British multimedia artist Spartacus Chetwynd has created everything from costume pieces that would be perfectly at home in a mid-70s episode of Doctor Who, to site-specific childlike theatrical installations. For her debut at Art Basel 41 she has looked to the minutiae of nature for inspiration, painting myriad swamp-dwelling insects and small reptilian creatures in her voodoo-like Bat Opera series. John-Paul Pryor tuned into her faux-deep southern jive to talk giant bugs, hobbyist painters and creating the perfect palette.
Spartacus Chetwynd: I think that maybe I qualify as a contemporary artist because I don't mind being called names... such as illustrator, hobbyist or amateur. I just don't seem to care. When I approach a blank canvas, I paint the surface burnt sienna and then I block out the relevant colours to the approximate areas. Often I paint from images (paintings or photos), but I paint from them upside-down. I always paint standing up with concentrated energy, and I use Cezanne's palette and Matisse's tips for keeping the colours fresh and concentration focused. I have been dismissed as a “Sunday painter” in my approach and attitude, but that doesn’t upset me. I think the reason that I create so many works along one theme might be a desire to reference film, as if the different canvases are like a storyboard or shot list. I am always trying to build a drama, a narrative. I suppose I am really unconscious of what drives me as an artist – I am into doom, though; I find it funny. Oh dear! What a horrible soul I must have – sour, damp, dull, abandoned and bankrupt!”