alias Michael Bradbury
Welcome to Felix, Michael. First of all could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what inspired you to become an artist? And the thinking behind your moniker LabelsOnHumans
I left school at 15 with next to no qualifications. I later found out that I have an IQ of 148, so we can assume something went really wrong. I think a lot went wrong but suffice it to say that I, like so many more kids in working class 70’s/80’s Britain fell through the net. Because of my interest in Art I was able to draw a great big cushion to land on.
Even though ‘making’ has always been my main activity, I never even considered the idea of making art for a living. I went to art school as a mature student but left after a few months. I’ve taught children with Autism, worked with the homeless and been a furniture designer, not all at once though. Only fairly recently have I become a full-time artist.
My art education came from TV, newspapers, magazines, cinema, album covers and eventually galleries and museums. When very young, I noticed that ‘art’ was always interesting and experiencing it came as a relief. The signature “LabelsOnHumans” comes from my interest in Indian Vedanta philosophy. I’ve been studying it and trying to incorporate its teachings into my life for quite a few years now.
Today, the world seems obsessed with compartmentalising everyone and everything. A core belief of Vedanta is that we are all genderless colourless souls originating from the same source. I decided to use LabelsOnHumans to draw attention to this sense of separation which seems so fearful and damaging.
On your website you mention your sculpture, paintings and collages – what made you move into digital art?
When I first left home and got my own place my creativity really kicked in. I made collage from the colours I found in magazines. I made sculptures from found materials, mosaics from broken mirrors and I painted and endlessly took photographs. Over the years, however, I’ve had to throw or give away the vast majority of what I was making to make room for new things. So gradually, through a process of elimination and practical requirements my practice has become digital. Another advantage of working digitally is it allows me to work from home, which is a huge luxury when I’ve spent the greater part of my life having to leave it every morning.
Do you mostly use a computer or do you use other devices as well? Tell us a bit about your working method.
I use an iPad Pro, iPhone, laptop, tv screens and a DSLR camera. I may use one, a combination or occasionally all. I’m not a tech person. I use the ubiquitous technology that is lying around and that everyone has. I feel somehow connected to folk artists in that they can’t stop themselves using materials they’ve got lying around in the back yard to express themselves. I’m just using what I’ve already got at home.
The results are extraordinary to me. I’m excited, fascinated and surprised all the time by my constant experimentation and I find working like this really exciting. It really is a discovery. Also, given that my art education came through the media mainly, it seems to make sense to me that my work looks best on screens, glossy prints and poster sized.
You’ve mentioned that your pieces are ‘visual representations of how I am feeling and what my motivations are’. Some of your comments about your work suggest a connection to the abstract expressionists. Would you agree with that?
I’ve always made art for myself. To console, to entertain, to satisfy my curiosity and as a response to what I see.
I think abstract expressionism taught me what abstraction can be. Its existence allowed me to explore how I was feeling and to be comfortable with doing so. Barnett Newman has used the term ‘subjective abstraction’ and that just seemed the perfect description of what I am doing.
Romanticism is another big source of inspiration for me, and I’m particularly interested in how the artists of that period were able to reject the rational in order to transcend the mundane.
I’m intrigued by your series, ‘Without’ where you use photographs of an outside space as a sort of gallery. How did this come about?
Over time, I realised that the photographs that I regularly took had something missing in them, to the point where I realised that ‘the lack’ was, in fact, the subject matter. Most of these were taken long before I had made any digital abstracts.
More recently, I had a need to see my digital work on the wall and I liked the idea of using these photos rather than mocking up some pretend gallery. I find it really interesting that these two creative outlets found each other in such a successful way and I think they clearly say something about where I think I am in terms of The Art Market.
At this point I think we need to get some explanations of all the abbreviations in digital art – what is an NFT, what is a hicetnunc? Can you give us a bit of history about digital art.
Prior to the invention of Blockchain technology a digital artist was at a disadvantage because their work could easily be copied. Nobody could tell who had the original and how that could be proved in order for it to be sold. NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens were invented.
A piece of work is ‘minted’ or published using blockchain technology and its automatically given a token number. This means that every time a digital artist sells a piece of work, the sale is entered onto a global ledger (a massive spreadsheet). This is practically impossible to hack as, being decentralised, the ledger exists on computers all over the world all at once. Therefore its always easy to prove who has the original piece. That provenance improves the value of digital art and has developed a thriving digital art market.
Another important aspect of digital art is that it is bought and sold using cryptocurrency. I and a growing group of artists only use the Tezos cryptocurrency as it’s so much more eco-friendly than some of the huge carbon-footed crypto-alternatives. It produces a tiny fraction of the emissions, like 1 tweets worth or something, of some of the larger currencies. As a result, I get to call my NFTs ‘CleanNFT’ and that’s a big deal for me. I personally could not justify making other than CleanNFT art, but there’s a lot of money to be made through speculating with larger cryptocurrencies and for some the temptation is too great. Luckily the ‘Clean-only’ collectors are like the cavalry on the horizon. You can get some really useful information about the ecological approach to NFT here https://cleannfts.org/ hicetnunc is a marketplace/website that I use to sell my NFT. It’s arts led, experimental, clean with an unbelievable community of artists all trying to promote and collect/invest in one another. There are other marketplaces, using different cryptocurrencies. Some others also specialise in CleanNFT. An artist would have to apply to some of the larger ones and it can be difficult to be accepted as they are massively over subscribed. Others have no entry criteria and are straightforward to access. The NFT world is still really new and developing. It’s incredibly exciting but also at times really frustrating. Everything, art, photography and marketing projects and collectible baseball cards etc are all, currently, mixed up under the banner of NFT. However, the dust is beginning to settle and I feel that ‘NFTart’ will eventually be shorthand for ‘digital art’ in the sense that it refers to the way work is collected and sold rather than the content.
You live and work in Nottingham, what kind of art scene is there?
There’s a thriving arts scene in Nottingham. Almost across the road from me is Nottingham Contemporary a great new building that has some wonderful shows from world class international artists. There are also lots of independent galleries such as Primary, Surface Gallery and Backlit. Most of these galleries are in an area of the city known as the ‘Creative Quarter’ which also attracts and supports all sorts of creative and digital businesses start-ups.
So there you go, Nottingham is a good place to be an artist.
But to be honest, because of the pandemic and as I work on-line, over the past 2 years I could easily have been on Jupiter and it wouldn’t have made much difference!
Would you have any advice for young artists embarking on a career in digital art?
Yes, just embark, regardless of your years. Make mistakes. It’s still early. Some of the marketplaces are still at the ‘beta’ stage, which means they have launched to use, to test, to experiment, to learn and develop. I’m still at my own ‘beta’ stage…I’m 55 years old.
It seems to me that with art, from each bit the next bit grows and that can’t happen if you don’t share your ‘genesis piece’ to use an NFT phrase. In starting, you can then interact with others, even in a quiet, shy way, that’s fine and you’ll naturally gravitate to the right place. Take one step. Doesn’t matter which, everything is changing and it always feels like you’re learning from what you’ve just done. I could not have imagined that I would be making this art even a year ago. Let it happen.
What are you currently involved in and what are your plans for the future?
I’m involved in developing my career as an artist. That means developing my practice, lots of study, heavy involvement with promoting my work, both NFT and physical prints. I’m always around Twitter and Instagram, the main social media for NFT and I have gallery representation in China for my limited edition physical prints. So discussions and planning go into that too.
I believe that NFT will become a pivotal part of contemporary art making and I’m preparing for that.