Robin Broadley, the cardboard king!

Robin Broadley is amongst other things an artist; cardboard fanatic, avid Burnley FC fan, founder of the Mexico Branch, MSoA technician and mainstay at The Peveril and the Peak.

Robin’s predominantly cardboard-based practise utilises imagery from his everyday fascinations, interests and influences – referencing things such as automotive garage signs, digital coronavirus rendors, video game logos and his beloved Burnley FC.

Robin's association with cardboard is rooted within his childhood- making sculptures with his dad in the early days which eventually led him up the path he’s on today. His involvement with the Manchester scene arrived via art collective ‘TOAST’ which eventually presented him an opportunity to build and be a part of ‘Paradise Works’ - an artist led space he now calls home.

His sculptures have been viewed at The Whitworth, HOME, Scaffold Gallery, Division of Labour, The Manchester Contemporary, AIR Gallery and Patterns of Play.

We met up with Robin at the famous Eagle Inn to discuss his practise, Mexico Branch and how his experiences at Paradise Works have shaped him over the last few years.

Listen to the story below -

How has your new found fame found you since the HOME open exhibition?

I'm not sure exactly who the new crowd of people who follow me are but it was great fun, for one day only. My phone went off all day before 'loveofhuns' were on to the next thing. My fame was over. It must have struck a particular chord with our generation because not a lot of people get the 'Princess Diana' piece, generationally you’ve got to be quite a specific age to appreciate that WordArt font.

Princess Diana 2019. Cardboard, papier-mâché, acrylic paint. 1250x350x250mm

It all went off on Twitter initially and I was told that my sculpture had gone viral, now I didn't have Twitter at the time so I couldn't see! I contacted the person who’d put up the picture asking if I could be credited for it and his response was "I'm not really sure how this stuff works, I just took the picture for me and my mates because I thought it was funny, I didn't know this would happen!" Then it transcended into Instagram chaos with something like 30,000 likes. Bizarre.

Describe your practise for us Robin...

Robin: I see my practise as a catalogue of objects or things that I've engaged with throughout my life, my youth mainly, which as a collective have shaped my being or outlook on things. I don't really see my work as one sculpture there and another here with separate stories, it's all part of the bigger narrative of what I have experienced up until this point, which is ongoing. All the things I make, or recreate, I could say, are in part a representation of me. It's very selfish and inward looking, it's all about myself.

DANYAL! 2017. Cardboard, papier-mâché, acrylic paint. 700x700x200mm

Evan: Even with Danyal Autos work 'DANYAL!'?

Robin: Especially with Danyal Autos! Me and my good friend Danielle used to live near that store in Chorlton and I would see the sign everyday on my way to work. At that time it was a much heavier period, shall we say. I'd be half asleep on the bus and it would be a signifier of home and safety, so it was a really important sign, a sign of being safe! Everyone has got one of those signifiers that says that you're nearly home, whether it be a post box on the corner or just something that's significant.

Evan: Then you do have newer works like 'Rona Ball', is that more of a social commentary than a look in at your own experiences?

'Rona Ball . 2020. Cardboard, papier-mâché, acrylic paint. 900x900x900mm

Robin: Not at all, no. I can see why people would think it was as there has been a nasty virus going around... That piece came about from the news. Each channel made their own digital version of what we perceived to be Coronavirus, like a digital virus ball and each channel had a different design. Channel 4's is like a black ball with red and blue prongs, BBC's is a red ball with white prongs and there were so many others. I got a little bit obsessed with these balls and really found it quite funny when they were talking about grave danger and there were these stupid balls flying around.

I did plan on making one ball for each channel but I didn't as it just got so boring. My ball didn't even match any of the references as the studio was shut at the time so I had to see what paint was knocking about in the flat. It did end up being Burnley colours in the end. So, not a social commentary at all, it felt like the image of the balls needed remembering. I think that's the fundamental reason for me making anything really, everything needs logging in time and cached, if you will.

There are a few monikers or sections to your work such as Mexico Branch and CARDBROADLEY, what are they?

Robin: Mexico Branch, I don't have a clear answer for you on that front, but I'll tell you where it started.

I went on holiday to Mexico years ago and as you do, if you're a big Burnley fan you have a moral duty to tell the whole world about it and so I made the 'Burnley FC Mexico Branch' flag as a laugh. You get all these macho football flags highlighting the branches and firms that support a football team and so I thought, "nobody in Mexico is a Burnley fan, yet", which I learnt when I got there. Nobody had a clue.

Evan: Not even expats?

Robin: Nobody. I thought they may have at least heard of us, us being Burnley of course! But not a single person in three weeks had even heard of Burnley.

So that's how it started. I got the flag and took a picture in front of the old ancient Aztec temples, I thought it was hilarious, this sort of fake supporters branch. When I got back I got some stickers made, that's what all football groups do, make stickers and stick them everywhere, that's just what you do. I stuck them in pub toilets and in away stands, it turned into this self-fulfilling prophecy where by doing what 'you're supposed to do' as a supporters club then by virtue became exactly what it was taking the piss out of. Burnley fans just take it as I am the Mexico Branch, there are no questions.

Evan: Even in the toilets of our music studio in Wellington House there is a Mexico Branch sticker with graffiti next to it saying 'U C*NT', that's exactly what it's supposed to be!

Robin: Exactly! Wherever I go on holiday, even if it's not football related, I will take the flag and stand in front of that cities famous monument, just because. It's now like a record of where I have been and it's become embroiled within my art practise because it's under the same banner. So it sort of represents my practise in roundabout way, which I never intended on, or maybe it just represents myself?


Loading . 2020. Cardboard, papier-mâché, acrylic paint. 1200x1200x1200mm

Robin: CARDBROADLEY was my first solo show, which I've learnt a lot from. It was in the middle of the pandemic so nobody could visit it in person. I got hold of this fancy 3D camera from work where you remotely take pictures and it maps the whole space. A lot of the art world adopted this eventually as nobody could visit anything in person and these virtual renders were all that we could access [in regard to viewing art], so that's what it ended up being.

That all worked quite well. You look at 'Princess Diana', the 'Rona Ball' and a few other pieces from the show which had been plucked out of the digital realm - Playstation games, the news, etc – they were created to be seen in real life and then re-digitised, they returned from whence they came! That aspect worked nicely.It was also the first time I'd seen all my work together in the same space, I saw some common threads running through my work which I hadn't noticed until that moment. My good friend Zoe Watson curated the show.

Diamond Geezer 4.0 . 2020. Cardboard, papier-mâché, acrylic paint, spray paint. 1600x1600x600mm

There are certain elements and undertones to the sculptures that give them a particular sense of identity, some of which I hadn’t picked up on before, namely my use of paper machè and acrylic paint - I always knew oil paints were much more vibrant but take f***ing ages to dry, acrylic paints [with the correct undercoat]have this pastel tone which make my sculptures look almost soft and squishy - other worldly, hyperreal qualities. A lot of people have thought my sculptures have been cakes in the past.

So I think by doing CARDBROADLEY I learnt loads about my own practise, typically you have a piece here and a piece there in various shows but it was great seeing all my stuff together in one place.

What is the decision behind your use of cardboard and paper machè?

It goes back to being at uni, admittedly it wasn't all cardboard - I used the woodwork workshop quite a lot but I used to find the logistics of operating over several locations to be counterproductive, on a technical and logistical level it's far easier to be sat with a Stanley knife, a glue gun, some cardboard and do it with no messing about, strike whilst the iron is hot, that's really appealing to me.

After CARDBROADLEY I've seen that the materials lend them self to the beauty of the sculptures, which I didn't initially realise. You can physically see that it is newspaper and paper machè and that all lends itself to the piece.

Pain in the Arse . 2018. Cardboard, papier-mâché, acrylic paint. 1500x350x250mm

I starting using cardboard because my old man and myself would always make stuff out of cardboard when I was a kid, so it was really ingrained in me from an early age that this was an accessible medium. If you were to make my sculptures out of MDF and get them cut smooth on a CNC machine then they would be too polished and pristine, they would lack personality.

In your work I see essences of Pop Art, social dialogue or commentary or even social cynicism with areas of surrealism ,are any of those considered by you?

Certainly not considerations. My art history knowledge is appalling, shockingly bad. Any inspiration that exists comes from stuff that is nothing to do with artists or art movements. As I see it, of course you’ve possibly seen it in a different way which is the beauty of art, but social cynicism is definitely not part of my practise. I would say that all my work is quite upbeat really. It's about my experiences and positive ones at that, I'm not sure if Blackburn fans will see it that way but f*ck 'em!

I guess you could argue the surrealist aspect is there, though it’s not a conscious decision when it comes to making stuff, I'm making things that don't look quite how it should do – ever so slightly off, they’re very familiar but it might be a strange size or just off in some way. The scale is a funny one because you can never tell when it's on a photo, that’s why it’s important to see art in real life, I think a lot of artists have to grapple with that issue.

This is not a Drill. . 2017. Cardboard, papier-mâché, acrylic paint. 550x600x200mm

So to be honest with you there is no consideration in any way to those three churches. To put it bluntly you are wrong.

What has your time been like at Paradise Works like?

Paradise, in its existence came at a very opportune, important time for me. I was on the cusp of drifting away from doing art. I think the year after you graduate you just drift for a while working out what you want to do, my one year turned into two until Rogue Studios closed down – some of the artists from there then formed Paradise. That's a very simplified version of the story but around that time I was asked to help build Paradise Works and that gave me a kick to re-engage with my practise. Everyone at Paradise knows each other, you see other studio members at shows or down the pub, on both a community and practical level it is good.

Everyone has their own booths which is great as I've been to other studios that are totally open plan which I would hate! Paradise serves the purpose that an artist led space should, which is satisfying. I think you can get very different types of artists with some being engaged with the scene and some who are full time commercial artists - it does feel like everyone at Paradise is looking towards the city and are on a similar page. In my experience it's quite rare to find a similar mindset in that sense.

What are your thoughts on the art scene in Manchester?

I feel like I have a unique view of the art scene in Manchester as I work in the Art School – I get to know the artists that are going to be released into Manchester. I'll watch them go through the three years of uni and then suddenly they’re working alongside you as an artist in the city. Of course there’s the academic staff too many of which are active in the area. My point being that I get to know quite a lot of the art world here and that in itself makes it feel quite small. It does feel that if you're going out to an opening then that is a good thing, if you want someone on a project then it can happen easily.

The city is very much a big melting pot, whenever there’s a show on you see all the usual suspects – it’s an easy city to travel around in regard to art venues so that helps too - whichever side of town you are on you either have The Eagle or The Pev to visit, sounds like a sh*t little village this doesn't it?

What's coming up in the future from you?

Short term is 'A Modest Show' which is a collateral to The British Art Show. It’s on all across the city throughout the summer, I’m exhibiting in a few shows for that so I’ll have to pull my finger out and make some sculptures rather than sitting in the pub with you! New studio at Paradise Works is coming up soon on the ground floor, which is a game changer for me – a bigger space, last time I had to bring a sculpture down from the second floor I had to remove both banisters from the stairwell to get the crate down the stairs, I've only been a techy for 6 years. Should’ve known better.

Recommend us 3 things our readers should check out in Manchester?

First one, which we talked about before is Belle Vue vinyl night in Stretford, it's a secret and nobody is allowed to go… no! It's a bring your own vinyl night, it's a super easy set up, very old fashioned, under a hotel in Stretford and it's great fun! It's the last Sunday of every other month and it's a good do all round.

I think I'm going to do a band, a pub and a night, you know what the pub will be, we're not sat in it!

The band to listen to would be Loose Articles, they're belting.

Then obviously the pub is the Pev (The Peveril of the Peak), today I'll be drinking a Guinness for Paddy's Day but otherwise it's a Moretti because I'm a scruff bag.

Look through the history of Robin's work on his website here. Come down to a variety of venues across 'A Modest Show' and keep your eyes peeled when you're in either Eagle Inn or The Pev as you'll probably find him lurking in a corner.

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