‘Girlfriends come and go but EastEnders will never leave me’
Reporter Gary Hernandez chats to Henry Collins about art, psychology and Martin Fowler on ecstasy
This week, Chin Stroke Records announced their latest offering, and coming from these guys, nothing was going to be off limits. But when I opened their press release in the office, the last thing I expected was a book of 140 Blindfolded Drawings of EastEnders Characters. So, I traveled to Bristol to meet the man behind CHNSTRK#009, to find out more about the project.
GH: So Henry, what’s a book of drawings doing on a record label?
HC: The meaning of a record label in the traditional sense got dissolved a long time ago. It’s perfectly normal for Warp Records to release films and t-shirts, for Wall’s Cornetto to release a chocolate bar version of their ice cream and for the Ministry of Defence to bomb the fuck out of countries. Why shouldn’t a record label release books?
GH: Fair enough. But why EastEnders?
HC: Suffering from various mental health issues, EastEnders gives me a routine, which I’m told by my therapist is important. It’s been part of my life for as long as I remember — it’s an obsession, bangin’ entertainment, a surreal flux, a commentary on the outside world, a conveyor belt of hope and despair and a constant in my life. Girlfriends come and go but EastEnders will never leave me.
GH: And why blindfolded?
HC: I like to draw blindfolded because I want to access images at a pre-conscious level. Because I’ve watched it for so long, EastEnders characters are ingrained in regions of my mind that can’t be accessed by normal memory. By drawing without the use of my eyes I aimed to bypass those parts of my consciousness that ‘think’ they know EastEnders.
GH: You mentioned mental health issues. Is the artistic process therapeutic?
HC: Yes, there’s definitely an element of that. In particular it helps with my feelings of disassociation, feelings that I’ve had at various stages of my life and that are always present in one way or another in my art. Just watching EastEnders helps reorient my perception of reality, and doing these blindfolded portraits gives me a way of expressing myself that moves beyond what can be disassociated.
GH: Interesting. So drawing blindfolded allows you access to deeper memories?
I wouldn’t use the depth metaphor personally, as I take issue with the way it assumes there are ‘deep’ and more valued meanings to things, versus less worthwhile ‘surface’ meanings. This kind of logic often leads to statements about pop culture being unimportant or worthless, which it obviously isn’t.
GH: So what is it about EastEnders that makes it particularly important?
HC: A lot of it is personal. Months of my life have been spent in Albert Square. I feel I know the residents, old and new, better than I know any friends, yet they know nothing about me. But more than that, EastEnders says a lot about society. The subtext of Martin Fowler dancing to the sound of a washing machine after Nick Cotton gave him an ecstasy tablet, or the erratic tale of Joe Wicks, who developed schizophrenia, for instance. And ultimately, it asks questions of what counts as art, and what is high and low brow. Are you allowed to tweet high art to Danny Dyer constantly? I hope so, one day.
GH: So what’s next?
HC: As far as Blindfolded drawings go, I’m going to continue. I’ve been doing pieces for commission, which you can arrange by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also doing some large scale blindfolded EastEnders drawings, but these will be not be portraits. Instead they will be drawings of whole episodes, done in real time. As far as Chin Stroke is concerned — I can’t say much. They run a very tight ship and it’s simply not worth my contract to go into details. All I can say is that you can expect much more from them — and not just music, either. Not in the traditional sense, at least.
GH: Thanks very much for your time, Henry, and all the best.