‘If you can piss, you can paint’. This common expression on building sites captures the camaraderie, humour, and micro-hierarchy of the building trades.
I've worked as a painter and decorator in London houses for eighteen years, having arrived from Ireland as a Fine Art graduate with artistic ambitions. While trying to gain some recognition for my practice, I began painting and decorating as a pragmatic and necessary segue. I assumed my time at this occupation would be limited, a mere stop gap, but as time passed and I built up skills and contacts, I came to realise this may not be the case. To reclaim some engagement with my practice, I started bringing a small 35mm camera with me to work, photographing my co-workers and our shared labour. It caused me to reflect on my role as both colleague and observer, and how builders – and the wider working class – are invariably misrepresented, and ‘othered’. In documenting our working lives for this series, I recognised the subjectivity of the photographic lens, and the ingrained bias of the art and publishing worlds in their role as mediator. This book is the result of that journey to reconcile my practice, ambitions, and realities of working life. It is also a record of the close friends I have made over the years, and the jobs which have required our collective skills, energy and creativity.
This is something of a rare document, an honest and fair representation of working-class life on building sites produced by a member of that cohort. My essay in the publication reflects on the (in)visibility of builders and their labour - an inherent self-erasure as we complete a pristine job - and how this affects the way builders are perceived and represented.
If you can piss... will launch at the London Art Book Fair in the Whitechapel Gallery, London, 5-9 September 2019. It'll be on sale for £20 at my table, and also available in my shop from 5 September.
Published by Jannuzzi Smith editions | ISBN: 978 0 9534038 9 9