May 21 - June 3
|Transcription of podcast interview with Leo Fitzmaurice
and welcome to OUTPUT gallery’s podcast. OUTPUT works exclusively with
creatives from or based in Merseyside. We usually do in-person
exhibitions but we’re currently working with artists to produce postal
exhibitions instead. In this episode, we’re joined by Leo Fitzmaurice.
We’re going to talk the span on his practice; the work he is sharing
through OUTPUT; and his experience of the Liverpool art scene. So,
welcome Leo. How are you doing?
Hi Gabrielle, I'm doing pretty well, thank you.
good. We always start the podcast by asking people a very big, vague
question, which is - where did your relationship with art begin?
yeah, that's a good one, yeah. I mean, it goes way way back to when I
was at school and I was getting into punk rock and stuff like that. At
school, we never went to an art gallery at all, but when I was about
17, we used to go round a lot of the record shops, particularly in
Wolverhampton. One day it was pouring down with rain, we needed to
escape the rain, so we popped into Wolverhampton Art Gallery. It was
the oddest thing, at the time I suppose punk rock was all anarchy and
destruction and chaos. I went into this gallery and there was a
painting by John Salt of a caravan. Initially I was just going round
the gallery and that oh, that's pretty boring. It's like a photograph
of a caravan. Then when I got up close I found out that it was actually
a painting. I don't know, it was almost like the inversion of punk
rock, in some way. It was this completely mental process, that you'd
spend months recreating a photograph. It was the opposite of anarchy,
or something. It struck me, it stood out as being a very odd thing to
do. I think that was the first thing that started to intrigue me, from
Did that then influence your decision to study art?
It was a funny old path, because at school, people were pushed to
academic subjects. I got a C grade in art, but I got other higher
grades in science so I ended up pushed in that direction. But I always
loved art, and we had a great art teacher, we used to just hang out in
the art room. Because I wasn't doing the qualification I could just let
myself go and try stuff out. So we used to just hang out in the
evenings, a group of us, and do our own thing. So that was kind of,
very influential. It was almost the only thing I'd done at school that
What type of stuff were you making back then, do you remember?
wish I'd kept them really, as a 17-year-old lad, I was obsessed with
trying to get the effect of chrome. I remember doing a coffee
percolator, realising obviously that chrome was a mirror but you got
distorted reflections. So it's like surreal, influenced by Salvador
Dali or stuff like that. Weirdly, it was something about the everyday
nature of this chrome coffee percolator thing.
You were trying to paint that?
was trying to paint that but in a very odd scale, so it looked like it
was a building, I seem to remember. It was an everyday object that was
twisted in some way, to become quite fantastical. I think that was some
sort of connection with what I'm doing.
And you studied a BA at Liverpool when it was the polytechnic, that's right, isn't it?
to be honest, again there was a bit of a circuitous route. I dropped
out of an engineering degree in Leicester and then I did a foundation
in art, which was quite difficult to get into because I hadn't done art
O-level. Well I got a bad O-level and then I hadn't done A-level at
all. So it was tricky, but I sort of bullied my way in, in the end, and
got on the foundation in Leicester and then yeah, went to Liverpool.
What was that degree like?
was old style, 60s-style lecturers, very little structure. We were
thrown it and it was completely, almost like, here's a room for three
years and we'll see what you come up with. If you want a tutorial, just
come down the Cracke and we'll buy you a few pints. So it was
definitely pre-sort of, modular, and stuff like that.
What did you come up with, what was the result?
suppose there was a bit of concern or pressure, the degree seemed to
end up- most people seemed to produce a series of things that were
versions, like a version of one thing. So you'd be studying a certain
type of painting and you'd do 7 or 8 different versions of it and stick
it on the wall. It confused me because I wanted to take in all of this
stuff around me, so everything I did was different. It was sort of
painting, but then it was assemblage. I ended up coming up with these
things, like bits of found objects and painting and these structures
that bolted together. So there was a forerunner to what I'm doing now
really but it was it was broadly speaking, painting.
yeah. I've been looking over your work to try and prepare for this
interview but it does seem like you have your fingers in all the pies.
Yeah, I just don't want to miss anything! I start with trying to be in
the world and allow things to impact and then I think, if I come up
with something, how is it going to- what's the output? Which is quite
nice, in relation to the gallery, really. It's a great name, that. It's
only decided by the initial impulse and how it develops.
Do you feel like you haven't missed out on anything, then, because you've tried so many different mediums and subjects?
a way. In some ways there is a focus to the things that I've become
interested in but I never set that up, from the start. The start was
like, you can do what you want, this is it, it might as well be because
that's what you're going to do your best at. What I've done is allowed
myself to find the shape, so it's slightly buddhist or something -
allow the water to flow in the direction it wants to flow. Then it
tells you about yourself, so it kind of feeds back and I can think -
why do I look at this stuff, and why is it focused on particular
things? It's only by allowing that complete openness at the beginning
that I can find out about myself in some way.
Definitely. Over the year then, what do you think it is you care about? What does your art... what are you attracted to?
attracted to all this stuff that's around us, particularly in a
physical world, purely designed to make us make particular decisions
and take us in certain directions, and attract us to purchase it or...
it's kind of designed around what gets into our heads, so it's very
powerful stuff, but it's designed to push us in a particular direction.
I wanted to disarm it. Because it is so powerful I wanted to
investigate that, and also, so there's this kind of love / hate
relationship, I love the effort and time and design and beauty of it,
but I don't like the way in manipulates us. It's that border line, I
guess it might be authoritarian, my delinquent approach, it's probably
going back to punk rock. That may have, I don't know, kicking back and
making things my own...
Painting the caravan?
painting the caravan yeah, that was an inversion, in some way that was
the opposite, it was kicking back against punk rock, so that's the
thing that surprised me. Yeah, there's kicking and counter-kicking, or
something, but yeah. Whenever something up-ends your expectation, it
suddenly becomes fresh, a new thing, you experience it for the first
time. They were going in different directions those things, but in many
ways they were doing that same refreshing of the world around us, which
Yeah - that
leads us on nicely to the project you've done with OUTPUT, or the
project you were already doing that we're able to distribute through
OUTPUT. Do you want to tell the audience about Circus Goes Around 2020?
absolutely. Like a lot of things, it started with a simple observation,
and then it was recorded through a photograph, this initial
observation. It was a little circus poster display that I found in
Bebington on the side of a newsagent. The side of this newsagent had a
series of cabinets and old frames, and there was about 9 of these
circus posters arranged on this meter cupboard, electricity generator
cupboard, in these frames on the side wall of the newsagent. But they
kind of... it was just really funny, the way they were arranged
reminded me of a circus troupe or series of acrobats or something like
that. At the time it was a single photograph but then I started to
think that every time I saw a set of these circus posters they'd been
displayed in different ways, in quite fun and physical ways that made
you think about activity. So I just started photographing and
collecting them, and the more I looked, the more I found this amusing.
I realised this is different companies, in competition with each other,
trying to come up with more and more extreme ways of attracting
potential customers attention and doing these mad displays and
arrangements in these often disused shops, or just hoardings and
shutters and stuff. So yeah, I just collected them, I'll just go on and
on like a lot of things and see what happens. Then I got to the point
where I got maybe 100 of them and I thought, what's the output of this?
Thinking it would actually be nice as a slideshow, then the idea came
to me of music, because there is a sense of dance and activity. I
thought well adding music, well, what music? Inevitably I came up with
the classic circus tune which is very loud and very active and it
seemed to completely relate to these images. Then it was really just a
case of editing and putting the two things together. Then thinking
about the music and the way it builds towards the crescendo, and
thinking about timing the images so that they slowly build, then at the
end it crashes away to nothing. So it's got this weird connection
between all of this imagery, and the fact that some are quite quiet,
they feel quite stationary, but then others are incredibly active. Then
also there's this cycle of this thing expanding and collapsing away at
the end, that connected up with the imagery, which is all these old
shops that are quite often shut up. It has this weird relationship with
the marketplace and capitalism, these cycles. That's what I liked,
that's why the title is Circus Goes Around, I wanted to capture this
cyclical nature of violence, all these things started to come together
and produce what I hoped would be a rich output. That's kind of how it
all came together, really.
It's really interesting to see the amount that you've been able to find - over what period of time were you taking these images?
10 years, possibly a bit more. I think the first one was probably about
10 years ago, so yeah, they're all over the place. I should mention
that the ones in the final output - I keep saying output - are
basically we've got Leicester, Wrexham, we've got Birkenhead crops up a
lot or just the Wirral, Liverpool, wherever I visit, really. Places I'm
familiar with enough to go for walks around the streets.
It's amazing to condense to condense those 10 years into a video that's like, 2 and a half minutes.
Yeah, it's time and space isn't it, compressed into this short time. It's quite rich in that respect.
I should say as well, to the audience, that we'll be sending a postal
exhibition out with one of the images that Leo has taken and on the
flipside of the a3 poster there'll be information, a press release, as
well as a link to be able to view the work online. But it's not just
people who receive the postal exhibition who will be able to view it,
we'll be putting it on our website for you to watch it as well. Do you
enjoy the circus?
No, I can't even really remember, I
think I might have gone when I was very very young and blanked it from
my memory. I find it... I guess they don't use animals as much or at
all, possibly, but I think if I did have a memory as a 4 or 5 year old
it's just the smell, really. I don't like a lot of noise, so it was my
worst possible nightmare in some ways. I mean, a lot of things I've
worked with are things I don't really like. In some ways you understand
things that you don't like more than the things that you do.
I completely agree.
have to focus on them a lot more and deal with it, because that helps
you get through your life, in some ways. Obviously it wasn't that
tragic but yeah, you end up focusing on the negative and trying to turn
it around in some way.
you were talking about looking at commercial advertorial design and
bringing that into your art as a way to disarm it. Do you feel like
you've done something similar here?
Yeah, you can
enjoy it with the information, the information is still there in this
case. A lot of the time I blank the information, I sort of fold things
or cut information out or eradicate it or something. With this the
information's still there but because of the way it's arranged you're
thinking about how this stuff bounces and jumps around our visual
landscape rather than reading it as information that's encouraging you
to go to something. So yeah, it's kind of been disarmed by quantity
rather than reduction. Almost like if you show more and more of it, you
don't notice the individual things. Like a mantra, or something.
because a lot of the images in the film, it's not just a single poster,
it's as you say, six alongside each other, on the inside of an empty
shop front. It's never just one, on it's own.
the place around it becomes at least as interesting and the way the
posters, if you like, have solved the problem of how to deal with this
and how to maximise this opportunity. There's something I quite like
about their creativity. In a way all my stuff is about other people's
creativity. You've got the poster design which is designed to get into
your head in terms of colour and text. These guys out there probably
don't think of themselves as being creative but they are being
incredibly creative, in the street.
do you think about the design of the work themselves? I know you're
talking about the creativity of how these things are placed and
displayed but the circus poster design itself is quite recognisable,
Yeah, and it has been kept the same, it's
almost become a really solid thing even though they're all slightly
different, you know, oh that's advertising a circus. You couldn't think
of it as advertising anything else. So there is that aspect but within
that, there is something that must have attracted our eye. So there's
two things, one is that if it works, then it must be affecting us.
We're always party to the things around us, if they didn't attract the
eye, nobody would go to the circus, or they wouldn't be reading these
posters. So it's a double-edged things. With the circus posters I've
got to say, the design is basically just someone copying someone's
earlier design. So yeah, maybe the first designs, you'd have respect
for as design. But generally in the things I work with I do absolutely
respect the work of the designer. It's really almost like you're trying
to promote that, the visual richness of it, and then blank off the
original meaning. It's like a power relationship, the people in charge
of these companies or businesses might be manipulating us but they're
employing these really talented designers to actually work, and I'm
just sort of freeing that design, so we can enjoy it for its own sake,
rather than being at the beck and call of money making in some way.
Have you ever taken a poster?
Yeah, I've got a few of them.
I don't know why I asked that - I feel like if I'd been photographing them for 10 years then I'd want a memento.
I've taken them, I was thinking about doing something- they tape them
on in various ways that makes it difficult, they do a glue cross on the
back so it's rare to get one that you can pull off, but I have got ones
where i've scalpelled off the sellotape. The interesting thing is they
sellotape them in all different patterns as well. And when they get
weathered, the bits that haven't got sellotape on fall off, so you end
up with these other things which are like a poster that's say a cross,
or lines, and then a border of sellotape that holds the design and
everything else goes. They're beautiful objects as well, I've been
meaning to start collecting those, that's another piece of work.
I'm very interested in how different artists have experienced lockdown
- has your process changed, how have you been able to carry on being an
It's a disturbingly small amount
of change for me, to be honest. There's shows that have been put back,
I've got a show coming up at Humber St gallery which has been put back
at least a year. So that was not so good, and there's other things that
have been put off, so- but I did get some financial help so that kind
of made up for it, and I just had a lot more time. So I spent a lot of
time walking round and looking at stuff, just in my own head. I've got
a backlog of things I need to work on, which tends to be just a big box
with bits of paper with ideas on and stuff like that. So I keep combing
through it and thinking oh that could be adjusted or added to, that
connects up with that. All that stuff can go on anyway. I'm
disturbingly cut off from the world in some ways, but it's going to be
strange in some ways going back to the openings and things like that.
They are important, but also a lot of the thing that happens in my head
is, a lightbulb moment or whatever, they happen anywhere. It's
frustrating, they can happen when I'm rolling out of bed or on a bus or
just going for a walk. So that aspect, going on a bus was not too good,
but most of it has been not business as usual, but it's not affected me
as much as I'm sure it has affected a lot of other people.
Have you been tempted at all to make work about what's happened?
I haven't at all, in any way. I was thinking, that's quite interesting
and thinking back to, it's nothing like a war but I'm wondering if
there'd been a big war like happened when my parents or grandparents
were alive, WW1, WW2, whether I'd make work about those things. I don't
know if I would. It's a very difficult thing to make work about for me.
Part of my work has been something developing for 25, 30 years and it's
tied into my thinking, personality in lots of different ways, and it
didn't get affected much, as I've just said. I would be making
something that I wouldn't really understand. I think for artists that
have been affected by it, or people that have been, I'd be very
interested to see what those effects might be. But I think it would be
a bit erroneous of me to attempt it really.
It's just I was speaking to Donal Moloney on the second to last podcast
to this episode, and he teaches at Hope University, and he was saying a
fair amount of the students, their practice or the piece that they were
due to make for the final degree show shifted course and ended up
responding to the pandemic. I'm just wondering whether after this, are
we going to have exhibitions of work made about the pandemic, or
through it, or digesting it, or whatever?
it's very different for a younger artist, because they haven't
necessarily found something they've been working on for many years.
This may set them on a course and it may fundamentally change their
work. But for me, I kept on hoping and it looks like it could be a sort
of blip. For young people it's a formative experience, it's going to be
a totally different thing. I'm sure things will come out of it.
we'll see. Speaking of young people and I know I've asked this question
on the back of the press release and the print that's going out, but it
may be worth bringing it back up here. You have been working as part of
the Liverpool art scene for a fair amount of time. Is there advice you
would give to people who are just about to enter it, or people who are
moving into the area? Advice you would give them as an artist that has
had a fair amount of success?
Well the simple answer
is no, because I just feel that things have changed so radically since
I was in a formative stage of career, if you like. I didn't realise it
but at the time I was quite privileged. I wouldn't say I came from a
privileged background in terms of money but I realised that you know,
we had full grants paid, and we had the dole would pay us out for the
Summer, and we'd get accomodation paid, so when you left home you left
home and that was it. I did a little bit of maths on that, actually. My
grant was £1700 and I didn't have to pay it back. Beer was 30p a pint,
at the student union. You think well, beer's £3 a pint now, so that
would work out as £17,000. We were very well off. I didn't get into any
debt. Then I left that and went into a world that wasn't awash with
money, but there was always arts council money and institutions like
the Biennial and the Bluecoat had a lot more projects on. I mean, the
Bluecoat did 12 shows a year. So there was always shows that local
artists would be woven into, and now it's sometimes 3 or 4. That's just
the Bluecoat but you look at every institution, their programme has
been really cut back. So the opportunities for young artists... God,
this is not sounding good. The opportunities for young artists is
absolutely, it's terrible. I'd say local artists but all artists are
local at some point. So how do we help, how do we get that step up from
artist-led to institution? I don't know, I think that's something that
needs to be addressed. I'd say, yeah, it's very very difficult. Advice
for a younger artist... it may just come down to people, I think people
in institutions like curators and gallerists, once they develop a
connection they will want to understand your position. If you don't
have direct contact with them you sort of become disconnected, I don't
is a bit of a loaded question but do you think it is possible to be an
artist in this city that stays and works in this city, or do you think
that artists must connect with places like London and places like
Glasgow etc in order to you know, have a successful salary?
the moment probably not, but there's been things that have almost
happened that needed to be part of the ecology. You've got the
gravitational pull of London or Glasgow, both ends have got big
commercial elements, a brilliant one in Scotland with the Modern
Institute. There are other good commercial galleries, so it's not the
be all and end all, but it is part of that thing. We had Ceri Hand
Gallery. She's doing very well but obviously not necessarily
financially, that takes a long long time. You have to be in for the
long haul and I think the arts council need to support that. They did
in Scotland, with Modern Institute - the story I heard was they were
given 10 years guaranteed support, so they could build a reputation and
take risks, and that's what gave them the edge in the art world because
they weren't playing to the market from day one. There need to be some
long term, ambitious thing like that in Liverpool - something that said
we're not building for this year or next year, we're building for the
next 10 years and we're going to back you. It's got to be Liverpool or
Manchester, it's kind of like a second city, this region, the
North-West. It's much bigger than Scotland, probably. In terms of
population it's probably way bigger, I'm guessing. So not to have a
centre here, there are a few things but they've always gone away. What
was the one in Manchester by Piccadilly Station?
I've no idea, sorry.
Terry O'Brien ran it I think.
We're missing those mid-tier galleries in Liverpool I think.
definitely that. What you've got is a very top-heavy institutional
offer, with Biennial and the Tate. The Tate are starting to try and
connect up. But all of these things, if we can squeeze the most out of
everything that happens in the city like potentially getting
international curators, artists turning up. Every time they turn up in
the city if they could each have one studio visit, spread it around.
I'm sure when you go to other cities you want to see what's going on
there. So it works both ways, if they had a little bit of budget to pay
those connections they would take that knowledge away to somewhere
else. Those are things that I think could work. Otherwise it's the
artist-led going round in this circuit that never transcends it in some
It's a dead end.
Showing to each other, yeah.
agree, I think we need some way to bridge that gap and also a new way
to disseminate the type of work that's going on here, and bring new
conversations into the city. I've had conversations before, and I wrote
a giant proposal not to the arts council but someone else, to try and
set OUTPUT gallery up as this new franchise that would be OUTPUT and
INPUT. So OUTPUT gallery would show the local artists and INPUT gallery
would bring non-local artists into the city, but you could have an
OUTPUT / INPUT gallery in Liverpool and another one in Nottingham for
example, and it meant that the Liverpool OUTPUT artists could then show
at the Nottingham INPUT space. I've just got this dream of having a
gallery that is literally two rooms alongside each other, so that you
could go between the works. But it was unsuccessful! But we'll see, the
idea is there.
It's really nice, great that you're
doing it. Many years ago I was involved in a project called LMN and it
was like, Liverpool Manchester Newcastle. We just all rotated around
and it was absolutely brilliant. We need to make those connections.
definitely. Well, thank you so much for speaking to me. This episode
will go up the same day that the postal exhibition is launched so if
you're listening, make sure you go to www.outputgallery.com in order to
sign up for a free print and also to watch Circus Goes Around, Leo's
new film. Is there anywhere online that people can view your work, or
social media that you want to share?
Yes - there's
@leo.fitzmaurice, that's instagram, and then there's @post.match,
that's instagram. Then there's leofitzmaurice.com, that's my website
and then The Sunday Painter gallery who represent me, they've got a lot
of biographical information on their site.
Yeah, I was having a nose at that before! OK, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you on the next episode. Bye bye!
Thank you very much, bye bye!