English’s prolific practice is primarily drawing based. Using ink, pen, graphite and watercolour, he pairs, sequences and arranges these drawings in grids often comprising more than 100 works on a single wall. This regular and rational arrangement gives order to what is an overwhelming, changing, seemingly diaristic, kaleidoscope on the artist’s psyche. Gay culture, pop music, love, loss and recovery are key thematic threads in English’s work though spontaneity and action remain, and a giving over of himself to the blank page.
English has created a range of graphic languages, from intricate line drawings of imagined botanicals, to anamorphic cartoon-like people, creatures and buildings that mutate into fantastic, sensual or homoerotic entities. Detail and clarity is weighed against other passages in English’s work that are loosely drawn and roughly painted, where colour is washed and gesturally dripped over large areas of paper.
Writing infiltrates much of English’s work, as interior monologues, doodles from phone conversations, confessions, snippets from overheard conversations, lyrics from songs on the radio, and incidental soundbites from popular culture. By the compulsive act of making, English confronts and works through profound personal experience. The title of the exhibition, Smile Please, is taken from a written element of one drawing and is at once both a banal and heartfelt expression.
Although English’s drawings have been widely exhibited since the early 1990s, he only began making sculptural installations in 2014 and Smile Please is the first UK presentation of a new large-scale sculptural installation. PEER’s street window will be transformed into a huge vitrine displaying assemblages created from discarded materials collected on English’s many walks around London. Some works are simply re-contextualised detritus, others have a more intentional grandeur. Like the drawings, the temperaments of these works fluctuate, but exhibited collectively they exude a playfulness and pure enjoyment at the re-purposing and re-animating of the discarded.