Field Notes: Folk X Stuart Semple

Q/ For anyone who may not be familiar with you or your work - How would you describe yourself?

I'm an artist, that's it. My purpose is to make art.

It's hard to describe what I make with words because they're visual things, but they're emotional things; they say something about society or the experiences I've had.

My work is very much about the society we live in, so I spend a lot of time looking outward and critiquing the world around me, talking about the impact it has on me.

In a way, I'm trying to freeze time in paint.

The world is so fast and media is so fast, but with paint you can slow things down and really solidify time - you can play with time in a different way that you can with any other media, you know?

Q/  What are the most important qualities you feel you possess as an artist that allows you to create the work that you do?

I like to challenge myself - I'm constantly pushing myself do things that I'm not normally comfortable with doing.

I don't come into the studio and do what I've done everyday. I come in feeling very optimistic that I'll venture into some new ground with what I'm doing.

It's the challenge that's exciting. I'm constantly thinking of how I can change or improve my work, always pushing myself to do better than I've done before.

That's the thrill of it, the exciting bit.

I'm certainly not trying to be comfortable or make the same things over and over, I'm trying to take it to a place I've never been.

I want to have new experiences, otherwise what's the point?

Q/ How would you define curiosity?

It's hard to define, but it's all about risk taking, and seeing 'what happens if?'

It's also about experimenting I suppose, or maybe it doesn't even need to be about getting a result - it's more about thinking 'I wonder what happens if I put this and that together?', and then having the courage to do it.

If you just forget about the noises in your head telling you 'it'll go wrong and everyone will laugh at you', just do it anyway, and see what happens.

Q/ Some people relate curiosity to thinking like a child again. Do you think the little people in your life are more curious than you?

My son is little, he's four and he's really inquisitive, but I think it's different.

He wants to uncover new things and work out how they work - it's almost more than curiosity.

When you're curious, you want to know the outcome of what'll happen if? but when you're inquisitive, you take it further, you're actually ripping the top off the box to see what's inside.

It's more a kind of applied curiosity. Children don't just sit wondering 'what happens if?', they're not day-dreaming, they are actually mixing up all the ingredients in the kitchen cupboard together to see what happens.

Q/ So, how important is curiosity to you?

It's really important, otherwise life becomes bland.

You can't have the same set of experiences everyday - curiosity is vital.

Otherwise life would just be really boring.

Q/ Do you think a lack of curiosity can be limiting or harmful, even?

I think curiosity needs to be kept in balance - you can't be curious all the time, you still have to have your breakfast.

You can't just think 'I wonder what would happen if I walked to work backwards in inflatable boots' or nothing would ever get done.

It's about balance as you still need to be able to function like a normal human being.

Once that's covered off - the more curiosity, the better.

Q/ How do you go about cultivating your curious nature?

For me, I'm very ritualistic about certain aspects of my life - eating, working, exercise and when I go to bed, so I know all the mundane stuff is locked down.

Then, when I'm in the studio for a number of hours, I have complete freedom to be as curious as possible - that's the key.

Organisation enables you have a number of hours and the space where I can do what I want to do, rather than stuff I have to do.

Then you just have to show up - if something happens then great, if it doesn't, no problem.

You can't push though, otherwise it becomes forced.

Q/ How would you recommend that people who have a less creative working environment or job cultivate curiosity in their own lives?

The first thing is finding the space to do it. If you work in a bank, then answering the phone is not the place to be curious.

It's about finding a creative outlet and a way to express yourself because everyone does it differently.

Q/ Would you say that other people influence how curious you are?

My Grandad was definitely one of the people who encouraged me to make things.

I think sometimes the people around you can help, it doesn't have to be an isolated thing, being curious, you can get together as a group, or like the times me and my Grandad would make things. It's collaborative curiosity.

The jumper I made with Aubin & Wills, inspired by my Grandad is a good example. I knew nothing about knitwear, but through that collaboration I thought, "I wonder if I bring the story of my Grandad to knitwear, what would happen?"

It seems to be a strange example but it worked really well.

I love that cardigan and I still wear it all the time.

I often bring things together that you wouldn't normally find together in my art work - a colour palette, a piece of portraiture and some song lyrics for example, that combined make a new story.

It's the same as cooking. When you're experimenting, it doesn't always work out, but sometimes it does work and that's what's exciting. Heston Blumenthal is extremely experimental - I'm sure half of the stuff he creates is a failure.

At the end of the day, it's about learning not to fear getting it wrong, and instead embracing the failure - if it doesn't work, it's fine, there's always tomorrow.

That's why people aren't curious, because they're scared that if they follow their curiosity they might make a fool of themselves.

You have to take risks.