Jack Haslam has exhibited work through Shape over a number of years, and has had work selected for the annual Shape Open (People's Choice 2015). Jack is the lead-selling artist at our gallery, and we are most grateful that he has agreed to share with us some insights into his life and artistic practice

Your artistic style varies greatly; your earlier work featured toys, whilst your newer work focuses on animals, could you tell us about this transition?

When I was young I lived in a fantasy world where all things were possible. Due to my cognitive problems I was taken to role play sessions with dolls. Somewhere along the way I really bought into that idea and started to dress my own dolls, put them in scenes, light them up and then photograph them with an old Pentax camera. I could control them, it felt safe as I beginning to realise I was different from everyone else.

In my early work ‘Norman,’ I really believed [that] a robot could push Norman along in his wheelchair and it was possible to will him to do it. As I got older I still felt the same: anything was possible. When I began to realise that I had unrealistic expectations, I was always moody and disappointed.

My anxiety increased [as well as] my compulsive behaviour, so I ended up on medication. My more creative ‘making’ side slowly was replaced by just the ability to draw. I had always loved and spent time around animals and they seemed [to provide] a safe environment for me to indulge my creative side. I [then] started etching and became a Printmaker.

Deer - Jack Haslam

You describe your obsession with animals as ‘life-long,’ how did this come about and what is the meaning behind the use of animals within your work?

Animals often appeared in my intrusive thoughts. Recently a character from ‘Coronation Street’ was talking to a character from ‘Doctors’. One was a koala bear and one was a skunk; they were having an argument and a phrase came into my head:

The trouble with skunk men and koala bear men is they get on your nerves after a while.

It is a common theme for me:

People as animals, animals as people.

What are your strongest influences when creating your art? Are there any particular artists that influence your work?

I like 1980s films, particularly ‘Duel,’ I have taken many photographs of the screen. I love the colours and the expressions and there are only a few people in it. I find it difficult to concentrate on other people’s work as my thoughts will not leave me alone, but I did like [Ignazio] Jacometti. Another phrase came into my head recently about the 1980s. It said:

Be gentle around the surface of the eighties, don’t harm it you won’t believe it

Your work ‘Poltergeist – The Chicken Eater’ is based on your rituals and obsessions about films and eating, how does your life influence your artistic practices and your creative process?

‘The Chicken Eater’ was one of a series of pieces of work about eating and watching films. Sadly I realise[d] that this was the beginning of my OCD getting much worse and now it’s easier to say what I don’t OCD about than [the things that] I do.

I still have phases; ham sandwiches with ‘Titanic,’ pepperoni with ‘Wicker Man,’ and donuts with ‘The Simpsons,’ but there are so many of them, they have overwhelmed me.

I would also like to show my 80s style films in large cinemas everywhere. I struggle with technical stuff so [I] will need help, maybe a collaboration with another artist. Anyone interested?

You stated that you are always searching for things that people say don’t exist; could you give us an example?

My most recent and ongoing search is with regard to my true identity. The people in my head tell me that my mum is an imposter. I have tried: DNA testing, birth certificate, birth bracelet, photos, doctor’s advice etc. but I’m still not satisfied.

I watched a film, ‘Meet the Parents,’ where they invented a machine to put my face and mum’s face together and it could tell you if you were related, but it doesn’t exist so that’s that.

Monkey - Jack Haslam

What are you currently working on and do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us?

I am currently struggling to go to the etching studio so I am setting up my own at home and I have now bought my own press. I have several animal etchings in process. I went through a phase of not being able to touch paper so my most recent work is digital embroidery.

I am preparing work for a new art magazine called ‘Ab ovo’ which means, ‘from the beginning’ or ‘from the egg’ in Latin. The focus is meant to be on young and early career artists.

I am also awaiting results from other open shows. Also in the future, I would like to make films where you can explore and do what you want, making up your own ending, a bit like a virtual life.

Owl - Jack Haslam

Lastly, what is the single most important thing that you would like people to know about you as an artist?

Most of the time I am only 50% here, it can be very lonely, I love it when people talk to me in an animated way and laugh and smile. I am hopefully going to try and get off medication in the future to fully release my imagination as I feel [as if] I live in a bit of a fog. My intrusive thoughts will not seem to let me enjoy my successes.

My creativity is always on the move so I hope to surprise people every now and then.