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Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the art, interviews category. The previous post was , and the next post is .

Simon Periton

Simon Periton makes doilies, big ones, that make much of the conflict between confrontational subject matter and the lacy, intricate nature of his methods. We spoke to him about Mint Poisoner, an exhibition at Inverleith House.

So, what’s going in the show?

I’m putting in six new pieces of work, essentially images that I took in Costa Rica when I was on holiday—not that it’s particularly important where they are from—and they’re all organic, naturey, jungle rain forest, sort of dense canopies of foliage. They’re quite complicated layers of twines and vines. That’s not a very good description, sorry. Essentially they’re very organic, unlike say the stuff that’s on at The Modern Institute, which is harder and more urban.

Presumably that’s in response to Inverleith House being in the middle of a Botanic Garden?

Well, it sort of is and it sort of isn’t. Originally the idea for the show was going to be that upstairs there were going to be these 17th and 18th Century drawings from the Fitzwilliam collection in Cambridge, they were floral still life s, a whole mixture of stuff. I said that I’d do a whole suite of pieces in response to the drawings. For one reason or another, it was decided that the drawings weren’t going to be there, and I said, ‘Oh well that’s a bit weird, because I was going to make stuff in response to those drawings.’ At that time I was working on some other stuff, for a show in New York, so I went off on my trip and when I was there I realised I could still work with roughly the same idea, so it does fit, but it’s not an attempt to make a show that fits the Botanic Gardens.


The show I did in New York was a bit darker, denser, using more floral William Morris type patterns, so in a way this feels like a carrying on of ideas I was working on anyway.

So you don’t normally work in response to the space you’re showing in?

No, I don’t really. Although there is a part of me that thought that the stuff I did for The Modern Institute fit quite nicely with how I think of The Modern Institute. It would be too corny, too straightforward to make a show about nature and flora in the Botanic Gardens. I think the show will be a lot darker, a lot more sinister than I imagine the Gardens looking in early June. And I don’t think you could possibly ever outdo the Botanic Gardens! It’s such a fantastic place.

To talk more generally, how did you light upon the doily method, if I can call it that?

It’s such a long time ago now, I never thought I’d be making these paper doily things for as long as I have. I’d sort of taken a year out, and decided not to show anywhere, just to take some time in the studio working on some little things, and one of the things I was interested in doing—this is in ‘94 or ‘95—was trying to find a way of working that was invested with a lot of effort and activity, but was essentially a kind of useless, highly decorative act. I was trying all sorts of things, doing little drawings on sheets of rubbishy cardboard, making things out of odds and ends I had lying around. I sprayed through some things, and one of the things was a doily, and it fell on the floor, and after a while I found it, and looked at it and thought, ‘This is what I’m looking for, that’s what a doily is: a useless and decorative beautiful object.’ It’s only purpose is to live underneath a cake and on top of a plate. Beautifully decorative and totally useless.

So I started cutting things out of paper, a bit like those childlike snowflake things. I was trying to get back to some sort of innocent way of making art, reworking the ideas of why I wanted to be doing that sort of thing anyway. This was four, five years after leaving college, and you have to sift through a lot of the nonsense you’ve been fed, that you want to get rid of. I was just making them without ever thinking that I’d show them to anybody, they were a means to an end, to get to somewhere else. Then someone came by the studio and saw them, and said that I should put them in a show. The response I got was so extreme at the time—it seems a bit silly now—a lot of people really hated the idea that I would make a doily, they were really offended by that. There was all this talk of ‘Oh, you mean paper-cuts, you don’t really mean doilies’ and I thought, ‘Well, no actually, I do mean doilies’ partly because the response annoyed me so much. And it just went from there, and every time I think I won’t do any more, I come up with a new way of working with them. They were quite direct and crude to start with, and always had this fluorescent paper thing going on, which was very direct, sort of saying, ‘You can’t possibly ignore this piece of fluorescent piece of paper in front of you.’ In a way, they’ve become more and more about the surface, about layers, about decoration. They’ve gradually got more and more complex, and I’ve got more into three dimensions, hanging them like Christmas decorations, or making things that slot together. What was a simple way of working to start with in the end can produce quite an elaborate piece. The other thing about working this way is that you never really know what you’re going to get until you open it up at the end. I used to fold the paper into four, and literally didn’t know what I’d get. Now I do four layers to make a different… illusion. There’s something quite naive and wonderful about that that I still like.

And of course they’re quite sophisticated at the same time, in terms of their complexity…

Yeah, in terms of physical cutting they’ve got a lot more sophisticated, and obviously I’m a lot better at cutting now than I was seven or eight years ago. In terms of the ideas of them, it’s become quite strange. In some ways they’re caught between painting and sculpture. A lot of people regard them as some sort of comment about painting, but I think that’s mainly because they hang on a wall in a painting like fashion, and they become about the surface. On the other hand, if anyone asks me what I do, I tend to say that I’m more of a sculptor really. They’re not really two dimensional, they have, albeit a very small one, a third dimension. They do have a sort of presence that is more than a flat thing.

You just pre-empted my next question. I did wonder about that – they’re very, very flat, but are obviously sculptural, and the way you make them is recognisably an act of sculpture…

They hang on the wall, and even though they are very flat, they sag and tighten depending what’s going on around them in terms of temperature and humidity. I’m looking at some hanging in the studio now, and if they’re made up of three or four layers of paper, they can end up three or four inches deep. That’s something other than a flat surface, there is something sculptural there. Not that I’m really bothered about where they fit in. You know, they’re sort of like drawing as well.

Yeah, they sort of look kind of a bit like line drawings from a distance. Sorry I’m being a bit vague here…

No, no, they do. But the thing about cutting with a knife is that it’s a very definite act. If you’re drawing with a pencil, you can make a mistake and rub it out, but with a knife you’ve got such a definite mark-making activity. Obviously I can and do make mistakes, but they’re worked into the piece, I’ve never had to throw anything away. You can’t go back on yourself, you have to make certain decisions, and that makes them look very graphic, very like line drawings. They always end up looking more fragile than that, though.

When it comes to the subject matter, how does that relate to the process of making? Are you limited by it, or does it suggest certain subject matter?

I don’t seem to be limited by it. At first they were almost like doodles, I was just taking my scalpel for a walk, and they kind of lent themselves to making these thorny tangles, and they looked like that for a while, and there was something quite twee and amusing about doing such dainty floral work. The I tried to rework certain ideas, and for a while there were lots of riot scenes or anarchy symbols or barbed wire, in a way because of the delicate and useless properties of the work, it lends itself to making a comment on what I though of those ways of being and working. I suppose in a way, my very initial ideas about finding something delicate and useless as a way of working were in response to questions about whether you could find any way of working that wasn’t a decorative art object any more. Now, I go in and out of that, sometimes they appear to look more hard in their imagery, or sometimes things that appear to be decorative and organic natural s end up having a much more sinister feel them than if I’d done anarchy signs and terrorists, do you see what I mean?

So there’s a built in opposition between this fragile thing depicting a non-fragile thing…

Yeah, that’s my kind of intention, to see how that would work. Obviously you don’t really know until things are finished and on the wall, but that is in there. It becomes… With this show, I don’t really expect them to be lifelike renditions of a jungle or a tree. I’ve chosen specific things I was drawn to, whether it’s an odd root structure, or a view into the rain forest with this multi-layered, panoramic canopy. One of them is this four foot by five foot, really intense curled up leaf from some strange plant, which will look like an abstract blob, but with these strange filigrees that reference nature.

What have you got coming up after Inverleith house?

I’ve been doing shows back to back since October last year, so Inverleith is the last one for a while. I’ve got a bit of a break, other than funny little projects and commissions.

And you’re sticking with the doilies for the time being?

Yeah, yeah I am. I’ve still got a lot of things I’d like to make. And I’ve just done a book, Sadie [Coles] and I have just done a book, with an essay by Will Bradley who used to be with The Modern Institute, so it’s been a bit of a bonkers year already, so I’m looking forward to a break.

Cool. That should be plenty of stuff – it’s only a short preview I’m writing, so I won’t take up any more of your time.

Sure. I’m just trying to think if there’s anything else to say.

They’re terrible these things – it’s hard to know what to talk about without seeing the work up in the gallery.

I know, I know. One thing is that Mint Poisoner is an anagram of my name.


I’ve been using anagrams for the past few shows.

Uh-huh. Was it Snip Riot Omen at The Modern Institute?

Yeah, and the show in New York was Premonition, which is quite a nice one, getting a whole word from my name, and kind of funny for my first New York show. If they fit, I like to use them. I don’t know if it’s worth mentioning.

I will I think – Mint Poisoner has a really nice ring to it.

Yes, it does. I do quite like that one.

Posted at 10am on 16/05/03 by Jack Mottram to the art, interviews category.
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  1. Beautifully decorative and totally useless.

    I think anything beautiful is already useful. We need beauty in our life :))


    Posted by Renee at 4pm on 03.05.04

  2. Ive been following your work for a while and fink it fantastic, a real breath of fresh air, I love the way you mix the very rock un roll references along with the very decarative “crafty” thing well thats all I suppose its nic to say nice things. cya

    Posted by Ryan at 7pm on 09.05.04

  3. Nice blog, just wanted to say I found you through Google

    Posted by Johnathan at 11am on 04.11.04

  4. i want pictures!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by angry person at 11am on 24.03.06

  5. Pictures are available here, angry person.

    Posted by Jack at 7pm on 24.01.07

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