozenge with a bit on top. Called the ‘euro slot’ apparently. I became disturbingly obsessed with that shape and started making whole fields of them. I think the biggest one was about 6 or 8ft covered in tiny little euro slots burnt onto the canvas. I quite liked the effect and began casting around for other shapes I could exploit. All the images in the exhibition rely on the same technique of cutting a shape out of a steel sheet and either painting it or burning it gently into the canvas with a blow torch.

That sounds a bit dangerous. Have you had any mishaps with work catching fire?

Early on, quite a lot yeah. Which was really frustrating if I was just about to finish. But I developed a crude technique of spitting on my own work to extinguish it when the fire caught. (Laughs) Of course I tried blowing on it at first, but that’s like blowing on the end of a cigarette, it just makes it burn faster.

How would describe your style?

How do I see my style...Hmm, I’m not sure. I’m still trying to pin it down. It seems to change with every show, much to the frustration of my agent. I’ve trained myself not to change during the show, or rather, during the work for a particular show, but I get so many ideas while I’m working it’s hard not to fly off on tangents.

Do you see yourself primarily as an artist or a musician?

I see myself as a visual artist. But I’m constantly reminded of what I used to be, which is inevitable I suppose. The two did intertwine for a while, mainly around 2004-5 when I was still making music. I realised during that phase that it wasn’t viable to do both.

Have you given up music completely?


You don't think you'll ever go back to it?

No I won't. I can't do both.

Did you go to art school?

I only went up to A-level, which I failed. I went to college after school because I didn’t go into sixth form. Actually, I’m not sure if I was given the option.

So you’ve never really had any teaching at all?

Not really. I think the art teacher at school was quite good. He was very frustrated at the time because 98 per cent of the class saw the lesson as a break period. There was just me and one other lad who were genuinely interested.

Do you sculpt as well as paint?

I’m happiest painting, but I have sculpted. I did a huge piece recently where I had to teach myself how to weld, and I was really pleased with the results. I’d like to get back into it, but I'm still learning. The again, it has taken me five or six years to really understand how to paint even though I dabbled whilst I was making music.

You painted the album art for the Stone Roses’ eponymous first record. Why when you could have commanded a host of creative teams did you decide to?

I was an avid record buyer and spent a lot of time in record shops. There were very few sleeves which I liked, so I assumed that giving the job an in-house art team would be very disappointing. I didn’t really consider the option of letting somebody else do it.

Which other artists influence you?

The last big influence was Agnes Martin. She influenced this exhibition a lot. All the small repetitive shapes and very small forms she used to create a whole. For the painting I’m doing at the moment I borrowed the palette entirely from Pierre Bonnard.

What happens to your work. Does most of it get sold or is it in your house?

The unsold work at home, yes. We’ve taken all the blue floral wallpaper off in the landing so we can start hanging paintings there without them disappearing into the foliage.

How prolific are you in terms of the quantity of work you produce?

It tends to vary. If there’s a show coming up I tend to work intensively towards that. I couldn’t give you an annual figure. The way I’m working at the moment is I’ve got about three canvasses on the go at once and those should take me about a week to ten days to finish.

Do you have a studio in or near your house?

It’s about ten yards away from my house. I live on a farm near Macclesfield and I’ve converted the top floor of what used to be a sheep barn into a studio.

Do you work normal hours?

I work in daylight. I went to another artist's studio recently, I’ve forgotten his name, but he’d specified a particular kind of lighting and he’d blacked out the windows. It was really intense. Like the feeling you get when you walk into an all night shop from a dark street, really dazzling. Blinding white light for 12 hours a day. Hell.

Square Gallery Summer Series, 20th May - 11th August