10 Questions with Neil Rothstein

by HST UK on March 19, 2012

Neil Rothstein is a dual threat – a writer and an artist. Fiendishly he toils away at home in his studio, creating absorbing stories and striking paintings. He kindly took some time to chat to HST….

HST: Talking Manchester: out of the chaos of industrialisation grew flowers of culture; music and art has thrived in the city. Why is Manchester a hive of creative activity?

Hello. Or should I say hello?. Living in and around Manchester you become very aware of history, its own history in nearly everything, the buildings, the landscapes, and if you know anything at all about Manchester you seem to see the myths all around you, in the ally ways and the halls. I think the innate confidence and self assuredness that Manchurians have has something to do with it being such a creative city, walking around the city at night you feel this more, the ghosts of the past roaming the streets inspiring its hidden architecture. There is a great atmosphere of just getting things done, of wanting to see something happen, there is a willingness and an open minded attitude in the city that gives artists/musicians/writers etc. the belief, I think, that the odd little idea you have for a show, or an exhibition or whatever can be done and that there are a lot of like minded oddities (like myself) who will want to see it.

HST: This question relates to how you alternate between painting and writing. Does your working pattern differ from week to week, or will you spend months at a time on one particular artistic medium. I gather that your words come quickly from the gut, whereas your artwork is a more prolonged creative experience?

I used to think of myself as a painter who occasionally wrote, but over the last year a definite change has swept over me, I would consider my self a writer primarily now, I have been solidly writing stories, odd disjointed paragraphs, experimental narratives without doing any painting at all, and this is the first time I have ever done this, just solely concentrated on one medium, in the past I would alternate frequently, an hour painting an hour writing, but the visual side to my art started to feel old and redundant, stale in many respects, whereas the writing feels fresh everyday, the unlimited reaches of my imagination and emotional responses can be explored to the absolute limit, you’re right about my writing, it happens quickly, and in short bursts, I tend to write twice a week, I think my sub-conciseness saves all the weeks experiences up inside me and extenuates occurrences, I get sudden needs to write, I think I have found a way of tapping the my mind for all these things I have seen, a cauterisation of images onto my brain, ready for me to peel away the layers to get to them.

HST: Can you tell us a little about your artistic background and the experiences you had going through Art at Degree level? How important is it for an artist to go through at Art College or University?

I would say on the whole my experiences of college and Uni were positive, up to a point, I studied at my local college in St Helens in Merseyside, which for the year I was there I found incredibly inspiring, and then went on to Bath Spa Uni, I studied fine art and got a decent degree, the experience of being in university though is I think over emphasised, because what generally happens, or what I found is that you spend so much time de-constructing artwork, paintings etc., that it becomes harder to actually make your own stuff work. It takes away something. With me especially, I have the technical skills but no longer have the desire or reason.

HST: Describe your in-house studio environment?

I have a very simple set up at home, I live with my partner who is very patient and hides her bewilderment well, I have half of our spare room, with a desk in the corner upon which sits my shabby, shitty, beyond useless P.C, it’s alive but on its last legs, I sit there next to the window which backs on to our yard, and beyond the enclosure of garages and neighbours gardens, I sit there and look and imagine and wonder what exactly is going on?.

Next to this I have my easel folded away for when I feel like painting, scattered around me are various sketchbooks with the half drawn images, and too many books which I am picking at like birds eating a carcass.

HST: I’ve never fully understood what goes on at the planning stages of an art exhibit; can you enlighten me a bit on the lead-up to a showcase? Or is it simply a case of making sure the visitors get plied with plenty of wine and keeping your fingers crossed that the work is appreciated?

Well, that is a vital tool to oil the cogs and lubricate nervous minds, the lead up to a show is quite stressful in many respects, you start off with a collection of artists, or just one, then you go through with them what pieces they want to put in, which is all fine, but in the days leading up to a show you have to get the artists to bring in their work, which never goes well, there will always be someone you cant get hold of, who’s work you are suddenly relying on, the work is ready to go up on the walls, so you plan where to put it without the missing artist. Deciding where the pieces go and how they fit is fun, you get to stamp your own limited influence on the show, curators privilege, and just when your giving up hope and considering putting something up of your own, the missing artist will turn up, red faced and unhappy, inevitably with their space. Generally you are still putting work and descriptions and wine glasses out when the first guests arrive. Then the wine flows, the artists arrive and take all the glory.

HST: Your writing has been regularly featured online, what does this mean to you? Does it bother you when people dismiss online publication?

It pleases me quite a lot to feature online, I have no pretension about it at all, and it’s out there on the ethereal waves for people to read. I think the sheer volume of stuff available puts a lot of people off who consider the physical object of a book the final word in publishing, I feel quite fortunate to have been featured in some top quality online mags. The dismissal of online publications is just petty snobbery really, a large number of people are attached to objects, for example, in the art world a similar snobbery exists in terms of paintings and conceptual avant-garde work, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the notion of art that isn’t on a canvass, I think anything that challenges peoples stead-fast perceptions is important otherwise inertia sets in and the medium becomes obsolete.

HST: Bret Easton Ellis has been cited as one of your influences, do you feel Ellis is an unapologetically self-indulgent writer? What novel of his did you get the greatest pleasure from reading?

I think the expression ‘self indulgent’ is an understatement for Brett Easton Ellis, his work is all basically are about him, everything, I think, but in a perverse way, it’s one of the reasons I love his work. The deep sense of alienation within his stories, the dislocation, the dispassionate characters have all been an influence on me I think, I think my favourite book still, is American Psycho, the existential nature of it blew me away when I read it, for some reason, the violence and the sensationalist aspects in it where incidental really, there are some really profound passages within it, some paragraphs that haunted me, that still stand alone in my mind.

‘ … where there was nature and earth, life and water, I saw a desert landscape that was unending, resembling some sort of crater, so devoid of reason and light and spirit that the mind could not grasp it on any sort of conscious level and if you came close the mind would reel backward, unable to take it in. It was a vision so clear and real and vital to me that in its purity it was almost abstract….’

P 374/375.

I used this passage in a piece of work, I was kind of obsessed by it, there where answers in it and others like it, answers to questions I needed answering.

HST: Your stories are flamboyantly loaded with illuminative words, it’s as if you’ve flung a thesaurus into a cauldron of vowels and consonants, and everything has delightfully bubbled over. Do you revel in wordplay?

I don’t know if I revel in it, since I’ve been writing more and more its just become the automatic way that I write, it tends to be the words that race through my brain and as they do I have to assemble them into some sort of order, I do tend to describe things in exhaustive detail and I do enjoy the full gamut of the language, and I find my work quite enjoyable to read afterwards, I like to create a lot of mental imagery with what I write, some of it is quite strange I admit, and some of it is quite bewildering even for me, odd memories dragged up from places inside me that I didn’t even know had been stored. Although I barely even scratch the surface I suspect, when I do occasionally look at a thesaurus I find words that are so strange and bizarre that I think I should use them but I really try and restrain myself with things like this, I have read stories by people who have clearly wrote them first in an understandable way, then thumbed through a thesaurus and inserted these hugely deliberately odd words, and quite frankly I find it a bit off putting and sinister.

HST: Britain’s bumbling coalition has recently been severely criticised about the Government’s Workfare scheme, unpaid workers are getting referred to as “slaves”. Does slavery exist in Britain?

It’s a difficult question to answer, it depends how you define slavery I suppose, in a sense yes, there is an argument that we are, the majority of us work for people, companies, other people control our free time, control our incomes, decide to employ us or let us go, and we imagine that we are free I suppose, with the choices we have and the places we can go to distract ourselves, just as far as the money we have will allow us to go, and somehow this could be equated with slavery, a 21st century comfortable slavery with flashing lights and mobile phones. But the term slavery also conjures up images of ball and chain slavery, of death camps and destruction of pain and torment, of humanities inhumanity, the dripping face in the vomit and so on… this isn’t around us, and that is a very good thing, but sometimes I wonder for how long?, how far would things have to go before that face of authoritarianism is the face we see every day?.

HST: You’re a fan of Liverpool Football Club, what is your take on Kenny Dalglish’s second term at the club? How do you feel that he handled the Suarez / Evra controversy?

For some reason, yes I am a Liverpool follower, fan always seems a strange term, and also this season Its been hard to be one, I’m glad Kenny’s back, he took over when we needed him, Hodgson was a disaster as all us followers knew he would be, I think we are progressing, but it will take time and people need to have patience, there’s a definite media agenda against Liverpool since Dalglish’s return, the press don’t like fairy-tale stories that might work out, the Suarez/Evra contretemps was very ugly, and in some ways I think he handled it fine, he went for the backing of Suarez when all consensus said no, but that’s Dalglish in many ways, he won’t be told what to do, he’s similar to Ferguson in that sense, but it has left him in a strange position I think, his mantra of backing his players no matter what will continue, but the reputation of L.F.C has been damaged, even he would have to accept that, and that’s not good.


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