Teaching's loss is the art world's gain; a few years ago, artist Archie Proudfoot was at a crossroads in his life, deciding between training to be a teacher and pursuing art as a career. Now his work Test Card F is the first thing you see when you walk into White City House. The artist and one of the talented young creatives featured in our First Home film invited us into his central London flat to talk about how he found his vocation, making his own furniture and getting that commission.
I always wanted to be an artist. I did an art foundation year which I didn’t really enjoy so I decided to study English Literature instead but I knew I was going to need something creative in my life to feel satisfied.
In 2010 the employment situation was pretty awful and I wanted to do something for myself - then I found sign painting. I did a course with Joby Carter who runs Carters Steam Fair, spending a week in their yard in Maidenhead and fell in love with it. I painted my first sign for a family friend's antique shop and it was the most satisfying working experience I'd had. I was working as a teaching assistant in a primary school, painting signs in my spare time. At the end of that year it was either do a PGCE and become a teacher or get a studio and give art a proper go. I got a studio and haven't looked back.
Soho House got in touch to say they wanted me to make some work for White City. Kate Bryan [Soho House Head of Collections] said Nick wanted someone to do something with the test card and initially I couldn't really see what I could do, but once I'd had the idea to create the grid as mirrored gold, I knew I could make something exciting. The final piece blew me away and I was so surprised by it, because technically it was a real challenge. I handed it over and heard nothing until the opening party. I turned up, opened the door and there it was - the first thing you see. That was an incredible moment. Kate's attitude towards collecting seems really on point and interesting. I love everything they selected, I mean I was next to a Peter Blake and a David Shrigley - it was crazy.'
We've been here four years. I grew up in Highbury which is a bit more 'villagey London'. This feels like the city, so it can be quite intense but it's a great pivot point for exploring London. I love the architecture around here, there's a good few old signs around, you get some classic gilding work especially in Hatton Garden. The history is dripping around every corner, there's quite a lot of blue plaques knocking around and there's always new bits to explore.
The space in the living room is so important to me, having room to breathe, not too filled with clutter, because it is lively out there so you need to keep it calm in here. Both me and my girlfriend run our own businesses, we're both early birds and we put a lot of energy into our days so it is a sanctuary. My party space is my studio which I share with a lot of friends. Day to day I'm with a lot of people and there's a lot of socialising so here is definitely a calm, have dinner, chill place.
An inspiring space
'You never get to completely switch off from making but I am disciplined about working as little as possible here. I pretty much never sketch or draw here but I like to have artworks that inspire me - I've got a couple of pieces who were big inspirations for me and a few of my own. It's important to keep a couple of key pieces along the way that mean a lot to you. A lot of the time I'm coming home to the flat after a day on a building site, painting signage that's not of any real aesthetic merit, but it's helping me pay the rent, so it's nice to look at things you've achieved and think about what the next stage could be.'
'Kempton Antiques is an amazing treasure trove of a place with some weird and wonderful stuff. I bought a lovely Ercol pebble nest of tables there. It took a bit of restoration, but I got it for a bargain price so it was well worth it. I don't think if I've ever bargained with someone they've thought 'this guy knows what he's doing!' I've always wanted to go there with the mission to be decking out a pub - that would be really fun. I like getting things on Gumtree, the randomness of knocking on a stranger's door and seeing what that person's going to be like. I like ducking and diving, giving older things a new lease of life.'
'My coffee table is probably my most treasured object because I made it. I thought glass-topped coffee tables with designs on could be a good business - this was still in the early days when I was thinking how can I turn this into an actual living. I wanted them to be steel so I learned how to weld. I thought I'd practise the basics to make frames for the glass pieces and that completely changed how they felt. Until that point they'd had wooden frames. Suddenly the steel gave a much more complete and sculptural feel that suited the glass so much more and it opened up the possibility for me to break apart the form, to be a lot more playful, to create multiple panel pieces. I've loved having the table in my flat, it's in the centre of the room, it's very much a prized possession.'
'Steve Powers was an East Coast old school graffiti guy in the '70s who changed aesthetics to use sign painting to do huge murals and more type-based work. It was through him that I found out what sign painting was. He has a shop and gallery in Brooklyn called ESPO Art World and I made a pilgrimage there and got an AP of one of his prints. It's got a bit of his doodling on it, that's a treasured piece. The other main piece I have is 'Shave for a Penny, Let Blood for Nothing' by Josh Luke who was the first sign painter I saw who used glass gilding in a creative way. Until then I'd only seen people do it in a semi-revivalist, Victorian aesthetic; he showed me that it could be vibrant, exciting, playful. We were involved in the same exhibition, I proposed a swap and he was up for it which was a huge compliment.'
'A standout piece of sculpture or art is the way to elevate a space. If you find an artist you love, contact them directly - you may get a better price and it’s nice to make a connection. They might show you things they haven’t shown anyone else and they’ll be happy to sell to you. Start small. Don’t blow your budget on an original too soon. Start with a couple of prints and get them framed. I wonder how many prints I’ve sold to people that are still in tubes! Swallow the pill of the framing cost because it’s worth doing properly. The frame makes the work and the framer will have techniques to bring out different things. I use Jackson’s Framing in Hoxton. Don’t skimp, it’s tricky because you’re going to spend a bit on that print, but it’s a classic ‘buy cheap, buy twice.'