Artist Spotlight: Corbin Shaw
Ahead of his appearance at Get Together Festival this month, Exposed caught up with Sheff-born, London-based artist Corbin Shaw to discuss his work deconstructing modern-day masculinity, classism and British subculture.
Hi Corbin, can we begin by asking you about your upbringing in Sheffield and the early influences – either conscious or subconscious – which may have been present there?
My influences, that’s a big question. I guess I was taught everything about subcultures by my dad at first; he kind of gave me the keys, mainly his record collection and his love of synth-pop that had come from Sheffield: Heaven 17, ABC and The Jam are the ones that stick with me. They gave me what youth was to them, and then I guess like any teenager I rebelled against what he thought was cool. I started going to Niche and getting proper into bassline, a scene which influenced how I dressed more than anything. Still to this day, there’s a video from the local youth club owner outside The Adelphi asking what all the people in the queue are wearing. It always stuck with me because I’d watch it and model myself off it. I thought they all looked mint. I wanted to be just like them. The music was impossible to escape; it was in your mates’ brothers’ car, in cars in town, at youth club and in the playground. It was all-encompassing and formed so many of us.
I’ve got a deep love of the aesthetics of the music and what surrounds it, what and who was on the covers. Trance music as well, my mum played it in the car. I guess the buzz surrounding Gatecrasher was something that was always going on in the background for me. But yeah, everything surrounding music in Sheffield was what I remember most.
How has your work built upon those early influences and interests since? How would you say it has evolved?
Do you know what, you kind of have your really formative teenage years where you’re so open; it’s your starting point, but I don’t think you ever move out of it. I used to always try move away from it, but then I’ll always come back. It’s weird, it’s kind of like a safe sanctuary. Makes me feel at home.
It’s evolved, I guess, because I’ve got a different perspective. When you can look back you start to see the patterns you didn’t before. All my work is that, though: it comes from experiences. You can use your past to create work about the present and the future. Everything’s in cycles, isn’t it? It’s just about how you can look at it differently year by year.
It evolves, I think, when you move away, and you fall deeper and deeper in love with what you love. Like being homesick, all the memories become a bit better.
What’s your relationship like with Sheffield today? When you return, how does it feel to you as a place?
I think, maybe on the whole, Sheffield during a lot of my upbringing felt like it was stuck in the past; but over the last few years, it’s felt like it’s started to move again. It’s becoming itself again, making new history. I’ve always felt like it’s an unrequited love between me and home. Certainly, at points in my life, I felt like it didn’t want me, but I still love it deeply. Now I feel like I’ve got this duty to talk about it and tell people how mint it is. I feel protective of it. It’s just as important as Manchester in the north, but we’re so overlooked. Like everyone who moves away, I think we need to tell everyone all about it. We’re spreading the word.
I’ve always felt like it’s an unrequited love between me and home. Certainly, at points in my life, I felt like it didn’t want me, but I still love it deeply. Now I feel like I’ve got this duty to talk about it and tell people how mint it is.
Last year you became an independent artist, making your first works independent from a gallery. What spurred this decision and how has it allowed you to grow?
It was a mix of loads of things really. I’m so grateful for the opportunity that the gallery gave me, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them. But at that time, it felt like I needed to stand on my own two feet a bit more. I work with my girlfriend now, so it’s just us two who make the decisions. We can talk through it all and make sure everything I’m putting out is fully authentic. I also feel a massive freedom in making whatever I want, even if it’s not going to make any money. Sometimes, just having a laugh with it is what it’s all about.
As a multi-disciplinary artist, how do you choose your mediums and techniques for specific pieces?
It’s about research. I often look into really niche events or objects and one day have a brainwave about mashing them together somehow. For me, it’s about making sure what I’m making has an element of conversation with the original influence(s) – be that in what the words are, or the fabric used. It’s case by case really.
How do you stay motivated and inspired to work during challenging creative periods?
I think just by keeping up with habits that have always worked. YouTube videos have always been the best for me; there’s nothing like unearthing something from your childhood or coming across that one artist talk that you’ll never find again. Books as well. I’m not much of a reader, but photography books and magazines have always been what I go to. My studio’s full of them, so if I’m ever stuck, I’ll just sit with them for a few ideas. Running as well. If I’m stuck, creatively or in any other way, I’ll run, chatting shite into my notes that most of the time makes no sense to anyone. But occasionally it’ll work, and we’ll have something to go with.
What is your creative process like? Do you have a set routine when it comes to creating or does it vary from project to project?
Definitely project to project. Like I was saying earlier, it’s not really clear where an idea comes from. I might think of something one month and it’s not until five or six months later, when I’ve hashed it out with mates or my family or seen something else, that anything progresses. I think having loads of cogs turning seems to be my best option: one inspires the other, some get left behind, and a few I’ll make and hope that they go alright.
Are there any themes that you’d like to explore with your work moving forward?
I guess just more work about the complexity of the simple man, however this might look or sound like in the future. I’m horrified about the influence of people like Andrew Tate and what the likes of him are feeding to young boys. It’s terrifying. I want to understand why this is happening and what we can do to protect the next generation. I always want to make work that’s going to start a conversation.
We’re looking forward to seeing you at Get Together Festival later this month. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be getting up to?
Kieran got in touch with me earlier in the year to talk about what we could do together. I resonated so much with him and what he wanted to achieve with the festival. It’s all about the future and the next generation of the city. I’m making a series of banners, flags and posters to go around the site to reflect this, looking forward to the future of the city and celebrating who we are. Can’t wait to see them all up. Me dad still works in Kelham, so it’ll be a right laugh seeing his reaction. Really looking forward to it.