Sunday, 19 January 2014

Primitive painters


Oh, the eighties!

I was out before Christmas with friends - very lovely fellow illustrator friends, who understand the ups and downs and odd lifestyle that go with this career. Inevitably we discussed our common experiences:  the insecurities, both in our own abilities and in our finances, and more subtle strands of concern that run through the fabric of our jobs - compromise versus creativity, personal aspiration versus customer satisfacton.  I know "it isn't a day down the mines," as Mr SDS likes to remind me when I'm pulling my hair out about not being able to portray an aerial view of an elephant standing on one leg whilst juggling jelly beans with quite the success I hope for. But illustrators have to please others, and this means we're sometimes looked down on as safe and compliant in a world where fine artists run dangerously barefoot through the meadows of risk, freedom and cool. Still, inside me, as with many illustrators, there is another type of artist wrestling to get out but, in needing to keep the jobs coming, satisfy clients and pay the bills, I get so caught up with storyline, deadline and toeing the line that I rarely have time nor energy left to cross the line.

I wouldn't even be (just!) able to pay the bills as an illustrator if I hadn't had a lucky break when my mum died and I lost my job. Oh god, that doesn't sound right! But that's how it happened – the death of a parent and a redundancy payment provided not only an epiphany but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (presumably?) to switch direction completely and take a massive, scary, slightly barking and utterly thrilling risk. I'm not sure I'd ever have managed it full-time otherwise; talk about "every cloud"... plus the worry of not having any new work never goes away (it happened last year).

Anyway, at the moment I'm fortunate. But I still harbour desires to occasionally run dangerously barefoot through the field of finer art, maybe even completely naked except for a raspberry beret – don't picture it. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with the illustrator David Hughes whom I was lucky enough to talk to several times when I was back at my old art school a few years ago. I liked him a lot because of his edge and his humour as well as his art. He was uncompromising, straight-talking, dry.  He probably wouldn't remember but I walked back to the bus stop with him one day and we chatted about music the whole way. However, it was on another occasion that I told him I just wanted to unlock a door and release my inner Artist, that one with the capital 'A',  but I didn't know where the key was. “You need to do a big fuck off painting!” was his advice and I've kept those wise, memorable words with me in the interim years, although I still haven't fucked off and painted it. Terrible of me. Perhaps I need to get a little drunk first? Is that what it takes? That and a very, very big piece of paper, I suppose.

You can see some of David Hughes' work here.

11 comments:

  1. I liked his blog, shame he gave it up. It's hard when you are used to being relentlessly motivated by client briefs, it means that when you have time to be truly creative on your own terms, you are usually too busy worrying about when the phone will next ring to concentrate on your own work. When I have had time to myself I feel I have barely scratched the surface before I have to pack everything away and return to the day job... when I get the chance to come back to paintings I have lost the impetus.

    For me doll making is much easier for some reason, I can leave a doll for months at whatever stage of un-completion and when I come back it is still a personality to explore and build... kind of like painting portraits of people who don't exist yet... I hope you give yourself the chance to paint (or whatever) it will be interesting to see what you come up with :o)

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    1. That's just how I feel about it, Yve - I've even given up my life drawing group because I haven't been able to spare the time, and that was one chance I had just to draw on my own terms and experiment more. When I finish briefed projects I tend to feel like I've run out of juice creatively, and just have time to briefly recharge before the next one!

      That's interesting about how the doll making works for you, and it sounds just right. Perhaps I should try something completely different that I can stop or go back to at any point, I'll have a think...!

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    2. What about trying to sculpt or make something 3 dimensional with paper mache, just doing something creative but different to how you normally work. Some medium that robs you of your control and all the ricks you usually rely on. While you are concentrating on learning a new technique lots of ideas come flooding up from who knows where and that's a great kick starter for inspiration... you can take the ideas back to canvas if that what tickles your fancy! I find this is a good way of tricking my subconscious into coming out to play...

      Hope any of that makes sense ;o)

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    3. Thank you Yve, you're very inspiring, that makes complete sense. I love the idea of trying something different to shake off the habits I've adopted and take a new perspective... Hope I can give it a go!

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  2. When you get the time / energy / inspiration do it big do it really big, make it really uncompromising and make it incredibly fuck off ! You can, you really can ! Look forward to seeing the results in the Turbine Hall at The Tate Modern, especially now it's sponsored by a Korean company ...

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    1. Thank you - I'm embarrassed, to be honest, that I STILL haven't done it after all this time talking about it!
      But when I do... Tate Mod would be a great incentive (and I might be fluent in Korean by then too).

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  3. It must be tough, having to always be awaiting the next job....I think a commedian must be one of the hardest professions, to have to keep coming up with new gags, wow! that must be tough! Maybe you can start of slowly with a 'go away please' painting and then get angrier maybe a 'piss off' painting until you reach that 'FO' painting

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    1. Haha, thanks, that's a nice idea - it does take a lot to get me angry!

      I've often thought comedy writing would be good fun if you had a partner to do it with, then you could inspire each other. But on your own the pressure must be huge!

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  4. You could put some of your animals in traditional high art settings like whore houses and opium dens.

    I hate to think of what you do being slighted though...you are so freaking good at it and you know who was a vocal fan of Norman Rockwell...William De Kooning. Loved him. These clowns all faced various market demands throughout their careers...none are pure and it's all lines and colors in the end.

    I understand the desire though.

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    1. A new take on Gin Lane, perhaps?!
      Thank you for your kind words, e.f., my confidence fluctuates hugely and sometimes I just feel such an amateur at what I do.
      You - of course - are very inspiring too, and I envy you for creating the real raw beautiful art that you do.

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