Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Shakespeare and transistor radios

I've been  a little lax with my Blog postings, so to remedy this I thought I'd write a few lines about my latest etching which is titled; ' But, O, How Vile An Idol Proves This God!' If that sounds vaguely Shakespearean then that is because it is. It's Antonio's oath to Viola in Twelfth Night.

I made this print earlier this year for a specific show at Bankside Gallery  which was to celebrate William Shakespeare’s life and legacy, marking the 400th anniversary of his death. Artists from the
Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers were invited to produce
 works inspired by Shakespeare’s writings.

I decided on Twelfth Night, not a play I'd read or seen before, but I thought it would be a nice  to learn a different play, rather than go back to the ones I've studied before. No idea why I chose this particular play but I'm certainly glad I did. Twins separated by a ship wreck, cross dressing, cross purposes, mistaken identities and of course the troubled path to true love - and also it's very funny.

     I chose to relocate the story from the city of Illyria to a minor public boys school somewhere in the North of England in the year 1959.

A secret society has been formed by a few boys from the school's sixth form.The boys don't necessarily all seem to be close friends? but they all share a love for Shakespeare and at night they secretly perform his plays in the school's grounds. The sixth formers perform the male roles but the female parts are played by their favourite boys from the lower form, in doing so they are unintentionally alluding to the historic use of boys playing the female parts in Shakespeare's time. The relationships and actions of the text seem to curiously mirror the events in the boys own lives.

Another Country, 1984

 Whilst writing these scenarios I kept being reminded Julian Mitchell's play Another Country ( which was made into a film in 1984 ) and of course Lindsey Anderson's incredible film If (1968) also came to mind. Neither film perhaps showing boarding schools in their best light...

IF, 1968

The one scene that struck me as being most the interesting to illustrate was Act 3, Scene 4 when Antonio confronts Sebastian, who is in fact Sebastian's twin sister Viola disguised as a boy.

It's an odd moment because up until then the play has been a comedy of errors, but with the appearance of Antonio a real sense of anger and violence occurs. Antonio first appears in a short scene in Act II, he is a Sea Captain who rescued Sebastian ( Viola's twin brother ), from the ship wreck. My reading is that he is obviously in love with this young man, in a very possessive way. In the scene I depict; Antonio mistakes Viola for Sebastian so that when Viola refuses to return him the money he lent he becomes furious and speaks like a rejected lover, it was this speech that gave me the idea for setting it in a boy's boarding school - it had something of that weird cloying quality that can happen to friendships in that hothouse environment.

Once I made that decision the characters came very much to life. The most obvious to me is Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek who comes across as one of those pretty but dumb boys from well off families, tall and floppy fringed. Fabian; however is the real main character as far as I'm concerned. He strikes me as one of those charismatic creatures who seems to know everyone and seems to be in on everything and yet has the ability to slightly distance himself from it all. A ringleader but one who operates with sleight of hand.

Getting it down on paper

I started of with a very quick thumb sketch, the scene is populated with six characters, and one of them (Antonio) has to be physically restrained by two guards, which immediately conjures up a very complicated composition one that can only be resolved by using real models.

Fortunately I work at a place that provides me with my very own life model agency !

working that 1959 vibe
initial sketch

    One evening after work I manage to coax  my  models into posing for all the different  figures in my composition - turns out they    are all born naturals, and after an hour of  shooting I had all the poses I needed.
The drawing itself took ages to get right - really cant remember ever having spent so long on one drawing, and I've no idea.why ? I guess that's how it goes sometimes ?

several vanishing points ??

Couldn't get the perspective right at all, and
at one point I was reduced to pinning strands  of cotton thread all over the picture to try and find the Vanishing Point - I had so many loose threads hanging down from drawing that it looked more like one of those macrame hangings that you'd used to put your  potted ferns in...

Finished drawing

As I said before, the scene is set in 1959 so I didn't want any glaring anachronisms. Early on I knew I wanted Fabian to have a transistor radio, I felt that he would have his own separate soundtrack - that he would use his transistor radio as a device to remove himself from the action around him, with it he could physically and mentally tune himself out of the action.

  I thought that if I showed him in the act of removing the radio's ear piece whilst watching the quarrel between Viola and Antonio it would show his rather jaded curiosity being stirred - here's finally something worth listening to !
In their time Transistor Radios were incredibly popular - their heyday being the 60's and early 70's, but they would have been hard to find in England in 1959. However, they would have been common in America, and that suits my story as Fabian's father works in Washington and hardly ever sees his son, so he tries to make amends by sending him expensive presents instead - much to the envy of the other boys.

Anyhow, just a few ramblings on my latest etching which will be on show at Bankside Gallery from 9th November to 20th November as  part of  The Masters / Etching exhibition curated by Norman Ackroyd RA RE.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Interview with Bankside Gallery

Here's an article about me, from the Bankside Gallery which is an in-house magazine for the members of the RE; Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers and the RWS; Royal Watercolour Society. I was interviewed by Hatty Davidson at end of last year, I think it came out alright - at least I dont come across as a complete idiot....


 Tell me about your artistic education…

 I was just one of those kids who was always found in the corner scribbling away - and copying. I was always copying pictures from children's books and comics, first Disney then Look-In. It was always assumed by my teachers that I would go to art college and I rather regret being pigeon holed at such an early age, looking back it all seems rather sadly predestined, I don't really remember making any conscious decisions to go to art school, I just kind of went along with it all until one morning to my horror I woke up in Bradford Art College.

 When did you start printmaking and why?

 I was introduced to printmaking at Bradford. The BA was some weird course where you had to do a bit of something from all the different processes, painting, sculpture etc., it was a bit of a mess really but we had a great printmaking department run by Alan Marks who was (aside from being a gifted printmaker himself) a very inspiring teacher

The themes of narrative and storytelling are clear in your prints - tell me about your inspirations… 

The first visual works that I recognised as 'art' were book illustrations. I would spend hours studying and copying those black and white line drawings, John Tenniel's Alice, Thomas Henry's William or Ardizzone's Little Tim. Even now I still feel a stronger sense of attachment to those illustrators than I do to any 'fine artist'. They taught me the importance of composition and how to create character and mood by just using line, the kind of stuff that these artists would have been taught as a matter of course, but skills that are very rarely passed on anymore. It’s interesting that you point out narrative and storytelling, as I've just explained, story book illustrators were my earliest influences. I very much see myself as a story teller, but I try not to impose my own narrative on the image, it's important that it's left ambiguous enough for the viewer to wade in and find their own story. Where artists find their inspiration is always a bit of a mystery, however I truly believe that artists throughout their lifetime are only concerned with a very small number of subjects, and that these motifs are already ingrained within their subconscious before they have even reached adulthood. As an adult nothing can quite have such a strong emotive effect on your imagination as those events or discoveries you make as a child or adolescent.

One of your first jobs was as a cartoonist for the comic strip, The On Ones, are there elements of this early work that you have carried with you throughout your career?

 I can see that there are links between the cartoons and my prints, content wise they're very similar, themes of urban alienation certainly. It centred on a group of twentysomething friends, who were all quite self-absorbed and borderline unpleasant personalities, but I enjoyed doing it, and at the time I thought they were really funny, but looking back I see they were actually rather dark and depressing. I've always thought it was something I would go back to, maybe not as a strip, but perhaps as a graphic novel or similar.

Why did you apply to join the RE and how has it affected your career?

 I sort of sneaked in through the back door. After completing my MA in Printmaking at Camberwell a friend gave me the details of the Gwen May Student Award. I may have been slightly blasé when I applied, but as soon as got in I realised how lucky I'd been to have won the award, and what a great opportunity it would be for me as an artist to be a part of the RE. So I took my two years as a Student Member very seriously, sending in work for all the exhibitions and attending all the private views and introducing myself to other Members, which must have helped when I did apply for Associate Membership as the council were by that time aware of my work and commitment. When later on I was asked (along with Bren Unwin and then later Louise Hayward) to manage the Student Award, I would always advise the winners to do the same. Being in the RE means that you have a presence in in a distinguished London Gallery, so obviously that alone is going to have a positive effect on your career. In 2013, however, I began working as a print technician for Lazarides Editions, I decided that I needed to put my practise on hold whilst I got to grips with a quite a demanding job, but what was originally meant to be a twelve month break very quickly turned into three years! However, recently I have started to create my own work again.

What is it about black and white printing that you are drawn to? Have you considered using colour in your work more regularly?

 I don’t know why I only work in black and white - that's just how it is. When I'm starting a new work I begin by creating the original images as finished pencil drawings, so from the start I'm visualising the image in black and white. In my work, I think introducing colour to my etchings wouldn't add anything to the image, in fact I think it would be a distraction. Once I add colour to an image it feels as though I am recording a scene as I see it and maybe it prevents the viewer from seeing what they want to see? My use of black and white probably stems from childhood, we didn't have a colour TV till I was 17 so all the images I saw that moved me on some level were all black and white, even those that were originally made in colour. Originally in film and television, black and white was used to represent a truthful depiction of reality whether in a fictional film or documentary, while colour was used for fantasy, and on some level I still think like that.

 How has taking time out of your practice (and working in a more technical/commercial role) affected your return to creating your own work?

 I feel like I've learnt an awful lot in the last three years, especially working closely with Master Printer Peter Bennett. One thing I've learnt is that there are people out there who know so much about printmaking, it’s intimidating. People like Bennett understand that printmaking is a skill, like learning to drive a car - anyone can do it, but to do it well is to anticipate a problem and know how to solve it. Master printers and print technicians are the unsung heroes of our world; they know so much about printing and know how to apply it in producing work for other artists. I certainly think the role of Editioners and Studio Technicians should be celebrated more. A lot of our Members teach printmaking or are studio technicians or work as studio print Editioners. To do a full day’s work and then go home to produce your own work is, I think, a real achievement. Unless you're lucky enough not to have to take on a full time job or several part time jobs as most artists have to do to survive, it's very hard to be an artist in London, so hats off to all those who are struggling to get by in this city, simply because they have a need to express themselves through their art.

 What are you working on at the moment? 

I don’t want to talk too much about my latest project as it's early days yet, but at present it concerns an all-male community who all wear Aran knitwear and live in the countryside in the early seventies. They are humanity’s last defence against an alien invasion, but like I said it's early days yet...!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Illustrations for Idle Eye

Early last year I went out for a drink with my old chum Douglas Thorp. As he sat down at the table after bringing over our drinks, he told me that he had a vision or a dream or something ? At this point I would normally have made my excuses and left the building, but I'd hardly started my pint - and |I cant bear waste. So I allowed Douglas to talk more about The Vision, The Dream thing, he told me he wanted to gather together some of his Idle Eye blogs for publication in book form.

I kept quite, I've listened to too many of my friends dreams in the past to know it's best to just smile and nod rather than commit to anything. The Vision, the Dream was to ask some of his artist friends to illustrate a couple of blogs that he would hand pick for them, and then put it all together to make a lovely hardback book.

I told him quite firmly that I had my own Vision/ Dream thing and I couldn't waste any time on other people's projects but  then money was mentioned and I slightly reluctantly came on board. Truth to tell I'd actually forgotten what my Dream/Vision thing was anyway...

All this was at the beginning of 2015, by November Douglas had managed to force 20 artists to illustrate two articles each, bring them in on a deadline, whilst successfully raising enough cash in a Kickstarter campaign to have the book printed in hardback, then get the damn thing printed and still find time to organise a book launch at the gorgeous Vout-O-Reenee's !!

Quite an amazing achievement, and I'm very pleased to have been a part of the project. For my two illustrations Douglas gave me a story about, er well not really sure what it was about? But there were young cyclists in Lycra mentioned so that's what I concentrated on. Looking back on the finished art work I may have concentrated a little too much on that particular side of the story...

For the second illustration I was given an account of Douglas' experience of using a bathroom that had an infinity mirror - you'll just have to buy the book ! Have you ever tried to draw an infinity mirror ? Impossible, and I couldn't find any decent photographic references, ended up staging my own little scene

Had more trouble with this composition than I have had with any other drawing in ages ! Finally managed to come up with an image that almost matched my initial vision, unfortunately I really needed more time to get it right - but what ya gonna do ?