Michael Pybus

Michael Pybus at home March 2019 Photographer Faris Mustafa.jpg

Michael Pybus creates Frankenstein hybrids which appear reassuringly familiar yet decidedly warped. Splicing images and genres into immersive mixed media environments that reimagine contemporary culture by remixing the icons, brands and franchises which permeate our lives.

Sampling from a multitude of sources he explores the ‘flattening’ of history, time and context onto a digital horizon, devoid of hierarchies, accelerated by our omnipresent virtual technologies. Through analogue mediums such as painting and sculpture he reconfigures our visual environment much like one may augment with smartphone filters, altering images to be reborn as iconoclastic memes questioning how we interpret and project values onto cultural and consumer paraphernalia. In doing so he investigates and at times pokes fun at what we accept as the real, the authentic, the original.

From his identity as an artist - the clichéd ‘original’ - to the hierarchies and identities we apply through our opinions, consumer choices and aesthetics, he explores the scaffolding that supports how we come to view, value and contextualize the wealth of competing information and options we are subjected to daily.

What was your latest book discovery? What are your favorite books of all time?

I didn’t read much until my late 20’s when I started reading fiction for the first time. In art school you are encouraged to read lots of non fiction and theory which I find enjoyable but can leave you with quite an unbalanced approach to reading where you view creativity through academic filters which often leads to people making cold work that is basically illustrating some French writers theory from the 60s.

I was fired from a job in 2009, resulting in me having time on my hands but very little money. I’d find myself wandering charity shops and for the first time started looking at fiction books. I’d been told by a friend I’d enjoy Bret Easton Ellis and when I spotted his novel ‘The Rules of Attraction’ on the shelf for £1 I picked it up. I was instantly hooked and finished it in a couple of days, at which point I went charity shop hunting for his other novels like Less Than Zero, Lunar Park etc. Once I had read all his novels I moved onto writers like Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahnuik and continued down the rabbit whole into this new world of fiction. I must have read around 200 novels in the next couple of years.

Reading fiction proved pivotal in me gaining a greater understanding about what art actually is. Through absorbing all these stories I began to see that making art is a form of storytelling. I was creating narrative through my work, with each piece functioning as one small part of a grander story that unfolds over time. Reading helped me learn to interpret art as a much more complex and intertwined reality than just the physical object in front of me. I realised the inherent narrative in what personal experiences I bring to my work, the source materials, the references and how I chose to manifest this into my art is just as crucial as academic theory.

Reading helped me learn to interpret art as a much more complex and intertwined reality than just the physical object in front of me.

I have just finished reading Return from the Stars by Stanislaw Lem. The novel follows an astronaut Hal Bregg who returns to Earth after a mission in space. Due to time/space physics he has only aged 10 years, but on Earth 127 years have elapsed.
The society he comes home to is completely unrecognisable to him. He left the planet at the height of the pursuit of knowledge, then finds himself having to acclimate to an environment that is so technologically advanced that all sense of danger and risk is removed from human interaction and life. People are now completely catered to, they never need to struggle or sacrifice. Everything they want is given. They look to Hal with fear like he is a brutish fossil reanimated from a violent and dangerous past, whereas Hal laments on the culture he finds himself trapped in where all sense of human wonder, curiosity and creativity has been anaesthetised by a suffocatingly safe environment that operates on a never ending merry go round of pleasure, hedonism and commerce.

Some other novels that made a huge impact on me are:

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1931)
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West (1939)
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (1939)
The Outsider by Albert Camus (1946)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (1963)
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (1972)
High Rise by J. G. Ballard (1975)
White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985)
In the Country of Last Things by  Paul Auster (1987)
Hocus Pocus - Kurt Vonnegut (1990)
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland (1992)
Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim (1995)
Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis (1998)
Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk (1999)
The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
Platform by Michel Houellebecq (2001)
Windows on the World by Frederic Beigbeder (2003)
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010)
The Ice Age by Kristen Reed (2010)
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (2010)
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

Most visited blogs, websites?

I don’t really visit any blogs. Website wise I’d say I’m pretty boring and mainly just sites that provide functionality and entertainment to me like Gmail , google.comeBay.co.uk , IKEA.comyoutube.com , amazon.co.uk and netflix.com

What apps do you use the most and why?

I’m actively trying to reduce using my phone for anything other than talking and texting. The apps and their constant notifications and addictive time wasting designs are beginning to drive me crazy and also bore me.

I recently read Jaron Lanier's Ten Arguments for Deleting Social Media which is equal parts fascinating and horrifying. He goes into detail explaining how these platforms are designed to hook our most addictive pathways in our brains and keeps us stuck to the apps and sites. He talks about how A.I had worked out that if it makes users feel aggravated and depressed it will perversely keep the users on the platforms longer and increase their dependancy on checking and interacting with the feeds thus driving up profits for the companies that provide these apps and platforms for ‘free’. With this knowledge much of Silicon Valley has decided to optimise their algorithms to nurture negative interactions between users through tailoring each feed to trigger each individual as potently as possible by using all the data they invisibly collect from them against them.

I could see myself falling into this trap as well as everyone else around me, so I have weaned myself from it. I still do use apps like Instagram and Facebook as they are useful tools for me to get my ideas and work out to the global audience as well as a means for me to communicate with others and make new opportunities, but my days of mindlessly scrolling and having my phone light up with so and so liked whatever are over.

I have a Robovac and smart scales which both have apps so I use them often to clean my home and keep track of my weight, BMI, bone mass etc. I really love Shazam too for letting me know the name of music I hear around me and then just everyday task apps like my banking app and Gmail app.

Whats currently on your playlist?

I’m not really up with current music and tend to listen to a lot of early 90’s rave, techno and trance on YouTube which has an amazing archive of hard to find music. The following are a selection from my Favourites list on there…

Boiler (Humate mix) by Pob
Over by Gusgus
Halcyon and On by Orbital
Techno Trance (Paradise Is Now) by D-Shake
Before The Storm by Art Of Trance
You Got Me Burning (Ray Keith & Nookie Remix) by Cloud 9
I Like It (blow out dub) by Landlord
Bodmin 3 by AFX
Don’t Be Light (The Hacker Remix) by Air
Mask Off by Future
Field Of Dreams by The Brothers Grimm
Bliss (Sky Mix) by Halogen
Summer Fling by Willow Smith
Moves by Big Sean
Future Love Theme by Carl Craig
Keeps Coming Back by Manual
In Ya Head by A Guy Called Gerald
Flutes (Sasha remix) by Hot Chip
So This Is Goodbye by Junior Boys
In Your Eyes by Mastersafe
Trysting Fields (Mr. Sam & Mikka Mafia Mix) by Dillinger & Capone

What records would you recommend to hear?

Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails (1989)
The Immaculate Collection by Madonna (1990)
Music for the Jilted Generation by The Prodigy (1994)
The Hackers Soundtrack (1995)
Becoming X by Sneaker Pimps (1996)
The Craft Soundtrack (1996)
Fight Club Score (1999)
OK Computer by Radiohead (1999)
Psyence Fiction by Unkle (1998)
Music Has The Right To Children by Boards of Canada (1998)
Disco-Tech - Gatecrasher (2001)
Arrhythmia by Antipop Consortium (2002)
Spokes by Plaid (2003)
Chosen Lords - Aphex Twin (2006)
Darkbloom - Grimes (2011)

Fresh movie finds? What films do you think everybody should watch?

I don’t think I’ve seen any recent releases other than A Star is Born which I watched because of Bret Easton Ellis talking about it on his podcast and was surprised to find it was quite a dark tale of the empty glamour we are sold by the entertainment industry. 

Film’s I think everyone should watch, ummm well I can’t speak for everyone tastes but here’s a few films I enjoy watching over and over again.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) - Absolute knock out performance by Gloria Swanson who plays Norma Desmond, an ageing Hollywood superstar of the silent movies who has since been forgotten by the industry. She languishes away in her mansion obsessed with her past achievements and a delusional determination to become a star again. The film is so tragic. Norma’s facial expressions and body language are cartoonishly over exaggerated, a leftover mental tic from her heydays of performing for the silent movie screen which required larger than life movements and expressions to make up for the lack of dialogue. Then there’s an added meta layer to the film in that in real life Gloria Swanson was a ‘forgotten’ silent movie star when she was cast as the lead, art imitating life imitating art. The performance is insanely pertinent to today’s media saturated celebrity obsessed culture.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) - Another tale exploring the Hollywood nightmare sees Bette Davis playing a former child star trapped looking after her wheelchair bound sister played by Joan Crawford. In real life Davis and Crawford couldn’t stand each other and that real life chemistry is electric on screen as they both battle and manipulate one another through the entire film, leading us to what I think is one the best ending scenes of a movie ever. 

Cabaret (1972)

The Stepford Wives (1975)

Blade Runner (1982) - Seems a little ridiculous recommending this as I imagine everyone has seen it, but if you haven’t I’m jealous I’d love to experience watching this for the first time again!

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Modern Girls (1986) - A total 80s time capsule of a movie set in LA following 3 friends on a night out with my favourite movie tag line ‘Never Stand in Line. Never buy your own drinks. Never stand next to a Dweeb’ 

Beetlejuice (1998) - The best 80s postmodern home maker over movie ever! 

Slaves of New York (1989) - Another 80s time capsule of a film, this time set in New York. It follows the life of a young hat maker making her way through life in the downtown contemporary art scene, the clothes are great, they use real art of the time and film in real galleries. Such a fun film. 

Heathers (1989) - “How very.”

Paris Is Burning (1990) “I always had hopes of being a big star. But as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you've made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you've left a mark. You don't have to bend the whole world. I think it's better to just enjoy it. Pay your dues, and just enjoy it. If you shoot a arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.’

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) 

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)

Toys (1992) - Total box office flop but one of the most aesthetically striking movies ever made. The film is a Postmodern design masterpiece with the late Italian designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti given free reign to envisage some of the most imaginative and beautiful sets. I wish the world looked like this film!

Hackers (1995) My favourite movie opening sequence. 

Showgirls (1995)

The Doom Generation (1995)

The Craft (1996)

Safe (1996)

Scream franchise (1996 - 2011)

The Matrix (1999) - It’s impact may be lost today with how commonplace hyper technologically augmented visuals are now but at the time nothing had ever looked like this film did. This film delivered a visual style that completely changed the way the way movies looked ever since. I went to the cinema 3 times to see it when it came out and wanted nothing more than I wanted Neo’s Nokia banana phone! 

Fight Club (1999) I put off seeing this as I mistakenly thought it was just a stupid film about fighting which I found out couldn’t be further from the truth once I actually watched it. 

The Dark Knight (2008)

Synecdoche, New York (2009)

Moon (2009)

The Hunger Games (2012)

Starlet (2012)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Purge (2013)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Inside Out (2015) - I had no interest in watching this film as I didn’t like the look of the characters, but RuPaul talked about it on his podcast so I gave it a go and was so glad I did. The film personifies emotions and plays out inside a mind. It has to be one of the most exciting and heartbreaking experiments in abstraction I have ever seen!

Which artists working today do you admire most?

Off the top of my head, but this list could be much longer -

Sylvie Fleury
Karen Kilimnik
Josh Smith
Tobias Rehberger
Urs Fischer
Sarah Cain

Who are you following?

I follow many people on social media but I don’t look at social media so me listing any particular accounts on my follow list wouldn't particularly mean anything. I do really love Podcasts and Youtube channels though and subscribe to many. I spend 7 days a week painting so it’s great to have the ability to consume content and new ideas whilst working. A few of my favourite are:

Reply All Podcast - Each episode starts with something related to the internet and goes in wildly unexpected directions including talking to a woman who kept her dead grandmother alive in The Sims for years, people who have ‘Tulpas’ - which are basically other ‘people’ that live in their heads and a widower whose images of his late wife keep appearing in generic internet ads.

The Serial Killer Podcast - I’ve lost track of how many gruesome murder stories I’ve absorbed whilst painting.

Paul Joseph Watson YouTube channel

Louder with Crowder

Stefan Molyneux call in Podcast (available on Youtube too) - People call in with some of the most craziest situations and sad predicaments and for an hour or so Stefan Molyneux who has the largest and most popular philosophical show in the world applies his extensive knowledge to unpack what is happening and how to improve the situations. The conversations can be intense, uncomfortable and upsetting but they are always super informative and mind altering in helping us understand where and why we have certain behaviours, ethics and responses and how to go about improving ourselves and those around us.

99% Invisible

RuPaul What’s the Tee with Michelle Visage Podcast - For any creative person out there wanting a professional career I highly recommend this podcast. RuPaul is a master of marketing and reinventing himself to maintain his relevance to culture. To hear him talk about his experiences with Michelle and guests trying to unpack what it takes to achieve success and then hold onto it is so enlightening. In todays culture with fetishises peaking in our youth it’s great to gain insight from someone 4 decades into his career that is about to turn 60 who has never been more successful or in demand than in this current moment.

Flecca Talks

Stuff You Should Know - How Electric Chairs work, Are there undiscovered people? how mirrors work, how frogs work, Is the Uncanny Vally real?

Bret Easton Ellis Podcast

The Candace Owens Show

What tools do you use in your work?

Mainly just a lot of acrylic paint, I particularly like to use blacklight paint in many of my works, so under UV light they will glow. I want the works to have that physical properly as a reference to the flat glowing screens we spend so much time looking at and where much of the source images I use in my paintings comes from. Software wise I use Photoshop daily, but I make sure not to adhere to anything I construct in Photoshop too strictly once I start painting. Digital technology is great but I see a lot of painting today has a hyper Photoshop feel to it and for me it all kinda blends into together and loses personality and humanity.

What magazines / newspapers do you read regularly?

None. I find legacy media slow and highly biased on both the right AND left. There’s been a depressing trend in the Age of Social Media for journalists to stop reporting on events and instead become self proclaimed ‘activists’ to use their words to speculate and spread whatever click bait propaganda is going to get the most interaction and keep the advertisers happy. I don’t seriously consume any of it.

Extra +

Computer games are often ignored in 'high' culture which I find ridiculous as they play such a huge role in culture and I think are the future of entertainment especially as technology becomes ever more immersive. Here's a list of games as they have been hugely influential to me.

Super Mario Bros, Nintendo Entertainment System (1985) - This was the first computer game and console I had ever played. I didn’t grow up in a high culture environment. I didn’t know about aesthetics I’d never even been to an art gallery This game introduced me an understanding and approach to shape, colour and pattern that to this day is prevalent in my work. The technology in it’s infancy so the game designers had to be highly visually sophisticated using limited colours and and memory to create what were and area highly immersive and evocative landscapes, characters and objects. There’s an elegant restraint throughout the game that has created an iconic visuals that even today 30 years on look as great as ever.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Sega Master System (1986)

Starwing, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1993)

Yoshi’s Island, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1995) - A masterpiece of digital design, every single scene is a joy to soak in and explore. Shigeru Miyamoto the creator of Mario decided to have the entire game rendered to look like it was hand drawn with coloured pencils and crayons, which in fact they originally were. In order to get the games unique style artists hand drew the game on paper which was then scanned and painstakingly rendered pixel by pixel digitally on screen.

Tomb Raider, Playstation (1996)

Final Fantasy VII, Playstation (1997) - The most cinematic opening sequence of anything I have played and arguably one of the greatest computer games of all time. I remember being at school and all day all I could think about was getting home so I could get back to playing this game, which anyone who has played it will probably agree feels more like a journey with an incredible narrative arch and team of characters that you really are routing for throughout the entire 3 disc saga. I wasn’t particularly happy with the environment I was in at the time but games like this offered me an entire planet I could lose myself in.

Computer games are often ignored in ‘high’ culture which I find ridiculous as they play such a huge role in culture and I think are the future of entertainment especially as technology becomes ever more immersive.

Galerians, Playstation (1999)

Lone Survivor, Mac & PC download (2012) - The game’s designer Jasper Byrne had just lost his father to cancer and had a newborn child when he began development. His conflicted mind space of grief and hope are hauntingly embedded into the game as he takes you on a retro pixelated style journey through a post apocalyptic world. The protagonist wakes in an unspecified apartment to find an environment of disease and destruction. Throughout the game you encounter a series of mysterious characters, enter dream sequences and befriend a cat. You find medication, you take medication to try and ease the pain, but you can never be too sure that you aren't doing more damage. What you eat, who you help and even whether you decide to water the plants can create different outcomes in the plot. The game is dark and harrowing with a narrative so engrossing it keeps you falling deeper and deeper into this beautiful nightmare.

The Silent Age, iOS iPhone & Android (2012) - A dying man from an apocalyptic 2012 sends the protagonist Joe from 1972 on a time travelling quest to discover what happened. As you traverse through the game you find yourself having to switch back and forth between Joe’s present and the dying mans present to work out which location in which era can help you arrive to the poignant conclusion of the game which is where we find out what The Silent Age is.

Inside, Mac/PC (2016) - A boy slides down a rocky incline and the game has started. The boy starts running through a dark forest, guards and dogs start chasing him. The boy keeps running and the environments become increasingly menacing, complex and dangerous. Something sinister is happening. Are you running from it or into it? The ending of this game literally made my jaw drop I could not believe what I had gotten into! There is no way to anticipate where this story is going to take you but its for sure a wild creepy ride.

Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo Switch (2017)


Michael Pybus

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Portrait image by © Faris Mustafa