Nick Blinko: The Devil is in the Detail

Tony Thorne interviews an artist/ writer/musician who finds himself being overwhelmed with his obsession. 'The religious and the macabre are a big part of my personality,' Nick Blinko said, adding wryly '...there wouldn't be much left without them.' Not all the faces in Blinko's fantastically intricate confrontations with his own demons are malignant: among the skulls, imps, fractured dolls, leather-clad foetuses, oranges that might be little suns (- branded with the cross), idols, mushroom-beings, phalluses...there are ironic faces, mischievous things. There is more than a hint of humour in Blinko's conversation, too. He is affable and articulate and responds politely to the questions from the interviewer, but when the tapes of the conversations (two of them, almost a year apart) are re-played, two things are evident.

He is holding back. The 35 year-old talks readily enough of producing pictures all his life, from the coats-of-arms he designed for his dolls through the 'Tudor Asylum drawn in white ink on black paper when he was nine or ten, and his copies of Nicholas Hilliard's Elizabethan miniatures one year later, to the wholly original masterworks dating from the mid -1980s which came about after months of working four to eight hours a day, sitting

cross-legged on a bed in a state of hypnotic concentrated melancholia (his parents coming and going; 'Oh Look, he's done another inch!'), astonished at his own virtuosity; 'I got into it as a viewer as well as a producer. As the paper fills up, you, the artist, are intrigued.' Sitting for days on end, balancing the drawing board across his knees, using the finest of pens, obsessively conjuring the most intricate, unedited patterns into existence, he thought at times that, like Bodhidharma the founder of Zen, his legs would just wither away beneath him. He admits suicide attempts.The first at the age of eighteen; 'There were triggers. I was reading Diane Arbus' autobiography and I was reading Krishnamurti and Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception at the same time - alternately, one sentence from each.' And again at twenty-six ; '... an immense frustration with the art drove me to it. I couldn't get my concentration. I planned to hire a place in London and have an exhibition of my pictures to explain why I was taking my life.' In fact an exhibition at the National Schizophrenia Fellowship in 1994 first brought his art to public attention; he is now represented in the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne.

He reminisces about the periods spent in institutions, where the jokes are all about chemicals and the characters in the anecdotes are the patients (he remembers a girl with the same name as his - Nicky Blinko - and a group of inmates who started their own mushroom-worshipping religion) bouncing their inspired craziness off their foils, the straight-men, therapists and doctors. He was lucky that his own doctor was sympathetic and had developed an interest in experimental psychology, particularly the primal therapy that allows the patient to regress to confront his traumas in a near-embryonic stage of existence, to re-birth. The more orthodox treatments, though, left Blinko with a painful paradox: if he submits to medication, his concentration goes, his brain and hand and eye cannot work in concert; the side effects of fuzzed vision, shaking hands frustrate him. But the productive times without the drugs mean exposure to the full force of psychic torment and delusions; 'When I got ill, I started to plant paintings in my garden to see if they would grow.'

His fantasy persona came to possess him, a being associated with his humdrum hometown just outside London where he still lives; 'Samuel Palmer...he had Shoreham, Stanley Spencer had Cookham, and I'm lumbered with Abbots Langley... It was the birthplace of the only English pope, Pope Adrian, Nicholas Brakspear. I was so horrified by religious wars, when I was deluded, I had a fixation that all those people had died for me, so that I would be raised to the status of Pope and I'd construct a new Vatican in Abbots Langley.' After spending periods in the institution where Louis Wain had once been detained, the authorities diagnostic label of 'schizo-affective' was amended to 'thought disorder' - a reprieve from hospitalisation.

What feelings - emotions - underpin his voodoo iconography and his fanatical attention to detail? Is there a message in his work directed at anyone other than himself, and if so, what is it? Does he ever - consciously or unconsciously - censor his own creations? To these direct inquiries his replies were non-committal; 'There are some things that would upset certain people...' was all he would say....