Exhibit: Trent Whitehead – If Not Now, When?

It’s been a while between drinks for Sydney artist Trent Whitehead. His last solo exhibition was a sell out at Monster Children Gallery back in 2010 and in the years since then, he’s been busy building a house and making headways on a family. With his new solo exhibition If Not Now, When? opening next week, 25th of September at Mild Manners new M.M.P.G. space in Surry Hills we sat down with Trent to chat about new directions with minimal regret.

Interview by Matt Rabbidge
Photos by Shaun Freeman

Trent Whitehead Studio 3
Tell me about these new paintings, the detail is bloody amazing. You’re obviously a stickler for intricacy and a sucker for punishment right?
The thought of all that time going into my work might seems punishing for most people but for me I find myself at peace when I’m working away with repetitive brush strokes. When I started prepping for this show I was telling myself I’d just whip up a couple of quick simple pieces, that didn’t last long, before I knew it I was back into the more detailed work. I’ve always been stuck in the quick sand of obsessive detail, which is I guess, a blessing and a curse.

Your work has somewhat always based around these brightly colours mythical characters and pattern works, do you see them as adaptions of animals and people you know, or are they pure off the cuff imagination?
Hard to say really, I definitely don’t use any reference material or have intensions of it being an adaption.  However it would be a lie if I were to say its just out of thought. Is there really such thing as pure imagination? No matter where our consciousness leads us or how we expand our consciousness, the elements of humans and nature is coded into your subconscious. So in this 2D world as much as you think it pure imagination at the end of the day it really isn’t.Seems like you’ve had a lot of thinking time mate, close to four years really. Correct me if I’m wrong but it was 2010 when you last exhibitied a proper body of work right? what’s kept you off the tools for so long?
It definitely doesn’t feel like 4 years that’s for sure. Basically it’s been an accumulation of things- the core of it was becoming a father to my two beautiful daughters, which abruptly clobbered me with the reality stick.  Financially things had to change and I knew I had to still be immersed in a creative job, so I focused on my freelance work and started Always Studio. This also allowed me to spend time with my girls and watch them grow, which is the best thing a flesh vehicle stuck in life’s traffic jam can ask for. Whilst it may have kept me from making a lot of art the last few years, having kids has taught me a lot, and it’s made me more disciplined, time conscious and motivated.

Trent Whitehead new work 4
Trent Whitehead New work 2Leading up to that last standout exhibition of yours at Monster Children Gallery it seemed like you really had some momentum behind you.  Was it hard to make this sacrifice for family and stability?
It most definitely was a hard sacrifice, but it was also a relief in the beginning. While making that body of work I was juggling a lot of freelance work and the arrival of my first daughter Coco-Jean. I was still learning the ropes of becoming a dad so I was sleep deprived and feeling a little overcooked.

By the time I’d finished the works and installed the show I’d decided I really needed a year off exhibiting, but I honestly didn’t think it would be this long. I did miss it majority of the time but most of my creative energy and focus was spent on building relationships with my freelance clients, with 80% of my work load being in the fashion industry designing tee print, yardages, typography etc, I was pretty much using it as a temporary fix to my void.Over the last few years were you still creating work?
I was creating a few things here and there but honestly hardly anything when I look back at my previous work ethic, just a few group exhibitions per year and the odd personal work. In my first two years off I was unsatisfied with majority of my work, leaving me feeling a little uninspired. However in the past few years this has changed and I have found myself re-inspired, connected and content with my practice.

Without dwelling too much more on whats happened in the past, I want to know if there was much thought behind the title of this upcoming exhibition ‘If Not Now, When?’
Ha! a little obvious huh? If I wasn’t constantly asking myself that question, my friends and family were. That been said, I also found it a common question toward this new body of work. Not knowing if this world was from the past or future or another dimension. I can relate to this as I work by myself and spend a lot of time in my own head, swimming amongst unanswered questions.

Trent Whitehead Studio 1
Trent Whitehead new work 3
Theres a pretty big difference in the works you’re doing now compared to the 3D masks and paintings you last exhibited. Whats been the main reason for such a change?
Definitely safe to say there’s been a shift in the work for sure. Again there are number of reasons why I’ve shifted in a new direction. As cliche as its sounds, my life has changed dramatically since I was making that old work. I’ve gone form living a self obsessive existence residing in the city, partying and living week to week to living for my family on five acres of land surrounded by incredible plant, birds and wildlife. Work wise I literally couldn’t get my head back into that world, there was nothing left in the tank so I happily parted ways with it.From sketches to the finished painting, how long does it take to come together?
I couldn’t put an exact time on how long it takes to make a painting, however this body of work has taken me around 8 to 9 weeks with freelance work and a few cases of the man-flu. I normally have a lot of works going simultaneously and when I’m all out of steam on one, or a get it to a stage where I’m not quite in the right head space to start the next section ill jump ship and continue with the same technique. It all depends on what mood I’m in on the day.

Good to see you making some sculptural works too… What is it about working some of these characters into sculpture?
Sculpting has always been a big part of my practice. I’ve always found I can’t just replicate an exact character from my paintings into sculptures but there’s defiantly always resemblances.  To be honest, I basically really enjoy the process of working with timber, I’m definitely not trying to convey too much of a statement.

What other artists are on your radar?
At the moment, I’m really into Josh Jefferson’s work.

After this show wraps up, what else have you got on the cards?
In early November I’m heading to Auckland for a show with Mark Alsweiler. Then another solo in Melbourne at the RVCA Corner Gallery in February next year. Cant wait to start making some new work for that one!

Trent Whitehead’s solo exhibition If Not Now, When? opens next Thursday 25th of September at the new M.M.P.G space above Title Books on Crown St in Surry Hills. Click here for more details. 

Trent Whitehead Studio 2 Trent Whitehead _ New Work 1
Trent Whitehead new work 5
Trent Whitehead Studio portrait

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