Image by Nick Wesson
“I like creating environments, worlds full of magic, darkness and drama. Sitting back and doing nothing would utterly destroy me.” Kingsley Chapman is an intriguing, enigmatic character. You perhaps know him best as a stalwart of the North East music scene; the King of Northern noir. The former frontman of brooding rockers The Chapman Family, he now leads dark chamber pop troupe Kingsley Chapman & The Murder, creating self-proclaimed ‘cabaret death songs’ that swell with orchestral intensity. Yet Chapman is also a prolific artist, about to exhibit his first collection in a decade, entitled Demons, at ARC in Stockton. The abstract works are equally as captivating and uncompromising as the artist and musician himself – for Chapman, music and art share a symbiotic relationship; one could not exist without the other. “I’m a little obsessed with the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the ‘total artwork’, something that doesn’t feel shackled to a single art form and strives to be created in all others,” he explains. “So the music, film, painting, politics, lyrics, stories, my band’s performances are all interlinked as part of exactly the same thing and come from exactly the same place.”
The owner of a seemingly inexhaustible mind, Chapman has always been drawn to art. “Growing up I was pretty socially awkward so spent a heck of a lot of time on my own. It allowed me to live in my own universe.” Upon visiting galleries as a teenager, Chapman became obsessed with the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Dali and Pollock, “artists that lived on the edge of their own sanity”.
A graduate of Fine Art from Sheffield Hallam University, some of Chapman’s previous pieces have included locking himself in a suitcase whilst singing Frank Sinatra songs to pretending to be Tom Cruise film characters in job applications. It all may sound a little outlandish, but Chapman is also incredibly self-aware when it comes to his self-portrayal. “I’ve always been drawn to the dangerous, the spectacular and the ridiculous. I swan about in a sequinned suit shouting my songs with my band wrapping wires around my head. I’m very much aware of my own ridiculousness.”
I don’t like anything I do to be too easy on the eyes or ears. My artwork can get kind of chaotic, a mish-mash of painting, collage, sculpture and text. I want to create something interesting, provoking and even beautiful in its own special little way
For the last ten years, Chapman has put everything he had into his music, hence the decade gap between exhibits. His last show in 2006 was called Monsters, so Demons is Chapman’s “attempt at continuity”. Over the course of those ten years, Chapman’s music took him across the world, from Tokyo to Texas. After the demise of The Chapman Family, Chapman became ill, and art became an escape, a means of catharsis. “It was painting that kept me going. I couldn’t really leave my bedroom for a while so I set up a painting space on the floor and set about trying to express how my mind and body was feeling. It stabilised me, again pushing my mind beyond the splattered canvases on the floor and into music, dream worlds and drama.”
Whereas some artists approach their work with a methodical or business-like mind, Chapman is driven by spontaneity. “I hate to force myself into it; emotionally I have to be in the right frame of mind to even start. For me the process is aggressive and physical. I refuse to plan my work too far ahead – I love accidents and mistakes, precision bores the life out of me.”
If art truly is an extension of the artist’s mind and soul, then Chapman is the prime example. Described by him as “trashterpieces”, his canvases are visceral and hectic; almost primitive in their strokes, yet also bursting with passion and darkly destructive beauty. “It’s similar to my music, it’s all mostly autobiographical, a bit dark and more than a little messy. I’ve never been into things being too precise, in the same way that I’m in love with howls of feedback and out of tune instruments I’m also a fan of colours clashing horrifically and paint splashing. I don’t like anything I do to be too easy on the eyes or ears. My artwork can get kind of chaotic, a mish-mash of painting, collage, sculpture and text. I want to create something interesting, provoking and even beautiful in its own special little way.”
As a collection, Demons can be read like an autobiography. Laid out on canvas are a collection of Chapman’s thoughts and memories derived from people, places and experiences, though of course embellished with Chapman’s dramatic flair. Demons began its life as a project when he sent out questionnaires to people with the intention of creating a personal piece of work for each participant that would trigger a certain emotion within them. Of course, Chapman’s busy mind strayed away from his original intentions, and the project became something more all-encompassing out of a “desperate need to try and collate and express” this burst of creativity. “The collection is intended to tell stories, to make you think…and to maybe, just maybe, look a little bit pretty,” he says. “Some of the portraits are overtly glamorous, some of them are grimy, some of them are both. I’ve tried to cobble together a living out of charity shop glamour for a while now so some of that hopefully comes across. I love to create these obvious illusions, whether in art or music, and that could be prancing around a stage as a shady parody of a rock star or splashing a canvas in gold. There’s not enough sparkle in the drab world of indie rock and roll in my eyes and I find it all a little tedious. I want pop stars to be larger than life and not be focused on trying to look cool or fashionable.”
In a world where we’ve lost Bowie and Prince, where things are looking incredibly bleak, perhaps Chapman is the kind of figure we need. The larger than life, flamboyant rock star, an artist whose art and music and self are all one and the same and intertwined in the most fascinating way. “I see the work in ARC as something of a teaser, a three minute trailer of what is to come,” states Chapman. “I’m looking to exhibit more and the music will never stop. My body and mind tried to halt it for a while but they failed. I’m aware that my artwork isn’t part of any current zeitgeist or trend, in a way it’s rallying against it. Plough your own furrow, you can have more fun. I’m simply trying to add a little glitz into life.”
Kingsley Chapman’s Demons exhibition is at ARC, Stockton from Monday 31st October until Wednesday 30th November. Kingsley Chapman and The Murder play Ku Bar, Stockton on Friday 11th November.