Q&A with Alex Payne

Q. We’re here today talking to Alex Payne. Tell me how it all started?
A. Weymouth, where I’m from. Classic Seaside town, beautiful place, but not much going on. Not much culture, lots of heroin. So I started skateboarding as an outlet for creativity and staying away from drugs and nutters basically. I started to discover skateboard graphics and got really into that while I was at school and started looking more into art and artists, the people who’d drawn graphics and designs for skateboards. When I was at school I started drawing and getting seriously into it. Went to Weymouth College doing a BTEC in Art and Design there, which was well good, I have to say. I did everything in that course, it was two years. Doing a graphic design project, print making, drawing, observational drawing…

Q. A bit like an Art Foundation?
A. Yes. You don’t have to do a foundation if you’ve done a BTEC to go to Uni, but I didn’t do that. I wanted to get out. So I went to Kingston University. Wanted to go to Camberwell but they wouldn’t have me, thanks guys! The collage king there would have enjoyed my company. Can’t remember his name and don’t want to name drop anyway. So went to Kingston, it was awful. Did a year and a half there before deciding to give up because the tutor there said I might as well just be drawing in my bedroom. So I left just after I got a large chunk of my student loan, kept that and went off travelling around Europe with that, soon after falling in love, and then came back with my love and that was it really, that was my education. Taught myself after that.

Q. You went to the University of Life?
A. I went to the University of Life? Yes. I don’t regret going to University though because it taught me what I didn’t want to do, so I pretty much knew I didn’t want to be a commercial illustrator as soon as I stepped through the door.

Q. So how did you get from there to here?
A. When I left Uni I had this realisation that I wanted to keep making art but I didn’t want to get a real job, so I wanted to do a creative job. I was getting tattooed quite a lot at the time in London and got really into it, so I decided to start tattooing. Because I was like, aha! I can get money from, essentially, drawing this way, and it’s not as impossible really as becoming an illustrator or doing a commercial art job. So I moved back to Weymouth because I lived in the kitchen of my friend’s house for quite a while living off supernoodles. Which was good, but I think I needed to move on from there. So I moved back to Weymouth because a guy down there gave me a job in a tattoo shop and taught me pretty much what I wanted to know which was great. Sort of full-time, almost. Being a seaside town there was a lot of stuff to do. All sort of nutters basically, crazy people. So that was good, interesting, and Harriet, [my partner,] moved down there for a year with me. But then I said we’ve got to get out of here man, but I don’t really like anywhere in the UK so where can we go? So we decided to come to Norwich because my sister had come here for Uni, she’s been for I don’t know how long, six or seven years? So I’d been visiting and kind of liked it so we moved here.

Q. So maybe you should tell me next about Exit Press?
A. That started in Weymouth doing riso when I moved back there with Harriet. I started doing a lot more drawing for myself again, after focussing on tattooing for a couple of years, I didn’t do any of it with my own artwork. So then I got back into it and got quite inspired and wanted to do some riso printing. I got in touch with a bunch of studios to print some zines and it was well expensive and I had a bit of money at the time from tattooing, I had like 500 quid kicking around and I was like well, I could spend 350 getting a zine printed or buy my own printer. So I’ll do that and I did. That arrived and I had lots of fun messing around with it and it sort of went from there really. I thought I could produce editions and zines for other people and that would be really fun, just release it. I didn’t do any commercial printing for about a year after having started Exit Press, I was a publisher. Then moved up to Norwich, needed a job again, so Exit Press became a commercial printer as well as a publisher in order for me to have a job. With the idea and intention that it wouldn’t be as expensive for artists and students and stuff as it was when I got quotes from people originally because not everyone can say ‘oh yes I’ll spend 350 quid on a zine from a printer. So I thought I have this opportunity to make this stuff and have this machine now so I can offer this for less money so it’s more accessible to people.

Q. So that brings us to Print to the People. How did you hear about them?
A. I heard of Print to the People originally because of my sister living up here before I moved up. She said ‘look at these cool prints I’ve got, these people do this open access printing thing’. So I was like, nice I’ll check that out. So I’d heard about it through various people, I met Toby at the Norwich Zine Fair and he was like ‘I work at Print to the People man’ [and I met you as well [referring to Paul]. The first time I ever went to the building was because of an open Halloween thing and thought this is a good opportunity to go there while there’s other people as it wouldn’t be so embarrassing as me knocking on the door and saying ‘Hey guys! What’s up?’

Q. And you became Mr Riso?
A. I moved out of my studio, because it was leaking, you guys were doing riso as well as me and we teamed up I suppose. I brought one of my machines in and run a commercial printing press from the riso room at Print to the People as well as running courses with the great Toby Rampton for the public to enjoy.

Q. Let’s go back to the skating because you said someone sponsors you to skate. Is that still the case?
A. I think so. I’m not sure. ‘James! I asked you for a board ages ago, where is it?’ I wish this was on the radio.

Q. So you still skate, obviously?
A. I do yes, though I’ve been quite slack through a back injury, which is a nightmare, that I got last year. I do do it, but I can’t do it quite as often as I’d like at the moment. But we’re getting there. I’m sort of sponsored by Horse Skate Co

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I did a show called ‘Something’ with, again, the great Toby Rampton, love of my life Harriet and sexual deviant Sam Avery and it was a great success. And that has sparked inspiration for a quite a few new things. I’d quite like to do a series of screen prints and other drawings and might possibly get the watercolours out, but we’ll see. Most of the work for that show was made in a week after a walking trip on the north Norfolk coast, which I found incredibly inspiring and it was kind of a sketch book show for me in the fact that it was all these ideas I got when I was away that I want to develop on and come up with some more finalised work to show again. Maybe as a solo show? If anyone would like to get me a gallery in London so I can make it big?

Q. You did say you were trying new techniques like letterpress?
A. I was experimenting quite a bit with letterpress and with Letraset. Trying to figure out how to add a graphic communicative element to the work sometimes, but I’m not really sure how, not sure I like it that much.

Q. Is that your Letraset?
A. It was one I found in the bin, well, the collage box. And that collage box has been quite inspiring lately, been delving in there a bit.

Q. And that is the next question, what inspires you?
A. I found a book in there the other day called ‘Confessions of an English Maid’. Which is unbelievable. All sorts of vintage pornography and writings from an anonymous author about her sexual experience as an English maid. That’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen. It hasn’t directly inspired my work, but has inspired my life.

Q. What artists do you admire or get inspiration from?
A. I’m going to answer this cryptically, if that’s alright. One of my biggest pet peeves in life, in the world is when people look at a piece of artwork and say ‘oh it reminds me of so and so’ and I want to stab them in the eye, it really is the worst thing ever. Obviously it’s human nature to look at something and be inspired by it and accidentally copy elements of the persons work subconsciously, so by mentioning my favourite artists people might be like ‘well he’s ripped them off’. So I’m not sure I want to give you a list of artists, but alright. Basically Nigel Peak is the king. I got into him as a contemporary illustrator, one of the first I ever discovered. And that sort of changed the game for me as how to look at the world and look at various things and objects. So he’s always a massive inspiration for me as a modern artist. He’s also an architect. And there are also the classics, like Picasso, Miro, Matisse. All of those guys, really good. Also Bill Daniel. He’s made films, he’s a photographer. He used to photograph punk bands in the early-eighties I think. He made this film ‘Who Is Bozo Texino?’ which is a sort of looking for the most prolific rail-riding hobos in North America. Which is amazing and inspiring as an anthropological documentary, looking at all these different lives and with people trying to discover where he is and if he even existed. Probably the one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. But Bill Daniel is pretty rad and I believe he now lives in a sort of shack in the desert somewhere in America photographing sea levels or something.

Q. Let’s talk about your process, how you create something. Are you a sketchbook person? You clearly collage.
A. I never used to be a sketchbook person, I never used them until I was about eighteen and now they’re everywhere. My process usually starts with me taking photographs. So I’ll go off on an adventure, or a walk, or think about something and get some idea and go about photographing all sorts of stuff. Whether it’s natural landscape or, with this project, structures in the landscape or just various compositions that you see around the street or more urban settings with buildings, colours. So I go out and collect all these things in the way of photographs and then figure it out as a theme for work. I always do a series not a single thing. It always has to be a set. I think about something, walk about, take loads of photos, do sketch book stuff. It goes from there. The medium depends on what the subject matter is.

Q. You use real film in your camera?
A. Yeah. For more immediate things I use my phone. If you see something you like and don’t have a camera at the time I just take photo on my phone. I’ve been using film for maybe four years now but film photography is just my own thing and doesn’t go on Instagram yet, but it might in the future as I’m getting quite confident with it now.

Q. How do you deal with creative blocks?
A. Go mental. No, hang on. It’s a weird one and doesn’t happen so often now because I’m not so depressed since I started taking Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. I’m a bit happier and creative blocks don’t happen as much and it they do I take a walk.

Q. Do you collect anything?
A. I have a book obsession, which is becoming unhealthy. A few skateboards, though I’ve whittled it down a lot when we moved up here, mainly because I didn’t have any money and had too much stuff, so sold a few. But kept my favourites.

Q. Where do you sell your work?
A. Online shop and if I do an art fair.

Q. You also do the Physics Company? Tell me about that.
A. The Physics Company is an outlet for artistic ideas that I have that crossover somewhere between tattooing and illustration I guess. And I didn’t want the two to creep together. So I started this as a clothing brand. It can include jokes, but is for things that don’t fit as an illustration or a tattoo.

Q. We normally finish by asking, what’s your favourite Bowie song?
A. Moonage Daydream


Questions: Paul McNeill   Editor: Yasmin Keyani