Interview | Kingsley Ifill

V1 Gallery Director Mikkel Grønnebæk talks to artist Kingsley Ifill (b. 1988, UK) about tracing back through art history, staged photography, the longtime relationship between photography and painting, love, trust, honesty, and the process and making of Eye for a Sty – Tooth for the Roof, a collaborative series of figurative studies by Danny Fox & Kingsley Ifill, produced in Los Angeles during a four-month period, beginning in October 2019, now on view at Eighteen.

Mikkel Grønnebæk: Would you describe these works as staged?

Kingsley Ifill: It’s hard to say what’s staged and what’s not somewhere like LA. Even the guy standing on the corner is playing a role as "the guy standing on the corner". We spent a lot of time looking through books from The Brand Library, tracing back through history, the relationship between photography, painting and drawing. Poses in photos and how they translate to lines in drawings. There’s a few nods in the work to older photos. There’s some in the drawings to other paintings too. And even some to sculptures.

How was the process of working in LA with Danny Fox and the guests?

The process felt similar to working in the studio alone, creating with what’s in front of you. But instead having someone to bounce ideas off of, instead of the walls. Everything moved pretty fast. I think we first had the idea of the project on say Friday morning and then the following day Langley Fox was over at the house walking around nude.

I can remember a few years ago, my girlfriend at the time, gave me a photo album that she’d made and it had a quote on the back which said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved”. I forgot about that until just now, but it would affirm my thoughts that there’s beauty within the trust shared amongst everyone that appears in the images.

Kingsley Ifill, Untitled, 2019
© V1 Gallery / Eighteen & Kingsley Ifill

Did you already know the developing process using vintage equipment before shooting these works? 

I’ve been working in the darkroom pretty much solidly for the last 10 years. I never went to school to learn, but had a girlfriend who was studying at Goldsmiths University in London and she would sneak me in past security into the photo department, where once you were inside the darkroom, no one would bother you, assuming you were a student. They had a running colour processor and separate booths with each enlarger, so I spent days there learning via trial and error.

Then a year or so later I managed to get my own colour paper processor off of eBay for 99p, where nobody else made a bid (a piece of machinery that would usually cost around £1k if you’re lucky to find one). I was broke, so couldn’t afford a studio but managed to convince someone to let me set up a darkroom in a dusty spare room on a building site of a house that was getting torn down. At the time I was working a day job clearing out rubbish from dead peoples houses and then every night I’d print photos, thinking to myself that I was on a mission to master the medium. I didn’t have a desire to show anyone the work of that time and can remember learning of Goya’s Black paintings, where he painted directly onto the walls inside the rooms of his house, for no other reason than he wanted to see them. I’m sure that had a big impact on my practice and thoughts about art and photography at the time. Making, simply to see what you wanted to see.

Since then I’ve continued to work intensely in the darkroom and explore new processes. And the silver gelatin printing used in this project in particular, I know well. But I’d never used the Soviet spy enlarger before taking it to America. When I was unpacking it at the house in LA after arriving, I realized I actually hadn’t even tested it to see if it was working. But luckily it was.

Kingsley Ifill, Untitled, 2019
© V1 Gallery / Eighteen & Kingsley Ifill

Kingsley Ifill, Untitled, 2019
© V1 Gallery / Eighteen & Kingsley Ifill

Kingsley Ifill & Danny Fox, Untitled, 2019
© V1 Gallery / Eighteen & Kingsley Ifill & Danny Fox

How was the selection process?

We just sat down and went through everything, without fussing too much. Going with the flow to a certain extent. Painterly in a sense, moving things around until it feels right. I guess editing instinctually and then after the first edit, we didn’t really go back. This seems mad now, as when I look through the photos that got left out, there’s a tonne of good ones still sitting there. But whatever got chosen to be in the book, felt right in our stomachs at the time. And I guess the same goes for whatever Danny [Fox] chose to draw too. Time being the editor, letting whatever was happening happen.

Studio photos by Kingsley Ifill

Eye for a Sty - Tooth for the Roof extends the conversation that has been taking place between the mediums of drawing and photography since the late 19th century; do you see these practices as overlapping or as two different fields?

A lazy answer would be to say it’s all the same. Antonin Artaud always comes into my head when I think about the split between mediums. And how he was so violently insistent that they were all the same. And maybe they are.

I feel like I know the territory and language more fluently with photography where I’ve been doing it for longer and it underlies my practice in other area. Or maybe acts like some kind of central line that holds everything else together. For reasons I’m not aware of, it’s also something I purely enjoy rather than a means to an end. Printing in the darkroom especially. Maybe it’s the peacefulness, which doesn’t exist elsewhere in my own life. And even know we find ourselves in a world with smartphones and billions of photos being taken every second, somehow the act of stopping time and recording a fragment into a small rectangle still seems like magic to me.

And at the same time, I believe it's important to try to stay fluid and not be tied down to a certain style or medium, using art to explore rather than stick in one place. And use those differences in mediums to translate through the transition. So yeah, both, they’re different fields and they also overlap.

Danny Fox, Untitled, 2019
© V1 Gallery / Eighteen & Danny Fox

Kingsley Ifill & Danny Fox, Untitled, 2019
© V1 Gallery / Eighteen & Kingsley Ifill & Danny Fox

How did the collaborate aspect or process of Danny Fox painting over your photographs develop?

It’s not the first time we’ve done something like this. Several years ago he worked over some of my photos too, but I’m not sure what happened to them. It doesn’t really feel any different than if I was to be painting on top of them myself. Maybe this is due to being close friends, as I probably wouldn’t let anyone else do it. But I also wouldn’t care if they did. Instinct over rationality. And there wasn’t really a selection process or anything formal like that. I’d spend the night printing photos in the basement, and the next day I’d pin them to the wall or leave them lying around. On one of the pieces in the show, I think there’s a to-do list scribbled on the side, as maybe it was the only paper laying around. Almost like the opposite end of the spectrum to those people that handle their prints with white gloves and keep everything sparkling dust free in acid free sleeves.

How did you get to know Danny, how did your friendship on working together happen?

If my memories are not wrong, we met down the pub and gradually bonded over a mutual interest in art. I love that expression often used in boxing “styles make fights”. It’s good to mix it up sometimes and roll the dice into the unknown, to see what will happen.

Photo by Kingsley Ifill