Interview / December 2022

PLASTERED: Milo Astaire and Finn Constantine in Conversation with Editor Jacob Barnes

I can’t remember how I became familiar with Plaster; it seems one of those things that at some point became lodged in my brain. However, I remember the first time I saw it, with its album sleeve-like cover and an effortless aura of cool. Put otherwise, I knew that despite my own time in publishing, I hadn’t come close to making any printed product so inviting and mysterious; accessible and desirable. Knowing Milo Astaire’s work at The Artist Room, I was immediately interested by what Milo looked to bring to publishing that he couldn’t do in art, and in my short correspondence to set up the meeting, met Finn Constantine, a London-based fashion photographer and the other filial half of the magazine. What follows is a short conversation between the three of us, each members of the art and publishing worlds in our own way. It was a pleasure to glean insight not simply into where Plaster has come from, but where Astaire and Constantine are looking to take it, and where they feel there’s the possibility for new and excited overlap between art, artist, and the magazine.

Jacob Barnes: What is Plaster? How did it come about? What’s the story behind it?

Milo Astaire: Plaster, at the minute, is a contemporary art poster magazine, but I think it’s developing into something far deeper than that. I took an idea to Finn [Constantine], my brother: one of my heroes growing up, when I had ambitions of publishing, was Felix Dennis, who was an editor of Oz (of the infamous Oz trials) who later turned to publishing Kung Fu Monthly (and later The Week). But the kung-fu publication was this poster magazine produced for a public that devoured all things Bruce Lee, who at the time was a major cultural import. Each issue, he would write under a comical pseudonym—I recall it being Sensei something-orother—and the issue would unfold into this A1 poster. It was such a simple concept, but one that felt so rewarding.

I loved the simplicity of the poster magazine, as well as the immediacy and accessibility of it. Working in the art world, I wanted to produce something that was accessible, that teenager me would devour. So what if we took this idea and oriented it towards artists, with each issue being about not only their work, but the artist themselves? I brought the idea to Finn, who is working as a fashion photographer, and we were immediately on the same page. We had both been “fans” of artists in the way that people are fans of actors or footballers, so we wanted to make a kind of “fan object” for ourselves as much as anyone else.

JB: I’m very interested by what you’re saying about thevelement of celebrity in the art world: today, artists are very much personal icons, of which we can be fans. Another way of saying that is that there’s now, due to a variety of reasons, but not least artist visibility, a widening space between either being a gallerist or a collector: a space for fans.

MA: The idea of art celebrity is something that really fascinates me. But really, these kinds of celebrity icons are embedded in the art world: George Condo, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and they’re part of this growing hype culture (whether I agree with that hype culture or not in principle is a separate matter). I mean, Mike Kelley is now on Supreme gear! So with the Harland Miller issue—our first issue—he was already leaning towards typical notions of celebrity: he was a model back in the day, he’s a writer, he’s stylish and well known across the world. Importantly, people who may not be part of the art world may be familiar with Harland’s work—even just by walking into Soho House. And it all just made sense with his personality; he’s very laid back, very punk in a way.

JB: I think something we’re dancing around is that publishing has the opportunity to achieve things—to reach audiences—that exhibitions don’t. That’s to say, I’d be really interested to hear where both of you think those intersections lie, and where they diverge. It’s important to note: you do keep Plaster separate from The Artist Room.

MA: I still get nervous walking into major blue chip galleries, and I work in the industry. There’s this barrier into the art world where you still feel like you’re not supposed to be inside; that it’s never for you. I think what publishing can do is help break down those barriers, making art something akin to music or film. When it’s in a corner shop or online, it doesn’t feel rarified, and is instead part of this larger culture around art that is taking shape, as we’ve discussed.

Finn Constantine: That process of putting the art in front of someone, rather than someone having to find it, is also quite interesting. That’s one of the things we really like about the magazine; that it’s sort of a hybridised viewing experience, and one doesn’t have to make a day to go to galleries, but can order this online and learn about art and artists. I think accessibility is the most important thing; art only grows the more kids get into this stuff. Especially today when lines are so blurred: style, fashion, music, and art are all one big melting pot of references.

JB: There’s obviously a difference between what you do, Milo, at The Artist Room and with Plaster—running a magazine about artists, is it difficult to keep relationships separate, or do you ever want to combine them?

MA: I haven’t come across any difficulty keeping them separate—but I’ve been driven by The Artist Room for the last year or so, and the issues are of artists that I might love to show, but aren’t reflective of the direction the gallery is taking at the minute. Though, at the end of the day, both the magazine and the gallery are supported by relationships: being sensitive to what each artist needs, and no matter what you’re doing, if you have a good enough relationship, things tend to work out.

JB: Finn, coming from outside of the art world, do you find that you’re able to bring a fresh perspective to some of those relationships? And better yet, does your position help break the magazine out of something that could perhaps become rote, or reflective of a certain community? 

FC: I think Milo and I both bring very different things to the table. Milo has an incredible knowledge of art history. But I also look at it from a different perspective: I’m thinking about whose work I innately like, not just who’s hot right now. And when an artist is hot, and you love their work, being able to channel that passion into something that feels personal. Also, not being entrenched in the art world lets me develop a different rapport, and by extension, a different result in my photography: often, I may love an artist’s work, but it still feels like shooting another cool person I know, while I’m not star struck by their “gravitas.”

MA: You’ll love this—for a recent issue, a friend told Finn he could get access to Douglas Gordon. Finn wasn’t immediately familiar, took a look at the works, liked it, and sent me a text asking if I wanted to do something. I was immediately excited. Douglas Gordon? He’s an icon!

FC: Well, I knew something of the video work, but I didn’t really know the work in the context of his history, and he’s an unbelievably fascinating character. But as soon as I went to Berlin, we just became friends—we still talk and text. But it wasn’t really about the art! I’m not tied down by being in the business. It’s kind of crazy, though, that just because I have this little publication with my brother, all of a sudden it’s acceptable to be hanging out with these people.

JB: In my own experience, Finn, a huge part of being a gallerist is a mild but constant paranoia: everything is social, everything is business, and it can be almost impossible to figure out when they switch. But actually, it’s so freeing to just have a fun conversation; to be friends!

Through the process of the magazine, Milo, has your own view on putting together exhibitions changed? And Finn, has it changed the way you view putting on exhibitions or what goes into it?

MA: Finn’s really the driving force of the creative side, while I’m more of the managerial side—how can we make this viable? So in terms of it changing the way I put on exhibitions, it hasn’t changed a whole lot. It has allowed us to broaden relationships and bring people closer (our graphic designer Josh Crumpler is like family now), and I’m always, regardless of context, thinking about the immediacy of the pictures generation, which does tie things together.

JB: What about the flip-side: does being a part of Plaster give you more insight into the management work that goes into putting together writers, photographers and designers?

FC: Totally. While Milo largely does the management, I go back and forth with printers and various middlemen; it’s given me a huge respect for how these bigger magazines run, and how they get everyone’s work in on time. I was just used to delivering a bunch of images in CMYK, asking for a finished magazine to be sent to me in the post! But now I’m just on the totally other side of it.

MA: I would say in some respects it brings a bigger gravity to the images for me. In some respects, the process of viewing images in a magazine is not all that different from viewing them in a gallery, right? But once you understand the process of putting an image into print, the depth of the image and its process, you’re able to reevaluate the work. It’s been a source of some great conversations between us.

JB: Finally, Where do you think publishing can go? What do you think publishing can do? Beyond the page?

MA: I think people devour content right now, and the modes of consumption are changing. However, it’s been great to commit to something so tactile, and to go and see it get respect as a medium in places like the Tate. But it can’t only be one avenue: you need to be looking at all the other ways content is being circulated, and exploring those. That kind of dualized approach is key to any growth of publishing in the future. But for the time being, we have four really amazing issues lined up!

FC: I completely agree. But something that can’t be sacrificed is keeping it interesting, and continuing to get access to really amazing people. I want to open Plaster up to directors, photographers; I don’t want to stay in the art world.

MA: That kind of work lets us expand to things online and have diversified content; packaging things up and creating different assets.

FC: There’s definitely room to grow, and as long as you keep working with good people and it becomes something that people want to read, we would definitely have been very lucky to be a part of it.

Image Credits:
Image 1-5: Courtesy of Plaster Magazine