Oi Polloi

Interview: Andy Votel on his new exhibition

Published: Tue Jan 23 2018

Anyone who’s lurked on this website before has probably heard of Andy Votel. Not only is he one of the founders of Finders Keepers Records, but he’s the man who writes those ultra-extensive articles about the outer echelons of music for us, as well as being our go-to expert on brown comfort shoes.

In between all of this, he’s somehow found time to create some big ol’ paintings, merging together such subjects as European folk-lore, 70s scholastic illustration and… er… geese.

With an exhibition launching this Thursday over at Elektrik in Chorlton, now seemed like a timely time for an interview...

I suppose I mainly wanted to ask you about your paintings. What’s going on in these things? 

Kids repairing adults. Old Medicine. Goats. 

This is all just one small step towards hoarder’s rehab. I've spent most of my life buying foreign books and records on the strength of a great cover or a small snippet of music, which has formed the basis for the mix-tape approach to my anti-careers in music and graphics.   

The approach to these painting and collages is like a creative spring-clean. From a hoarder’s point of view I have to either fix stuff or throw it away. This applies to used shoes and broken cups as well as artwork and music. 

Last summer I realised I had too much large printed matter, foreign posters, generic magazines and mid-century educational stuff, so I kept what I liked, and attempted to repair or condense the rest within my own vision. 

I basically started by painting over the top of existing printed matter, using French school placards, then blacking-out what I didn't like and re-contextualising what remained, then adding a new narrative in my own vision as quickly as I possibly could. 

It's part scrap-book, part therapy. They're pictorial anagrams. 

How do you get ‘in the zone’ for painting? And do you have specific clothes you wear whilst painting? 

As a man who makes too many promises I have to grab the ‘zone’ whenever it passes. My wife was on tour a lot last year so I didn't have anyone to remind me to go to bed. The ‘zone’ usually occurs between my kids falling asleep and me falling asleep with a paintbrush in my mouth. 

I might add that these were total experiments so I didn't change into paint-proof clothes before I got carried away. I've been wearing paint-stained clothes all my life anyway. 

How do you know when a painting is finished? 

The beauty about doing a series using figurative elements is that they don't have to be individually finished. Conceptually there's a big dot, dot, dot between each one. 

This is part of an ongoing process... I guess this is a prologue of things to come, and if people express an interest you'll see more, otherwise they'll remain private. 

With more and more stuff being done via computers and robotronics, do you think the scrawl of the human hand should be celebrated more? 

My era was the last of the cut-n-paste generation. When I left art school the computers had only just arrived and even the teachers hated them. The wood, glue, nails and pencil approach is first, second and third nature to me. Computers only effected my graphic design day-job as a means of transport. 

I have to admit I used to make some insanely bad technical mistakes before these graphic-calculators came along... if you didn't sharpen your pencil every five minutes things wouldn't end up folding correctly and I would have to pay for re-prints without any food in the fridge. People who grew up around my artwork in Manchester clubs in the mid-90s will remember my notorious spelling mistakes. 

People later told me they used to think my bad registration was intentional and even tried to copy it.  

Have you always painted? And why do you think people often stop doing things like painting or ‘craft-works’ when they reach their teens?  

Yes, that's how I started avoiding academic responsibilities. At college I grew up with some amazing painters, who were perhaps not graphic designers or good communicators, and even then always wondered how the hell they were going to pay the bills. 

I think many people stopped doing this because they are pressured into a vocation, so they learn to use Illustrator and Photoshop on an immaculately designed lap-top while sat at tidy desk with a couple of plants. By that point they might not want to be cleaning brushes in the bath and their partner might not appreciate rolls of film in the fridge.  

You’ve done countless album covers over the years. Is it nice to do a piece of art without having the destination for it already mapped out? Does it free it up a bit? 

Yes, I wish I’d done it earlier. But I’m also glad that I had a genuine reason to do it. I’ve never, ever considered my visual work ‘Art’. Sleeves are sleeves, covers are covers, poster are posters — I’m quite strict with that distinction between design as communication on behalf of a third party and what people call art. 

I might talk too much, but if I’m an artist it’s rare that I have something personal to say. Although these painting are abstractions as well as figurative they do have a personal visual message which is not intended for reproduction. 

Changing subject a bit now… you’re a pretty busy chap. How do you find time to do paintings, release records, write articles for us and all the other bits you get up to? 

I find it really difficult. I don't have any filter system or hierarchy to what I do in order to get me through the day. Luckily my friends who I work with are very organised, but my closest friends also know that my family is my most important thing, and that’s my favourite creative domain. 

Some people just aren’t into things, whilst you seem to know pretty much everything there is to know about many, many subjects. Where does this interest in things come from? Were you the same as a kid? 

Yes, I was, but I only wanted to know stuff other people didn't know. So my version of general knowledge is often niche bordering on anti-social and for this reason it's very important to attempt to have a sense of humour and sociability before you alienate people. 

I'm glad I learned this early on, otherwise my life would be very different. Don't rely on me in a pub quiz. My mate Damon did Mastermind on TV a few years ago and he got ten out of ten on general knowledge. I didn't know one of the answers. 

I'd love to meet the person who invented the phrase, "You’re not doing it wrong if no one knows what you’re doing." That would be my epitaph, but translated in to Esperanto so no-one could read it.  

Have you got any helpful tips on being really ‘into stuff’, whilst also maintaining a relatively normal, respectable life? You seem to hold it down pretty well with a family and everything. 

I usually air on the side of self-deprecation. And if your physical archive is impacting on the safety of your family and friends then you're gonna have to either start sharing stuff or just painting over it with black emulsion.  

You were big into hip-hop in the late 80s. How did that affect things later on? It seems like loads of people who were involved with hip-hop and graffiti at that time went on to do other interesting things. 

It's hard to believe that hip-hop was once an underground subculture. I was literally the only person into buying rap records at my school in Marple in the late 1980's. It was something individual but it came with strict multiple disciplines (the Keeping It Real phenomenon/oxymoron) — perhaps the only discipline I had encountered until that point.  

Also the braggadocios nature of the music inspired you to carve your own niche and attempt to be the best in your micro-field. And for all these reasons it kept me out of trouble and made me focus on something that was affordable and achievable. 

It was very hard as a teenager not being part of the amazing home-grown dance music explosion that was happening on my own doorstep in Manchester, but as an obsessive candidate I was lucky to avoid drug culture while my school friends got into copious amounts of pills and heroin. Hip-hop didn't promote that kind of thing but I got heavily addicted to buying old records which has, luckily, in-turn, been the basis for everything I do.   

Andy with Rick Myers in 1994. You may be interested to hear that Rick did the original Oi Polloi type-logo.

When did you and Doug start Finders Keepers? What was the reason for starting it? 

The same reason for these paintings really. There's a difference between being a hoarder and an archivist. To remain part of society I feel that you need to either share your ‘finds’ or otherwise make art out of them. I know for a fact that Oi Polloi retains the same ethos. 

After putting our flag in the first few holy grail releases Finders Keepers should have really changed its name to Finders Sharers, but its hasn't got the same ring has it. Finders Keepers was the name of rap-demo that me and Boney Votel made as teenagers which was about rappers using the same old samples. The label that I've run with Doug Shipton started in 2005.  

Finders Keepers brings out a lot of stuff from all around the world. There’s all sorts of music that you lot release, but is there a unifying theme that brings it all together? 

The only criteria that we attempt to maintain with Finders Keepers is that an F.K. album should be like no other record in your collection. That business plan has never impressed our bank manager though. 

What’s the furthest you’ve gone in the quest for new sounds? How far has ‘the hunt’ taken you? 

Physically Melbourne, but socially you often end up on Mars... or in The Upside Down. 

It seems like with the internet the world is becoming smaller and new gems are being uncovered weekly. Has the internet ruined the hunt a bit? 

Yes, there’s more people doing it. And because vinyl has gone from trash-status to antique-deal in the past 20 years, people are happy to throw money at an expensive internet hobby for a few years. 

From a label's point of view, however, the most important thing is that you know that you have the experience, longevity and splatter-range to do the very best for an artist before you disrupt their lives as part of another person’s vanity project... let me take my anti-rant medicine. 

What’s in the pipeline for Finders Keepers in 2018? 

Czech electronics, cosmic poperas, Manc animation, well-hung horses, Jodo jams and more Vannier and Ciani.  

Okay, final question… what was that last series of Twin Peaks really about? 

The human manifestation of evil via the dawn of the Atomic bomb remorsefully invented by J. Robert Oppenheimer (AKA BOB). And so are these paintings... kind of.

Andy's exhibition, Stop Making Seance, opens on Thursday at Elektrik and runs until the 28th of February. Check this flyer for more details.

Portrait courtest of NTS.