London-based British-Caribbean artist and photographer Ray Fiasco is a self-proclaimed ‘iconoclast’, dissecting images and synthesising them into digitally augmented works as a way of examining the role of visuality in this era of infinite reproducibility and virtual dominance. As part of the creative collective Asylum 33, he presents a selection of his most recent work at his debut solo show on Brick Lane. We sat down with Ray, who gave an insight to his influences, how he arrived at his current style, and what’s on his current playlist.
Briefly tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Well, I don’t usually talk about myself [laughs], but this is my first ever solo show, and most people know me as a photographer or a video director right now. I’ve got a company called Asylum 33, so I do a lot of creative work out of those guys. But for the last four years since I was in uni studying photographer, I’ve just been developing this style. I didn’t really know what to call it at first, because I was studying photography, and I used to draw a lot, so it was somewhere in the middle for me. But a lot of people took to it quite quickly: I’ve done album covers in this line of work, and mixtape covers for people. After being sent to Venice last year, I thought to myself, ‘let me work on my first collection.’
How did this style of art develop?
I guess initially, for me it was a way of dealing with all of life’s pressures at the time – I was in college trying to get into uni having just dropped out of my school halfway through sixth form, and there was just a lot of pressure from the family, naturally. At the same time, I just happened to be going to a lot of funerals – it sounds weird, but because I was raised a lot by my grandparents, naturally at a certain time, lots of people in that generation pass away, so I was going to all these funerals and working out how to deal with that. It was kind of then that I started to pull my pictures apart, so I was editing for clients and doing photoshoots with people in the music industry, but then at the same time I was pulling pictures apart and searching for something brand new.
When did you first start getting interested in the visual arts and photography?
Art – probably since I was four, five. It’s kind of been the first thing I remember doing, drawing. And photography, I was sixteen. I was doing my Art GCSEs and my neighbour gave me his camera to take to London Zoo, randomly. He gave it to me in manual, and I didn’t know anything about anything, so I was just tinkering with the camera, and started shooting all day. When I got back, it was like, ‘shooting in manual’s not easy – you should look into this photography stuff’, and I bought a camera a month later.
What camera was that?
That was a Canon EOS 450D.
Where is the most unexpected place you found inspiration from?
Um, I think it would be last year at the Venice Biennale, because I definitely didn’t expect to be there. A bit of backstory is that I showed someone my drawings, and off the back of that some phone calls were made and I was sent to Venice, to the Venice Biennale. And I was sent there as one of the emerging British artists, and I was out there and met Steve McQueen, I was in a lot of meetings with people, talking about my art and how to move it forward, and I had never really been to anything that big. It was like Art Basel, Frieze, and I had never been to any of those. I was just, completely blown away by it. Three days I had access to anything I wanted, any exhibition I wanted to go to, and I met so many people, and that really opened my eyes to how possible this could be. So literally, as I got back, I was like, doing my own thing.
You’ve mentioned that music is a big drive in your creative work. What music, genre, or artist in particular really gets you going?
Bonobo, Flying Lotus, James Blake – a lot of UK artists. I’m blessed to work with a lot of people around me whose music I listen to a lot, like A2, or J Warner, or HIRA. There are so many artists who I’ve got to work with, and I’m then able to use that very music to kind of, get inspiration to create. Like, I’ve got pieces which I’ve made to particular songs, and it drives me to work in the music industry because I feel like the closer I get to music, the more access i get to create more stuff. But yeah, experimental music, hip-hop, R&B – any good music, really. Frank Ocean, the list goes on…
What would you say sets you apart from other contemporary artists working right now?
I think it’s just maybe the authenticity of it all, for me. When I create I try and just create from a very honest space, and I feel like as an artist, anything you do is then going to be very unique, because you have your perspective. I think it’s the fact that I always create from my honest place and, I don’t know, I think I’ve got a really good iTunes library [laughs]. A lot of great music to choose from to work on what I do, and I’ve got so much access to artists because of the music business we do on the side of Asylum 33 and the music photography. I get sent songs early, and I get to listen to this music, to drafts, and it just puts me in a different space when I’m creating. It’s definitely the people around me and the music I get access to.
Where did the name ‘Asylum 33’ come from?
We were all kind of sitting there once, when we were thinking, and we felt like we were all trapped by our circumstances, I guess. We were all in this asylum, because everyone in Asylum 33 is ridiculously talented, and has got a mad backstory. We’ve all been kind of able to find a way through our circumstances, just with each other. So, yeah, that’s what we were thinking about.
Where do you see the future of post-digital art going?
I feel like art and music right now are on a really nice journey, a really great journey. However, obviously there are a lot of differing opinions, and polarising work, and a lot of stuff I love and I hate. But even the way I create, I see my camera as a pencil or paintbrush, or like another tool in an artist’s arsenal. I feel like the more kids are getting into the digital stuff – such as programs like Ableton – you can start to just do things with your art that you haven’t been able to do before, so I think the future’s very bright for it. I think there’s a lot of value there, just in everything that we take in now, and art is very cool right now.
What do you hope people can take away from this exhibition?
I feel like an important thing to take away is just the value of beauty – strangely, in destruction, the idea of death – because even the work I make is, as I said, how I pull pictures apart, a kind of destruction of what a picture is supposed to be. But, that just happens in life, and everyone that was here last night [at the preview] had a great energy about them, and understood what I was trying to say, and I feel like it gave them a lot of energy to move forward. Because, bad things happen, and it’s going to happen – there’s no avoiding taking it on, but it’s just how you deal with these scenarios and situations to move forward. And also, the people that stopped my outside Buckingham Palace [an incident that occurred last year when Ray was stopped when his cardboard tube carrying his work was mistaken for a rifle at one point] I think everyone’s kind of taken away that I was very innocent that day! [laughs] I had no motives, it was crazy.
What’s the closest goal you have right now, the thing you want to achieve next?
Man, I guess I really want to travel. My goal isn’t necessarily orientated on anything, it’s just like, if this gives me a plane ticket somewhere, to take my message somewhere – like America, Asia, or anywhere really – that would be very, very great. Spreading good art, good energy.
Any dream destinations?
I would not mind exhibiting in the Caribbean! We haven’t really had a summer this year, and I’ve just been waking up everyday like, the sun is hot for three hours, then it rains for three hours… I wouldn’t mind being somewhere really hot in the Caribbean, like Barbados or Jamaica.
Ray Fiasco’s exhibition ‘Light & Death’ is currently on show until Wednesday 27th July between 9am-6pm, at Digitas LBi, 146 Brick Lane, London E1 6RU. For more information about Ray and his previous works, visit his website here.