Wild Florida. My parents have lived in south Florida for most of my life and I've always been startled by the beauty of the forests, the mangroves with their buttress roots and hanging moss and the expanses of open water and saw grass. Its primordial, raw and utterly beautiful. The fact the alligators live there makes it even better, fewer tourists to mess it up!
Vincent Van Gogh. I spent most of my teens copying his work, learning from the inside out what made him tick and what made him great. He was relentless and constant in his search for truth and fastidious about the accuracy and emotion of his creations. His diligence set a very high bar in me which I constantly strive to reach. In everything I produce in the studio, I push hard to make the strongest and most reaching works possible. If I feel a work doesn't meet the standard I need, I destroy it and start again.
"If you will tell me why the fen appears impassable, I then will tell you why I think that I can get across it if I try." - Marianne Moore
My studio. Its a sacred place for me. Liquid paint goes in, and paint sculptures come out. In a room about twelve feet across and twenty or so feet long, I've produced hundreds of works of art. They've weighed up to 650 kilos, reached 300 inches long, travelled all over the world for exhibitions, and given me acknowledgement that I could never have dreamt of. The development of the work has taken me to places I would never have imagined, and I've made friends in cities where I don't speak the language. The studio has steered the majority of my life.
"Keep making it. No one's coming here to see it. If you don’t keep making it, no one will know what it looks like."
Sardar Ahmad Khan to Piers Secunda in 2011
Sardar Ahmad Khan ran his own press agency in Kabul, and later joined Agence France Press. In 2009, he was instrumental in helping to make my way to Afghanistan to make moulds of Taliban bullet damage. Initially I had wanted to get to Bamiyan to mould pieces of the Buddhas, which the Taliban blew up, but it was completely out of the question in terms of safety. Sardar visited a few places in Kabul where suicide bomb attacks had happened, and had spoken to local people to get the background and confirm that the bullet damage was definitely Taliban. Then I flew to Afghanistan to make the moulds. The works which came out of the studio in the following years were described by Phaidon art book publishers as "[t]he most directly inspired works of art we have seen on the Afghan conflict."
Sardar's continual encouragement dismissed lingering doubts that I felt, about whether the works I was making were valid and worthwhile. Tragically, in 2014, whilst he was eating a meal with his wife and three children at the Serena Hotel in Kabul, the Taliban opened fire killing 18 people. Sardar, his wife and two of his three children (aged 4 and 5 years old) were shot. His words were encouragement enough, but after that they became a mantra to me and I've been documenting the destruction of culture with my art ever since.
My industrial floor paint. For as long as I can remember I've been painting. When I went to my first school, I used to ask to put on a tie on the day of the week that we would make paintings. I knew from an early age that there was something special about painting for me. Nothing has held my attention for so long. Since I use it in three dimensions nowadays I'm constantly looking for new ways to build, carve, break, cast, saw, and colour it. I turn into a primitive alchemist when I lay my hands on it. There's no rule book. It opens my mind.
Iraq. I've visited since 2015 to document ISIS' destruction of culture and I'm amazed by the country. The Kurds have welcomed me wholeheartedly and helped me to get to the front line and into Mosul to mould ISIS damage at ancient sites and from ancient artefacts. I'm deeply impressed by their resilience and fortitude. I eagerly await the next time I'll go back. Their strength, openness, embracing nature, and humility have taught me a lot about how to be be a better person.
My wife Andrea. We've been married for four years and I'm amazed by her. She worked on the development of a bone cement that was granted a patent for use in holding hip replacement parts inside people's femurs. She ran a company for a few years, developed new markets and products for it, made it very profitable for its owners and it was sold for a considerable amount of money. We're very close and we miss each other continually when we're apart. She supports me as an artist, encourages me and celebrates with me. She's the first person I want to see in the morning and the last person I want to see at night.