Richard Woods on the beauty of skips, reinventing discarded "stuff" and why he doesn't do career advice

Richard Woods. Photography by Ali Tollervey.

When the London Festival of Architecture kicks off on 1 June, artist Richard Woods will be trashing a house in Hoxton Square. But not an actual house, you understand. Upgrade is, in fact, a colourful, large-scale model home, casually abandoned in a roadside skip.

The installation has its roots in Woods’ contribution to the 2017 Folkestone Triennial when his Holiday Homes project saw the construction of six brightly-hued bungalows appearing around the coastal town – a playful but penetrating commentary on the tensions between second-home ownership and national housing shortages.

Reinvented for a new urban context, Woods’ work gains new meaning by being displayed in the heart of Hoxton – an area which has undergone a rapid and radical process of gentrification in the last two decades – either a benefit or a blight to the neighbourhood, depending on whom you ask.

The visually striking sculpture doesn’t seek to make an argument on either side of the debate, but to invite SKIP Gallery visitors to engage with the cycle of change within the city, and to consider the gradual transitions that occur to its fabric over time – socially, architecturally and economically. We chatted to Richard about this latest exhibition and his work in general.

You're abandoning your house in Hoxton Square. Tell us more

We are hoping to leave a discarded house jammed into a skip for one month in Hoxton Square. It's a project that has been developed with SKIP Gallery over the last three or four months and will be part of the upcoming London Festival of Architecture.

Skips have always had some meaning to you, haven't they?

When I was a student at The Slade School of Art, most of my raw materials were dragged out of skips and back to the studio for a coat of paint. There is something fabulous about seeing what folks throw away and what you can get for free (I realise this isn’t strictly legal ). I think most of us love to look inside a skip and see if there's anything of interest.

When a skip appears outside a house that's being renovated then that's the best skip of all because you get to see what's going on inside the house… maybe what type of bathroom tiles or style of sofa the occupants once had.

How has Hoxton changed in the last 20 years?

I guess different areas of London have different times when they rapidly change and develop for better or for worse.

For me (I am aged 52), Hoxton and Bethnal Green were the areas where the artists lived and made studios. It was cheap and now it's not cheap. The artists have long gone and the people who came in after the artists were designers. Next, it was the architects, but now they've gone too. It's now a retail and restaurant area.

Is gentrification a bad thing?

Cities are living, breathing entities that expand and contract in their importance like any living organism. Gentrification, or the lack of it, is part of that process.

Ultimately, it is the way we deal with that process that determines whether it is good or bad and leads to whether a city remains a vital and creative healthy entity or not.

What do you hope people will gain from seeing your work?

I guess I don’t really think too much about what I hope people think when they look at my work. I make stuff that makes me reflect on the things I see around me. And I suppose I hope if it interests me, it may interest other people.

Richard Woods. Photography by Ali Tollervey.

Richard Woods. Photography by Ali Tollervey.

Richard Woods. Photography by Ali Tollervey.

Richard Woods. Photography by Ali Tollervey.

There is a growing minimalism movement globally, do you think this will ever become mainstream?

I’m not sure. I have an aversion to any type of shopping, except in builders merchants or timber yards.

From my personal perspective, places like Westfield shopping centre are the most horrendous places imaginable… but a couple of weeks ago, I needed to buy a birthday present for the next day and it was 8 pm and I found myself at Westfield... and I was able to buy the present, so maybe I can now see the point of it?

How do you feel about housing in the UK presently?

I don’t know. This is very depressing stuff. The present government's responsibilities towards the homeless are a disgrace. And whilst we continue to dehumanise the homeless, I don’t think its possible for society to make housing a serious topic for discussion.

Your work is very playful and graphic. How did this style come about?

I guess stylistically as a student I was drawn towards art that celebrated modern life, like Pop Art, even though the subject matter of much of my own work has often more to do with our relationship with the natural world.

What has worked really well for you to get your name out there?

I think being bloody-minded, stubborn or inflexible has helped.

What advice would you give to less experienced artists hoping to break into the industry?

I can’t do career advice… I never understood the idea of art students doing "professional practice", that always seemed a terrible waste of time... each generation has to reinvent the rules.

What's next for you?

A solo exhibition at Alan Cristea Gallery in London called The Ideal Home Exhibition.


Richard Woods: Upgrade will take place throughout June 2018 at London's Skip Gallery, as part of the London Festival of Architecture. A limited edition print for the exhibition will be released for sale on 31 May and sold through Private Press.