Billy Fraser

Billy Fraser

Though his work is grounded in an interest in painting, Billy Fraser is best known for his resin pieces that gesture towards the formation of a radical artistic practice, predicated on extensive research and a desire for innovation. By working with resin, a notably volatile and temperamental medium, Fraser is able to literally create objects that have never been seen before. His immense attention to detail, meanwhile, feeds his desire to finalise each work’s method of display – he creates bespoke plinths, wall hangings and light-boxes, thereby asserting the way in which each work will exist in the world today, and how it will live on into the future. 

A practising artist, an organiser of exhibitions and a founding member of Collective Ending, Fraser aims to celebrate and unite his artistic community, motivated by his passion for public programming. He has been key in facilitating numerous exhibitions at Collective Ending, including their current collaborative project, ‘First Edition’ which sees young organisations from across London united in one space over Frieze Week. In a similar vein, for ‘Tomorrow, Today, Yesterday’, he has brought together a collection of his peers, spotlighting practices that he believes have the capacity to shape the future of contemporary sculpture. 

The exhibition’s overarching concept, ‘Tomorrow, Today, Yesterday’, is also a useful moniker for conceptualising Fraser’s practice. His website consists of a timeline, marking both the chronology of his output and the historical periods that have inspired each series spanning millions of years into the past. His solo and duo exhibitions at London galleries including Sherbert Green, GROVE and Des Bains have each focussed on a different facet of his practice, building narratives born from watershed historical events such as ‘Remember, remember the 5th of November’ and the Apollo Moon Landing. 

1)In what ways does your practice look to the future?

 One of my first research projects explored the historical trajectory of the sublime experience, a rabbit hole from which I emerged with a fixation for the notion of a timeline – a vision of the past, present and future, laid out in a succinct form. I intend to make work which vibrates with the energy of the present, while taking into account considerations of the past and future in order to do so.

 In proposing this exhibition, I wanted to unpick the prevalent conceptualization of time as a digestible, linear progression, while also speculating on the future we are creating for ourselves. The reality is that an impending climate catastrophe is the better alternative to a nuclear war, but we are hurtling towards doom either way. In this context, I question whether art has lost some of its ability to convey powerful messages or invite progressive thought. Within a city where a new show of wet paintings opens every night, it is hard not to be pessimistic on the topic of art as a great communicator.

 In short, I think we urgently need to talk about our future and that art should be an inciting force in bringing this about. Art needs to reject the realm of pure speculation, or algorithmically pleasing compositions which won’t stand the test of time, and instead be utilised as a vehicle for change.  

2)How might your work be considered a reflection of our times?

One of my pieces within the show is an amber-like resin tablet featuring a tableau of worker honey bees defending the queen bee from invasive hornets. When this occurs in the natural world, bees’ only defence mechanism is to engulf hornets and vibrate, raising their body temperature to such a degree that it kills the hornets. There is something intrinsically macabre and intriguing about the bees’ tactic, a method that barely allows them to survive while killing their intruder. 

The piece has many resonances, perhaps the battle between the species is symbolic of class divides whereby the working-class, as represented by the bees, are barely able to stay afloat while the wealthy are able to mop up the profits of their labour. Beyond this, the work speaks to the existential threat of climate change. We depend on this kind of wildlife for the pollination of our food, yet we continue to disregard the importance of its preservation. The work speaks to the often hollow nature of green initiatives, our government seems to be dropping them like flies and net-zero seems to have fallen by the wayside.

My pieces for the show, containing bees, bats and more, are the literal elephant in the room. They represent our collective fear and the potential absence of our future. The species immortalised within these pieces have survived and evolved over 400 million years in some cases, yet over the next few hundred years they could disappear altogether. 

3)How does your practice speak to the past?

My ‘Devonian Series’ emerged from a desire to define a beginning and an end, before being comfortable making work that commented on the now. 

 The Devonian Period is an interval of the Paleozoic Era spanning between about 419.2 million and 358.9 million years ago; I spent a great deal of time researching this period, its plant life and the relationship between early vegetation and the first insects and fish. These are the creatures that would go to develop lungs and inhabit the earth during a time we consider the green period, an oversight given the oceans were alive with foliage long-before this. My works include real ancient, fossilised aquatic life, an ode to the liveliness of the ocean long before the land, alongside faux-amber tablets. I play with the relationship between the ‘real’ and the ‘fictitious’, questioning what these terms even mean in relation to artistic production.

Beyond this exhibition, my entire practice is intertwined with historical research. When planning a new body of work, a historical moment becomes my anchor; for example, my show ‘High Treason’ at Des Bains explored the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 or ‘And hear you are Holding on’ at Well Projects took the Apollo 1969 Moon Landing as its starting point. I learn everything I can on a topic and then play with the narrative through speculative suggestions or faux artefacts. My shows are rooted in objective histories, which are then subverted by speculative narratives that hold the potential to slip into history as fact. I like the way this can happen, for example, Guy Fawkes only played a minor role in the Gunpowder Plot but is canonised as its main actor.