Monday 27 July 2009

Harry Patch

Whilst fighting illness and surrounded by visiting family members over for a BBQ at my family home I snuck away for the afternoon to await my weekly Independent brief. This week I was asked to create an image about the death of Harry Patch, the last remaining veteran of the first World War.

Sometimes a commission comes through that makes you really think. Not so much about the job itself, but about the subject of the piece. This was certainly the case yesterday, as I got lost in thought about what this brave man had seen throughout his lifetime. This was a man who had survived a horrific war and gone on to lead a quiet life, well respected it appears, and who had only begun to talk in public about his experiences in the last 11 years; a complete contrast to the age of celebrity and 21 year olds' autobiographies that we live in now.

I don't know anything beyond what has been reported in the papers, so I will not claim to speak with any authority about Harry Patch. But I did want to create a piece with quiet dignity, which seemed in keeping with the news reports, also remembering that this was someone's grandfather not someone who chose a public life. I can't take credit for the idea this week, my art director suggested the Poppies in the chair approach, but I worked hard to make the composition quiet and understated with the addition of the wartime scene in the background populated by ghosts of a different time.

I rarely analyse my work after the event, but I was pleased with this and the sense of atmosphere that (I believe) I have generated within the image. It took a lot longer to make the background work and overall I was happy with the sense of history and memory that I created.

The Independent has carried a lot of stories about the troops in Afghanistan recently and I think it has done a fantastic job of reminding people that it is a dangerous place, something to think about in the here and now, not as something that began when I was at University and just continues to trundle in the background. Whatever one thinks about the merit of this war or any war, I always try to remember that it is real people involved with families, friends, dependents (on both sides) and not just a source of stories for Hollywood films or political posturing. My commission yesterday sparked off many conversations amongst my family, as we had a current Army captain and a Navy Veteran of World War II in the house and an absent cousin who is serving in the Army at present.

I guess that is what a simple illustration can make you think about. Harry Patch represented a generation that was lost. It put my grumblings about being ill into the shade and I hope that my work was suitably humble and respectful to his memory and his family.

*any views expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect the Independent's editorial position.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

News update

A quick post to keep the website up to date as I haven't had chance to upload any new work recently.

I'm back in the UK now and to quote Tracey Jordan in 30 Rock I'm 'On my grind', or working hard as it's more commonly known.

I have a set of Independent illustrations to upload and I intend to bring some of my favourite bits of the We Have A Nice Day project onto the website too. I'll be talking about that project in more detail on the blog once I complete my final image. I didn't want to rush it so have used the time to work on an animation in After Effects which is a little more technically accomplished then my previous efforts (I hope!).

Once that is finished I intend to put together a showreel of my animations, as the 'new' doesn't currently showcase that side of my practice, which was a conscious decision at the time. But now I have a reasonable amount of material I definitely want to take the time to produce a proper showreel.

I also have an illustration on the go for Ride magazine, which I am excited about, as well as an illustration for Mental Health Practice magazine.

This is a busy time for me as I'm catching up on all of the things that I had to put aside when I injured my hand, which means lots of personal work being finished and loose ends tied up. I'm also looking into the ways in which I can expand my creative practice, which is something I always like to do once the academic term has ended.

So I think that gives a brief summary of what's happening here at the moment. Hopefully there will be new work on the website over the weekend so keep an eye out for that...

Saturday 18 July 2009

A final New York post..

written in England, sadly.

But all good things must come to an end and my time in New York is up, for now. Much to the relief of my bank account and probably my knees, who will appreciate a little less pavement pounding.

I promised I'd blog about my final week in New York and I figured it would be poor form to renege on my promise.

During my last week I took a trip over to the Tenement Museum for an interactive murder mystery event I'd seen advertised in Time Out magazine. The Tenement Museum "tells the stories of immigrants who lived in 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan's Lower East Side" and for one night only a crowd of visitors would try to solve the real life case of 'The Ryans'; a brother and sister who were found murdered in 1873. The event seemingly captured the imagination of many a New Yorker, as when I arrived 40 minutes early (by now having got the hang of these free events!) a line had already formed and the email reservations we had been asked to make were scrapped as too many people had replied. The event attracted more then twice the usual turnout, but luckily I was one of the 100 people who were able to participate.

The murder mystery was lead by actors playing the parts of residents and when split into groups of 25, it was down to the visitors to interrogate the suspects we found lurking on the street or in the Tenement itself. The experience was fun, the actors really inhabited their roles and certainly in my group we enjoyed speculating over the identity of the murderer and asking questions to the suspects. It was my own slice of C.S.I New York, but just a century and a bit earlier.

The most entertaining part of the night was unscripted though and happened right at the beginning of the event. My group were 'interviewing' our first suspect on the stoop of an apartment block around the corner from the museum, when a resident of the building became a little enraged by the insolent, strangely dressed man talking about the Ryans on his stoop. What ensued was a confrontation straight out of a sitcom. The resident walked into the lobby and then returned to the actor three times, each time becoming more irate at the actor's perceived offensive comments about him and his fellow Lower East Side residents. Obviously our 'suspect' was trying to stay in character and props to him that he only let the facade drop once when it looked like he may take a blow to the face for his art. Even when the reason for our gathering was explained a verbal volley addressing film crews, tv programs and performance art continually consuming the street was unleashed. Irrelevant to us, simple as our motive for being there was; to enjoy a fun evening. But the resident raised an interesting point, what to us was a fun piece of performance was, to him, one of a series of daily intrusions into his life when all he wanted was to get into his home after a long day at work. A hazard of living in a a desirable location for films and tv programs (I had in fact been here the previous week on the Gossip Girl tour) or a valid point?

The general consensus seemed to be that he had overreacted and certainly his aggressive behaviour was completely disproportionate to the crime committed, especially as the actor in question did actually live in the same building. But it provided a slice of real life drama and demonstrated just how easy it is for passions to ignite and tempers to escalate in a densely populated small space, which seemed perfectly apt in relation to our reason for being there.

A photograph of 'The Landlord' taken at the event organised by Carlo d'Amore.
Photo taken by Greg Scaffidi see the original blog post here

Whilst on the Lower East Side I knew I had to pick up a cupcake from Babycakes. The very reason for my earlier experience of Broome Street (said store features in Gossip Girl series 1, the Thanksgiving episode, for those who care..) I had only managed to have a shot of frosting (yum) so this time with free hands and a few spare dollars in my wallet I popped into the all-natural, organic, free from many allergens bakery to see if a healthier version of the sweet treat could taste as good. Answer = yes. My choice was a delicious chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, which of course looked as good as it tasted. So much so that I couldn't resist posting a few pictures. Yum.

Also on a food related note, I had to post this picture of Tom's Restaurant

I found this on their blog, and it was added by Kit Kaplan a Brooklyn photographer who I think captured this slice of Brooklyn history (the diner has been around since 1936) perfectly in the shot. This is where I had the most delicious breakfast of Pancakes, Eggs and Bacon washed down by fresh O.J. The diner was packed and it seemed everyone left with a full stomach and a happy face. If you're ever in Brooklyn and want a great breakfast in a place brimming with history this is my recommendation.

I rounded off my exploration of New York with a subway ride down to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. It was fun to seemingly leave the city behind and hit the sand and also to be in an area where very few people were speaking English and the signs were often in Russian. The area is filled with immigrants who have found a new home and life in Brooklyn, subsequently it is a melting pot of cultures, but definitely with Russia as its heartbeat. The Village Voice talks about this more here But with it being my last weekend in New York I'm only slightly ashamed to say that my interest was more rooted in hitting the beach and relaxing with a book, rather then exploring extensively. I apologise for the touristy nature of these last few paragraphs, but as it's my last real post on my trip I want to milk it! This is a picture of Brighton Beach, with Coney Island in the distance:

Then one of the Promenade at Brighton Beach.

I enjoyed it down there, although it was definitely surreal to walk past the fur selling stores just a few metres from the beach, not your usual seaside fare.

Finally I did a little bit of shopping in Soho, with of course a foray onto Canal Street to pick up a New York trinket or two. Whilst I was enjoying the hustling and haggling of Canal Street I looked up to notice this advert for Grand Theft Auto.

It's probably been around for a while, but I was struck by how completely fitting it was to see that there (and not just because the game is based in Chinatown). Maybe I am a horribly commercialised, advertising influenced example of my generation. But rather then see it as an intrusion on the natural environment I thought this was a perfect example of outdoor advertising at its best. A product that so befits the environment it is shown in, in terms of attitude not just locality. Despite its tourist attraction status Canal Street definitely carries the scent of the underworld, but for the tourists in a slightly distant, thrilling way rather then in an obviously threatening fashion, which is something the Grand Theft Auto franchise totally exploits. It presents this dangerous, crime filled, violent world to people who rarely encounter it and allows them to run riot. Of course it also works because the game is based in Chinatown, but it wasn't that connection that first caught my eye. The image also appears to be spraypainted onto the building, though I imagine it is some sort of vinyl wrap, but again everything is just so and fits perfectly with the environment.

So that's my justification for snapping it. Plus it does look pretty damn cool!

In summary (on this exceedingly long post) my trip to New York was an action packed, adrenalin fuelled cultural adventure that, in terms of my own work, has been highly beneficial. I managed to do a lot of promotion, which was great, but I also replenished my mental store of visual reference by spending so much time watching and observing. It was great to get out and do that and I am hopeful that I can squeeze some of the amazing events I observed into personal work over the next month or so.

Thanks for reading and I hope I haven't bored you too much with my tales. Normal service on the blog will resume shortly, with more work orientated posts returning. Until then...

Saturday 11 July 2009

Too much to report, too little time

I say goodbye to New York on Monday, so I've decided to leave the blogging alone for a few days so I can maximise the minutes I have left. I haven't yet got around to telling the tales of the Tenement Museum ghost story or discussing my latest venture into Williamsburg. All of this I'll post when I return to the UK I think, once I've had the chance to collate my thoughts and pictures.

So for the next few days I'll leave you with one of my favourite pictures from the trip so far, taken when I stumbled across the Gossip Girl shoot in Soho. This show is my guilty pleasure, for which I feel no guilt, I just love it...

Have a great weekend (xoxo)

Wednesday 8 July 2009

4th July

For the 4th July celebrations I took a little trip over to Hoboken to meet up with some fellow Brits and enjoy the Macy's fireworks from a Jersey vantage point. Macy's fireworks have been an East River tradition since 1976 despite their debut as a Hudson River spectacular in 1958. However, the fireworks returned to the Hudson River after a long hiatus to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the exploration of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson, so Hoboken offered the perfect view for a Brooklyn resident willing to take the PATH train and bypass the crowds forming on the West side of Manhattan.

Top: The many boats moored on the Hudson ready for the show to begin
Above: The crowds on the pier in Hoboken built steadily

Fireworks over the Hudson River

A nice close up

I had a great time watching the fireworks but I was also fascinated by the crowd during the build up. There is something compelling about crowd dynamics, especially when there is a development of unspoken rules that someone unwittingly disturbs; a person who chooses to stand in the area where it had been silently decided no-one should stand, the muttering to, and elbowing of, neighbours as a newcomer snags a better vantage point, or the stranger who stands too close to a group for their liking despite it being inadvertent and a natural consequence of a busy event. All of these things took place and I always love watching how people respond to such a situation. I think it's important for my work to take note of the nuances of social interaction and I am especially vigilant when I find myself in a crowd because I love to depict them in my illustrations and I'm always on the lookout for new subtleties to add to my interpretations.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Mega update

It was never my intention to turn this blog into a travelog whilst I was in the States but seemingly this has happened. I promise to return to more illustration related topics when I get back to reality!

But for now I'll summarise what I've been upto in-between dropping my portfolio off at places such as the New York Times and Pentagram Design.

The highlight of last week was a rather haphazard spontaneous remoulding of a planned event. Essentially I turned up to Cringe Night at Freddy's Bar in Brooklyn expecting an amusing, albeit Office-esque night of squirm inducing tales only to find out that the host hadn't shown up. This left a rather large group of disappointed people unsure of what to do. Luckily for us I had invited along Doug Stone: documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, producer extraordinaire who also has a wicked line in comedic tales and the gift of delivery. With little regard for his own reputation Doug took over the mic stand and christened the evening 'Salvaging Cringe Night' before opening with a tale from his own teenage years. Despite the fact that only one person had brought along any prepared material and the rest of us had arrived purely to spectate, what followed was one of the funniest evenings I have experienced in a long time. Adroitly hosted by Doug, one person after another stepped up to the mic to share tales from their teenage years that were embarrassing, shameful or in a few cases just shocking!

What was notable besides the humour of the event was the atmosphere that prevailed. Despite the lack of preparation and the nerves that beset one when it is time to step up to the mic and share a tale that has never been shared before, people confidently braved the moment and were cheered on by the watching crowd. It was definitely a supportive atmosphere and momentum really built, so much so that the 'show' lasted nearly two hours. It was great to be involved in such an organic process, although I have to confess that I didn't take the opportunity to indulge in the comedic therapy on offer, but I did really enjoy the evening and appreciated the willingness of the majority to give it a shot and get involved. Maybe unfairly I couldn't help thinking that if such a thing had occurred in my local pub at home it was highly unlikely that a similarly successful night would have ensued without copious amounts of alcohol being involved.

Art wise I took in a few galleries in Chelsea, the standout one being Brazilian artist Adriana Varej√£o's exhibition at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery

"O Iluminado"(The Shining) seen above, was the focal point of the exhibition, monopolising over 5 metres of horizontal wall space. The use of light in the image doesn't really translate on the web but I was transfixed for a long time, tilting my head back and forth in wonder at the way it was so beautifully captured. I found the image stunning and the sense of depth and space so lightly conveyed was a delight to behold. As someone continually concerned with colour use the limited colour palette on show throughout the whole exhibition was interesting to me, as it brilliantly accentuated the stillness of each piece whilst also bringing a vitality and life to the space. A great show to experience first hand.

On Friday I left behind Manhattan and joined a throng of New Yorkers enjoying a day off to take the ten minute ferry over to Governors Island, the ex-military base of the US Army and later the Coastguard. The island was closed in 1996, but in 2003 most of the Island was sold to the people of New York and the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation oversees the majority and is tasked with redeveloping and preserving the island.

I had a great time exploring the island, it was a veritable treasure trove of textures with a great deal of the buildings being in a state of disrepair so I was in my element snapping away and capturing doorways, windows and gates. I had initially intended to hire a bike as part of free bike friday provided by Bike and Roll but in the end I followed the walking tour and enjoyed a investigative wander across the island. I found the experience fascinating, the whole place had an eerie feel to it (despite the crowds) and it would make the perfect setting for a horror film. There is a real sense of isolation even with the proximity of Manhattan and Brooklyn and the absence of traffic means the ensuing stillness takes on a mysterious quality when coupled with the desolate buildings. Brilliant!

4th July pictures to come soon...

Friday 3 July 2009

ADC 88th Annual Awards

As I mentioned in the previous post, I caught the final day of the Art Directors Club 88th Annual Awards on Monday. Obviously there was some great work on show and it was comforting to wander around a gallery showing the kind of work that I look at and admire on a daily basis. I was definitely more at home here then in the fine art galleries that I visited the previous week, or on my trip to Chelsea on Wednesday.

I wanted to add some of my own pictures of my favourites, but alas the lighting was just too poor and subsequently the pictures are not great. So the link to the full archive is here and below I'll just reference a few pieces I particularly loved.

First up is a campaign I was alerted to last year by my fellow blogger Bowerbird so I was pleased to see it had won the Gold Award for "Advertising: Product/service Promotion, Product/service Promotion - Campaign"

I also enjoyed the Gold Award winning outdoor advertising campaign "Le Grand Mix" for Nova radio by Young and Rubicam France:

A favourite from the UK was the promotional campaign for Harvey Nichols' Christmas sale by DDB London. I just love the fantastically communicative gestures that the Mannequins are depicting. Despite their inanimate status the viewer is immediately able to visualise the next 'scene' as the storming crowds rush into the store in search of a bargain:

Finally, I loved the logo for the Issey Miyake fashion line (I assume) "Pleats Please", the 'Sushi' poster won the Silver award, but my attention was definitely more focused on the logo itself, which I just loved for its simplicity yet striking brilliance:

(apologies for the poor picture)

There were plenty more examples that I enjoyed viewing and I definitely enjoyed the concepts on show. I might link to a few more images when I have a little more time, but for now if you have a spare ten minutes I would definitely recommend viewing the image archive. Don't forget to click Launch Media to see the images/videos at a larger size.