Herb Ogretush: How long have you been making digital art?
RT: About two years, although I've worked with text and images digitally for longer, five years at least.
HO: How long does it take you to make a piece?
RT: It depends, I may spend more than an hour on some! (laughs)
HO: Do you work that quickly?
RT: I can. Sometimes an idea, the total image, will come to me very quickly. Then it's simply a matter of putting it together. The immediacy of the digital medium is part of its appeal, for me. I don't believe a piece is valid simply because it took months to make. Some of the worst albums ever made took months...you know, overdubs, multi-layering etc. Musos have made some terrible music. The exception is Jazz and Classical, of course, but even Jazz can be approached with a Punk attitude, as in Rip Rig and Panic. To use that analogy, my work is more Never Mind The Bollocks than Aja, if you get my drift. I'm still a punk, basically. I can't help it. I see art that's been laboured over, very intricate digital art, and it means nothing to me.
HO: Are there any digital artists that you do like?
RT: None that I can think of. I look around for people coming from the same place as me but find none. The closest in the spirit is the old Zerox art of magazines like PhotoStatic. That's the spirit I'm talking about. I like some so-called Glitch art, but I'm not interested in programming to create fucked-up images. Still, it's better than fantasy Goth crap. That stuff gets digital art a bad name...so much so that I'm reluctant to apply the label to what I do.
HO: You use the term 'anti-Art' on your blog. Why is that?
RT: I'm uncomfortable with the notion of art as it is today, when things are more democratic, supposedly. When rules are there to be broken, new rules exist. Despite everything that happened in the twentieth century. It's as if Dada never happened. By which I mean the spirit of making things against the status quo, today's conservative radicalism. There are rules...expectations, such as 'Which Art school did you go to? Prove to us that you're qualified to exhibit!' 'Is your work of a professional standard?' Fuck all that. I've seen hundreds of perfectly produced, professional and totally vacuous so-called works of art. It's all professionalism and no content.
HO: Perhaps that's the result of technology being available to so many. It's possible to achieve a lot just on a computer and a good printer.
RT: Quite. It is technology, to an extent. Because of what it can do people want to use it. They haven't one imaginative idea in their heads but 'Look what the technology can do!' So much art is the equivalent of all the perfect photos people take on their phones. Easy. It's easy to look professional.
HO: But isn't that a good thing? More democratic?
RT: Yes, and that was the joy of Punk, of course. The difference being that kids who weren't musicians in the proper sense made anti-music that proved a point and that was what made Punk Rock great, the awkward, angry, unprofessionalism of it. Likewise Reggae in the late-60s and early-70s. Those Upsetter tracks, the organ solos are both hilarious and brilliant...pure folk music. You can't reproduce that feeling. Digital art at its worst is technical complexity just because it can be done.
HO: Do you consider your work to be a political act?
RT: Only in the sense that as an outsider, working class, I still insist on doing it...without the blessings of any institution. There is political content in some of it, but non-partisan, because I don't support a political party. I'm more interested in the politics of social life, if you like. Money, capitalism, materialism...what they do to people. The nuclear family ideal that's shoved down out throats...that aspect of life.
HO: But some of your work is purely grounded in aesthetics.
RT: Oh yes, I like a pretty picture as much as the next person. Not that many of mine are pretty. The Patterns series, perhaps. I enjoy repeat patterns...pictorial serialism, if you like. The aesthetics of a piece come into play, if I want them to...colours working together. But I have no rules.
HO: Your work is incredibly diverse.
RT: I'm always exploring new ideas. Again, working digitally, that's made more feasible. More than that, I'd never trap myself in one style. I have preferred styles, that's it. I'll always be testing new ones. A painter can take years to perfect their technique, never mind changing it. I don't envy painters. It's a mucky job, all that cleaning brushes...the smell of oils. My partner, Jane Pearrett, paints. I love her work, but I've never been attracted to painting.
HO: What's the appeal of collage?
RT: Recreating a pre-existing image in another context. I've thought about it recently and concluded that since so much of my life has consisted of awful, menial jobs, I'm driven to create alternate realities. If that makes sense. Perhaps that's rubbish, but altering the 'real', not that photos are real life, but representations of reality, is a powerful thing. I've sought refuge in music since I was a kid...escape from dull reality, lonliness. Now I escape into images.
HO: Old images, mostly.
RT: Yes, I'm drawn to old images more than any other. Getting back to politics, I'm intrigued by the age of post-war consumerism in America. It's the pinnacle of the capitalist dream, which has long since turned sour. It was always an illusion, a beautiful Technicolor illusion, the idea that all those new consumer goods would bring happiness. That dream is still being sold today, of course. Even though more people are wise to phoney politicians and corrupt financial behaviour...debt and mortgage loans they can't pay back...the dream is always there. Besides all that, it's the colours of those times that I love...the textures and tones of the images.
HO: I don't suppose you will tell me your working methods? I know you usually refuse.
RT: (laughing). Sorry, I'll never tell.