"Ambition is a curse as much as a blessing, and sometimes it’s just a pain in the arse."
His dad wanted him to be a professional batsman, but in the ultimate act of rebellion, Bedford-born Alex Chinneck turned to sculpture. The playfulness of his installations—he’s made public buildings hover, a Kent home slide into the garden, a Vauxhall Corsa drive upside down in a Southbank car park— elicits comparisons with Banksy.
In recent work, A Bullet from a Shooting Star— a collaboration with Greenwich Peninsula —an upturned electricity pylon appears to have crashed to earth and lodged riverside. Having just shot a film with him in a Peninsula apartment styled by Cereal magazine, we grabbed him between takes to chat fatherhood, wine and about his obsession with Kanye West.
Has your father forgiven you for becoming an artist?
He’s never fully understood it, but always supported it. You know, my Dad’s a PE teacher so it’s alien to him. But considering that it’s alien, he does a good job of pretending to be interested.
In times of stress, do you wish you’d stuck with cricket?
In my most stressful moments, I think I should have become anything but an artist! And a cricketer would be a lovely occupation, but I probably would never have been good enough. Someone said to me recently, “If you could have any job in the world, what would you be?” and I said “an artist.”
It’s difficult and stressful, but kind of wonderfully so. There’s times when I’m extraordinarily stressed about the job I do, but never regretful.
Ever wished on an actual shooting star?
Yeah, I have, I’ve seen a lot. You see a lot in France. They’re amazing. Whenever I make a wish, it’s always about whatever project I’m currently working on because that’s all I ever think about!
Do you ever get sick of bricks?
No! We’ve just finished a piece two weeks ago that weighed 10 tonnes and used 5,000 bricks, and we’re working on a series of sculptures at the moment that incorporates 150,000 bricks. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of them. I just hope that the people who visit and see and hopefully continue to enjoy my work don’t either.
What goes through your head on installation unveiling day?
Money. Getting sued. People getting hurt. It not looking good. The crane breaking. The crane not turning up. All of these things that test your nerves but reward your ambition. It’s a cocktail of anxiety and excitement. The two are very close friends and they’re never really far apart. That’s just the way I approach my practice in general: constantly doing things
that make me feel extraordinarily uncomfortable, but are full of reward simultaneously. So, yeah it’s a whirlpool of creative excitement and creative anxiety. You reach a point where you’ve been working on these projects for a year, you’ve reached a creative point of no return and you’re just hopeful that the decisions you made 12 months ago were the right ones, I suppose.
When are you at your least creative?
When I’m hung-over.
If Burt, your bearded collie, could talk, what would he say to you?
Why have you bought a cat?
What’s your dinner party dish of choice?
My girlfriend Lou makes homemade pizzas. We have children and now typically people who come around do too, so we just make loads and loads of pizzas and the kids do the toppings, and they just go down a storm.
What skill that you lack do you wish you possessed?
I suppose a greater ability to relax. I look at a lot of people with a degree of envy and they seem to be just enjoying themselves. Ambition is a curse as much as a blessing, and sometimes it’s just a pain in the arse.
How did you choose your children’s names?
My daughter is called Bloom Valentine. I guess we were looking for an old name, one that felt old, like it had been around forever, but at the same time, timeless and unique. Bloom felt right from that perspective—floral and positive. With my son Chaplin who is just eight weeks old, it was all about the alliteration. I wanted the ch-ch, so it was Chaplin Chinneck, shortened to Chap.
Where do you go in London when you want to be alone?
I go running with Burt in Wanstead Park, which is beautiful, just woods and ponds. About five times a week I do that, which I love. But we’re moving to a farm—which is where we’ll make all the sculptures, a sort of sculpture farm in Kent—in about a month’s time. It will create a sort of headspace that the city rarely allows.
How has fatherhood changed you?
Well, I get even less sleep than I ever did before. Strangely, since the birth of my children, I’ve felt a greater inclination towards making permanent art. I don’t know if I’m kind of subconsciously trying to carve some kind of legacy, something to leave behind. How else has it changed me? I’m just more exhausted than I ever was. And there’s this forced process of unselfishness, which is an alien concept for an artist because it’s a very self-indulgent life, being constantly immersed in a passion. And at the moment where I can’t share that passion with my children because they’re so young, there’s this forced unselfishness which I think is a healthy thing.
With whom would you most like to swap lives for a day?
My cat, Claude. That guy’s got the easiest life I have ever witnessed. He does nothing; he just eats and sleeps, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Who do you most admire?
My cat, Claude!
Idea of the perfect holiday?
I’ve been with my girlfriend for 10 years and we’ve never been on holiday—much to her disgust. I find it psychologically difficult to go somewhere on holiday purely recreationally. I need to feel that there’s some kind of progress, so somewhere where it’s simultaneously about work and relaxation.
Biggest guilty pleasure?
My most frequent guilty pleasure is wine. So that, and googling Kanye West. It’s complicated, but I think he’s creatively phenomenal.
What song sums up your current mood?
My daughter had food poisoning last night so I didn’t sleep so I’m very lethargic at the moment, so something from Frank Ocean I think.
Those Banksy comparisons: annoying or flattering?
It’s a huge compliment. He’s probably irritated by it, but I’m certainly not.
How do you sleep at night?
Badly. Badly. Really badly. That’s the simple answer. Terribly.
What’s your hangover cure of choice?
Anadin. As quickly as possible. I kind of crawl to a box of Anadin.
What’s your biggest fear?
Running out of ideas.
Watch our film for an exclusive view of Alex at work. Shot within the unique interiors of the Abode penthouse styled by Cereal magazine, this short film, produced by Tom Hingston, offers a rare glimpse of Chinneck’s artistic methodology—and a surprise ending.