Friday, 21 March 2014

Happy Accident - an illustrator's retrospective exhibition article from 2006

Happy Accident
The exhibition is divided into four chapters: Early Years, Stereotyping, A New Vision and The Future? The work is not presented chronologically but the images are grouped together to indicate my understanding of my own working methods and my emotional response to them. Client feedback also plays its part in the way I have arranged the images and information contained within each caption.

I am a teacher, this exhibition is designed to be suitable for Teaching and Learning purposes.

Early Years
I have always drawn and been drawn to expressing my thoughts as visual signs. I drew all over my grandparents nice wallpaper, on my clothes and sometimes on myself. My mother was a printer and during my lunchtime visits to the Acton Vale Printworks the complex and energetic machinery had a profound and lasting effect on me. At age 5 I resolved to become an artist. But I thought humans did not make art any more because machines did the work. Leonardo Da Vinci had been dead for more than 400 years which to a 5 year old (who believed the world was created in 6 days) was an unimaginable length of time. Born too late.

I loved my art classes at secondary school, I loved Marvel and DC comics, Leonardo of course and at 18 I discovered the work of Albrecht Dürer. He is still a big influence on me. I fancied myself the descendant of Dürer and the heir to John Bryne the comic book illustrator. Illustration is in my blood.

I studied for a degree in Graphic Design at Maidstone College of Art 1985 - 1988, reality check time. I was discouraged and criticised at Maidstone. I was abused and called a fraud and that I should think about leaving.
I thought fuck the tutors (in fact I said those very words to the Course Director). I survived somehow after all Dürer was my ancestor and Morrissey seemed to be having hard time and he kept going. I used the three years of my degree to discover who I was and who I wasn’t. What did I want for my life? I had deep and meaningful conversations that stretched into the night. I knew I had to make images and that they had to be of a high quality but I left Maidstone as a demoralised person. I had been drained by years of emotional turmoil and frustrations. 

I went to Leeds and joined a Fine Art studio and tried to get myself together again. I had deep and meaningful conversations that stretched into the night. Soon the south came calling and I returned to my Homeland.

Now how to Survive in this new ‘independent’ mode of my life. I never again had deep and meaningful conversations that stretched into the night.

The work in this chapter is probably my most honest and pure in execution. My core values are on show. However working as an illustrator in the Design Industry began to change me and the content of my output.

At this time I was very superior minded and felt ambivalent about humanity (part of me still does) my work was above such considerations. I had to prostitute myself to make ends meet. This is what a life spent waiting for the phone to ring (no Fax or Internet then), listening daily to Radio 4 with no cat to stroke can do to one.

I thought I would be producing world class book jacket illustrations and reading the most profound works of English literature - for money! Robin Harris a visiting tutor at Maidstone told me I had to be prepared to diversify if I wanted to make a living. What did he know I thought, bloody tutors. Quite a bit in fact.  As a freelance illustrator I was seldom required to tackle this type of work and when I did the results were always disappointing. COMPROMISE is a horrible word but you just have to live with it.

It did not help that Art Directors and commissioning editors appeared so conservative when it came to offering me work. Most of this work I considered was hardly ideal and not appropriate to my talent but I did have a living to make. I felt unhappy that this was my fate and this is reflected in the quality of my output. The work from this period was simply ‘Bread and Butter.’ I would make this work while I waited for better things to come. 

The work in this section shows the range of approaches one can employ to solve problems and still not be satisfied with the outcome. I knew that I wanted to improve the quality of my output. I asked myself could I find a language that allowed me achieve this.

A New Vision
Two events in the summer of 1996 made an enduring impact on my development as an illustrator. I received a telephone call from Jane Bernstein at Ariel magazine, could I produce an illustration for an article about the 1996 Atlanta Olympics? I proceeded to develop some ideas after reading the article and settled on a rough that depicted how congested Atlanta had become thanks to this sporting event. I began to paint the approved idea but hesitated. For many years my work had suffered from being two things at once. An illustration and an academic piece of art. What if I kept things simple? Reduce everything to line, minimum palette and tonal variations with expressive textures. This action left me with an image that communicated my intentions in a much clearer way than ever before. This approach became my new technique (style) and was popular with clients and other illustrators.

The second event was for me more unusual. Martin Thompson at Marks & Spencer commissioned me to produce two illustrations for spicy food instant meals. He had seen my ‘The Lion of Boaz Jachim and Jachim Boaz’ image in my portfolio. He wanted an adaptation of the dome symbol painted over a texture of acrylic and brick mortar. I felt a strange sensation because this is a piece of work I produced in 1987 when I was a student. This image is my first professionally printed illustration my good luck charm. The mortar came from the crumbling walls of the 3rd Year illustration studio at Maidstone College of Art. I could not guess then that it would have such an influence on my later work. I saw an opportunity. 

This new vision led eventually to my drift away from Design Companies and Publishing Houses to exclusive editorial commissions. After nearly ten years in the business I was able to produce Cadmium Yellow, Sienna Brown and Yellow Ochre mini masterpieces.

The Future

This section is probably the most difficult for me. The purpose of this exhibition is to help me decide what to do with my work. I desire the rigour of other peoples opinions to support my future actions but this unknown quantity leaves me cautious as I have never worked in this way before. 

I wish to create work that can make the viewer think carefully about some of the major problems that our society needs to tackle. I feel that designers have a social responsibility and must not work in a vacuum. I have begun to understand how I can use humour to aid this process. My former tactics of rants and polemics have turned audiences off. I have lost many an argument this way. This can be a waste of one’s energy. 

I am now too ancient to have deep and meaningful conversations that stretch into the night but I still have questions that I would like to have answered. What is it that we need to do to make sense of Art, Design and Communication practice? I hope that this exhibition will contribute to the debate in this College and beyond.

Karl Foster March 2006

No comments:

Post a Comment