At Home with Mat Collishaw

The Former YBA Shares His Love of Living in Camberwell

Artist Mat Collishaw welcomes Freunde von Freunden, a Berlin-based online publication profiling creative professionals in their work and home environments, into his lofty, light-filled south east London abode. A key member of the Young British Artists (YBA) movement of the early 90s, Collishaw gutted the former pub and photographic studio, knocking through walls to open up the space and replacing almost all the original trimmings save for an old pub organ. “There is a lot of imagination that went into this house,” says Collishaw. “Every wall had different wallpaper because they were using it for shoots. The whole thing looked horrible.” A former student at nearby Goldsmith’s College with Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Gary Hume, Collishaw starred in the group’s groundbreaking 1988 Freeze exhibition in the local London Port Authority building at Surrey Docks with his controversial “Bullet Hole,” a large-scale photographic close-up of a bullet wound to the head. Following the recent unveiling of his “Venal Muse, Envirico,” a resin-sculpted orchid whose petals show signs of syphilitic disease in tribute to Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mals, at Other Criteria gallery, the 46-year-old presents a new video work titled “The Age of Innocence” at Bermondsey’s Dilston Grove gallery later this month. Here, Collishaw comments on urban grit, domestic beauty and sex machines.

What do you like about Camberwell over other parts of the capital?

Sometimes when the sun comes out and hits the trees in a certain way it takes me back to the excitement of being new to London and the opportunities it offers. I arrived with very little cash and this area wasn't affluent either, so there was a sense of everything to gain and nothing to lose.

The area has changed a lot since you first started here. How do you feel about it becoming an artistic hub?

In some ways it's changed, but it still retains an urban grittiness––which is good for sharpening your wits but slightly tedious when being abused by local thugs. There are some beautiful properties in this area but it's important to keep them behind heavily locked doors. 

You home looks perfect for big dinners and parties. Have you had any memorable get-togethers?

I've had a few dinner parties that have been quite sedate. Mark Hix [chef and owner of Hix Oyster and Chop House] did the bar for my son’s 21st birthday party, which was quite a night. I asked my son the next day what had happened to the barman who had left several things behind. He told me that there had been a bit of an altercation in which the barman had been punched to the ground and thrown out on the street. That's gratitude for you. I still have his iPhone if he's reading this...

“Venal Muse, Envirico” goes on show at Other Criteria gallery today. What do you want viewers to take away?
You can admire the beauty in something that is slightly diabolical. I have no demands on the viewer but it does sometimes strike me that flowers are generally treated as decorative elements in people’s lives rather than malevolent sex machines, which is the way I see them.

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