London Art Spot: Orly Orbach

Dark washes and black pen and ink techniques lend a slightly haunting, mysterious atmosphere to a large part of Orly Orbach’s otherworldly portfolio. Her illustrations often tell a story and have been featured regularly in Ambit magazine among other publications. She has also produced work for theatre productions and album covers.

A Royal College of Art graduate, Orly has spent a great deal of her professional time with communities, allowing them to connect with and interact with her art. She has completed quite a few residencies in which she engaged with young people and encouraged them to embrace creativity as a form of self-expression.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Orly talks more about her residency experiences including time at Sceaux Gardens and why it was the most fulfilling, shares a list of authors that inspires her creativity, and tells us about her involvement in London’s theatre and film industry.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity and in what way?
OO: What I really love about london is the diverse communities and the freedom to be different. It is such a free thinking place where you don’t have to fit in; there are multitudes of dress codes and styles. And you get to meet such a broad range of people. That certainly has an influence on my work.

LLO: Give us a brief introduction to your technique, the materials you prefer to work with and your method of approach to an idea.
OO: I like to treat every project like a new learning experience, find subject matters that I can relate to, allow myself to engage with themes on a personal level, and be experimental and think openly about each project I take. I find it important to allow chance into my work, and this can happen by being playful with mark-making, and in cases of collaborative projects, to allow other voices and ideas to lead me to places I did not expect. I like working with inks because of the way the marks flow and seem to posses their own direction, which I only partially try to control and shape. I like the flexibility of inks, and the permanence of the mark once they dry.  And I also like crayons and chinagraphs, and any other drawing material.

LLO: Your art seems to tell stories and dig under the surface of things. Are you influenced by the written word? If so, which authors or stories are especially important to you?
OO: There are lots of authors that are important to me, some of which are anonymous. For instance I have a collection of folk stories from around the world that never seems to have authors, only translators. I like reading about myths and often browse anthropology books for inspiration. As much of my work is about the interpretation of experience, I find endless inspiration in these resources. I also like theatre technique books and find them relevant. When it comes to fiction, I have lots of favourite authors, especially Russian and Jewish authors, and women writers have helped me regain a sense of magic when I lose inspiration, in particular Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. I love good poetry, and get sent a lot of very visual and visceral poems by Ambit magazine to illustrate.

LLO: “Haunting”, “dark”, “moody”, “mysterious” and “otherworldly” are all words that have been used to describe your work. Would you agree? Where does this darkness stem from?
OO: I want my work to be ‘otherworldly’, simply because when I make work I am trying to connect to other worlds. I think of the history of stories and image-making and inevitably I make work that comes from somewhere deeper within myself. Perhaps I make work for the past rather than the present, which is why it seems haunting. I don’t wish to make ‘dark’ work intentionally, and in fact, I don’t like ‘dark’ work that sets out to be shocking or aims to provoke an audience. The work I make is about trying to connect with something authentic, and if it happens to be moody and haunting it probably just shows my aesthetic sensibility. I personally do like to be haunted by high-quality works and ideas, and hope my work has some kind of authentic presence.

LLO: You have also worked with children on positive community projects like the “Wishing Wall” after the fire at Sceaux Gardens in South London. What was the purpose of the wishing wall? How does your art help to build a stronger community?
OO: My idea for the Sceaux Gardens residency was to use storytelling activities as a way of bringing people together. The project was called Making Play, and I thought we could play with fiction to create new worlds and reimagine the local neighbourhood, through small interventions, art activities etc. The incident of the fire happened at the very beginning of the residency. It was impossible to switch off from reality and play with fiction under these circumstances, so eventually I found a way to address the issue by asking local residents to help me create a mural. It’s a complicated event, but in short, the idea was to make something collaborative that allows people to say what they think, discuss ideas they have about how to improve their neighbourhood, to open communication between them and the council, and very importantly- to note down and acknowledge every single idea, and to do all of this in a way that is visually presentable without being too ‘pretty’, as it did not feel right to make something that is too decorative for the site, as I did not wish the image to distract us from the reality of the situation. My role was to find means of expression, rather than directly make the artwork. The local children did that, and they are quite proud of their work.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your involvement in London’s theatre and film industries.
OO: I have always found the theatre to be a very creative environment, and have worked with script-writers, directors, performers and musicians since I was a student. I see the theatre as an open classroom, and have borrowed much from rehearsal techniques used by performers. One of the best things about rehearsal is that they allow the actor to not know, to take chances and follow their instincts. The visual art world suffers from having to know too much, and I think artists are constantly writing applications, blurbs, reading art theory books and are busy justifying themselves verbally. There is also a pressure to come up with a ‘final piece’ straight away. So I find it inspiring see actors dedicating time to rehearsals, improvising and playing. Most recently I worked on the film Island by Tailormade Productions, and was impressed by the research methods used by the creative team, and how they integrated art into the whole film making process.

LLO: Which image, project or moment of your artistic career are you most proud of so far and why?
OO: The last three residencies have been huge learning experiences, and I think i have achieved a lot through them (-the Making Play residency, the Creative-Partnership residency and the Museums Sheffield project). I felt a moment of achievement when i visited Museums Sheffield on the last week of the exhibition and chanced upon a group of young people playing the floor-vinyl game and using the artwork. I think I’ve found myself through the Sceaux Gardens Making Play residency, although I felt lost there most of the time. I’ve learned so much from that experience, and from the people and children I worked with, especially Lauren, the family officer, who taught me a lot about the importance of the social response to art, rather than the visual effect.

LLO: You’ve done quite a few site-specific projects. Which was the most fulfilling? Anywhere special in London that you’d love to design a piece for?
OO: I think the Sceaux Gardens project was the most fulfilling. It was a long-term project that allowed me to get to know people gradually and test ideas before making site-specific artwork with the local community. It was supported by the South London Gallery, that has a very forward thinking and socially minded education team. It’s not often you get to really make connections with people and make work on that level, and the project was challenging and for that reason fulfilling as well.

There are a few dream-locations I would like to make work for, and I would especially like to make work within my local borough at some point in the near future.

LLO: Other London-based artists you admire?
OO: Lots. I love Elly Thomas’s sculptures and ink drawings, and was especially inspired after a recent visit to her studio in North London.

LLO: What are you working on now?
OO: I am currently working on a commission for the London Transport Museum, collaborating with young people from West London to create artwork for a bus-shelter in South Kensington, themed around journeys. This should be really fun to do.

Thanks Orly!

For more from Orly, check out her website.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

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London Art Spot: David Stevenson

Calling various bits of East and South London home for over a decade, illustrator and animator David Stevenson can’t imagine living anywhere else. He tells me the average person only stays in London for seven years so he counts this as a tiny moral victory. He was born in Wolverhampton.

David’s work is influenced by Jack Kirby, Walt Simonson, the internet and literally whatever the last thing is that he saw or read. He’s always doodling stupid stuff (his words, not mine!). He also admits to wasting far too much time in front of a computer. He draws things for anyone who will pay.

Recently married, he drew himself as a gorilla on his wedding invitation so keep that in mind when you get to the question about his self-portrait in this week’s London Art Spot interview. He also lets us in on the bizarre way he heard of Michael Jackson’s death and shows off an illustration he feels really captures Sean Connery’s sexual magnetism.

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
DS:
Obviously there are loads of creative things going on in a city this size, but mostly it’s the people. When you hit a creative snag you can get out of the studio, jump on a bus and just people-watch until you buck your ideas up.

LLO: A lot of your illustrations are comments on current events or the arts. What inspires you and what’s your favourite source of daily news?
DS:
Rumour, opinion and word of mouth. And by word of mouth, I mean the internet really. You can hear the news anywhere now – and quicker than the proper news channels. The way I heard about Michael Jackson’s death? An orc told me, in World of Warcraft. Of course I googled it; you don’t just take the word of an orc you don’t know. But I like that randomness.

LLO: You’ve had some big clients like Amnesty International, Orange and Warner Brothers. Who’s your dream client?
DS:
High profile clients are useful, because they do open the door for more opportunities. But if you’re involved in something genuinely good, chances are people will hear about it.

LLO: I hear you also do some comedy nights. Tell us something funny?
DS:
I’m not one of those funny comedians. I do stand-up pathos; roughly five minutes of quivering my lip, then a single tear trickles down my chin. It’s very moving. Some audiences have moved right out of the building.

LLO: Where can we catch your next stand-up gig?
DS:
The London comedy scene is pretty quiet during the summer months, as everybody decamps to Edinburgh. So I’ll be chilling out until Autumn, making an effort to be as unfunny as possible.

LLO: What sort of animation projects have you worked on?
DS:
Very quick stop-motion videos for songs, mostly written by my good friend Rob Manuel. Generally we go for a very fast, hand-made feel to keep the energy high. It’s more immediately satisfying using objects in the real world than being stuck in an animation programme.

LLO: If you were to do a self-portrait illustration, what would it look like?
DS:
Me. It would look like me. I hope.

LLO: Which illustration are you most proud of and why?
DS:
I like my picture of Zardoz, which I’d say totally captures Sean Connery’s sexual magnetism.

LLO: Are there any public figures in the spotlight at the moment you’ve got your eyes on to illustrate?
DS:
Ed Balls is so pleasingly ugly that I really hope he does more stuff to get on the news. Like eat some orphans or something.

LLO: Which other London-based artists do you admire?
DS:

Hartwig Braun – Illustrator
Duncan Smith – Children’s Illustrator
Daniella Baptista – Photographer
Gerald Scarfe – Legendary Cartoonist

Thanks David!

For more of David’s work, check out his website: http://www.david-stevenson.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Martin Hoare

Some people love to capture London on film, others in photographs, a few just in memory. Welsh illustrator Martin Hoare takes his sketch book out to the streets. Later, some of these sketches are transformed into more elaborate drawings or paintings. For a while, his pens & pencils sat in a drawer while he concentrated on his day job as a graphic designer, but now he’s set up a blog to revive them. It’s called Martin’s Doodles. If you enjoy his unique catalogue of London life below, pop over and have a look.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Martin tells us a story of frustration as a prospective art student, talks through the process of creating a new piece of work and about the satisfaction he’s recently discovered in a completely unrelated hobby that fills his spare time.

Piccadilly Line

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
MH:
London is an amazing place to live and work. I’ve lived here now for 12 years and there are still always new places to discover. I love the way that each area has its own unique feel, the way you can travel just a short distance and feel like you’ve gone somewhere completely different. It’s always been drawing people and the way the people of London interact with each other and the urban environment. That’s what really interests me. Someone once said: “There’s 8 million stories all playing out at the same time.”  That’s what I’m trying to capture.

Green Park

LLO: Graphic designer by trade, and here you are with a blog full of “doodles”, of sketches and drawings. What’s your artistic background?
MH:
I have always been a compulsive drawer. As a kid, I don’t think I was happy unless I had a pencil and a stack of paper. I left school at sixteen and took a training scheme at the local Ford Motor plant. I think it soon became apparent that I had no interest in producing axles and, fair dues to them, they set me up with an interview at the local art college. But without formal qualifications, they weren’t interested in taking me on, and at the end of the interview they showed me a perfectly airbrushed illustration of a motorbike and told me not to come back until I could produce work of that standard. This really discouraged me from perusing any kind of career in art. It wasn’t until years later that I found out the illustration was from a student’s final degree show.

I did a fanzine for a bit around this time, designed a few record sleeves, t-shirts and gig posters for local bands. Then when the need to get a proper job came along, I became a painter and decorator. So I was working as a painter, but just the wrong type. I still kept on drawing but didn’t think of doing anything with it until I started taking a life drawing class. There were a lot of art students there from the college that had turned me down a few years back and I was surprised to find that I was drawing at a better level than practically all of them. So I thought, what the hell, gave up my job and started a foundation course. I intended to go on to study fine art or illustration, but having discovered the wonders of what could be done on a Mac, did a degree in Graphic Design and have been sitting in front of a screen ever since. The down-side of this being that for a long time I put down my pencils and brushes and it has taken me quite a while to pick them back up again.

Brewer Street

LLO: Where did the initiative to start “Martin’s Doodles” come from and what do you hope to achieve by keeping the blog?
MH:
I had drawings all over the place, in numerous sketchbooks, on bits of paper, and it was hard to keep track of everything. I really needed to get everything scanned in, just to pull everything together. So the main reasons for setting up the blog were getting organised, getting my work out there and moving it forward. After all, what’s the point of producing a load of artwork if it’s just going to sit in a drawer in the spare room?

LLO: Best place in London to shop for art supplies?
MH:
Cass Art in Islington. I spend a lot more there than I need to, I have a thing for buying new sketch books, whether I need a new one or not. I also visit the London Graphic Centre in Covent Garden quite a bit.

North Lanes

LLO: Favourite place in London to sit with a sketch pad?
MH:
Probably somewhere on the South Bank, especially when the sun is out. There’s usually a chilled atmosphere and noone is in a rush to get anywhere, which is helpful when sketching.

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of so far and why?
MH:
It’s usually what I’ve just finished or am working on at that time. I’ve just finished a painting ‘Leaving Las Vegas’, which is Soho street scene. The thing that started me off on this image was the signage, which I just had to work into a painting. And being Soho it just had to be a night scene.

Leaving Las Vegas

LLO: Describe the process of how your artwork comes to life from the moment you conceive an idea to the finished product.
MH:
I’ll spend a lot of time wandering around just looking for somewhere that will work as a drawing or painting. I’ve basically always got an eye on the next piece of work. Once I’ve chosen a location I’ll do a few rough sketches and take as many pictures as I can. I’ll then put all these together in Photoshop, and usually work up a composite image, putting all the elements together. Print this out and make a rough pencil drawing sketch placing all the main elements on the page. Once that’s done I’ll start working up the drawing, with either a fine liner, or ink and pen. Once I’m happy the drawing is done, I’ll either add shading with marker pens, or I might scan the drawing and colour it in Photoshop.

The next stage is to determine which drawings may have the potential to be worked up as paintings. The whole painting process is a lot more involved and time consuming. Unlike drawing where the work can be finished in one sitting, a painting can be very much a stop-start affair, gradually taking shape, depending on the free time I have available. But it’s really rewarding when you finish with something that you’re pleased with.

Oceanic Leather Wear

LLO: What do you get up to when you’re not drawing/doodling/sketching/painting?
MH:
Aside from work which takes up a large part of my time, I have recently started gardening. For the first time since moving to London I have a garden, and have really gotten into growing my own vegetables; there’s something really pleasing about eating food you’ve grown yourself. I tend to go to a lot of galleries. One of the great things about London is that there is just so much art going on; wherever I happen to be, I can usually take a bit of time to check out whatever galleries are around. Being Welsh, I also often end up in the pub watching a bit of rugby.

LLO: Is there a place in the capital you’d love to sit for a day with a sketch pad but haven’t had the chance yet?
MH: Actually having the luxury of a day to sit sketching is not something I’m used to. Maybe it’s being a Graphic Designer, where everything is driven by deadlines, but there never seems to be enough time to fit everything in. I’ve never done any drawings on the tube; maybe I could sit on the Circle Line going round and round drawing people. Perhaps I should try that.

Smoking Man

LLO: Any impressive up-and-coming London-based artists we should keep our eyes on?
MH:
Print Club in Dalston (www.printclublondon.com), has some really good illustrators and artists. I like a lot of the work they produce.

Sundae, Sundae

Thanks Martin! 

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Country Living Spring Fair: Alexandra Woods

In case you missed yesterday morning’s post, I’ve been given a cool opportunity to contact a few people involved with this year’s Country Living Spring Fair, happening in Islington from March 24-28. 

This is Alexandra Woods: illustrator, painter and designer. Her work has a real country living flair that fits in perfectly with next week’s exhibition. She’s given us a bit of insight into her inspiration, let us know what to expect from a visit to her booth and shared a few photos of her work.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your contribution to the Country Living Spring Fair; what sort of products will you have on sale?
AW:
 A selection of my art, design and illustration range is showing at the Country Living Spring Fair 2010 including a new collection of designs printed onto household items. With a continued interest in good food and sound husbandry with a love of the countryside, I specialise in portraits of British farm animals, capturing the essence of their spirit. Combining skills sharpened through successful completion of Bachelor and Masters degrees in Textile Design and Illustration, I also transform observations of everyday objects into striking designs printed onto household items.

LLO: Your work is inspired by the British countryside and farm animals. Where is the best place to go for a taste of that lifestyle while still in London?
AW:
Early studies for the bovine portraits were made at Petersham Meadows, nestled between the foot of Richmond Hill and the Thames towpath.

LLO: Are there any other artists exhibiting at the fair you are especially looking forward to seeing?
AW:
As a new exhibitor to the fair, I am looking forward to seeing the wide range of art created under the shared theme of the countryside.

For more of Alexandra’s work, see her website: www.alexandrawoods.com
For more information on what to expect the Country Living Spring Fair, click here and watch this space.

If you’re interested in checking out the fair, Little London Observationist readers have been offered a special ticket price of £10.50 (instead of £15 at the door). Just ring up the ticket line no later than 1pm the day before heading down and quote “CL134″. 

Tel: 08448480160

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London Art Spot: Tom Blackford

Tagging London’s walls with a spray can as a student bursting for creative freedom led Tom Blackford to where he is with his artwork today: freelancing as an illustrator, painter and muralist. With his debut solo show lined up, clients like EA Games and Magna Entertainment on his CV and plenty of new pieces in the works, Tom is one to keep an eye on. He’s painted on everything from the inside of the Barbican and outside of The Foundry to white office walls to surf boards and snowboards.

Tom has taken a few moments away from preparing for his show to talk to us about what he learned from being a graffiti artist, his passion for Japanese culture that seeps into his painting style and the mystery girl who keeps appearing in his latest work.  

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
TB:
 To be honest I’m not sure. I’d say my subjects were pretty ‘other wordly’ and not directly influenced by the city itself or the people it inhabits. Growing up in London in the 90’s turned me on to graffiti and that’s become a big part of how I like to realise a certain proportion of my work. Other artists I’ve met and painted with have inspired me and helped clarify my goals as an artist but aesthetically I think my work represents a world in my head that’s pretty distant from the the place I physically reside in.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your artistic background.
TB:
I’ve drawn since I could hold a pen and never stopped. I studied art at school but found the formal teaching side of it boring and frustrating. I just wanted to express myself and never followed the briefs. Based on a portfolio of personal work I went to university to study illustration only to be completely disillusioned by the ‘commercially viable’ aspect of the work as I’d always been more interested in art for art’s sake, so I decided to focus on graffiti. Although risky at the time, looking back it was a great decision as where as I already knew how to draw, graffiti taught me a lot about colour theory, composition and ultimately how to paint.

LLO: Your debut solo show is coming up next month. What can we expect from that?
TB:
 Blood, sweat and tears! The show is through Upper Playground which is great as although I’ve been involved in many group shows, I wanted to wait for a name I could trust before getting excited about the prospect of a solo show. We’ll see what happens…right now I’m working on about 10-12 new paintings among other bits and pieces. I thought about the idea of a very strict theme for the show although my mind’s all over the place right now with different ideas and I guess the work will reflect that. Thees nothing like a looming show to really get you asking yourself a lot of questions about what it is that drives you. 

LLO: When did you create your first piece of graffiti?
TB: 
I was tagging for years before I attempted to use a can to produce anything more substantial. I started painting a few letter based pieces in around 2004 and switched to focusing on characters the same year, realising very quickly that if anything, it was going to be figurative work that was going to work for me.

LLO: You’ve already worked for some big names like Marvel, Nike, MTV, Pixar, etc. Who is your dream client?
TB:
I don’t have a dream client but there are some musicians I’d love to do cover artwork for and galleries I’d like to exhibit at. I think that concept work for video games/movies would be interesting too. 

LLO: There is a girl who features regularly throughout your latest work. Who is she? Your muse?
TB: 
I wish I knew! I actually reflected on my latest work recently and realised that she seems to have cropped up quite a bit. It’s not a conscious decision. I’ll start sketching a female character and no matter where I start out, something often leads me back to ‘her’. Some people say she looks like my girlfriend but the fictitious girl appeared first!

LLO: Your website bio says you have a “passion for Japanese history and pop culture”. Any advice on the best place to get a bit of Japanese culture in London?
TB: 
I’ve always been obsessed with oriental culture but really got into it when Japanese animation and Manga hit the UK market in the early 90’s…a lot of the good stuff was hard to find then so it had this ‘cult appeal’, a lot like graffiti. Some of the things I watched and read back then had a massive impact on me and the imagery it contained is stuff I think I still feed off through memory to this day. It’s funny because I don’t consciously think about my work as having strong Asian sensibilities until I have a new viewer mention it…it’s something that I think will always be identifiable, something I can’t escape but don’t really want to. It’s something I’ve definitely embraced in the canvas work I’m producing right now.

Oriental City (formally known as Yohan Plaza) in Colindale used to be a great place to shop for Japanese food and books but I haven’t been there in years so couldn’t say whats happening there now. The Japan centre in Piccadilly is good for Manga and Orbital off Leicester Square would be the place to check out Japanese comics and toys. 

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of and why?
TB:
This changes all the time. There are pieces I’m proud of because of the circumstances that surround them and others because of the things I learnt whilst creating them. I just finished a new painting for my debut solo show that I think highlights where I’m at right now.

LLO: You’re currently a freelance painter, illustrator and muralist in and around London. Where’s the best place to go to find your work in the capital?
TB:
My paintings can regularly be found at White Cross gallery although with exhibitions looming most of my canvases are in storage right now. I recently painted the front of ‘The Foundry’ in East London and decorated the entrance to the Upper Playground store off Carnaby street. My graffiti work doesn’t tend to stick around too long unless commissioned by a specific property.

LLO: Favourite London-based artists?
TB:
That’s difficult…pretty much all of my favourite artists are from Japan and the States. I really like Jamie Hewlett’s work. I felt like I’d been waiting a long time to see someone do a really cool animated music video when Gorillaz came along.

Thanks Tom!

For more of Tom’s work, check out his website: www.inkfetish.co.uk

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.