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Fly Me To The Moon: An Interview With Edinburgh Artist Jock Mooney

You’re gonna love Jock Mooney. We sure do. His exhibitions glow with vibrancy and delight, but cannot be mistaken for not having veritable depth and meaning either. Just like those musicians, you know, that can enter a room and pick anything up to play, he is masterful in so many ways. I first came across his work at Vane Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne for exhibition From Spiceworld to Brexit and was hooked. Following his work ever since has cemented my love for the colour he brings to people’s lives through his glamorous T-Shirt business. Mooney has achieved so much, and I was only too grateful to find out his history. Art has always been a part of Jock’s life; he doesn’t know it any other way. Creativity is vastly present in his family, so it was inevitable that he would also follow that path. “My parents both went to Edinburgh College of Art. They graduated in 1970. My Dad is a painter, and my Mum was an art teacher - at both Primary and Secondary school. She always sewed her clothes. So, basically from the get-go, before I could talk (and I can barely do that to this day), I was in a visual, creative environment. That was, to me, normal."

Jock goes on to tell a cute little tale that shows his destiny was apparent as a keen youngster. “I was incredibly lucky from an early age to be very nurtured and encouraged to be creative. When I was at nursery, I supposedly stood out for drawing the correct number of fingers on a hand. I was always, and still am, very interested in detail, fingers especially!”

As our time moves on, our inspirations often change as we experience different phases of our lives. However, Jock reminisces about an occasion that sticks in his mind to this day. “People who inspire me will have changed over time so many times. I can, however, pinpoint a moment when I was maybe in my early 20s, and I was looking at the work of Otto Dix more. My parents will have had his works in books, but I was writing an essay at college about Entarte Kunst (Degenerate Art). I had never really appreciated him before fully. He and artists like George Grosz really spoke to me. Their work was varied, sometimes just ink drawings or they could be far more complex and considered.”

This makes sense if you have ever studied Jock’s work as he has clearly carried this through to his creations. “I appreciated the mixture of humour with an extreme sense of sadness and darkness. They had a sense of power but also, at times, a sense of joy and playfulness. I enjoyed that combination. I also had a great love of pop art and pop culture in general. So, the glossy sheen of works by Jeff Koons, Duane Hanson, and Claes Oldenberg were also fairly firm favourites.”

Cat Cake 📸- Colin Davison

The intelligent young adult followed in parent’s footsteps by attending Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 2004. He reminisces about a moment that resonated with him. “Of all the artists I've mentioned earlier, I was particularly attracted to the hugely varied nature of Otto Dix's work. I was in my second or third year at college, and a tutor had made a critical comment about two of my works in comparison: they don't look like the same person has made them. I didn't see that as a negative thing; I saw it as a good thing. It made me aware from a fairly early age, in terms of being an artist, that the whole thing could be a lot more fun if you didn't limit yourself in that way.”

There is no rulebook with art, and, if brave enough, this allows creators to make a perfect personal guide. Jock agrees. “Who says you can't make a sculpture one day and then do a ridiculous song-based performance the next, and then a delicate pencil drawing the next day? Why on earth would you ever not try something new? I think that was a good lesson for me. And I've certainly carried it with me to this day. I often speak to artists who think they can't do something, as if everything they do is in some neat considered time-line. Life isn't like that. Do it all. Throw some shit at the wall and see what sticks.”

Now (No Leg Warmers)

Even though he studied sculpture (not at Saint Martin's College), Mooney thinks that his drawings are better, professing that he is a drawer who sculpts, rather than the other way around. “Drawing for me is the purest form of creation, teamed with singing. You can be in an empty room with a pencil and a piece of paper, and seconds later, you have something that did not exist before.”

There's something in that immediacy that Jock especially connects with - probably related to, in his own words, impatience. He continues, “Other works, such as sculptures or more considered things where detail is the key, have to - by their very nature - be planned out a bit more. If the process as a whole is truly successful, the energy and essential linework from a sketch should be carried through into a finished piece. I try to stay true to that in my more focused, time-consuming works. More often than not, the impulsive composition, use of negative space, and intuition that was done in minutes should still be felt. When you lose the pure energy, it's frustrating. That is when something becomes laboured. Even a polished artwork - think of something like a futurist sculpture - still has a very strong energy of drawing in there.”

Vane Gallery is part of the Commercial House movement that saw a dilapidated old building in central Newcastle transformed into an artistic hub, buzzing with electricity and promise. “I was quite lucky at art college, in the sense that I got picked up quite quickly by some pretty big galleries. My degree show was selected for a show at Hales Gallery in London called Voodoo Shit. That was a really good show, it had Hew Locke in it and Bob & Roberta Smith, to name a few. That gave me some pretty good exposure early on. That would have been in 2005.”

Shortly afterwards he moved from Edinburgh to Newcastle. “I was told about Vane by a great artist I'd be chatting to online called Ruth Claxton. She had shown at Vane. She said that it was a really good gallery, and they might like my work. I'd built up a reasonably good CV of shows in a short space of time and produced a lot of work, so I was fairly confident in presenting myself, or my work at least, to people. If you don't do it, no-one else will!” He went to Vane to take in a show and chatted with the friendly lot. Coming armed, he left a disc of images and a printed-out CV for their consideration.

“I was doing a residency at the Market Gallery in Glasgow. I loved doing that. I think while I was sticking some plasticine to a wall, I got a phone call from Paul at Vane. He said that he liked my work, and I kept him in the loop on my month-long residency. That really informed and improved my practice, and in 2006 I did a solo show at Vane called I Wish I Had Electricity in My Fingers Then I'd Blast Ya.” That particular show went onto be shown at Gimpel Fils, the prestigious gallery in London. “I've worked with Vane ever since, and there have been a good handful of exhibitions and solo shows, teamed with some art fairs over the years. They are great to work with.” Jock proudly states.

The Remains Of Leaving 📸- Colin Davison

It was 2019 when the savvy artist exhibited From Spiceworld to Brexit at Vane. It drew in the crowds, as word spread of this unique look of Jock’s teen years to the present day. He explains, “Well, I have always loved the Spice Girls. I don't really understand the snobbery that is fired towards them, why they aren't celebrated more for their cultural impact? I must stress that the show wasn't just a "Jock loves the Spice Girls" showcase! I came up with the title first. I knew there was something in the words. It represents, in a somewhat condensed form, the huge sweep that the UK has taken since my hopeful teenage years, to the mess that we are in now.”

Audiences felt a mournfulness to it as they found a naive day-glo colour scheme teamed with a sense of memorial display. “I'm very attracted to Mexican culture. I was lucky enough to be in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead in around 2013. That had an impact on me, that mixture of joy and sorrow.”

“For me, Spiceworld sums up the whole of the New Labour UK of 1997, and everything that encompassed in terms of a bright new future. We even won the Eurovision song contest that year! That would never happen now. The occurrences in mainstream pop culture are a mirror of how we are collectively seen. We've gone from being celebrated to being a laughing stock.”

Very Geri 📸- Colin Davison

“I was very influenced by the work of famed 'cat artist' Louis Wain in this show. Famously, he drew cartoon cats performing human tasks. He descended into madness after the tragic death of his wife, and his works gradually became subverted and distorted.” One work called 'Very Geri' has hundreds of small little paintings based on her most iconic look. Across the paintings, she goes from being immediately recognisable - union jack dress, big boobs, ginger hair - to being an abstract, pattern-like ghost of her former image. "That sense of distorting and changing something from one extreme to something with practically no similarity to its former self is something that interests me,” Mooney concludes.

Proving further that Jock embodies art, he added another skill to his list in the form of animation, which is actually what he went to study first at college. “I soon discovered, after a short week-long taster, that it wasn't for me; at least not then. I found the production process too long; I didn't like being tied down to one thing. Alasdair was one of my first flatmates at college, and he did his degree in animation. We kept in touch after graduating. In 2008 he asked if I'd like to collaborate on something for some Canadian friends of his: a Band called Tom Fun Orchestra. We did a really fun sort of Pollocks Toy Museum styled video. It also, to my surprise, went on to win music video of the year at the Canadian version of The Brits.”

Impressively, something that was done just for fun, in a why not sense, became something that stuck. The pair have gone onto do a great deal of work together. “I think our most distinctive project that showcases our collaboration at its best is probably Here Comes the Sun for The Beatles. It was also produced by the sadly departed Maria Manton, who became a really good friend. It currently has clocked up over 27 million views! Everyone worked hard on it, and it shows.”

You can even walk around confidently modelling Jock’s art in the form of a trendy T-shirt. His quirky designs of icons, legends, and characters are full of charm. He illustrates: “Things move around and shift, to be honest. I am always doing something, but I am also freelance. The nature of the animation side of things can also have you either working back to back for months on end (if you're lucky) or ending up with some time on your hands. I'm not entirely sure what I would describe myself as, but I suppose it is simpler to call myself an artist! I don't like to label one thing as more highbrow or important than the other.

We end our insightful chat with our prosperous pal, considering everything that he manages to complete. “All aspects of what I do are vital components that serve different purposes. If you took one out, I'd be rather unhappy; I need that mixture. When I do a solo show, it is very all-consuming, so I try to chip away at things for quite a long time. From Spiceworld to Brexit was born quite some time before it came to fruition. From a practical sense, but also as a necessity, I have to do it that way. And it works.” I couldn't agree more, and long may it continue.

Take a peek at the T-Shirts here

Article by Beverley Knight

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