Will Datson was born in 1959 in the North-East of England and is currently based a short distance north in Scotland. His varied output has included paintings, prints, books, music and video. The Underwater Press is the umbrella title he has worked under since the 1980s.
I am a self-taught artist. I am mostly a self-taught everything because I only seem to want to learn when I have an interest in things. I am also a self-taught gardener and a self-taught composer of electronic-based pop music. I am a self-taught computer person but I won't go on about this self-taught thing, I think you get the idea - I am an autodidact.
I grew up in the North-East of England, my late father was a lorry driver and my mother was a hospital cook before she retired. I was slightly educated in a large pointless school but escaped as early as I could without anyone noticing. I joined a band and moved to London soon afterwards as a clueless teenager. That is when my education began.
This is not an autobiography as I am mostly a reserved private person but here a few details. I lived in London twice, I once lived on a farm in Wales and also a little cottage there, the rest of the time I have lived in Scotland. I love wild countryside but I grew up in a city and know how they work. A restless inhabitant but not much of a traveller. My hope is to live in two dimensions at the same time in a science-fiction kind of way.
I was a doodler at school, I covered my notebook margins with scribbles while I was unengaged. I have always felt at ease with a pen whether for drawing or writing. I was picked out as being arty at an early age, the Careers Officer told me I should try designing furniture for disabled people, I never did and my potential remains unfulfilled. I constructed things, I painted things, I made lampshades that went from ceiling to floor, I cut up things but most of all I made music using anything I could access. I have created most of my life, with very little interest or investment from others and I've never really thought I belonged to any scene.
My art has changed over the years. The first time I formulated anything into 'a painting' it was abstract and the ideas were all from my head. I was about 30 years old when I first thought about being an artist. I began to draw what I saw and settled into sketching, still life painting and landscapes. At this point I began to exhibit (early 1990s). There was, however, a restricting element to this and I felt inhibited by the expectations that came with being identified with an accessible style. And so I gave up exhibiting for a few years but continued to make art. In retrospect I was re-orientating myself.
My artwork does not have any conscious meaning. I don't think I have ever set out to say anything with it. That doesn't mean it can't be analysed but that the production is mostly instinctive and it is like trying to explain how I manage to blink. I do think seriously about what I do and why but I also like to keep my distance from derivative artspeak - this wariness I presume comes from an earthy background that has little regard for the intellect. I am fascinated by art and taste but also by the hatred of art, the popular as well as the exclusive. There is humour as well, that tends to go into my little books.
I was interested in the experimental from my early teenage years. My background limited what I was exposed to, the only books in our house were my Dad's occasional library books on spiritualism and fortune-telling. I didn't let this hinder my eagerness to discover what was out there, pop music was the first access point or at least the pop music that wasn't particularly popular. The 1970s were my youth years and like everyone else that was when my tastes were established. I listened to German experimental rock, free jazz, classical experimentalists, electronic pioneers and I played around with tape recorders and cheap musical instruments - I wanted to know what was possible with sound. Film came later - Bunuel, Tarkovsky, Parajanov, Svankmajer. I probably have more capacity for the mainstream now than I ever did then.
Oddly, I have never pursued visual arts in the same way. I don't know if this is because images are everywhere or because the art world felt alien. I was exposed to very few artists although I remember being excited by Max Ernst and Paul Klee paintings when I was at school. Even now I find galleries exhausting and mostly sterile. Pop Art was my influence because that's really all there was around me. In a way I regret that it took me so long to see what others were doing but we are back to that self-taught thing - education can sometimes take a lot longer.