Q&A with Corbin Shaw

We interviewed Corbin to gain a further understanding of his work and background. 

Corbin Shaw is an artist from Sheffield in Yorkshire but now living in London after graduating this year from his BA in fine art at Central Saint Martins. He makes work to investigate how masculinity is performed in heteronormative spaces dominated by men that he's grown up with. He's interested in understanding how gender roles are enforced by the father figure, and what that does to young men.

So what is your practice? 

My practice tries to understand the invisible authority of our peers that tells us we should be conforming to strict rules on what our gender should or should not be. He wants to understand how gender norms become established, how they are policed, and how best to disrupt and overcome them. I look at how public notions of masculinity shape our outlooks, and how the traditional standards of masculinity that are hereditary in our culture can have effects on our mental health.

What are your current inspirations right now?

A lot of things really. I’m reading a lot more, watching more artists lectures and listening to podcasts like most people. I’m watching a lot of football on the telly recently and seeing it in a completely new way. With no crowds, artificial chants and mannequin hooligans it’s made me look at football in its most pure and simple form (as a sport haha). It’s highlighted to me that the culture around football really makes it interesting and that can never be emulated in zoom fans, mannequins or artificial pre-recorded chants. I’m really missing that feeling of a celebrating a last-minute winner on the terraces with total strangers.

A lot of your work is connected to football and the stereotypes currently connected to it. Has it always been a major element of your work?

Well, my work tends to centre around my Dad and how he’s brought me up in certain environments like football grounds, pubs etc. Football comes up a lot in my work because football has always been a part of my life. My Dad is a huge Sheffield United fan and I’ve spent the majority of my childhood going to football matches with him. He tells me that the first time we went to see United together was when I was 2 years old.

It’s not actually football my practice is concerned with, it’s the culture around it and the social aspects of it like the conversation in the pub or what everyone’s wearing to the match or the way men act around each other. I think football has so much identity embedded in it and as a lad born and bred in Yorkshire I’m proud of who I am and where I’m from like a lot of football supporters really, but I understand with that pride comes a lot of problematic tension but I’m interested in that tension and how its formed and how do I make work from it. 

I think football culture is like a microcosm for a lot of what’s happening in the world. Don’t they say Art imitates real life, Yeah something like that.

Have you found it hard to produce work during the current situations?

It’s the same for me really because I don’t currently have enough money for my own studio so my work has always been made in my flat, the flags, the sculptures and the videos.

My flags have always been made on a sewing machine in my flat that my mum gave me; she used to use it to alter our school trousers on in the past. So creating the work is fine for me but what I am finding hard is not being able to go to the cinema or gallery to witness art in the flesh. I really miss being really inspired by the experience.

I think this pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another, I’ve struggled with a lot of things outside of making art, to be honest (economically and socially, like most people).

My last term of university was spent compiling a 30 page PDF with no tutoring to submit online instead of an end of year show. It was hard to push through and hand that work in through the uncertainty of the past couple of months, but some people have done some truly amazing things in the past few months that was truly inspiring like the key workers and the bravery of the BLM movement.

What is the favourite piece you have released? 

I try to make each newest piece of work my favourite piece and my newest work was my final piece for university. I made a sculpture about how it feels to lose. The sculpture is a sort of mock football trophy that’s based on some trophies my parents have from my youth that sit on their mantlepiece as hollow reminders of a failed football and boxing career hahaha. The sculpture is a deflated ‘match-winning ball” sits inside a glass box with a golden plaque.

The piece is called “man of the match” and the plaque inside the box reads “you’ve tossed it off for 90 minutes”, this was a quote from my Dad who said this to me when he was the manager of our team and we’d lost that day. When I made this work I’d been looking a lot at “The Treachery of Images” by Magritte and looking at the study of semiotics.

What I found interesting when is that language is never really enough to describe that feeling and neither is sculpture really. Both modes never really access that feeling, they ‘describe’ it.

Your five favourite books/magazines right now? 

I recently had a feature in one of my favourite magazines “OOF magazine” which is about football and art, I would highly recommend it to anyone into either art or football.

In terms of books I’ve been reading “why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge and I’ve been reading “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read: (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)” by Philippa Perry. I also just finished reading “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” by Mitch speed which is a great essay written about the film by Mark Leckey.

Another mention is a book called “Hooligans Abroad” which is a series of essays that investigate the behaviour and control of English fans in Europe, its quite wordy in places but has some interesting stuff in it that’s worth a read.

With an influx of footballers and fans talking about their struggles with depression and anxiety. Do you think there needs to be more of open dialogue within the sport about emotions/feelings? 

Yes definitely, talking about how we feel needs to be normalised for everyone. I think it really helps for a lot of young people who see these athletes as role models and I think they need to recognise that and be bold to show younger people that’s it's normal to talk about your feelings or listen to a friend that needs it.

It's hard to escape the fact that a lot of men have been brought up to not talk and toughen up which is why it so hard for a lot of young men to change that habit. I’m no exception to those hardwired subconscious habits, I still find it extremely hard to talk about my feelings and cry about anything.

My work is made from personal stories within my own life but the work is a reminder for myself to act on my feelings and break free of the strict social rules around gender. I still think there’s a lot of work to be done but things are changing.

What are your plans for the future with your work?

I want to push myself to make more sculpture, more video and performance. I will continue to make more flags and banners with slogans, but I'd love to bring those works into public spaces and see how they operate and affect those spaces like at football grounds or hung from windows.

I’d love to do more collaboration with any creatives, so if you’re reading this give me a message via Instagram. I aim to make more work that’s accessible for everyone and work that starts conversations about art with people who never considered themselves interested in art.


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