FOREWORD: When visiting Boston, MA, last month, I was completely enthralled by its thriving arts scene. There were art galleries and museums and theatres and street musicians everywhere.
One of the most exciting places I found was Newbury Street. It has everything you want from high end boutiques to Japanese supermarkets, but it’s their (sometimes inconspicuous) art galleries that really fascinated me. And so I decided to embarked on a quest to visit and put together a complete guide to incorporate every single one of them.
While that is still a work in progress (I’ve been to all 28 of them, but please bear with me as I write them up), I would in the meantime like to feature one gallery that made a particularly strong impression on me. The interesting thing about art galleries – or any place, for that matter – is that you can tell a lot about them just by the people who greet you. Overall, the gallery directors and staff I met are mostly lovely people, but Mr. Bernard ‘Bernie’ Pucker stood out especially.
I was both astounded by his seemingly infinite knowledge of art, and touched by his sincerity. He spoke gently but passionately. He is a man infatuated with art, and in love with life. And he wore a bow-tie.
Pucker Gallery will of course still be included in my upcoming guide. However, as I do not wish for its story to be limited by space in the guide, I decided to make this a featured article instead. I would like to express my thanks to Bernie and his gallery staff (Allison McHenry in particular) for their time and patience in showing me around and talking me through each piece of work with such tender loving care.
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ADDRESS: 171 Newbury St, Boston, MA, 02116
‘When I first opened the gallery – it used to be called Pucker Safrai – in the basement space here back in 1967, there were no shops below street level,’ Bernie Pucker told me with a gentle, reminiscent smile. ‘The whole street was mostly residential. Nothing like what you see now.’
In order to attract visitors, he created an outdoor courtyard at the bottom of the stairs with a little help from an architect friend. The result resembles a mini peace garden in the urban landscape, complete with a working fountain.
‘We hoped that the sound of running water would attract people to look down to see where it is coming from.’
Bernie eventually bought the whole building in 1979, and the magnificent but unassuming five-storey gallery we see today was complete. During its first 20 years of business the gallery mostly showcased and sold traditional art pieces, such as works by Picasso and Matisse. But then Bernie was introduced to renowned Canadian-born ceramics artist Brother Thomas (Thomas Bezanson) one regular day in 1983, which ended up changing his outlook and interests entirely.
‘A customer needed to borrow our toilet,’ Bernie chuckled at the memory. ‘We got talking and then he started telling me about a great ceramics artist he knew, and asked if I wanted to meet him.’
Brother Thomas was the kind of artist who would create 1,200 pieces of work and then smash 1,100 of them because they were good, but not good enough. He became an influential teacher and close friend to Bernie, and introduced him to the beauty of pottery. The two corresponded by fax everyday for the next 23 years until Brother Thomas passed away in 2007.
Brother Thomas wrote beautifully, Bernie told me. ‘There would be lines of poetry embedded in his writings. They were simple, but powerful.’
These lines, along with photographs of his works, were published in a beautiful, non- year specific diary planner Bernie named ‘Celebrate the Days’ in 2000.
Over the years, Pucker Gallery has sold over 1,600 of Brother Thomas’s breathtakingly exquisite pots and vases. They now have about two-thirds of the artist’s legacy in their stock, and holds an exhibition displaying a selection of them every two years.
Those aside, the gallery also deals in a wide range of art in other media, including powerful oil paintings by artist and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak, Roger Bowman‘s watercolour and gouache works, as well as authentic South African beer pots Bernie discovered in his travels to the country.
Most recently, Paul Caponigro‘s unique black-and-white photographs were added to their already huge collection. Bernie had initially been reluctant to display any photographic works, but was so captivated by the surreal and almost painting-like quality of Caponigro’s pictures that he now not only sells them, but bought some for himself, too.
Outside of art-selling, Bernie and his wife Sue started a charity project in 2008 called ‘Save the World.’ As a part of this ambitiously-named venture, they would hold evening events at the gallery and invite the CEOs of nonprofit organisations dedicated to helping children in America to attend. The gallery provides a ‘spiritual space’ (as Bernie likes to call it) for them to meet and hopefully come up with ways to make a difference to the lives of people less fortunate than us.
‘Nobody really needs art when there are wars and hunger out there,’ Bernie admits. ‘But art energises and enriches people’s lives, and we should do our part and give what we can.’
It is incredible to experience how much effort Bernie and his team must have put into creating such a soothing atmosphere at Pucker Gallery. There is a sense of calm there that is hard to find in the modern world, especially in such a bustling city as Boston.
The gallery captures the essence of what art embodies, and it is one of the most inspirational places I have ever been to. Oscar Wilde famously wrote in the Preface to Dorian Gray that ‘All art is quite useless,’ but Bernie Pucker has, with clear visions and hard work, fairly and squarely proved him wrong.
Watch this space for my upcoming Complete Guide of all the Newbury St. Art Galleries!
WHAT: Art exhibition
WHERE: Leeds Gallery (map)
WHEN: 21st Apr, 12
Take a look at the rest of my photos from the exhibition HERE.
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Northern Arts Uncovered is one of the newest additions to Leeds’s independent art scene. It was founded by Helen Brady and Victoria Rosso, and aims to support up and coming local artists.
- I loved the huge range of media on display, which includes everything from oils to photography.
- The works of emerging artists and students were deliberately juxtaposed – but they were all of very high quality anyway.
- My favourite pieces were Pippa Dyrlaga’s dizzying paper cuttings and Nicole Viner’s quirky ‘Mad Giraffe.’
MY FULL STORY: The independent art scene in Leeds is spreading like wildfire. It seems like there’s no stopping it, despite the wind and rain trying to do their worst. Sorry Nature, but Art wins.
After hosting exhibitions such as the first ever Leeds Print Festival and ‘Access All Areas: 20 Years of Back to Basics,’ Leeds Gallery recently paused its current show, ‘Leeds Through a Lens,’ to make way for a one day event dedicated purely to emerging talents.
Northern Arts Uncovered is a brand new project founded by Leeds University graduate Helen Brady and producer/designer Victoria Rosso, who studied at Leeds College of Art. Its aim is to provide up and coming local artists with a platform to showcase their works in public. All profits made from the event went to Art Fund, a charity supporting the art industry in the country. Although neither Helen nor Victoria have ever curated an art exhibition before, the show was a huge success.
The thing I loved most about it was the variety of media on display. There were oil paintings, photography, book illustrations, textiles, prints, ink drawings, paper cuttings and more. It was a jungle bursting with a combination of colour, imagination, and talent that you rarely get in such mixed styles outside large galleries. There was no strict theme – just a bunch of great works beautifully juxtaposed against each other.
‘We deliberately mixed the works of emerging artists and students,’ Victoria explains, saying that they did not want or see the need to make a clear distinction between the two.
Helen and Victoria received an overwhelming number of entries from artists all over England after they opened up the submission area on their website. After an arduous decision process, they eventually whittled it down to the 24 artists whose works were displayed on the day.
Many of the artists were present at some point during the exhibition, and I had the honour of meeting Omnipresent Art – aka Okey Ebizie. His works are interesting in that they differ so much from one another. While his prints are mostly inspired by hip hop, his textile works are more preoccupied with simple pattern and bright colours.
It’s hard to choose a favourite in such a varied exhibition, but Pippa Dyrlaga’s paper cutting piece is probably the one I found most intriguing. Beautiful, dizzying and creepy in equal measures, the work clearly reflects the amount of time and patience the artist must have spent on it.
Another piece I liked is ‘Mad Giraffe’ by Nicole Viner, a 21-year-old Design student at Leeds Met. There is a sense of lightheartedness about it that almost borders on the absurd – but it makes you smile nonetheless.
Overall I really enjoyed the exhibition. It was definitely worth the trek down. Not only were the works on display thought-provoking and well executed, I also like that Northern Arts Uncovered helps to debunk the notion of “high art” by supporting these young artists and making their works accessible to all. Great stuff.
Basement of Dedham Community Theatre
580 High Street
Dedham MA 02026 (map)
Basement of Somerville Theatre
55 Davis Square
Somerville MA 02144 (map)
46 Tappan St., Top Floor
Brookline MA 02445 (map)
Free entry. The Dedham and Somerville branches are open whenever films are showing at the theatres, and the Brookline branch is open during BATV opening times.
MY SHORT STORY:
- Instead of being offensively terrible, the art displayed in the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) is endearingly ‘too bad to be ignored.’
- The museum is a non-profit organisation that is free to the public. It started when an arts and antique dealer called Scott Wilson found a painting now known as ‘Lucy in the Sky with Flowers’ in a pile of rubbish on the roadside in 1993. His friend Jerry Reilly liked it so much that he insisted on keeping it. The two guys, with a little help from three other friends and family members, set up MOBA in Jerry’s basement. They moved to the basement of Dedham Community Theatre the following year, and two branches in Brookline and Somerville opened a few years ago.
- I had a chance to meet Mike Frank, MOBA’s current Curator, and Louise Sacco, one of the museum’s original founders and current Executive Director. They told me that sincerity and originality are factors they look for in the paintings they choose to display, not unlike the criteria used to select works in traditional galleries. The works have to have started off as a serious attempt that went wrong for whatever reason. They like all paintings on display.
- Mike and Louise insist that they are not out to offend anyone, but rather to mock the pretentious artspeak used by art critics.
- I personally really love the paintings, as they are all insane but still pretty and quirky. You can’t help but wonder just what the artists were thinking when they made these works. It’s really interesting finding out the stories behind them.
- MOBA is a magical and cheerful place for second chances, and breathes new life into abandoned pieces with lighthearted humour. I love it!
MY FULL STORY: As some of you may have read in my Northern Art Prize and other articles, I have been getting quite angry about what Art seems to have come to become these days. It’s as though anyone can create any piece of crap and as long as it is prettily framed it can sit quite comfortably on a stately gallery wall.
So is there such thing as ‘bad art’? My answer lies in three wonderfully underground locations around Boston, Massachusetts – the tongue-in-cheekily named Museum of Bad Art (MOBA). But instead of being disgusted by the works on display, I was actually very attracted to them when I visited their Brookline and Somerville branches, perhaps because they aren’t pretentious at all. There is actually something very endearing and quirky about each painting.
Take Mari Newman’s ‘Bone-Juggling dog in a Hula Skirt,’ one of the museum’s resident heroes children usually love. It is an explosion of nonsensical madness on canvas, but you can’t help loving the dog’s playful expression and wonder just what the artist was thinking when she created this.
As it turns out, in case you were wondering the same thing, Newman had originally wanted to just paint a wiener dog standing upright. When the attempt failed however, she decided to add random things to it, including a hula skirt (inspired by girls in a magazine) and dog bones being juggled (inspired by a visit to the pet store).
Gisela Keller’s ‘Elián Gonález’s Grandmothers’ is another favourite of mine. The garden in the painting is stunningly painted, as are the two ladies strolling in it – and yet something doesn’t quite fit. For one thing, they seem to be slightly too small for their surroundings. For another, they have no shadows, so they are literally just floating in the landscape. Still, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s beautiful on a very basic level.
‘The way that we select our works is actually very similar to traditional galleries,’ explained Louise Sacco, one of the original founders and now the Executive Founders of MOBA. ‘We still look for originality, sincerity… we have very strict criteria.’
Mike Frank, MOBA’s Curator, agrees sincerity is an important factor and that they have to feel drawn to the works.
‘We like all of them. If we don’t then why would we put them on display?’ asked Mike.
More a labour of love than anything else, MOBA is a non-profit organisation that runs purely on donations, book sales and the generosity of bad art lovers and supporters.
The variety of art on show all have their own stories and origins. Some are donated by the artists directly, but most are ‘rescued,’ as Louise likes to call it, from thrift shops or rubbish dumps.
So what counts as bad art?
‘I think the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art are problematic,’ Mike said. ‘The works on display at traditional galleries are important. The ones you get here are just a bit off, for one reason or another. You won’t find them anywhere else.’
‘They have to have started off as a serious attempt,’ Louise agreed. ‘But went wrong either because it was a bad concept in the first place or that it was just poorly executed.’
The story of MOBA began in 1993 when an arts and antiques dealer called Scott Wilson found a painting – now known affectionately as ‘Lucy in the Sky with Flowers’ – in a pile of rubbish on the roadside. He had originally only wanted the frame to sell as antique, but when he showed it to his friend Jerry Reilly, Jerry insisted on keeping the whole thing.
And so ‘Lucy’ was hung along with other acquired works in Jerry’s basement for a year, managed by Scott, Jerry, Jerry’s wife Marie Jackson, sister Louise Sacco, and their late photographer friend Tom Stankowicz. By 1994 the makeshift gallery had acquired a fair bit of fame and media coverage, and they moved to a somewhat more formal home – the basement of the Dedham Community Theatre, where it still stands now.
Their Somerville and Brookline galleries opened a few years ago, and the three galleries are now popular local attractions.
Louise and Mike are both careful to stress that they are not out to offend the artists or their art – but to celebrate them. In all the years that they have been involved with MOBA, there was only one case of complaint. Most other artists are delighted when they find that their works are on display there. After all, who doesn’t want their works to be displayed in public?
‘We don’t accept works by students or children – we have made it a thing that all art by them are good art because we don’t want to discourage or make fun of anybody. If there’s anything we want to mock, it’s the high brow, pretentious artspeak used by critics,’ Louise said. ‘And they’d just have to get over that!’
However, not everyone ‘gets’ the idea behind MOBA and what it represents, as Andrea Kalsow tells me. Andrea works at Brookline Access Television, the office lobby of which is the location of MOBA Brookline. She personally loves the works, but does sometimes see visitors who just obviously have no clue what the artworks are about.
‘This guy took his friends here once and he was so enthusiastic in trying to explain why they are “bad art,” but his friends just didn’t get it at all!’
To me, these works are examples of poor communication that still look pretty. Art is about expression, but there are times when they just don’t work out the way that the artist had intended. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they recognise it and don’t try to pass it off as important art. In most cases I can still see the intention or idea behind the works, which I think is the most important part.
I love the fact that MOBA has been set up as a forum to display art that would have been abandoned otherwise. It is a magical and cheerful place for second chances, and breathes new life into brave but thwarted attempts of creativity with lighthearted humour.
And the best part? Unlike most galleries and museums in America, MOBA is absolutely free and accessible to all.
I was thoroughly amused and delighted by my visits. Three cheers for the low brow, wicked bad art!
WHAT: Art walk
WHEN: 7th Mar, 2012
WHO: Gill Park from Pavilion and artist Amelia Crouch
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Leeds Art Walk is a free monthly event organised by Pavilion and led by artist Amelia Crouch, who takes a group of art-lovers to various exhibitions going on around the city. The curator or a member of the gallery staff gives us a tour and talk at each place.
- First stop was to see Pip Dickens’s ‘New Work’ at Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery. Her vibrant paintings use the Paisley (also known as ‘boteh’), a kidney-shaped pattern found on traditional Persian and Indian textiles, as a central motif.
- Second stop was Leeds Met Gallery, where we enjoyed and debated about works displayed in ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ a show curated by young people aged 16-20. It explores both the violence and innocence of youth culture.
- Finally we went to Leeds Art Gallery for Gary Hume’s ‘Flashback’ exhibition. I have seen this before, but looking at his works again with our guide telling us the background stories behind them gave things a fresh perspective.
- All in all a great evening. Big thanks to Gill Park from Pavilion and Amelia for organising this. It makes me proud to see that Leeds still has so much to offer despite the government’s horrendous arts cuts!
MY FULL STORY: It’s a shame I hadn’t heard about the Leeds Art Walk earlier. I had stumbled across it on Twitter (where I seem to stumble across most things these days) without realising what a treat it was going to be. The free Walk, led by artist Amelia Crouch and Gill Park from Pavilion, takes a group of art-lovers to exhibitions around Leeds every month. The idea is simple and self-explanatory, but the best part is that we get an exclusive guided tour by the curator or a gallery staff member at each place. What’s there not to love about it?
Our first stop was the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at Parkinson Court, where we admired Pip Dickens‘s ‘New Work.’ Shamefully, despite having been at the University for almost three years, I have never actually entered the gallery. I have apparently been heavily missing out.
Dickens’ paintings use the Paisley design (also known as ‘boteh’ – it is a kidney-shaped pattern that is commonly found on Persian and Indian textiles) as their central motif. She was inspired by the Kashmir shawls that Michael Sadler, Vice-Chancellorship of Leeds University from 1911 to 1923, presented to the the University.
The Paisley takes on a different form and meaning in each work. Sometimes it stands by itself like a lonely tear drop, other times it is grouped together with other botehs, and in one case (far right in photo above) two of them are fused together to represent mother and unborn child.
I love the way that Dickens juxtaposes vibrant colours with softer hues, bold shapes with gentler shadows. She has also paid a lot of attention to the texture of her works, applying the paint layer by layer until the desired effect is achieved. The end results are beautiful. This was a great exhibition to start the Walk with.
After this we moved on to the Leeds Met Gallery for ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ an exhibition put together as part of the Young Curators project.
This exhibition is very different from Dickens’s. For starters, the curators of this show are all aged between 16 and 20. Although Amelia Crouch, the lady who managed both the Walk and the Young Curators project, helped out, most of the work was done by the youngsters.
The title was inspired by Foster the People’s eponymous song (the happiest, catchiest tune ever written on the subject of school shooting), which sums up the show very well. Its aim is to explore both the violent and innocent sides of gang and youth culture.
The works shown here are diverse in nature. Prints, photography, collages, drawings, and even a wonderful collection of actual objects are all featured. Amelia admitted that she – and the other adult curators overseeing the project – did not necessarily always agree with the kids’ choices, but tried not to intervene too much. ‘It was really hard,’ she said. ‘There were times when we had to physically leave the room and just let the kids work things out between themselves!’
Two of the most striking works on display are Guy Tarrant’s ‘Boys Confiscation Cabinet’ and ‘Girls Confiscation Cabinet.’ The artist is a secondary school teacher, and the items placed inside the cases are real objects that he has confiscated from his students over the years. It is an odd mix containing everything from broken knives and yanked-out hair to paper planes and fluorescent water pistols. There is even a pack of hand-made paper playing cards with naughty pictures drawn on them. Brilliant.
The fact that the group of young adults managed to put on such an interesting show is testimony of the fact that youth culture is not all negative. The exhibition was controversial and caused plenty of intellectual arguments within our group, which is always healthy. Some people thought that more violence should be depicted (‘There’s no blood!’ exclaimed one gentleman), while others liked the balance between the playful and the macabre. I slide with the latter.
Our final stop that evening was Gary Hume‘s ‘Flashback’ exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery, which I had already looked at when I reviewed the Northern Art Prize. Seeing it again with a gallery guide, however, provided good context and gave it a fresh perspective.
Hume, who graduated from London Goldsmiths College in 1988, is one of the key figures belonging to the Young British Artist (YBA) generation. The exhibition showcases both his earlier works, including his renowned ‘door paintings,’ which were inspired by the hospital doors, and his more recent works in aluminium.
There is something inherently cheerful about his art. They are big, bright, and shiny. They make you desperately want to feel their cool, glossy surface beneath your fingertips, although that is unfortunately strictly prohibited.
Like David Hockney, Hume’s art has to be seen in person for its true colours to come through. The purple blobs in his famous 1995 piece, ‘Four Feet in the Garden,’ for example, actually have very minute details such as toenails carved into them. But you won’t be able to tell unless you peer very, very closely at the real thing.
While we’re on the subject of this painting, I learnt that there is a cute little story behind it. The painting originally had no vegetation at the bottom, but when Hume’s young daughter saw it she challenged him by asking why, seeing it’s supposed to be set in a garden, there wasn’t any grass. After mulling over those wise words, the artist decided to add some green stripes at the bottom, and hence the final product you see today was born.
Another thing I learnt that night was that Hume’s original 1995 piece ‘My Aunt and I Agree’ was sadly destroyed in the 2004 Momart storeroom fire. He remade it in 2010, however, and so what we see now is actually a replica.
All in all I had a fabulous evening. It makes me so proud to see that Leeds continues to have so much to offer despite the government’s horrendous arts cuts. It just goes to show that we, as a city, are strong enough to still be standing tall and keeping the cultural scene alive, with or without funding. I would like to say a very big thank you to Pavilion, Gill Park and Amelia for taking the initiative to share their passion with us. It was educational and enjoyable, and I look forward to their future events!
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Pip Dickens: New Work – until 14th Apr, 2012.
Young Curators: Pumped Up Kicks – until 24th Mar, 2012.
Gary Hume: Flashback – until 15th Apr, 2012.
WHEN: 26th January – 2nd February, 2012 (Fair: 28th Jan)
WHERE: Leeds Gallery (map)
MY STORY: ‘Do you know anything about print at all?’ asked one of the artists at the Leeds Print Festival Fair. Er, no, I’m afraid not. I love and enjoy and admire art, but when it comes down to it, I’m ‘mere prattle without practice’ as the Bard so harshly put it. All is not lost, however, because the best part about the Print Festival is that you don’t necessarily need to be an art guru in order to understand or like it. By combining simple, effectiveness ideas with a meticulous process of production, the resulting prints make for a very universal, informal kind of art. What you see is usually what you get.
Held at Leeds Gallery, the relatively new independent art space at Munro House, this was actually the very first official print festival in the city. Judging by the huge crowd that turned out despite the biting cold though, you wouldn’t have guessed. Being Little Miss Keen Bean, I visited the exhibition twice. The first time was for the Print Fair on 28th Jan, which was incredible and a lot of fun. The artists all work with different types of print media, but regardless of whether their images were done in the good old fashioned way or made digitally, each of them were just as compelling as the other. There were monsters, whales, stars, mock-propaganda… you name it, they probably had it on sale in the form of greeting cards, posters, stickers or books. The artists themselves were all lovely to talk to, too, and you can scroll down to read more about three of the artists whose works I found particularly interesting.
My second visit was very different. It was the second last day of the exhibition and I went by myself. Winter sunshine was streaming peacefully through the huge glass windows of the gallery, and there wasn’t anyone else around apart from those enjoying their lunch breaks at Cafe 164 in the next room. It was a quieter, more reflective experience, and I got to enjoy the prints in a much closer and more personal way. Most of them were slightly curled around the corners and looked a bit tired from having been on show for so long, but they were still beautiful. There was a lot of talent displayed on the white walls. Some tackled personal issues of identity (photographs of an ex-model who was constantly told that she looks like Courtney Love), while others challenged social ideas of political correctness (a bathtub filled with a red liquid and what resembles the decapitated heads of Felix the Cat). They were all weird in their own ways, but in a lovingly quirky sort of way. And one thing’s for sure – Print Snot Dead.
I’ve heard the winds whisper that they might be doing something or other in May… We’ll be keeping a look out!
View my full set of photos from both the fair and the exhibition by clicking HERE.
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MY 3 FAVOURITE ARTISTS FROM THE FAIR
#3 Jonny Packham
The first word that slammed into my head when I looked at Jonny’s – aka JAYPEE – posters was ‘Monsters’, accompanied by several exclamation marks (from which I shall spare you). They were somewhat comical and cartoonish, but at the same time also quite disturbing.
‘Yeah, a lot of my works are based around the idea of monsters,’ said Jonny when I expressed my thoughts outloud. ‘But they can get quite personal and autobiographical too – sometimes they’re like my inner demons that just spill on to the page.’
As we talked, a group of guys came over and immediately decided to buy a poster before even knowing how much it cost (a tenner), saying how cool and beautiful it was. And they were beautiful, albeit in a slightly sinister sense, as colours violently explode all over the parchment, juxtaposing dark shapes or backgrounds.
‘Most of these are hand-drawn, although for some of them,’ Jonny explained, gesturing towards a pile of drawings which all had the same black outline of a skull in profile with varying embellishments, ‘I use a template outline and then fill it in with different colours and styles.’
Another poster was sold. At the rate that the prints were going, surely he can make a whole living out of this?
‘It’s my first show or stall actually,’ he said, to my surprise. ‘I mean I’ve done a few other shows and things before but this is the first time I’m showcasing these works – but so far it’s been going well!’
Visit Jonny’s website at: www.jonnypackham.co.uk
#2 Robbie Porter
Currently living and working in Scotland, Robbie is an illustrator and designer whose works caught my eye with their clean, friendly mellowness and quirky ideas. Amongst them were a park ranger riding a triceratops to work, some stickers with keyboard control buttons printed on them, and a portfolio of his drawings published in the form of a graphic newspaper. Looking through his art was like revisiting the stuff that my childhood dreams were made of – and his creative process seems to be just as carefree.
‘I don’t really know where I get my ideas from… I guess I just draw. I get a lot of inspiration just from drawing on bits of paper,’ said Robbie with a shy smile. ‘So far I haven’t run out of ideas yet, luckily. I have too many ideas actually, and I struggle to write them all down!’
So how does he create these images?
‘I first draw the design out in pencil, then go over it in pen, scan it into the computer, clean up the messy bits and just fill in the colour. So it’s half done by hand and half digitally.’
Visit Robbie’s website at www.robbieporter.co.uk
#1 Alex Pritchard
‘I studied Surface Pattern Design for my first degree,’ was what Alex told me when I caught up with him over lunch a few days after the Print Festival. Surface Pa… Specific much? ‘Well I like design because it allows me to work within a set parameters but still be creative. There’s a principle of discipline involved. But I’ve always liked book-making the most – they were the modules that I always got the highest grades for and enjoyed the most.’
Here is clearly a man with many talents and interests – and it doesn’t stop there. When he was young he went through phases of being interested in different things. ‘I went through a dinosaur phase, and then I moved on to butterflies, and then to diggers and street cleaners – you know, the ones with the spinning bristles in front? – and then trains… Wasn’t into cars though, don’t care much for them. Oh, and I was also into military history, like battles and stuff, and Kings and Queens of England, and birds….’
The list went on. One thing in particular stood out against all this though, which is his unwavering love for astronomy. This is what his most central book/work of art, entitled ‘We Are Here’, is about. Alex said that he has been interested in cosmology and all things universe and Earth related ever since he learnt about planets in Year 3. As he delved deeper into the mysteries of outer space, however, he began to find it increasingly difficult to explain the more sophisticated concepts to his friends. That was until he realised that they’d get it immediately once he drew his ideas out on the back of a napkin – and that’s when the idea of making an infographic book struck him. ‘We Are Here’ is based on the idea of a tourist map, with the red arrow pointing to your current location, except expanded to include the whole known universe and planet Earth’s relation to it. It is a beautiful piece of work – colourful, simple to understand, and immensely entertaining.
‘Learning about things in the universe is very humbling,’ he philosophised. ‘When you look at our planet from afar you realise how insignificant we are, and how meaningless life is – but life is what we want it to mean, and what we make it to be.’
In saying that, I feel like he had managed to sum up the whole idea of art and science. They are both studies that provoke thought and debate, but ultimately you can make and take what you wish out of both. Would he ever quit the life of art and become an astronomer instead, then?
‘Oh God, no! I wish!’ he said with a dry laugh. ‘Most of the time you get scientists wanting to become a poet or artist or something, but I’m the other way round. I’m an artist who wants to become a scientist. I’m okay at maths, but I’m just not good enough to go professional.’
He said that he’ll just plan a sequel for his book instead – fair play.
Alex has yet to develop a website, but you can find his bio and works at folksy.com/users/APbooks