an interview with artist David Riley

conducted by Andy Parkinson

David Riley makes reductive, abstract, images, in series. They are not paintings, they are digital images and constructions that I think read a lot like paintings. I had seen some online at, before getting to see one of them in "hard copy" recently, at the group exhibition Crossing Lines at &Model, Leeds. Our exchanging of comments on this blog alerted me to the possibility of doing an interview, which we agreed to do by email (a lot more difficult than ever I thought it would be, because of the time delays in the dialogue). Here's the result.

AP: I have heard you refer to individual works of yours as "outcomes", which I think relates to the virtuality of your work, digital images that may get realised physically, have I understood that correctly?

DR: I use several words, 'outcomes' is one. You may also find me saying result, or side-effect. Generally, I am focused on the exploration first and the aesthetic of the outcome second. That is not to suggest the aesthetic is unimportant, it is just that enjoyment in the exploration of the idea is of foremost concern. It is also true to say I rarely consider anything finished. An outcome is usually just something I have decided to share along the way. I do flip between the virtual and the real, between digital and analogue. I never try to create a perfect copy between one and the other. Each outcome is new. So, an outcome presented in a virtual-world space is a different outcome when presented in a real-world space, even if both outcomes occur from a similar point in the same exploration.

AP: So, when the enjoyment in the exploration of an idea is foremost, what kind of exploration is that?

DR: Usually, some variation on what has gone before. I make something and then a new trigger event suggests a different path. Sometimes this is along similar lines and at other times it is off at a tangent. My experience is that the exploration involves studying the source of the idea, thinking about how this fits with my experience, and then experimenting with materials to see how I might express the idea in the best possible way (or, more accurately, in a way I find interesting). So, the exploration involves an analysis of the idea, an analysis of how this fits with my experience, an exploration of materials, and an analysis of the outcome. This, analysis followed by action sequence, can be looped many times before I find something I want to share. The loops are recorded in my journal.

AP: To what extent would you situate your work within the traditions of abstraction and systems art? DR: I often use codes as a foundation, as a starting point. I use them to give me somewhere to start. I then generally setup a process and follow that process to see if it leads to an aesthetic outcome, an outcome I find interesting. If I find it does, then I might choose to share it. So, I setup a process or system of working and then explore to see where that might lead, to see if I find something worthy of being shared. The outcomes are a side-effect of the process or system being used. How this fits within any tradition is for others to decide. That is, I am not concerned if it fits or not. However, it would be true to say my aesthetic influences lie in the abstract art produced in the middle part of the 20th Century.

AP: Could you say more about how you use a code as a starting point?

DR: I record connections between ideas using visual codes developed from the Roman alphabet, the alphabet we normally use to communicate our ideas. So the idea starts in a commonly understood code (the Roman alphabet symbols) and progresses through the use of other representations. I realise we don't often think of the alphabet as a code, but that is exactly what it is. Alphabet explorations, so far, have included using geometric shapes, stretched bungee cord, and colour to represent the alphabet. These ideas are then influenced by my own experience as a systems engineer. Morse Code, Murray Code, ASCII and other communication codes have become important.

I am concerned with connections and components, with how one thing might influence another. As a systems engineer, it was part of my job to try out different boundaries, to generate a more rounded appreciation of the situation, however complicated, familiar or unusual. So, I am used to setting up different processes in order to explore an idea from different perspectives. One constant element in every process is the concept of input, action, output and feedback. My artist statement relates this to the idea of a black-box systems approach.

"In science and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed solely in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics; and without any knowledge of its internal working. Using this well understood concept, I think I am (in) the black box. That is, I receive stimuli to make work; I apply my interest, experience and passion to making the work; I produce output and I share the output I find satisfying. Over time, we may all be able to deduce more of my transfer characteristics. Although, I am also certain, every new work feeds back and may change those very same characteristics. If I ever know precisely what and why I do what I do (my transfer characteristics), then I will very likely stop." (See for the complete statement).

AP: I recently saw one of your works "Code" at Crossing Lines at &Model, I find that I relate to this piece as a painting though I know it isn't actually painted, I might equally use the word "construction"; how would you describe it?

DR: I would describe 'Code' as a wall based installation using: paper, ink, tracing paper, coloured tracing paper, transparency film, binding combs, rebar, steel eyelets; size 33cm x 180cm. Or 'a mixed media, wall based, installation' for brevity. Thank you for suggesting "construction". I like that a lot, very succinct.

"Code" is the result of several coincident ideas influencing my process. A continued exploration of different representations of the alphabet: an interest in using office type materials for fine art production (office materials are an important part of my history); a need to manage the costs involved in getting an idea to and from a fine art gallery situation; and a desire to reduce the storage space required for (relatively) large art works. The idea of connections has been about in my work for a number of years (e.g. Twitter User Names, Facebook Initials Grid, and Connect with this Space). So, the idea occurred for crossing lines I could make a site (context) specific installation and send it to the gallery through the ordinary parcel post, as a small package of materials, with full installation instructions. The gallery (curator) could then install the work, display it for as long as necessary, and then take it down, repack it into the box, and send it back to me through the parcel post. I would then have a small parcel to store. This materials/ packaging idea could then be reused to make context specific installations available for other opportunities. The 'code [for crossing lines]' presentation was influenced by all of these coincident thoughts.

Thank you David Riley for participating in this interview.


First published on the blog patternsthatconnect.
The text of this interview is copyright © 2014 by Andy Parkinson.

related outcomes

for patternsthatconnect © by revad david riley

citrus pair
hello world (stringing words) sans frame
code studio notes
code (for crossing lines)
cirtriare (cluj romania)
for patternsthatconnect
© by revad david riley
multiple materials