Modern Grammar - Robin Footitt interview

By Jacinto Caetano

Robin Footitt is a British artist standing out in the global arena since being awarded an internship at New York's MoMA in 2006, beating another 5000 applicants. He was later based in Paris for a while but in the last 7 years Footitt's live and work gravitate around East London, a part of town that keeps the essence of British contemporary art since the 90s. 


His ideas originate from painting and drawing. This can take forms similar to their traditions, but also mirror experiments he makes in the studio with installations and various different surfaces. Footitt's work is inspired by a multitude of experiences and conversations; an 'editing' process starts when the origins become a vision he then wishes to impart on an audience. 


Robin Footitt sublime works in materials such as aluminium are full of balance and elegance. Skill and craftsmanship are required to transfer into such delicate materials Footitt's extremely current narrative, resulting in a flawless fusion of content and context.


New Art Projects gallery in London is now presenting his latest work, Modern Grammar, from 1st of September. A Solo Show that looks at the way we punctuate in the modern world of social media. Punctuation adds thought and time to how text is read. Simple notations and symbols have evolved into a language of their own with emoticons ;-)


The way we live is also punctuated by increments whether physical, emotional or functional (birthdays, anniversaries, death) and these tools are now commonplace in social networks to announce how we are changing. In broadcasting these moments we are formulating a grammar that is becoming increasingly abstract.


This abstraction typifies Footitt’s practice whereby communication across displays of various media have a fluid mask-like quality – the imprint of what has been seen develops slowly and precedes a viewing of what is to come.


One is left questioning whether this a new grammar that is developing or a universal grammar that is simplifying the way we relate to each other?




Robin Footitt (b. 1982) studied at Central Saint Martins and Royal College of Art, London. Footitt lives and works in Bow, East London and is a former resident of Acme Studios’ Fire Station Residency, Bromley-by-Bow, London (2010 – 2015), The Florence Trust, London (2009) and Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris (2008). Recent exhibitions include What Cannot Be Contained, Smiths Row, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk (2015); The Trouble With Painting Today, Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park, London (2014); Closed Circuit Saga, Edel Assanti, London (2014); A Town Without Pity, 4 Windmill Street, London (2013).


How and when did you start creating art?

Well I can't say where the source of all this originated - I was inquisitive and thoughtful at an early age and having drafting skills it was easy for me to sketch out visually on paper whatever I wanted. There have been times when this has been the creative start but more broadly speaking I absorb and adapt many interests for a singular purpose. It's been much harder to quantify recently, something I used to hold in my hand as a sketchbook expanded to notes and prototypes on the wall. This act seemed too perfect and currently I feel these sketches have traversed my life completely and now it's all I can think about and everything I see when I walk down the corridor to use the bathroom! Studying at Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins gave me a tremendous opportunity to follow poetry, image and presentation into a painting discourse. I look at artists such as Öyvind Fahlström, Max Ernst, André Derain and see a multiplicity which activates my certain kind of inquiry with paint.


What are your main artistic sources and influences?

I read and analyse music, celebrate friendships and walk around places that I would like to place myself in. When I am assembling a solo project I often have a person in mind, be it a close friend or family member, people who have influenced me greatly and I present it to them as a dedication. It helps me focus on what are sometimes a very broad set of ideas. Studio communities and research awards have assisted me too... I lived in New York in 2006 (as part of an internship at Museum of Modern Art during production of Eye on Europe: Prints, Books & Multiples/ 1960 to Now) and have also held residencies at Cité internationale des Arts, Paris (2008); The Florence Trust, London (2009) and Acme Studios' Fire Station Residency in East London (2010-2015) - an area where I have lived the past 7 years. East London is synonymous with British contemporary art of 1990s and although that art may have lost its focus and migrated towards commercial Mayfair - what is being maintained here, certainly with the presence of Acme Studios, Bow Arts Trust and many housing associations, is a refreshing resolve to the complex and considerate shifting aspect of working in London post-Brexit


                                                                                                                                                          Gum Strip (paperclip) (2016)

126 x 32 x 1cm

flexed 2-colour anodised aluminium

Share (2016) 70 x 100cm, unframed silkscreen on paper, edition of 8
Share (2016) 70 x 100cm, unframed silkscreen on paper, edition of 8

Tell us about "Modern Grammar"? How did this series originate?

Modern Grammar is a thought towards how we punctuate our lives, not just in the way we celebrate anniversaries, etc. but more importantly the grammar we place into the context of our social lives. It's a way to regard the relationship between perception and engagement, distortion and truth - when you consider how open a social media way of living has become, its many trappings fall into patterns that are both familiar, abstract and instantaneous. This exhibition is a significant step forward for me as New Art Projects is a vast space with four separate rooms - overlap is not necessary here and I can afford to be more generous with how I present ideas in paintings, prints and sculptures. Many of the works in this  show break down or reform previous structures and that is where the consideration to Modern arrives. For instance, over a long period I have been mapping the shapes made by an alphabet of lead stencil letters from 1950s - these were originally used to make signage and road markings for local councils during that era. By recording them and extending their use into an elongated reference alphabet of shapes I gave myself a new language to work with. It seemed appropriate that their first use should be to make compositions with the words "like", "comment" and "share" in a series of three silkscreen prints to the ratio of a Facebook profile image. It is common to think of art production more in the sense of tools (i.e. Photoshop) like this and threads of ideas can resurface again and again using such pathways.


What is your favourite media to express yourself?

Drawing is underwritten in the content of all my work and for Modern Grammar I have produced a series of six images drawn with marker pen on aluminium panel that involve a narrative with the Maltese Falcon (a famous prop and plot device to further character development but of little actual relevance, ie a “MacGuffin”). These drawings lie underneath a transparent gestural surface constructed entirely from acrylic medium with a thin surface of paint resting on top. This presents my relationship to painting, seen at once as a gesture and a barrier to looking closer or more clearly at content. It's a development from a previous series of "exposure monochromes" whereby the chemical reaction of marker pen drawing effectively bled through oil paint from underneath to resurface


The Maltese Falcon Is Made of Money (unfinished) (2016)

marker pen and acrylic on aluminium panel

60 x 50cm


What would be your ideal artistic collaboration?

I am open minded to collaboration as most happen organically, in the past I have run a gallery space (4 Windmill Street), coordinated art projects (most significantly SCREENING, 2010, a presentation of video and painting inside a two-storey office block in Knightsbridge which loaned works from Albert Oehlen, Arman Eloyan, Oliver Michaels, Paul Pfeiffer, Daniel Sinsel and Ryan Trecartin alongside recent Royal Academy and Royal College of Art Postgraduate students) curated exhibitions, collaborated with many artists and designers and write about my influences ("The Weight and The Carried Mark Across Canaletto's View of London", Turps Banana, Issue 8, 2010).




One-Click-Red-White-Green (GIFT) (2016)

dye sublimation print on lycra

130 x 90cm


More information about the Artist  available on


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