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Dancing Between Control and Chaos

Ahead of his Middle East debut at The Arts Club Dubai, acclaimed British artist Daniel Crews-Chubb explains why making art feels like “walking a tightrope”


Daniel Crews-Chubb is sitting   in a cluttered warehouse in London, wearing a paint splattered jacket, and wrapping his hands around a giant mug.  In this modest space in an unglamorous part of southeast London, Crews-Chubb is creating some of the world’s most sought-after art.

Crews-Chubb is talking to The Arts Club Dubai from his studio in Bermondsey ahead of his first ever exhibition in the Middle East. “It’s exciting,” he smiles. “It’s a privilege to display my paintings in such a wonderful establishment as The Arts Club Dubai. I’m happy to exhibit this particular body of work to a new audience – and a new culture – in the UAE. My work has travelled far and wide and I like to see how it connects to different audiences.”

Crews-Chubb will show four pieces at The Arts Club Dubai from the 27th of February – Venus, Dancing Yetis, Giants, and Immortal – all of which demonstrate a chaotic style that results in mixed media works that are so textured they can sometimes appear like sculptures. “An ugly kind of pretty,” is how the Los Angeles Times described one of his exhibitions   at Roberts Projects in California in 2018.

“I use spray paint, ink, sand, collage – it’s multi layered and very messy,” he explains, pointing to the detritus scattered around his studio. “Chaos is a very good word to use with my work. It’s a dance between control and chaos and I’m always trying to control the chaos. My work has a bit of ugliness, I’m not trying to make pretty paintings. My work has energy, it’s almost carnal. I’m not sure how I arrived at this method but it’s fun for me.”

It’s a process that is not only garnering international attention but also keeping him busy. Ahead of his  exhibition at The Arts Club Dubai, Crews-Chubb is working on two other landmark shows: one this July at the prestigious Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England and one in 2024 at The Long Museum in Shanghai, the largest private museum in China. Crews-Chubb says the Ashmolean exhibition is the “pinnacle” of his career so far.

“I used to paint every day but I have a two-year-old daughter so weekends are now family time,” he says. “I paint five days a week and every day is different. My studio is a mix between a factory and a laboratory. I have to make mistakes to keep pushing the style. I have days when I’m psyched up and things work quickly, but other days I might have things on my mind. All sorts of different energies go into each painting and I want each work to have a different mood and character – they’re like Frankenstein’s monster.”

As you would expect from someone who uses the word chaos to describe his method, Crews-Chubb is happy to let his artistic process go where it wants. “I always have a starting point, which might be a preparatory statement but I never have a fixed idea of how it will finish,” he says. “It evolves, it’s organic. We’re human beings and we change our mind so there’s tension in the work. When I’m making it, I feel like I’m walking a tightrope.”

Often, inspiration comes from the past. Crews-Chubb and his wife, a journalist, have travelled extensively through north and south America and Asia. “We like to visit museums and a lot of my work is inspired by ancient artefacts because they have a real energy,” he says. “The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, for example, has huge stone works of gods and deities, they’re almost like Transformers. These things are still potent today, they have a visceral connection. The Aztecs buried their gods with two-inch terracotta figures and I think the amount of power those artefacts have is unbelievable.”

Another trip to the ancient settlements, tombs, temples and museums of Bali was similarly inspiring for Crews-Chubb. “Contemporary artists are sponges,” he grins, “we absorb everything and then spurt it out in a post-modern way.”

Crews-Chubb has been practicing for 10 years, which may cause some people to step back and assess their journey. Not Crews-Chubb. “In this industry there’s no time to stop and reflect – especially with a two-year-old running around,” he laughs. “I have an eagerness and I want to channel my energy into my work and keep producing. The most human thing to do is to make.” He pauses and takes a sip of tea. “I love to cook, I find it very therapeutic. Using tools and my hands to produce something I can be proud of – that keeps me balanced.”


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