IDOL first met Billy in very unusual circumstances. A dark pub, red lighting, seedy music you’d suspect a pervert to attempt to seduce you with, an odd aroma of cheap perfume lingered in the air whilst images of group orgies and naked women in masks adorned the walls; Billy Byrne’s Sex Noir Exhibition. For a naive hour or so, we believed that the bad lighting and disturbing soundtrack was all fault of the pub itself, whilst the poignant smell was the fault of a female with bad taste, however, we then met Billy. Assuming, again, naively that his exhibition went as far as the verging on pornographic four walls, we were in fact let in on a little secret. Billy’s exhibition was the pub itself, creating an atmosphere that was reminiscent of a boudoir or some sexual scenario and resulting in him sneaking around spraying cheap perfume around the room. From then on we were pretty hooked with this controversial and free thinking artist and have followed his increasing success in the past few months. Not only has he been asked to design t-shirts for Rokit, but home -ware as well, which includes mirrors decorated with his ’sex noir’ type artwork. He is moving full steam ahead with his exhibitions, holding one at Whitechapel and possibly another at a very cool and underground venue in New Cross and is now even being recognised for ‘those t-shirts’. It seems that the institutional route is not for everyone, as the Billy who fell through another students art work, drunk, whilst studying at Saint Martins, as well as being given some harsh ‘advice’ by his tutors and not being allowed to complete his final year, now seems to have found his way just fine.
1. When did you first realise you wanted to be an artist? What was it that inspired you to take this path?
It was the only thing I ever had an interest in as a wee’ kid, so at the start there wasn’t even a question of what I wanted to do. When it came to leaving school and deciding what to do next, I had no interest/motivation/talent in anything else.
2. How did you find yourself at Central Saint Martin’s/Byam Shaw? How did Saint Martin’s influence your career choices?
To be honest I don’t really like to talk about CSM/Byam Shaw, I left with mixed feelings.
3. Do you have an artist, etc who particularly inspires your work or that you admire?
I am influenced by sources ranging from visual art to literature, these include Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal’, Egon Schiele, David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’, Terry Richardson, Brassai and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’.
4. Have you had any bad moments, point of criticism you had to overcome about your work and how did you deal with it?
Yes a fair few, including one where a tutor said “You have to live and breathe art to succeed at Saint Martins, and you don’t”.
5. You recently had a solo exhibition at the George Tavern, London, how was your experience? Do you plan to hold more in the future?
The experience was amazing, to have a solo exhibition before you have graduated I feel is a big achievement. I attribute all my opportunities since then to that exhibition, be it directly or indirectly. Yes I do plan more, in fact I have another solo exhibition as we speak, at the Indo Bar in Whitechapel, which runs until June 22nd.
6. Your recent work manages to be overtly sexual but your colour palette and choice of medium keeps it subtle as well, was this an effort to keep viewers focus on the subject matter without being crude?
Mhmm I chose to do it this way as lipstick is a phallic tool of erotic consumption and fits in conceptually, and I use red tones as it is reminiscent of flesh, and the colour red also references red light districts…and general sleaziness etc.
7. What attracted you to exploring sexuality in your pieces?
I wanted to create a stylized and strongly defined atmosphere of bizarre and deviant beauty, and look at the co-existence of the erotic and the unsavoury.
8. In your last art works you used lipstick as your medium, are you a fan of using alternative creative tools within your pieces?
Yes, sexual/erotic work is nothing new really, I try to craft my own distinct version, as a result I have also started to paint on mirrors.
9. Ultimately what do you wish viewers to take away with them after seeing your work?
10. You’re producing a range of T-Shirts which feature elements of your artwork to be sold in Rokit Vintage, how did this come about? And how do you measure this in terms of your success as an artist?
Funny story actually, I went for an interview to work in Rokit, and I happened to wear one of my t-shirts, I didn’t get the job as I’m shit at customer service but they said the t-shirt had caught their eye and then forwarded my email address to their designer.
I feel this is going to be a big opportunity for me, Rokit is a well regarded name and will give me a lot of exposure.
11. Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you have an ultimate goal?
Either dead, or dead famous.
12. What advice would you give to anyone who is currently studying or pursuing art/creative fields and wants to advance their career?
Go with your own instincts and what you feel is best, have confidence/assertiveness and make yourself stand out, ultimately some people will think you are an arrogant and cocky bastard, but those people don’t matter, the ones who do matter will like it.
Pictures by Hana Bauman-Lyons.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR IDOL MAGAZINE