Monday 18 April 2011

San Francisco project

As you may recall in Spring 2009 I set off to New York City for a stint of promotional meetings and self initiated work and during that time I worked on a project with writer Michelle Bower. Over a few weeks of my trip Michelle greeted the morning in London with words, which I picked up on waking in New York and turned into an image over the day. Highlights of the project can be seen on my website and the original project sits here

It was a great project that opened many doors for both of us and we've oft talked of repeating it. So recently when I went to San Francisco for a long weekend, despite our busy schedules and bigger time difference, we decided to do a mini version with a few changes. Firstly Michelle pre-prepared the statements, so I could take a look at the options and work out feasible illustration routes once I landed. Then I decided (after trying to do the first image late in the evening and before breakfast the next day) that it was too exhausting to squeeze in 3 full illustrations around my exploration of the city, especially when walking up and downhill all day. Instead I worked out the ideas and composition during my days in San Francisco and now I'm making the time to do the artwork. I've completed one and I hope to do another at the weekend, so watch this space. Image 1 below...

"The sun reminds you just how bright our outlook should be."

- Michelle overheard this statement on the bus in Sunny London. I woke up to a grey, drizzly, misty San Francisco and set out to find an angle I could work with.

To give it context the earthquakes and subsequent tsunami in Japan had happened only a week earlier and that was still at the forefront of my mind. On another note anyone who reads this blog often will know I'm really interested in politics, current affairs and global economics, and curiously I'd read an article before setting off to San Francisco about the impact of the disaster on industry and trade, share prices and the future health of Japan as a nation. It had talked about the immediate cost of lost lives in the wake of the tsunami but also discussed the potential losses in future from depleted Government funds, a wrecked economy, an old population and the inevitable pressure on public services. I remembered these concerns (which at the time I had oscillated between finding insensitive or pragmatic) and I found myself thinking about it as I wandered around San Francisco, witnessing first hand the closed stores due to the slow economy and hearing the relentless news of job numbers, share prices and future forecasts on the multiple news channels.

With all this swirling around I happened across the closed Virgin Megastore in the city. Much like its counterpart in Times Square this is a monument to a pre-digital download age and sits there empty, casting a large shadow with its barren windows and locked doors, taunted by the shiny, busy Apple store directly opposite teeming with tourists and locals alike, all in love with the brand. The Megastore is a sad store, abandoned and starting to show it, a gloomy reminder that despite the decent crowds wandering by tills are not ringing as loudly as they once were and the retail industry is posting poor numbers, underlined by the frequent 'sale' signs or worse 'closing down sale'. A reminder that the economy is fragile, unemployment is high and for a lot of people times are hard.

But, as I caught a glimpse of sunshine sliding between the clouds and illuminating the remaining Virgin banners, I realised that in light of the fragility of human life being so horrifically showcased in Japan, I could illustrate that by being alive and surviving in the face of economic hardship and fear "The sun reminds you just how bright our outlook should be":

I doubted myself over whether this illustration was crass, or would be seen as an attempt to simplify two unrelated issues, but hopefully the thought process detailed above illuminates my thinking and once I made the visual connection between the brand image and the Japanese flag I found it difficult to let go of my initial thinking.

I hope this image is received in the right way and I hope people don't think it is an attempt to trivialise or attach commerciality to an horrific natural disaster. It is not either of these things, but these were the things I was exposed to as I tried to solve this brief and the image above is the result.

I'll be posting the remaining images as I complete them, so keep an eye out for them...